Don’t Stray from the Formula!—Part III

(This article is part of a series. Missed Part I or Part II?)

Hopefully you will choose (preferably consciously, but maybe unconsciously) what formula your story will follow before you start writing it. And hopefully, once you start writing it, it stays in its pre-selected category.

But if it changes, you need to realize that it’s changed, and then you either need to scrap it and try again (if it really matters to you that it follow a particular formula) or you need to fully and whole-heartedly embrace the change.

Summarize the Story from the POV of the Formula

As I covered last time, the formula for the Acceptance series changed on me; it’s no longer a romance. My problem has been that I haven’t recognized that. When I tried to summarize my story (or especially if I tried to distill it to a one- or two-line “elevator pitch”), I found myself going in multiple directions, because when I tried to start with the romance angle, I found other elements that were just as important (a good indication that you’re describing multiple subplots, but not the overarching formula).

I became very frustrated because I knew that my response was scattered (and I certainly couldn’t get the story down to a single line!). I felt like the story in my books worked, but for some reason I couldn’t tell anyone what the story was in less than 109,000 words.

That’s because I didn’t identify what the story was. The coming-of-age tale wasn’t a subplot, but the plot, and the romance—and everything else—are subplots.

When it comes to summarizing your book, tell the reader (or agent or publisher) what the book formula is from the get-go. Don’t mention the subplots much, if any, and they become like little surprise treats along the way because the reader isn’t expecting them and doesn’t know where they will go.

If you’re presenting a coming-of-age story, then you (and the reader) know what’s going to happen in the end: the main character is going to lose their innocence and learn to live in the real, adult world. If it’s a Dude with a Problem story, the end is inevitable: dude will solve his problem. Who wants to see a Western where the bad guy wins or the good guy dies senselessly, having accomplished nothing? That sort of thing is popular in art/indie films and some literature, where the creator wants you to feel that life makes no sense, or they just want you to feel uncomfortable and unfulfilled at the end because that’s somehow superior to walking away feeling fulfilled, but those kinds of movies and books are never terribly popular. Your average person wants you to follow the formula; they want the predictable ending to happen. Subplots are where unpredictable things happen, but the main plot should end predictably.

(I think this is why “serious” writers look down on “genre” writers. If it has a genre, it almost certainly follows a formula (although not all stories in the same genre follow the same formula). Many “serious” or “literary” writers think writing to a formula is too predictable, too déclassé; it’s writing for the unwashed masses. They want writing that’s full of symbolism, completely unpredictable, and maybe has no plot or purpose at all. But, in truth, this sort of post-modern literature, which exists only for its own sake, is a johnny-come-lately in the history of human literature. You can be sure that cavemen told stories about monsters around a campfire. They didn’t, however, ramble endlessly about characters who spend their time wrestling with the question of whether anything is really good or evil, or if anything can actually be true or untrue. There’s a reason why people continue to buy romance novels and watch action movies wherein dude has a problem that he fixes.)

Giving the Formula the Middle Finger

p167496_p_v7_aaSo here’s an example of a modern, artsy movie that just wanted to give the formula the middle finger: Atonement.

The story was about a rich English girl of good family who was in love with a common boy who was nonetheless trying to rise in the world with the hopes that he would be accepted by her family.

But the girl’s younger sister (who is telling the story) catches them doing the nasty in the library, and when her friend is raped soon after, she puts the two incidents together and decides that the boy is a rapist who not only assaulted her sister, but her friend, too. So she lies and says that she saw him raping her friend, because she thinks that she’s doing the just thing. So boy—who is really innocent—gets sent to jail and he loses his chance for a good future and marriage with his love interest.

Only later, when the narrator is older and she can look back on what she saw with adult eyes, does she realize how wrong she was to lie and ruin the boy’s life.

Meanwhile, we see sister trying to make her way in life while pining for her love, and we see him released from jail in exchange for being drafted into WWII. He gets injured in France, ends up recovering from his injuries, returns to England, and he and his love finally get their long-overdue reunion. They even get their opportunity to vent their anger on the now-grown sister who tries to apologize for ruining his life and their romance.

That’s a Buddy Love/romance story, right? Lovers are separated wrongly. Eventually wrongs get righted and the two lovers get one another in the end. Everyone walks away happy.

Then the screenwriter decided to give the formula the middle finger. Instead of stopping the story there, it cuts to the narrator, who is now an old woman and we find out that she’s a writer who just published this story as an autobiography. Only she confesses in an interview that she lied about how the story ended. It did not end happily ever after. The boy died of his injuries at Dunkirk and her sister died during the bombing of London. She wrote a happy ending to the story because that’s what she wanted to happen; she wanted to be able to make amends, make things come out right, and be free of her guilt. But the moral of the story is that some things can never be put right.

While that may be true in life, what a horribly depressing sentiment for a movie! I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to movies (or read books) to learn that other people have lives as horrible as or even worse than mine and they never get a resolution, or find a happy ending, or improve their lot in any way. Yes, people die bitter and unfulfilled all the time, but I don’t want to know about them; their stories give me nothing but depression. (My husband declared that Atonement, “made me angry. I wanted those two hours of my life back! I felt like I had been cheated.)

Personally, I want a positive message that makes me feel better about myself and my life; I want something that actually improves me or motivates me. I want to know that true love can really exist. I want to know that no matter how bad my life is, it can get better because people who were in worse shape have managed to turn themselves around. I want to know that hard work and unwavering belief in my dreams can make me successful and prosperous.

If you’ve got nothing to give me but unresolved issues or the message that life sometimes (or even often) sucks, then I’ll give you the middle finger and walk away.

And that’s true of the vast majority of other people. There’s a reason why stories that follow the formula tend to be hits, while the things that exist just to give the formula the finger aren’t popular with anyone but hipsters who live to give everyone the finger.

Think about stream-of-consciousness writing. Who wants to read that? There is no plot or formula. It doesn’t matter how poetically you may describe what you’re seeing or feeling, if there’s no larger point to the project, your average reader is not going to want to read it.

This is also the reason why Renaissance art is more popular than modern art. Renaissance paintings teach a moral or tell a story or illustrate a human condition or maybe even show us something universal and emotional in a stranger’s face. Art has its own formulas which art, since the beginning of homo sapiens up to about the Impressionists, has followed. Then modern art came along and it was all about giving the formulas the finger. Now, the purpose of art is to have no purpose. It can be splatters of paint on canvas. It can be an uncarved rock. It can be a blank canvas with no paint on it at all. You no longer need to have any talent or years of experience to be an artist; if you can make something exist, then that’s enough.

(I really like the explanation given by artist and professor Robert Florczak on “Why is Modern Art so Bad?”)

Lascaux-Photo9

Notice the stalks of grass beside and in front of the horse; it’s running through tall grass on the plains.

There’s a reason why most people ridicule modern and post-modern art. Even people who have no art education understand, at least subconsciously, that art should be about something—should have a purpose—that it should follow a formula. You can look at the paintings in Lascaux cave and see the world of our caveman ancestors. You can almost see the horses and animals that the artist saw moving across the plain. You are looking back into time, into another world. The artist gives you that.

You do not get any of that when you look at a painting that’s just a bunch of paint splatters on canvas. Sure, you might see hints of shapes in the splatter, but you can see shapes in clouds, too; that doesn’t make clouds art. And most people understand that. They don’t want to see weird shit that means nothing; they want to see things they already know. Or, as Blake Snyder puts it, they want to see the same thing, only different. This is why there are hundreds of thousands cheap romance and Western novels in existence. You don’t reinvent the formula; you just change the characters and the setting and the subplots. There’s infinite variety in those three things while staying true to the underlying formula.

Legitimate Twists to the Formula

So, your task now is to figure out what formula each of your stories most closely follows. If you can’t tell, then you almost certainly have a plot problem (as we’ve discussed, nobody wants to read a story that meanders around, directionless, accomplishing nothing) and you can fix it by bringing your story into line with one of the formulas. (It is possible that you have followed a formula that’s not covered here, but make really, really sure that’s the case and that you’re not just wandering in and out of other formulas at random.)

If you have followed the formula right up to the end, then inserted a surprise twist that causes the story to jump into another formula or into no formula at all, then you need to seriously, seriously reconsider that. As I’ve pointed out, that’s never popular. A surprise twist needs to stay within the formula.

Look at Titanic. That’s a Buddy Love story, because it’s exclusively about Jack & Rose’s relationship. But the twist is that Jack dies at the end. Normally, buddies either survive together or die together; one living and one dying is normally against the formula. But the twist works for two reasons: one, we’re warned about it from the very beginning when we find out that Old Rose had a relationship before she married the man who would be her husband for the rest of her life—so we know she doesn’t get her happily-ever-after with Jack; and two, we see in the epilogue that Rose kept Jack alive in her heart by doing all the things they had planned to do together, so in a way, he was always with her. And when she (presumably) dies, she goes back to the ship and finally joins him again, so they’ll have a heavenly sort of existence where they will never be parted again. So she loses him, but not really. If James Cameron had cut out the epilogue part, so that we never see Rose’s pictures telling the story of her life post-Jack, and we didn’t see her reunite with him in death, then people would have been angry and the movie would have flopped. We want to know that our hearts will go on, damnit, and that you really can love one person for your whole life.

Or, if you’re doing the Monster in the House scenario and your character battles the monster and finally prevails, the twist can be showing the reader that the protagonist wasn’t battling the real monster at all; the real monster still lurks in the shadows, waiting for the next victim. (In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lector escapes at the end, so one monster is defeated just as another one gets loose.) Or maybe the heroine escapes, but we see that she’s infected or has set loose the monster’s progeny, so we see that one head has been cut off the hydra, but another one will grow back in its place. The formula calls for the monster to die or the protagonist to escape (Jurassic Park is a good example of when people escape and leave the monsters to rule the house). You must follow that formula. But it’s okay to leave an opening so that the monster can come back or start over in a new place. That’s a twist, but still within the original formula.

What’s not okay is to tamper with the formula. My dad used to be a professional comedian, and he had a joke about why you never see rednecks in horror movies: because rednecks always have a gun handy.

“Oh, you’re a scary booger!”
KABOOM
“Call the coroner because this booger’s dead.”
End of movie.

Or, “You always see people screaming when the booger jumps on the hood of their car and they panic and jump out of the car. Me, I want Jason on the hood of my car. I’ll gun the engine and he’ll have to throw away the knife to hang onto the wiper blades with both hands. And I’m going to run through every barbed wire fence and briar patch in the county. He’ll eventually jump off and limp back home to lick his nuts like a wounded dog.”

My dad always got huge laughs with his routine.

Exposing the formula and talking about breaking it is funny. But you wouldn’t actually go see a movie where the protagonist killed the monster in the first fifteen minutes, then spent the rest of the movie lying on the couch and drinking beer. You would be constantly waiting for the monster to resurrect or for its kin to come and avenge it. And if the movie ends without any of that happening, you would feel very cheated and declare it the worst movie ever.

Don’t give the formula the middle finger. As Blake states, pretty much all of these formulas are so primal, so part of the human condition, a caveman could follow the story.

Applying Writing Formulas to Your Own Work—Part II

(This article is part of a series. If you missed the first part, here it is.)

So, now that we know what the formulas are, let’s apply it to our own work. Take a look at all the stuff you’ve done and see if it’s following one of the formulas.

What Formula Am I?

The Last Golden Dragon is a Golden Fleece quest. Aine sets out to find the last golden dragon so she can hear his story and go tell the tale around the country. You find out during this quest that she is stubbornly independent and not content with a normal woman’s life. But during her quest, she learns that love and marriage doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game where all her hopes are dashed and she lives in a cage; love means both partners give so that they can be happy both as a couple and as individuals. She ends up not only fulfilling her quest, but finding much more than she was looking for.

However, the (as of yet unpublished) sequel, The Return of the Dragons, is a Buddy Love story, because it’s about the maturation of Aine and Eamonn’s relationship. I’m contemplating writing a sequel to that which would probably be a Rites of Passage, because it would about Aine having to come to terms with the fact that she can’t have everything she wants at once, and that she’s going to decide what’s more important to her and give up the other thing (at least temporarily).

(In other words, your sequels don’t necessarily have to follow the same formula as the original story. After all, how many times can one person go on a quest of introspection and self-discovery? If you’re following the life of one character over a period of time, you might want to change up the formula, because in life, we go through periods where we’re questing, but not all the time; we have problems that we need to fix, but not all the time; we have buddy love, but that typically comes and goes as friends and lovers come and go; we’re part of the institution, but usually only when we’re in school; etc.)

The Widow is an example of Bubby Love. Carol is trapped in her grief and can’t move on with her life—even though it’s past time for her to do so. Daniel acts primarily as a friend to help draw her out and get her functioning normally again. He is the person who is constant and acts as a catalyst while she is the one that does the changing.

The Flames of Prague is a Dude with a Problem story. First, Jakub’s problem is that he’s getting too old to fight and he doesn’t know what to do with himself; he’s facing his remaining years being a bored homebody. Then he meets a girl and he thinks his problem is solved; he’ll marry her, have children, and have a purpose again! Then he finds out there’s a problem with her: she’s a Jew. He has no solution to this, so he goes back to being bored—plus he’s now lovesick as well. Then he gets a new problem when he finds out that people are killing Jews and his love-interest is in danger. Does he risk his life to save her? And if he saves her, then what? He still has the problem of her being a Jew, but if he doesn’t overcome that problem, he’s left with the problem of being lonely and purposeless. The book concludes with him solving his various problems—sometimes with brute force and sometimes just by deciding that a “problem” is really just a design feature.

The sequel, The Children of Israel is the same thing, only there are 2-3 dudes with problems because I tell the story from the POV of two different characters. Samuel has to deal with the problem that his wife was raped prior to their marriage and she’s terrified for him to touch her. His sister has to deal with the fact that her parents can’t seem to arrange a marriage for her, but then she finds out her father’s man-at-arms is in love with her. And although she finds herself feeling the same way about him, they have the old problem of she’s a Jew and he’s not. And then Jakub has to deal with the problem that his family has been denounced as Jews and there are people who want to kill them. (His problem, however, gets taken up by Samuel, so Samuel is the one who has to find a solution to it.)

I’m contemplating a sequel to that which will follow another child of Jakub’s, and it will also be the same dude-with-a-problem format in that Jonatan has to deal with two sides of his family being at odds with one another and arguing over what he should or should not do, and later someone kidnaps his woman and he has to get those warring family members to unite to help him get her back.

(Unlike my dragon series, this series has a different main character(s) each time (albeit all from one family), and it’s about how each of them deals with their own unique problems. In each book, the reader is rooting for the character to win, but overall, she is rooting for the entire family to win. So, in this case, repeating the formula works.)

The Bloodsuckers is one long Dude With a Problem story. It is all about Scott and all the things he has to undergo and how he overcomes them.

Even my Zelda fanfiction follows a formula—and is, in fact, a perfect textbook example of the Golden Fleece quest. Link and Zelda have to go on a literal quest to find the necessary magical items needed to defeat all of the bosses, culminating with the defeat of the final bad guy and the saving of the world. But, along this long (long) journey, the two of them change rather significantly.

My Problem Child

So, that was easy; all of those stories are pretty clear-cut. Yes, there are some places where they sort of overlap with other formulas—quests can have romantic/buddy love subplots, etc.—but the main plot is clearly one specific format.

Then there’s Acceptance.

When I originally came up with the idea of vampires in Tennessee (this was even before I had the idea to have Jewish vampires in Tennessee), the (short) story was supposed to be a sort of supernatural mystery (Monster in the House formula). Kalyn (who is an adult) is out on a dark, snowy night and gets stuck in a ditch. While she’s sitting there, trying to figure out what to do, a guy appears and takes her out of the car. She then enters a period where she feels as if she is in a dream and isn’t really in control of herself. She gets taken to a cave that people—strange people—appear to be living in. The man with her bites her and she finds herself—perhaps of her own choice, perhaps not—giving herself to him fully. At some point, she passes out or falls asleep, and the next thing she knows, it’s morning and she’s back in her car. She looks for some evidence that she was kidnapped by a vampire, but can’t find any (but also can’t find any confirmation that she was in her car all night, either). So was it real or just a dream? She can’t be sure and neither can the reader.

But, somewhere in writing that, I decided that I wanted to know more about her and especially about the vampire with her. So the story morphed away from the monster formula to a romance/buddy love. Ciaran and the Imuechmehah were introduced and Kalyn found herself entering this strange vampire world just when they’re getting caught up in a war between two vampire races.

I wrote quite a bit of that novel, but became increasingly unhappy with it, primarily because Kalyn had no personality and I didn’t know how to give her one. (Also, she and Anselm only seemed to be in love because I said they should be; there was no natural development of their relationship.) I ended up scrapping it and I didn’t look at it again for nine years.

When I decided to resurrect my story, I started from scratch and put Kalyn in the vampire’s world from the very beginning. But instead of being an (adult) outsider being introduced to the vampire’s culture, she is a teenager getting introduced via a rite of passage.

I set out with the intention of writing a romance novel, and that’s what the story had been in its previous incarnation. Acceptance and its sequels were going to be all about Kalyn and Anselm’s relationship.

I’m not sure where I lost control of that formula… or if I ever really had control over it. But when I take a hard look at Acceptance and where its sequels are going, it is not a romance because it’s not primarily about Kalyn and Anselm’s relationship; there are too many other things going on and too many other characters winding their way in and out of the story with important stories of their own. There is no focus on just the two of them, the way there is in The Widow.

Okay, so what is it? Is it Institutionalized? After all, Kalyn is part of a group (her local group, the Yaechahre group, and the vampire/human group—all three come into play in different ways) and she has to learn how to work within all of those groups and she has to fight to save all of those groups. And yet, through all of that, she stays true to herself and her own moral compass—even when she has to go against the groups’ social customs. She becomes a reformer of sorts—a light showing a better path for other people in the group.

But is that really what the story is about, or is it another subplot? I really didn’t set out to write a story about a group of vampires and the human who teaches them a lesson. And, in fact, Kalyn’s not the only rebel in that regard; her friends in her local group share her desire for more integration between human and vampire. Even Joshua, the leader of their people, is supportive of her and is the first person to hold her up as a good example.

I think the institution is a subplot.

Is it a Whydunit? In all of the books, there is the underlying question of where the Imuechmehah came from and why they want to kill the Canichmehah. And we eventually see who is behind the murders and sort of why (as much as you can ever understand why someone is evil). But the real revelation is that all of the death and misery could have been prevented if, at a single moment in time, the Canichmehah had chosen to do what was morally right, even if it was technically illegal. When they decide that the law has supremacy over morality, they set in motion their own destruction.

While that’s a pretty dark revelation, the Whydunit isn’t really driving the plot. The characters are being taken towards it without their knowledge (unlike a detective in a mystery who actively follows the trail). So I think that’s another subplot.

Is it a Golden Fleece quest? Kalyn doesn’t know it in the beginning, but she’s destined to be the savior of her people and she will the ultimate righter of an old wrong. Her quest, in short, is to fight the Imuechmehah and save her people. And she certainly changes along the way and learns things about herself.

But she never realizes she’s on this quest and she never really has a revelation at the end of the story, like you would expect with a roadtripping story. She doesn’t undergo a life-altering change; instead, she just grows up, little by little, along the way.

Which leaves us with Rites of Passage. And I think that this is really what Acceptance and its sequels (both individually and as a collective whole) are about. Kalyn learns—usually the hard way—that there are bad people in the world. Some of them aren’t necessarily evil, but they make bad decisions that put them on the wrong side of morality. Maybe they can change, but they have to want to change. And some people are indeed evil, and you will never know why they’re evil and you will never get them to cease being evil. And being a good person is more than just not being evil or not making immoral choices; being a good person means actively fighting evil. Because if you don’t, it will grow and it will eventually come after you and after the people you love.

And other characters end up doing their own growing up alongside Kalyn. Micah has a particularly acute moment of revelation in the second book (I feel this is the best thing I have ever written) when he realizes that he became a vampire because he didn’t want to grow up and become a responsible adult; he had a Peter Pan moment where he ran off to Never Never Land with the intention of remaining young and carefree forever. But when he ends up spending a week essentially playing the role of husband and father, he realizes that not only does being responsible not suck, but it’s actually deeply rewarding and fulfilling. But, unfortunately, he can’t undo what he did to himself so long ago. He can never have biological children, and given that he looks like he’s a teenager, he’s not likely to find someone to settle down with. His revelation is bittersweet because, while it’s great he’s finally grown up mentally, he will never be able to grow up physically.

Anselm also has some personal demons he has to exorcise. For a man who doesn’t lack courage when it comes to breaking into a den of vampires and shooting all of them, he has little courage when it comes to Kalyn. He is attracted to her early on (and she’s certainly attracted to him), but he tries to deny this and keep her at arm’s length. He says that this is because Kalyn is too young, he’s her guardian, etc. but we eventually see that these are just excuses. In reality, he’s tormented by the memory of the first woman he loved and lost and he’s terrified that the same thing will happen to Kalyn. When he finally allows himself to open up to her, and then something bad happens to her, he sees it as a Divine Punishment for his actions and he retreats even further from her. He has to figure out that in trying to protect himself (and her) from loss, he’s creating a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby he loses her anyways. In short, he has to find the courage to love, even if he’s not guaranteed a happily ever after. (A basic life lesson that we all have to learn when we’re growing up.)

Which actually leads me back to the question of whether this is a Buddy Love story (but instead of it being about Anselm and Kalyn, it’s about the three of them). Or, perhaps, it’s a Rites of Passage tale that morphs into a Buddy Love story somewhere around the third book.

All the Things

I found a post I wrote in 2012 where I said this very thing: that there are a lot of “plots” in Acceptance. (Really, there are a lot of formulas.)

Or maybe I just don’t know and this is why I’m having trouble. What is my book about? You should be able to put that into a single sentence, but I really have trouble with that. It seems my book(s) are about a lot of things, and I have never been quite able to decide which thing I should emphasize.

I see now that’s because I can’t figure out which formula is driving the plot. Or maybe it’s because I’m trying to apply a single formula to four books about one main character and that’s not reasonable. After all, as I seemed to have intuitively grasped in my dragon stories, it makes sense for the formula to change in subsequent stories about the same character because different formulas rule different parts of our lives. If we aren’t following one formula constantly, why should a character?

I’m almost positive that Acceptance is a Rites of Passage formula. Kalyn has a literal rite of passage, inducting her into the world of vampires and their human counterparts. She has to deal with loss. She has to deal with being personally assaulted. She watches as people are killed. She learns that vampire justice is not the kind you see in Law & Order, and she has to come to terms with that. She also faces a bit of existential disappointment when she realizes that the image she has of Anselm in her mind isn’t who he is in reality. Probably the best piece of writing in that book is when Kalyn finds herself staring at him “across a gulf that seemed much wider than a few yards of poured concrete.” She sees that, for all his outward appearances of modernity—his cell phone, car, guns, etc.—he is, in reality, a product of the middle ages, where torture and execution justice could be executed without batting an eye. And she has to decide if she can accept a man who is, to modern standards, violent, but only for good and moral reasons (i.e. he’s a vigilante, of the Western hero variety).

If I accept that Acceptance is a Rites of Passage story, it makes it easier for me to describe the book, because I need to describe the characters and all the action from that point-of-view: it’s a coming-of-age story. Everything else is a subplot that the reader can discover on their own.

Now, as I’m piecing together the various parts of the second book, I need to decide which theme it should convey. I’m leaning towards it also being a Rites of Passage, but that might have moved to a subplot. So I need to read what I have and decide what story it’s telling. (And I may need to edit out bits that make the subplot too strong and muddy the actual plot formula.)

Part III

Next time, I’ll cover why it’s important for your novel to follow the formulas (and not just because it makes life easier on you when it comes to distilling your novel into a one- or two-line elevator pitch).

How to Deal with Introverts

GuideToUnderstandingTheIntroverted-87361

I found this comic on LOLSNAPS.com and thought it was funny. But when I re-read it, I realized that, while a bit blunt, it is quite accurate.

I will confess that I’m an introvert. Not only that, but my protagonists tend to be introverts:

  • Scott (from The Bloodsuckers) is an introvert.
  • Anselm (from Acceptance is so introverted, he’s gone down in Canichmeh history as the second-most introverted vampire ever known. (Canichmeh vampires have a natural desire to be around others of their own kind. But after Anselm’s father died, he traveled around Europe without any contact with other vampires for about 150 years. Only one other vampire is known to have gone longer without contact with other vampires.)
  • Kalyn is also an introvert, although not to the degree that Anselm is.
  • Jakub (from The Flames of Prague) is an introvert. He hates going to court (and the people who congregate there) with a passion and spends all his time with his small household/retinue and family.

That’s not to say that there are no extroverts or ambiverts (a person who can be either an introvert or extrovert depending on their own mood or the situation) in my writing; Joshua, Micah, and Ciaran are all extroverts, while I think I would peg Josie as an ambivert. But notice that they’re secondary characters; when it comes to writing predominately from one person’s point of view, I prefer that person to be an introvert.

In fact, I think I only have one extroverted protagonist: Aine from The Last Golden Dragon. And the entire story takes place between just her and one other person–hardly the sort of situation where an extrovert will shine through.

The Hamster Ball

Introverts have a stronger sense of personal space than ambiverts and, especially, extroverts. When I was in Amsterdam, people drove me crazy walking shoulder-to-shoulder with me, even when there was room on the sidewalk for them to scoot over. (Some of this is cultural; I’ve noticed Europeans in general tend to have less of a concept of personal space than Americans or even Brits.)

There are many times when I find myself taking a step back because someone is standing too close to me while talking. I’ve even been known to roll or scoot my chair back if I’m sitting down and someone’s too close. Ideally, I like people to stand at least an arm’s length from me. Closer than that, and you come off as aggressive, not friendly.

While extroverts can find sitting across the desk from someone and having a conversation annoying–even rude–an introvert almost never has a problem having a seat and keeping a large piece of furniture between them and the other person.

But, just because introverts don’t like to have close contact with most people doesn’t mean that they don’t want close contact with anyone. While introverts can be hard to get to know, once they let you in their hamster ball, you are there for the long-haul. Introverts tend to be very loyal friends and lovers because, once they become comfortable with someone, it takes less energy for them to maintain that relationship than to make another one. (Sometimes this means an introvert gets stuck in a negative relationship because they don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking up and finding someone new.) Also, introverts tend to have few friends and prefer to cultivate a very deep relationship with someone than have many superficial relationships.

It may seem contradictory, but introverts can actually be quite clingy with the friends and loved ones that they have. For one thing, having fewer friends means the ones they have get a lot more of their attention. Secondly, because introverts tend to make deep–even spiritual–connections with one or two people, they can sometimes derive energy from a relationship (more on that in a moment), which means hanging around that person actually makes them feel more energetic. So they can get clingy in an attempt to keep that energy coming in. Lastly, introverts, by their very nature, are not social creatures; the larger the social venue, the more they’re out of their element. If an introvert can find a familiar face in the crowd, they may latch on and not let go.

The Energy Bank

I think the comic is correct: introverts make their own energy. (I would not be at all surprised if someone found that introverts tend to sleep more hours and have fewer occurrences of insomnia than other personality types.)

Think of energy as dollars. Every morning, when an introvert wakes up, she has a limited number of dollars in her bank account. (Just how many depends on a number of factors: savings left over from previous days, the season/weather, whether she feels good or is sick, is under stress or not, etc.) The vast majority of interactions with people require a withdrawal from that bank account.

The less personal the interaction, the less energy it requires. For example, if someone comes to me in the morning and asks, “Hey, Keri, have you seen such-and-such file?”  it takes next to no energy for me to find the file for them–even if I have to go on a treasure hunt to find it. However, if someone comes to me in the morning and says, “Good morning, how was your weekend? Did you see such-and-such show on television last night?” the energy starts to flow out of me.

(That’s not to say that I hate to have personal conversations with people; I even initiate them. It’s just that when I get to the end of the day or end of the week, if I’ve had few personal interactions, I will have more energy in my bank to spend on parties, friends, or family get-togethers. The more personal contact I’ve had with people at work during the day, the less I want to go anywhere or be with anyone in the evenings or on the weekend.)

The more people involved, the more energy is withdrawn–exponentially so. Meetings and parties wear me down very quickly. That’s not to say that I never have a good time or accomplish something at a meeting or party, but group interaction at a meeting or committee needs to be an hour or less; more than that and I start spending all my mental resources looking for an escape route.

If I have good conversation, am entertained, or meet interesting people at a party, I can actually get an energy boost from the experience. But that boost is nullified if the party goes on too long. Three hours is about my limit; if I stay longer than that, then my energy starts to drain like water down a bathtub and instead of leaving on a high note, I leave exhausted and want to spend the next day (or three) home alone in order to replenish my bank account.

How to Interact with the Introvert

If you know or suspect your co-worker is an introvert, there are some things you should know to have good interactions with them.

1. Give them time to warm up.

You know how some people need coffee to feel human in the mornings?

This is the introvert. While a particular introvert may or may not need coffee to get going in the morning (I don’t), they do need time to get themselves sorted out. They’ve just spent 8 hours or so sleeping; they’re still in their cocoon. They may or may not “good morning” you when they first walk in the door at 8:00 AM. They may still be sleepy or, if they’re like me, they’ve just spent close to an hour in the car, commuting, and thinking deep thoughts or mentally preparing their to-do list. Don’t take a lack of greeting personally; when an introvert is particularly introverted (like in the mornings), all personal interaction–even just a “hello”–takes considerable effort. Give them a little while. Usually within an hour or two of getting to work, I’m ready to take a break from my tasks and “make the rounds.” I get some tea or hot chocolate, go to the bathroom, and see how other people are doing (both work-wise and personally). Once I’m good and awake, personal interaction takes a lot less energy.

2. Don’t take silence for anger.

Personally, I’m not the type to be angry for long or to hold grudges. I don’t know if that’s true for most other introverts, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if an introvert is being quiet, it’s because they’re lost in their own little world of thoughts, not because they’re steaming and plotting how to get revenge on you for going out without them last week.

3. Invite them out, even if you’re pretty sure they’ll turn you down.

I tend to turn down most invitations, but I still like to receive them because it shows that people care. Introverts can maintain good friendships with people without seeing them for long periods of time, as long as they receive the occasional assurance that their friend cares. (Conversely, don’t take repeated rejections as a sign that they’re mad at you or don’t like you; if they otherwise act like they like you, then you can be sure they’re turning you down just because they don’t have the energy for the activity; it’s not you.)

And sometimes the introvert will surprise you by accepting. Sometimes you will catch them when their energy bank is running high or they’re in a particularly upbeat mood or the activity you offer is going to be short or intimate. (Introverts prefer to go out to eat with one or two people, rather than a group, and, for me, at least, I prefer activities that last less than 3 hours.)

4. Maintain non-personal contact.

Most introverts love things like e-mail, Facebook, and texting/instant messaging because it allows them to talk to people without actually engaging in social contact. (Phone calls are generally preferred over face-to-face contact, but don’t expect the introvert to actually make the call; they tend to avoid calling people like they tend to avoid meeting people.) Online interaction tends to be the introvert’s element, and he or she can happily interact online or via text and have that count as meaningful interaction (whereas, for an extrovert, that can never replace actually being around people).

5. Just be near.

Introverts are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves, and if they have to be engaged in long-term contact (e.g. staying with someone for a weekend), it’s a good idea to give them some time alone to recharge their batteries. Don’t feel you’re being a bad host if you leave them to watch TV or help themselves to your bookcase while you cook or go about your daily business. Introverts prefer not to be constantly engaged or entertained (because they feel like they have to entertain you as much as you have to entertain them!), and they’re never lonely as long as someone is nearby. I’m perfectly happy to have someone in the house with me, but spend most of our time in separate rooms.

6. Ask non-personal questions.

Introverts are not usually very gossipy and not very open about their personal lives–at least not with people who are not close friends. But introverts can actually talk at great length about topics which don’t involve other people. I’ve amazed many people with discourses on history, religion, anthropology, etc. And if you get me started on my books, I won’t ever shut up.

Introverts tend to read and study a lot, and you can learn a lot from them; just get them talking about what interests them. They love to have intellectual conversations and both teach and learn.

The Exceptions to the Rule

When an introvert clicks with another person in just the right way, he or she can actually reverse their energy situation so that they get energy from another person, not lose it. When this happens, you can–surprisingly–find the introvert happily engaged with their soul mate for hours at a time. (As I mentioned before, they can even become clingy in these situations.)

While the cartoon says that introverts tend to see extroverts as predators, I have to say that’s not always the case. Some extroverts are more aggressive than others. Aggressive extroverts are quick to see an introvert as someone who is broken and needs an immediate intervention, or is someone who is weird or hateful and needs to be attacked.

There are non-aggressive extroverts, however, who can interact quite well with introverts. Non-aggressive extroverts are friendly people who make conversation (and friends) easily; they have a way of putting everyone at ease. Introverts can actually engage quite well with these kinds of extroverts. Many times introverts are quiet in social situations because they don’t know how to approach someone, don’t want to interrupt or come off as an annoyance, etc. An extrovert who approaches them and is friendly, however, can quickly draw them out.

More on the habits of introverts

I also recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking and her TED talk on The Power of Introverts.

Front-Cover-v3-For-WebI suppose you should take it as a good sign when I fall silent for a week. I’ve been getting some good edits done on Flames of Prague. In fact, I only have four more chapters to edit (and I think I’m going to add one more; it moves a little too fast at the end), plus update my notes/bibliography. (I’m determined to have the most extensive notes section ever found in a historic fiction novel.)

My goal is to finish my edits and format the entire thing for print by the end of June. Then I can have a proof copy printed and get it to my beta readers (i.e. my husband and my friend, Carla). While they’re reading it, I’m going to proofread Acceptance yet again. (I think this will make my eleventh… or maybe it’s thirteenth… time reading it front-to-back for the purposes of editing.) I want to put out a revised edition of it sometime this year, complete with the new cover.

Acceptance Cover (Front only)I’m hoping to have comments back from my beta readers no later than the end of July, giving me August to make adjustments based on comments and September to proofread. October should be for formatting, leaving me publishing it in November, as originally planned. And, if I hadn’t finished it already, I can do the last proof of Acceptance in December and re-release it.

I have a plan!

In the meantime, if you’re still struggling with completing your novel (trust me, it gets easier the more you do it!), have a look at Tear Down the Wall: 6 Tips to Help You Finish Your Novel.

Try “Acceptance” for Free

Acceptance Cover (Front only) ThumbnailYou can now preview Acceptance for free on Wattpad. (You can also download it directly onto your e-reader at Smashwords.)

If you haven’t read it yet because you’re not really a vampire person, or you think it might be too girly or teenish, give it a try for free. A lot of reviewers are telling me that they’re not really “vampire people,” but they liked it anyways. And my husband (who did all of my gun research and tactics editing) gives it two manly, pistol-grip thumbs up.

Has it got any sports in it?

Are you kidding? Shooting. Fighting. Torture. True love. Hate. Revenge. Vampires. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Pain. Death. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.

It doesn’t cost you anything to give it a try.

Non-Sequitur

524131_10200460823034635_1396169221_nMy (dark) green car is currently lime green. I am waiting eagerly for some thunderstorms to wash it (and the air) clean.

Photoshop Ate My SOUL!

Obsessive-compulsive.

I recognize this.

Addicted.

I recognize this, too.

Still, I haven’t managed to step away from Photoshop.

If I was getting ready to go to college right now, I think I would either double-major in Graphic Arts and History, or major in Graphic Arts and minor in history. I wish I had known a decade ago that I love to design things on a computer.

As I have said before: college is wasted on the young. I don’t think anyone should step foot into a college before the age of 25. You have to work for a living for at least a few years to truly appreciate college and to know what you really want to do with your life.

Anyways, time to subject you to more book covers. (Only two this time.)

Decisions-Cover-alternate-1Most of my readers preferred the road-with-lights cover. I’m still kind of “meh” about it, mostly because I liked it better without the red tint. While I was thinking I might do a different tint for each book–just to sort of tie them together stylistically–it’s not a requirement. Besides, the road picture is dark all on its own.

Here it is in its original color:

Decisions-Cover-alternate-1

Ignore the shadow on the title; it drifted when I scaled the picture down for the web. It won’t look funky in the full-size version.

If you’ve been keeping up with the saga, I decided a few months ago to break my second book into two books. This created a larger-than-usual edit of the first draft because I needed to add several more chapters to make it longer.

Last night, I finished what I think is the best work I’ve done so far for this series–and, oddly enough, it’s about Micah. (He really develops into a serious character in the second book.)

Today, I finished–more or less–my heavy revision work, and I’m now reading through the book from the beginning and smoothing out my transitions between chapters and adding anything that I’ve left out, cutting duplicate information, etc. If you want to think in terms of road construction, I’ve finished laying the gravel for the roadbed, and now I’m laying my first coat of asphalt.

To make a long story short, while I was doing my read-through this evening, I was struck by a description of Anselm:

“One thing you need to know is Anselm will not be rushed when it comes to making decisions he feels are important. He has to consider a problem from every possible angle—play the entire chess match in his head—before he will make his first move. But once he commits, he will stand by his decision and will see it through to the end.”

I read that and thought, “What about a chess board for a front cover?”

So here’s yet another cover option:

Decisions-Cover-alternate-v

I’m thinking this might be my favorite so far. (Yes, note the qualifier.)

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve have a few ideas (okay, a bunch of ideas) for the cover of my second book.

It might help, of course, if I was sure what to name my second book. The original name was “Devotion,” but now that I’ve decided to split it into two books, I’ve decided that name fits better with Part B. Part A, however, deals a lot with making decisions/choices. My covers reflect the title “Decisions,” but I wonder if that is too close to the following title, “Devotion.” Would it be better as “Choices?”

It’s strange, but I had a pretty easy time coming up with the title for both The Flames of Prague and its planned sequel, The Children of Israel. Naming the books in this series has been hard, though.

The Street Light Theme

I was driving home the other day and suddenly had a brilliant idea for the cover of my second book. Because something rather monumental happens in a dark, nearly-deserted parking lot, I thought a picture of a lone light in a parking lot would make for an ominous-looking cover.

Decisions-Cover-v5

This isn’t a exactly street light in a parking lot, but I liked the angle of the light and the brick.

Decisions-Cover

The Road Theme

While I was looking at parking lots, I came across a couple of road pictures that I thought went well with the title. Nothing says decision making like driving.
Decisions-Cover-alternate-4
(Yes, I know I haven’t updated the title on the spine. I didn’t want to put too much effort into the cover, in case I didn’t choose it. This is just for considering the background picture. Further tweaking and alignment is still forthcoming. )
Decisions-Cover-alternate-1

The Water Theme

I was almost ready to post the previous covers when I thought about the teaser line I want to put on the back of the book: Every decision we make is like a rock tossed into a pool of water; it ripples out into the world and we can never be sure of the consequences.

So I looked up some pictures of water and came away with some fabulous covers that I think I like even better than the previous ones.

Decisions-Cover-v6

Clear, simple, and rather bloody-looking.

Decisions-Cover-v7

More turbulent, but I like the darker color.

Decisions-Cover-v8

The only water picture with a real reflection in it. That makes it a little busy behind the text on the back page, but I think it has more character.

So, have a preference for a picture, or at least a theme? Is there a particular one that makes you more curious about what’s in store for Kalyn, Anselm, Micah, and the others?