Archive for September, 2015

The Midpoint Reversal and the Dark Moment

Another info sheet for you today, Squiders. I’m afraid I spent the time I would have used composing something else (oh well, Thursday I guess) was spent playing Lego Star Wars “with” the not-so-small one. (He held a controller and told me what he wanted to do, and then I did it for him.)

Today we’re looking at the midpoint reversal and the dark moment, which are the midpoint shift and break between acts two and three, respectively.

What are the Midpoint Reversal and Dark Moment?

In general terms, the midpoint reversal is a story structure plot point which happens about halfway through a story. The dark moment is more of a major moment in a character arc than a plot point, though it can function as such.

Okay, what’s a Midpoint Reversal?

Last time we talked about the inciting incident and the first plot point. Most of the first part of the second act (or middle) is a reaction to that first plot point. The characters think they know what’s happening. They have a plan. They are acting on it. Then, about halfway through, something happens which changes everything.




Well, it does depend on the structure and genre of the story, to some extent. But, in general, the midpoint reversal shakes everything up. It changes the direction of the story. It forces the character(s) to reevaluate what they thought they were doing and how they were doing it. It’s called a midpoint reversal because, in general, fortunes for the main character reverse. If things were going well, something terrible happens. If things were going bad, something good happens. To go back to my Star Wars standard, the midpoint of the first movie is when the Millennium Falcon is captured by the Death Star. In the Fellowship of the Ring, it’s when Frodo learns that all he worked for to get the ring to Rivendell isn’t enough—the ring is still not safe.

Some examples of “good” reversals are in the Lion King, when Simba is rescued from the desert (and despair) by Timon and Pumbaa, and in the Hunger Games when Peeta saves Katniss instead of killing her.

So, what you’re saying is…?

Halfway through, something MAJOR needs to change. You can do this a number of ways, but it should be something big, at least for your main character. (A midpoint reversal can be an internal event as much as an external event.) It should also be something that flows logically from the first half of the story, but still be a surprise or major roadblock.

In a classic hero’s journey, the midpoint reversal is known as the Ordeal.

Why do I need one?

Let’s face it, the longest part of any story is the middle. In general, it’s twice as long as either the beginning or the end. And there’s a tendency for stories to “sag” in the middle. A midpoint reversal (or shift, as it is sometimes known) gives you something exciting and important to use to buoy up the whole thing. It helps solidify the main conflict of the story, give the character direction, and make the transition from the first half of the story (the reaction stage, if you will) to the second half (the active stage).

To sum up…

A midpoint reversal stirs things up in the middle of a story so people don’t get bored or figure out where you’re going with things too easy. Some of the things it can do include:

  • Adding a time limit before something terrible happens
  • Removing allies or support main character was relying on
  • Revealing new information that completely changes main character’s world view
  • Raising the stakes
  • Introducing final conflict/antagonist (if not clear before)

Okay, what about a Dark Moment?

A dark moment, sometimes called the black moment, is an event that falls near or at the end of the second act (or middle). It is a point when it seems like all is lost, when whatever your character was relying on has failed, and there seems to be nowhere left to go.

Do I need a Dark Moment?

Not necessarily, but it’s generally considered better to have one. By severely testing your characters, you make the end victory (if they have one) all the more sweet.

How do I set up a Dark Moment?

Dark moments are generally considered part of your character’s arc even though they are technically a plot point as well. Often your main character has an internal character arc that they’ve been working on throughout the story, and relating your dark moment to that arc (for example, if a character has been hurt by love in the past and has been working toward love again, a betrayal of that love would be a good catalyst for a dark moment) can be effective. It’s important to remember that the dark moment has to affect your main character to the point where it seems impossible to go on. In other words, it has to be something that matters to them personally.

When does the Dark Moment fall?

Generally 75%-80% of the way throughout the story. It’s generally the turning point between the middle and the end of the story. In a classic hero’s journey, it is the threshold of the Road Back and the Resurrection stages.

If my main character has given up hope, what then?

Actually, you can kind of think of the dark moment as a mini midpoint reversal (which makes sense, since it is often the break between acts two and three). Despite all that has happened, and despite how hopeless everything seems, your character picks up what they have left, makes a decision, and gets on with it, stronger now that they’ve survived their worst nightmare.

What if my character doesn’t have an arc strong enough to warrant a dark moment?

Then you might want to go back through and add some characterization in. But even a one-trick character can have a dark moment. If you’ve got a mostly plot-based story where the main character just wants to get home, making that goal seemingly impossible will still do the trick.

Can I have some examples?

Sure! To stick to my normal examples, the dark moment in A New Hope is when Obi-Wan Kenobi is killed. The dark moment in the Lord of the Rings is when Frodo can’t bring himself to make it up the side of Mount Doom (and Sam has to essentially carry him). And the dark moment in the Harry Potter series is essentially the entirety of the fifth book.


Mother Characters in Scifi and Fantasy

There’s not a lot of mother characters as main characters in speculative fiction. I can think of exactly two in books that I read (Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest). Part of me is sad, because there’s not a lot of people out there to directly identify with when I read.

But mostly I’m okay with this. Why?

Being a parent is terrifying. There a million horrible things that could happen to children at any point and, as a parent, you worry about them all the time. No one told me before I had kids that doing so would destroy my ability to partake of any media where children are hurt in any way, or where children and parents are separated, or where a parent has lost a child, or…

…you get the point.

Generally, in scifi/fantasy, terrible things are happening. There are wars and monsters and hostile aliens. And to be in a mother’s head through all that, to have to worry about her children through all that–no way. I’m perfectly okay reading about people with no familial attachments. Let them run the gamut of supernatural creatures and political machinations.

(Older children–say in their teens–are not as bad. I don’t know if I’m more sensitive to younger kids because my own kids are littler, or if it’s because older children are at least somewhat competent at life and hence do not need to be constantly protected.)

In case, you’re wondering what brought this on, I had a story idea the other day for a mother main character and

Nope octopusWhat do you think, Squiders? Know of any good speculative fiction books with mother MCs that won’t stress me out too much?

Library Book Sale Finds: Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

The problem with the library book sale books (now I’ve been to another one) is that I’ve got a whole bunch now, and I can’t tell which ones I picked up versus which ones my husband picked up (unless they’re mysteries. The mysteries are all mine).

That’s the case here. I don’t remember picking up Nine Princes in Amber (it has a large sticker declaring it the property of a Minnesota library, which is fairly distinctive) but it seems like something I would have, since Zelazny is one of those authors I’ve heard of but never read.

Title: Nine Princes in Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny
Genre: …fantasy?
Publication Year:

Pros: Excellent hook, very strong beginning, interesting family dynamics
Cons: Book gets more tell-y as it goes on

Nine Princes in Amber is the first book in a long series called the Chronicles of Amber. We meet our main character in the hospital, where he remembers nothing. The beginning is excellent, with the mystery of who he is making for a really interesting read.

The problem is that that mystery is solved fairly quickly, and the book kind of devolves from there. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s interesting family dynamics, some fascinating world building, and some great character interactions. But we get several long passages of exposition or telling what happened over a period of some time, and nothing that happens after the main character figures out who he is is quite as compelling as what happens before.

I guess there’s such a thing as too strong a hook?

At the same time, the book ends on a note that almost makes me want to read the rest of the series, if I can find them anywhere, even though the main story arcs seem like they may not be things that necessarily appeal to me.

So I’m generally conflicted. I really liked the beginning, but the rest of the book wasn’t so hot. Squiders who have read this series, what did you think? (Please note at the beginning of your comment if you are including spoilers.)

The Mess of the Query Letter

The mess of my life too, Squiders.

I’ve finally got everything in order to start getting my submission stuff together for my YA paranormal novel. So now I need to construct a query letter and a synopsis. I haven’t had to do either in, oh, five, six years? And sky sharks, does it show.

I kind of flipped out for the first few days this week. Do query letters still work the same way they did back then? If not, how have they changed? And then I cavorted about the Internet for an unnecessary amount of time. And then I procrastinated writing my query letter for as long as humanly possible, and then I wrote two of what are perhaps the worst query letters known to man.

I’d really like someone else to look at them. But my main writing community has undergone a membership shift in the past several years, and there’s not as many experienced people on a regular basis anymore. Do you know of any good communities for such things, Squiders? I promise that I will reciprocate (I’m actually decently at telling what’s wrong with query letters that are not my own) and not just be that annoying poster who shows up and asks for critique without so much as a “How do you do?”

And for the sake of why not, I’ll post my two current attempts here underneath a cut. If you’re interested in such things, you can give them a look.

Continue reading

The Inciting Incident

I’m running a storycraft meeting on inciting incidents tonight, Squiders, and since y’all liked my pacing info sheet so much, I thought I’d share my info sheet for inciting incidents as well.

What is an Inciting Incident?

An inciting incident is the first major “event” of a story. In broad terms, it is the incident that sets the story rolling, the event that disrupts your main character’s world. In the Hero’s Journey model, it is the Call to Adventure.

Some writing resources will refer to any major event throughout a story as an inciting incident, but for the sake of our discussion, we will use inciting incident only to refer to the first one.

What isn’t an Inciting Incident?

The term inciting incident is sometimes used interchangeably with other terms, such as First Plot Point. This can be confusing. In some cases an inciting incident will be interchangeable with a first plot point (or act turn, or any number of terms), but in many cases the first plot point comes after. The first plot point is the point where a character begins to act on the events of the inciting incident. For the sake of completeness, we’ll discuss the first plot point a little further along.

What IS an Inciting Incident?

An inciting incident is generally passive–something that happens to your character as opposed they choose to do. They can be positive, negative, or neutral. They can also be arbitrary. Because an inciting incident is not the first plot point, it can be hard to pinpoint what exactly changes that incites the story. In Star Wars, the inciting incident might be Darth Vader capturing Leia’s ship (because then Leia needs rescuing, and it also gives a reason for the droids to leave). It might be when Luke finds the message Leia left in R2D2. Part of it depends on how the story is being framed–as to who is the main character, how close the voice is (omnipresent stories can have different inciting incidents from first person narratives), etc.

Inciting incidents also often reveal what genre a story is, especially in stories that have real world trappings.

Do I Have to Have an Inciting Incident?

Yes. Without one, you have no story.

Does It Reveal the Main Plot?

Not necessarily. The only requirement of the inciting incident is that changes the main character’s life in some manner. It may not reveal the overall plot of a story. For example, the inciting incident in Harry Potter is when he finds out he’s a wizard–but that tells us nothing about Voldemort, the prophecy, or things to come. But no matter what comes next, Harry’s life has changed.

However, often the inciting incident causes your main character to want (or not want) something, which can lead into the main plot.

When Does an Inciting Incident Happen?

Generally, an inciting incident takes place some time during the first quarter (approximately 20-25%) of a story. It has to happen before the first plot point (which is the break between acts 1 and 2, if using an act structure). In many cases, it happens within the first 10% of a story. In some cases, it can happen before the story starts (off-screen) or at the same time as the first plot point.

What Happens Before an Inciting Incident?

Before an inciting incident is the status quo. We see the main character, the world they live in, and their normal life. Often some sort of stake is introduced, something that the character is willing to fight to defend, as this may provide motivation for the character later. Generally the main character also has some sort of more mundane issue motivating them at the moment, which may or may not be related to the main plot.

What Happens After an Inciting Incident?

After the inciting incident we have the build-up to the main plot and the first plot point. This can be short or long, depending on how close the inciting incident happens to the first plot point. In many cases, whatever dilemma the character was worrying about before the incident continues to dominate. But eventually things come to a head and the first plot point happens.

About That First Plot Point

The first plot point is where the main story gets rolling. It’s where the main character makes a decision and begins to act on it. It’s where Frodo decides to take the ring to Mordor, it’s where Luke decides to go rescue Leia. In a Hero’s Journey, it’s the Crossing the Threshold. At this point, the main character absolutely can not go back to the way things were. The antagonist is often introduced or directly responsible for this plot point. The main character may learn that what he thought he knew was all a lie. The first plot point happens 20-25% through the story and bridges between act 1 and act 2.

So, there you go, Squiders. Agree with my definitions? Anything you would add?

A Need For New Music

Okay, Squiders, I need your help today.

I went to my old music standby, Grooveshark, the other day, which is where I’ve made my novel-specific playlists over the years, only to discover that it had been shut down (and in April. I knew I’d been focusing a lot on short stories/nonfic projects lately, but I didn’t realize that it had been that long).

I’m a little grumpy, because if there was any warning that the site was going down, I didn’t get it, or I would have gone in and made sure I had a list of what songs were in each playlist so I could replicate them elsewhere. So now I don’t know what music I had saved in there, nor how to find it elsewhere.

But anyway! I find myself in need of a new website to make story playlists on. In theory, this website should:

  • Allow me to make my own playlists of specific songs
  • Let me listen to said playlists on infinite repeat
  • Be free or at least fairly cheap, and, ideally
  • Have limited or no ads

Those are listed in order of importance. I’ve been out of touch on the music website front (obviously), so I have no idea what’s even out there. If you have something you use that you would recommend, or even if you’ve just heard about something that sounds like it will work, please let me know!

In other news, Hidden Worlds will be celebrating its fifth anniversary of publication at the end of the year, and I’d like to get it some new reviews so I can do some promotional campaigns. If you’re willing to commit to leaving an Amazon review (and, if you’re feeling generous, a Goodreads or Smashwords one as well) before the end of November, I will give you a free ebook copy of the book. Email me at kitmcampbell at gmail dot com and we’ll get the ball rolling!

Cover Reveal: Under His Skin by Stacey O’Neale

Squiders, today I’m pleased to reveal to cover for the first book of Stacey O’Neale’s new series!

Under His Skin cover

Earth girls are never easy. But they’re worth it.

Bakery owner Annabelle Sparks’ business is booming ever since she won reality TV’s Cupcake Wars. The one thing deflating her happy soufflé? The extremely sexy Kaden Chance only sees her as a best friend-and Annabelle wants so much more. After waiting a year for him recognize their chemistry, she’s giving up and dating other people.

What she doesn’t know is Kaden’s heart doesn’t actually beat. He’s not human. Heck, he’s not even from Earth. To retain his intergalactic immunity, no one can ever know he is an extraterrestrial. But when Annabelle starts dating, something strange happens to Kaden’s unmoved heart: it begins to beat. Now he faces an impossible choice-tell Annabelle the truth and be deported-or lose his last chance at love.

Release Date: September 21, 2015

Pre-order Here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

For a limited time, you can pre-order the book for only $0.99!

The Changes of the Process, Part 2

Along with the revision/editing post from Tuesday, I found a post about outlining from February of 2011. A little newer than the editing one, but still completely different from my current process.

Again, for those too lazy to go back and read the original post, I shall summarize: at the time, I made a list of characters with plot-specific characteristics, freewrote out my premise and the story that I had thus far, and then usually began writing. At some point I would use phase outlining (where you outline by writing out sentences or phrases in chronological order, usually in bullet point form), usually after I’d written some of the story.

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve become more experienced and serious about my writing is that more organization has come into the writing process. There are still some situations where I will pants a story, but they’re increasingly rare. Short stories I always completely outline (admittedly, by phase outlining) before I start. There’s no room in a short for meandering about trying to figure out your direction.

But past!me didn’t do short stories, so that’s a moot point.

For novels, I’ve been experimenting lately by outlining by structure. For my space dinosaur adventure story that I wrote for Nano last year, I noted internal, external, and character-based arcs, and then found the “tentpoles” for all three plot lines (inciting incident, midpoint reversal, and climax). No phase outlining. I did write down my worldbuilding and characters before hand (mostly rank and position, as well as appearance). And it worked–by knowing where I needed to be at a certain point, the story naturally built toward the necessary goals.

I’m working on a co-authored story at the moment, and we’re working in a similar manner, though with more “acts.” (Five, I believe.) But I’ve also mixed my phase outlining back in. I identify where I need to be and how many words I have to get there, and then I make a list of everything that needs to happen between the current point in the story and the next turning point. And then I arrange those points in a chronological order, and tada! Phase outline.

I used to believe that outlining killed the sense of discovery one had when writing, and that identifying what needed to happen when would force you to ruin the flow of your story. And I always used to say that I wrote because I wanted to know how the story went. But I haven’t found any creativity drain by putting in some organization, and I’m much more pleased with my first drafts now than I was back then. In many cases, they just need tweaks instead of a major revision, which is awesome.

Believe in outlining, Squiders? What’s your process? Tried anything new lately that’s really been looking for you?

The Changes of the Process

So, for some reason that currently escapes me, I was re-reading the very start of this blog (from five years ago–yikes!) and one of my very first posts was about my editing process. (You can see that post here.) And it was interesting to see, because in the five years since, my process has almost completely changed.

To summarize my original post, at the time I wrote a first draft, sent it out to betas, and the created a bound Master copy, which I would put all the reader comments into. I would then go through the Master copy myself and makes notes, then do a chapter by chapter edit. Then the process would repeat itself until the story was done.

At the time I wrote that original post, I’d done two edits: one directly following this method (and judging by the pictures, the story I used for the post), a YA fantasy that I’ve not touched in years and probably needs close to a full rewrite at this point; and a complete rewrite of the first book in my high fantasy trilogy (that I am still working on).

It was a good starting method, but it doesn’t deal very well with the overall picture, which eventually became apparent over the years.

So! Five years later, what do I do now?

Well, the first steps are the same. I write a book. I send it out to beta readers. I create a Master copy. (The Master copy is great because it keeps all the comments, both mine and my betas’, in one place, nicely bound together so chapters in the middle can’t wander off.)

And the end steps are the same. I still do the chapter-by-chapter edit. I still get people to read it again (or for the first time).

What’s changed is what goes between the two halves. I’ve been using a modified version of Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel process. (I would link, but she’s in the process of switching websites.) I highly recommend the course if you’ve been having editing issues, or if you’re having to go through a ton of drafts to get a finished product. Basically, this process has you look at the aspects of your book–characters, conflicts, plot arcs, settings, etc.–making sure you know what your goals are and what needs to be done from a big picture point of view to get there.

Thus armed with this information, you’re more informed going into your edit, and it’s easier to make the changes necessary to get the story you want out of it.

I’ve found it works for me. It may not work for everybody. It doesn’t really deal with structure, so if you’re someone who edits or outlines using turning points, it may not work as well for you. I’ve started putting those in my writing outlines, so I haven’t run into issues with that as of yet.

What’s your editing process, Squiders? How has it changed over time?

In other news, I have a new short story available for free over at Turtleduck Press! Give it a look! It’s a creation myth with a bit of a twist. I’ll send out an email to my mailing list in a few days explaining its origin, if such things interest you.