The Quick Six – With CP Patrick

Welcome to this week’s The Quick Six – an ongoing series of posts, where I interview independent authors on their self-publishing stories, using six quick questions to gain insight into their processes, thoughts and works.

This week, I’m interviewing CP Patrick, a fiction and fantasy author hailing from Washington DC, with qualifications in African Studies and Law, and debut author of The Truth About Awiti (to be released 27 March 2015) – a historical fantasy novel covering the rich tapestry of tropical storms and hurricanes, restless spirits and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

1. What has been the most rewarding thing about self-publishing?

I would say becoming a part of the writing community. There are so many writers, editors, and artists invested in each other’s successes. It’s very encouraging. For example, my book cover art was developed in South Africa by Damonza and my author sketch was drawn by a very talented student artist, Guillermo Meraz, in Mexico City. The indie publishing community is focused and driven on charting their own course in the publishing world. And I would also say publication. Looking at your finished work product, holding your novel in your hands, is perhaps the most rewarding experience.

2. What has been the most challenging thing about self-publishing?

Learning! There is so much to learn! But the information is out there and again, there’s a community of indie writers who are willing to help us newbies navigate the process. The first book is definitely the hardest. I suspect subsequent works are not as tedious (I hope!)

3. What have you learned during the process that you wish you had known from the start?

Everything! 🙂 Seriously, I wish I had known from the start that I would need to hire a professional copyeditor. Sounds crazy right? But I honestly feel like most indie writers don’t think they will need to hire a professional (or beg a dear friend who is a professional copyeditor). I spent many unnecessary hours editing until my eyes bled. Towards the end of the writing process I read an article on the importance of indie authors hiring a professional editor (often we hear the cover is the most important thing). Hands down, hiring a professional copy editor was the best decision I ever made. I wish I had known about my copyeditor, Emma Simmons (www.emcopyedits.com), from the start!

4. Who or what has been your biggest source of help or inspiration?

Many authors and writers have served as help and inspiration, but I would have to say, more than anyone else, poet Sonia Sanchez. I met her at the 2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, which celebrates writers in the African diaspora. I grew up reading her works so it was wonderful to meet her in person. When I told Ms. Sanchez that I wanted to be a writer, she blessed my writing and blessed my writing journey. It was a life-changing moment for me. I look forward to sending her a copy of my novel.

5. What do you think the future holds for indie authors and self-publishing?

I think the future looks pretty darn bright for indie authors thank-you-very-much! 🙂 Self-publishing affords writers control of their destinies. There are really great manuscripts that are easily overlooked, lost in a slush pile, etc. Rather than waiting (with hope and confidence diminishing with each passing hour), writers can say, “If I don’t hear from agent/publisher by X, I’m going to self-publish.” And even for writers who hope to enter the traditional publishing market, self-publishing can be used as a vehicle to get their work into the hands of readers and gain a following. That being said, I believe there will always be a market for both traditional and self-publishing.

6. What is your published work about and why are people going to love it? 

My debut novel, The Truth About Awiti, is a historical fantasy that focuses on a common theory in the African diaspora – the spirits of restless slaves are not at peace. They seek restitution and revenge in the wind and rain of hurricanes. Through the story of the protagonist, Awiti, and the voices of those who have encountered her love and wrath, readers will experience a non-traditional approach to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It’s a tragic tale but Awiti is a relatable character – she desires love, makes poor choices at times, and struggles with reconciling her past.  The novel begins in 15th century Africa and ends with the onset of Hurricane Katrina. I hope readers love it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

 

 

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The Quick Six – With CP Patrick

Understanding Story Structure – Part 3: Micro Structure

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Over the last couple of weeks I have been looking at story structure – from the global level of the story itself, to the macro level of each act within the story. This week, I am looking at story structure at the micro level – Sequences, Scenes and Beats.

Before we move on into the discussion, let’s do a quick recap:

1. The novel is like a Russian Doll – the biggest doll (our novel) contains smaller replicas of itself within itself. The content won’t necessarily replicate in miniature, but the structure will (as will, to different degrees, the tone and theme).

2. The structure is many things to many people – countless authors and writing gurus have all attempted to distil structure into the key building blocks (Snyder’s Save the Cat, Aristotle’s Three Act Structure, Bell’s LOCK and Two Doorways, Coyne’s Story Grid, Brooks’ Four Boxes) – but sometimes you just have to build something that works for you.

My structural breakdown goes like this:

1. Status Quo

2. Call to Action

3. Engagement

4. Crisis Point

5. Directed Action

6. Outcome

 

So far we have seen this model present across the entire novel and across each of the three acts that a novel comprises.

Today, let’s see how the model presents in the micro components of a novel – sequences, scenes and beats.

Sequences, Scenes and Beats

Sequences, scenes and beats are possibly the hardest parts of structure to bed down – primarily because there are lots of definitions out there on what each of them is, but also because they are more directly associated with films rather than novels.

Let’s look at each in turn…

Sequences

Sequences are the next doll to come out of the shell – the miniature replica of the act.

I find that Wikipedia has the best definition:

In film, a sequence is a series of scenes that form a distinct narrative unit, which is usually connected either by unity of location or unity of time. 

When I first started planning my debut novel, Divided Elements – Resistance, I found that my outlining process consisted entirely of acts and sequences. Sequences are the large chunks of story that give structure to the acts. They’re also likely to be the structural elements people use to summarise your story.

This happens to me all the time – I’ll be talking to someone about a movie I saw on the weekend and the first question they will ask is “What was it about?”

“Well,” I’ll say. “It was this sci-fi movie called Snowpiercer, where there is this train hurtling through the snow and ice, and people are divided into classes and designated to different carriages, and there’s a plot afoot to get to the engine and basically start a revolution – you know, power to the people.”

And then, if they’re not particularly interested in seeing the film, but still a little intrigued, they will ask “What happens?”. And this is where I launch into the rundown of sequences:

“Well! The plebs in the back carriage are receiving revolutionary messages and intel in the soylent green like food bars they get dished up and so they stage a revolt to find the one person who can get them to the engine room. They make it to the jail carriage where they release the drug-addled  mastermind that can get them through the next few carriages and all the way to the engine room – He gets them to the the next carriage but it is filled with murderous guards with some serious technology and killer weapons, leading the charge is  the creepy Prime Minister of the train. She gets captured and forced into helping them get to the front on pain of death…” etc etc

It’s the Cliff Notes version of the story – just enough detail to get a sense of the story and how it unfolds, but not enough detail to get a sense of the world complexities or character motivations and development. In this way, sequences tend to be action-driven – they detail what is happening – the physical/tangible triggers for  story and character development.

The sequences focus on what happens, leaving it to the scenes to answer the more difficult questions of why and how, to explore the more complex story elements of worldbuilding, character development, inner turmoil and tension.

But like their own mama doll, sequences still follow the same structure of status quo, call to action, engagement, crisis point, directed action and outcome.

Let’s take the Snowpiercer example – Sequence 1 would be the “Stage revolt and get to jail carriage”.

The status quo details the conditions of the last carriage and the frustration and fears of its occupants. The call to action is the latest message found in the food bar – it’s time to start this revolution. The engagement is the fight with the guards. The crisis point is where the protagonist is confronted with a gun-bearing guard and he has to decide whether to trust the intel (that the guns aren’t loaded) or back down. The directed action is where he back the intel and his instincts and doesn’t back down. He leads the surge through to the next carriage. The outcome is arriving at the jail carriage and the cell of the key person they are after.

 

Scenes

Scenes are the next doll to emerge. If I could establish a definition for them, I would use something very similar to that of sequences:

A scenes is a collection of beats that form a distinct event, which usually takes place within one location or one time period. 

Think of them like the building blocks you need to achieve the overarching premise of your sequence. The protagonist and his friends need to successfully stage a revolt and make it to the jail carriage. What ingredients are needed to make this cake rise? Well, we will need a scene that shows a kind of ‘tipping point’ of frustration amongst the occupants of the carriage and the introduction of a ‘safe breaker’ – something that will enable them to vent their frustrations. That’s our scene: “Just as the tension is about to turn critical, they receive a secret message that gives them the key to success”.

Like a sequence, it also gets fleshed out with the structural elements. The status quo is the tension. The call to action is the realisation that the tension will hit the tipping point soon and potentially cause a lot of grief – something needs to be done. The engagement is the futile attempts to calm everyone down. The crisis point is when the protagonist considers starting the revolt without knowing it is the right time. The directed action is the protagonist waiting – tense, yet patiently – to receive word before he acts. The outcome is the protagonist being rewarded with the secret message that tells him the time is right.

Building Blocks

Beats

Beats are tricky things. I am wary of approaching them – they seem as if they exist on Planck Scale, where things don’t play according to the normal rules.

Like most of the other dolls that have gone before them, beats are indeed a miniature replica. Unlike the other dolls, they have no additional, smaller doll within them. They are the last component. As such, beats themselves are not further divided into smaller parts – they are the smaller parts.

Film-makers like to break down their scenes into two components – the beat and the shot. Both are like twin atoms – equally representing the smallest unit of the story. The beat refers to the narrative unit, the shot to the visual unit. Both explain what is happening – they literally tell the story.

Let’s use an example: Let’s say that in this paticular scene in your story you want to write about a teenager named Izzy switching on the memory-erasing machine.

Okay, let’s start with the ‘beat’. From what I can understand, there a few types of ‘beats’ – the most common being action beats, dialogue beats and internalisation beats. There are also, from my observation, explanation/exposition beats, description beats and flash-back beats:

The time machine stood gleaming like a metal meerkat, perched on tippy-toes, standing as straight as could be in anticipation of the excitement or danger that could come next [description]. Izzy crept forward, her grin growing wider with each step [action]. “Eliana would be flipping out…”, she whispered to hersel [dialogue]. The thought of her best friend, Eliana – former best friend [internalisation] – draws Izzy up short. Her grin wavers as she recalls their last conversation. Ten years as best friends had fizzled in a space of ten minutes

.

“You are so selfish!” Eliana had raged.
“I’m not selfish,” Izzy had retorted. “
You’re scared!” [flash-back]

Okay, so the above example is a little convoluted – courtesy of trying to fit in all the beat types – but you see the point. There are a lot of beat types and each presents an interesting way of conveying information.

Now, let’s turn to the less popular ‘shot’.

Again, Wikipedia brings the goods with a useful description:

[A] shot is a series of frames, that runs for an uninterrupted period of time. Film shots are an essential aspect of a movie where angles, transition and cuts are used to further express emotion, ideas and movement.

Film shots are typically defined by three criteria – Subject (who or what is predominantly captured); Field Size (how much of the subject and its surrounding environment is captured); and Camera Placement (from what angle or perspective the image is being captured).

Compare the following:

Subject: > Backyard > Fountain > Foliage

Screenshot 2015-03-06 11.38.50

Field Size: Wide Shot > Mid Shot > Close Up

Camera Placement: Aerial > Profile > Behind

Screenshot 2015-03-06 11.39.04

 

Even though, as authors, we are dealing with the narrative (and not the visual) – we can still take some lessons away:

The true importance of beats lies not with them, in and of themselves – but with the juxtaposition of, and transition between, them.

Positioning a wide-shot beat (where we see the chaotic movement of a crowd, which includes the protagonist) next to a close-up beat (where we see in full detail the protagonist’s smile) – conveys a very precise tone and emotion. Without any explanation necessary, we know instinctively that the protagonist is smiling either because she likes the chaos or feels responsible for it.

Positioned deep within the large crowd of frenetic bodies, Jane whirled her limbs in a frenzy, mimicing and leading the replicated chaos around her. Shouts and smells assaulted her senses as she jostled, and was jostled back.

She smiled. 

 

This tone can be sharpened by using a cut-away shot – i.e. juxtaposing a ‘shot’ of the crowd in chaos, with the protagonist nowhere to be seen, and then cutting sharply to a close-up of the protagonist’s smile.

The crowd was an angry mass of frenetic limbs. People of all shapes and sizes jostled and heaved. From the balconies above it appeared as if the large gathering was boiling, bubbling desperately and breaking into large pockets of isolated and connected violence.

Away from the crowd, on the isolated street corner, Jane watched on. Her eyes never wavered from the chaos – taking in every movement, every assault, every climbing degree of violence.

Alone and unwatched, she smiled. 

 

Each beat conveys a very specific tone and emotion. In the first example, seeing Jane in the midst of the chaos from the very beginning, gives us a very different feel to the second example, where we don’t know of Jane yet and don’t know where she is. Finding her alone and isolated from the chaos provides a darker tone. And, even though both examples end with her smiling – one feels more sinister than the other.

Both seem to also serve different purposes for the scene. The first is more likely to be an Engagement beat – it speaks of fun & games. The second appears to be a Directed Action beat – there is something decidedly conscious and calculating about this smile.

Within any given scene, there will be multiple and various beats – some will be status quo beats, some will be call to action beats. You could have multiple call to action beats, all ‘shot’ from different lengths and perspectives and juxtaposed to create the overall mood you are aiming for, and just one outcome beat – a final ‘fullstop’ at the end of the scene.

In that way, beats live up to their musical etymology – stringing together short beats and long beats, loud beats and soft beats, slow beats and fast beats – it’s what gives you the narrative music 🙂

 

So, there you have it – the final look at Story Structure from a micro perspective. I hope you have found it useful!

 

(Featured Image derived from “365/173: Building Blocks” courtesy of Kaytee Riek via Flickr Creative Commons)

Understanding Story Structure – Part 3: Micro Structure

The Quick Six – with Sara Whitford

Welcome to this week’s The Quick Six – an ongoing series of posts, where I interview independent authors on their self-publishing stories, using six quick questions to gain insight into their processes, thoughts and works.

This week, I’m interviewing Sara Whitford – a stay-at-home, work-at-home, homeschooling mom living on the North Carolina coast, who also juggles work as a web designer and part-time magazine editor.

Sara Whitford - The Smuggler's Gambit

I first met Sara through the monthly writing challenge and was impressed with her support and encouragement of writers and self-publishers. Sara has recently published her first novel –  The Smuggler’s Gambit – the story of 17-year-old Adam Fletcher, who upon being bound into an apprenticeship finds himself a pawn in the middle of a smuggling war.

 

1. What has been the most rewarding thing about self-publishing?

​My first novel, The Smuggler’s Gambit, is only up for pre-order now. It won’t debut until March 20, so my answer may change once my book is in public circulation, but for now, I’d have to say the most rewarding thing about self-publishing is tied directly into the reason I did it in the first place. I wanted total control over my own creative work.

Let me put it this way: As much work, as much research, as much heart, as much everything that goes into creating something like a novel—I just can’t see doing all of that and then signing the rights over to a publishing house so that they can pay me a fraction of what the book is bringing in. Not to mention, the only deadlines I had were those I imposed upon myself. I designed the cover art for my book. I did the layout for the interior. I hired my copy editor. I developed the website for the book series—all on my own. It’s a labor of love for me. There was no one else standing over me telling me what to do and when, and I think that was​ the most rewarding aspect. Total control, which also means whether my book really takes off, or whether it tanks, I will know that, by God’s grace, I was able to bring it all together and make it happen. I was able to create something that’s never been in the world before—this unique story, with these unique characters, and the circumstances they live through.

2. What has been the most challenging thing about self-publishing?

​The most challenging thing about self-publishing is ​the same thing that makes it rewarding. Total control. That also means the pressure is on. You have to not only make sure you turn out a great story that’s clean, well-edited and with a nice layout and cover, you also have to do the work of marketing the thing. Then again, I’ve heard from some traditionally published friends that even authors who have books with the big publishing houses—unless they’re already bestsellers—have to do a lot of the marketing for the books on their own… so maybe that’s not unique to self-publishing.

I do know that once my book launches in a few weeks, I’m going to have to do some public events—things like mini-lectures with question and answer sessions at the end, along with a book signing. I have to confess, I don’t mind promoting my stuff online all day long, but when it comes to getting out in public, it’s a struggle. I’m pretty introverted, as writers can often be, and so it takes a lot out of me to do public speaking—at least I’ve found that to be the case in the past when I’ve done local history lectures.

3. What have you learned during the process that you wish you had known from the start?

​I wish I had realized that writing the first draft really is just getting the basic story down. It’s not meant to be anywhere near perfect, and it will go through so many revisions, and then hopefully a good copy edit. The final product will be quite different from that initial draft.​ I am glad that I learned a great technique very early on in producing my first draft. I call it “writing as if.” I won’t elaborate on that here, but if anyone is interested, I have a post about it on my website.

4. Who or what has been your biggest source of help or inspiration?

​I have a son who’s nearly twelve. He’s a huge inspiration to me—in fact, I dedicated my book to him. I hope that it will show him that if you set a goal and you are willing to work hard to achieve it, then Lord willing, you can make it happen.​

I’ve also had some great motivation along the way from the WritingChallenge.org community, in fact, that’s how we met, Mikhaeyla.

As far as help, I have had two very good author friends who have both been a tremendous help to me: Terrance Zepke and Kevin Duffus. Terrance has had lots of advice for me relating to the publishing industry and the business of actually producing my novel. Kevin is a very knowledgeable historian when it comes to North Carolina coastal history. He has been there answering any of my questions along the way about historical details in the novel.

5. What do you think the future holds for indie authors and self-publishing?

​I am so excited about the future for indie authors and self-publishing. And along with that, I’m even excited about what this will mean for traditional publishers and their relationships with authors. As time goes on, traditional publishers are going to have to work a lot harder to convince authors to sign on the dotted line.

Things are so much easier now—especially with the print-on-demand services by CreateSpace and IngramSpark—that there’s really nothing holding anyone back these days from being a published author.

Some say that ends up creating far too much inferior work for readers to wade through, but I am a big believer in the idea of the cream rising to the top. I think good books will be enjoyed by readers. And readers will see to it that those books are successful. Of course it’s also on the indie author to make sure folks know about their book. With the ease of creating websites these days, and all of the social media outfits where you can enjoy all kinds of free publicity and interaction with potential readers—there is no excuse for people to not know about your self-published books.​

6. What is your published work about and why are people going to love it? 

​The Smuggler’s Gambit is the first book of the Adam Fletcher series. The back of the book blurb describes it like this:

Port Beaufort, North Carolina — May 1765When 17-year-old Adam Fletcher is forced into an apprenticeship, he unwittingly becomes a pawn in a smuggling war.Soon, he’s forced to make a tough decision. Will he agree to become a spy performing a civic duty to the Crown? Or will he risk everything — possibly even putting his own family in danger — to protect his new master?Secrets will be revealed, loyalties will be questioned, betrayals will be uncovered, and a young man’s character will be put to the test in The Smuggler’s Gambit.

Why are people going to love it? Well, it remains to be seen whether or not they will, but I can tell you that I love this story and these characters. It is a mild adventure—at least compared to the wild circumstances Adam will find himself in in book 2, Captured in the Caribbean. ​In The Smuggler’s Gambit, the action builds slowly as the full cast of characters is introduced, but once the ball starts rolling, readers aren’t going to believe how things turn out!

The Quick Six – with Sara Whitford