Writing and Editing a Sequel – Lessons of an Indie Author

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

It’s been almost five months since my last blog post. In previous years that would have been a bad sign – an indication that I was distancing myself from my writing. Not this time. The last five months have been an absolute mission in getting this novel finished. And, with the last beta readers expected to send through their reactions in the next week, I’m ready to send Rebellion (Divided Elements #2) off to my editor.

This time – in between ‘finishing’ a book and releasing it to the world – is always strange. As an indie author, it’s where I transition from the creative aspects of the job to the management and marketing parts. Both are equally challenging and rewarding in part, and both are obviously necessary for maximising the chances of your book doing well. But, because they are so different, I find myself in a kind of breathing space between the end of one and the start of the other. Which gives me the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I have just accomplished (and what I am about to embark on) and share that reflection with you.

Is writing/editing a second book really that different from writing/editing your first book?

 

Hell yeah. It is radically different. Or, at least it was for me.

It doesn’t help that I have a mild case of sophomore syndrome (that is in a constant state of flux the closer I get to publication date).

It’s weird – it reminds me of my early twenties. I was never richer than when I was in my early twenties. I’ve never been poorer, but my disposable income has kind of stagnated. I earn more money, but whereas in my twenties I was buying cheap wine and tequila and eating $6 chinese noodles for dinner, now I’m buying better wines and better tequila and treating myself to tasting menus at nicer restaurants. My income has increased, but so has my taste.

Same with my books – I had more creative freedom with my first book (and more naivete and misplaced enthusiasm) but less skill. With my second book, I’ve started with more experience, lessons learned and skill, but less freedom and room for error.

The time frames have also been wildly different. I wrote Resistance (Divided Elements #1) in three years and took a year to edit it and bring it to publication. In comparison I wrote Rebellion (Divided Elements #2) in just under a year and took six months to edit it.

As I wrote in a recent tweet – I feel like my first book taught me how to write and complete a story (before Resistance I had started and never finished a lot of stories and screenplays) and my second book has taught me how to craft and refine a story. What I didn’t mention (hey, I was limited to 280 characters) is that in between learning how to write a story and how to craft a story, I learned a lot about my style. As a story engineer, as a writer, as an editor.

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So what did I learn?

Some key take away lessons for me:

  • My approach to story structure holds up under pressure. I used it both as a plotting tool for Rebellion and as a diagnostic tool when editing. I attribute my faster writing and editing time to it. It’s also the reason that, while a lot changed from draft 1 to draft 6, the key turning points didn’t.
  • Writing a second book almost locks you in to a commitment to your writing. Your first book you can pass off as the lovestruck murmurings of youthful naivete – a summer fling, a chance to tick something off your bucket list. Write a second book and you’re effectively saying to yourself, “this isn’t playtime anymore, I’m an author now.”
  • I still have things I need to get better at, but I know them now. And, as GI Joe said, “knowing is half the battle.” Knowing them means I can fix them. And I’m lucky to have a great support network of thoughtful and incisive critique partners, enthusiastic beta readers, and high-quality editors to both point out areas of improvement and help me beat them into submission.

In a word:

 

As a story engineer, I am: curious

As a writer, I am: searching

As an editor, I am: a perfectionist

 

What about you? How would you describe yourself as a story engineer, writer, and/or editor? Let me know in the comments and let’s all check back in a year’s time to see what’s changed 🙂

 

Image courtesy of Green Chameleon via Unsplash
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Writing and Editing a Sequel – Lessons of an Indie Author

Editing your sequel – Step 2

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I wrote about my experience in drafting the sequel to my debut science fiction novel, Resistance (Divided Elements #1)and promised to share my upcoming experiences in editing said sequel. Last week was Step 1 – Reviewing Book 1. Which brings us to Step 2 – Seeing your strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of your readers.

 

STEP TWO – SEEING YOUR WORK LIKE YOUR READERS DO

You’re probably champing at the bit to actually rip into your draft manuscript, but trust me – it still needs more resting time. Going back in to a work in progress too soon after typing ‘the end’ can be like trying to reflect on a relationship a week after the break-up: All you’re going to get are hot, messy tears or a rose-tinted view of the belle epoque (neither of which are helpful).

If you’re like me, you’ll be spending this time working on completely unrelated projects – the half-drafted Nano project from two years back that you’ve been holding out on, various short stories for upcoming competitions, beta reading for crit partners, etc. If you’re not doing these things, you should seriously consider them. At the very least, bury yourself in an amazing book that can act as you ‘palate cleanser’, benchmark and inspiration when it finally comes time to review your own novel.

So, while waiting for our WIPs to get to room temperature, it’s time to kick off Step 2 – Seing your work like your readers do.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the challenges and advantages of writing Book 2. One of the advantages I neglected to mention was having the benefit of third party reviews – from crit partners, beta readers, ARC reviewers, and book reviewers.

Getting feedback about your writing style, your plotting, your characters, your world-building – it all adds up to a more refined blueprint for making your second book shine. When you write your first book, you send it off for publication not knowing how readers will respond or engage. With your second book, that uncertainty is not as all-encompassing.

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For those of you playing along at home, this is what I did:

  1. Take out your notebook or open up a new word or excel document – anything you can divide a page into 2 columns. Title the first column “Positive” and the second column “Negative.”
  2. Go to the Amazon and Goodreads pages of Book 1.
  3. Take a deep breath (you’ll need it) and start by filtering for 1* and/or 2* reviews. If you’re lucky enough not to have these, start with your 3*.
  4. Ease the pain by looking for the good amongst the review – even ‘bad’ reviews usually have something positive to say. When you find something good, write it down in the “Positive column”. Where multiple readers raise the same thing, underline/highlight/bold the entry.
  5. If you have less than 100 reviews, repeat step 4 for all them. If you have more, consider doing a dip sample from each of the rating categories.
  6. Now go back and look for the negative points. Write them down – but maybe not verbatim. Bad reviews tend to be full of emotion. Strip that away and get to the core of what the review is telling you – e.g. “All humans have a ‘lifeline’ that plugs into things. All I could think of was [a] silly looking plug-in device. I actually giggled each time it was referenced or used even if it was a serious moment” (yes, that was written in the 1* review for Resistance. sigh.) becomes “lack of understanding about / poor characterisation of world-building technology “.

 

These lists of things – of what your readers loved/were fascinated by/engaged with and what they hated/were turned off by/didn’t understand – become your touchpoints as you edit. The entries become the red flags for things you need to either a) incorporate more strongly or b) consider removing/reframing.

Here’s a snapshot of my list to get you started:

POSITIVE NEGATIVE
·       Original world-building

·       Dark tone that built tension

·       Great character development

·       Thought-provoking

·       Too philosophical

·       Didn’t like the main character

·       Didn’t understand the technology or mechanics of population control

 

Interestingly, of the three negative points listed, I’ll only address one: the lack of understanding about the world-building mechanics. The other two – character likeability and philosophical bent – won’t change. And that’s the thing with reviews – sometimes they just come from readers who didn’t like your book and not because your book was poorly written.

Remember, you’re not trying to please everyone. You want to engage the readers who want to love your story. Remove the obstacles for that love, but don’t try to write the book they wish they could have written.

What about you? What critiques or reviews have been left about your first book that you will incorporating in your Book 2 edits? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

RESISTANCE

 

Editing your sequel – Step 2

Editing your sequel – Step 1

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I wrote about my experience in drafting the sequel to my debut science fiction novel, Resistance (Divided Elements #1)and promised to share my upcoming experiences in editing said sequel.

So, here it goes – a look into Week One of my editing process.

 

STEP ONE – REVIEWING BOOK ONE

 

I haven’t read Resistance since I did the final check prior to publication. Crazy right?

Part of that was because I was terrified that I would read it and hate it; effectively caught in a writer’s purgatory where you hate the words but can’t take them back. But it was also because I had no time to read – my TBR pile of books on my bedside table is already its own Jenga stack and everytime I opened a page I would always feel guilty that I wasn’t writing words instead.

So, last week I sat down and read Resistance. Read it in two days. And (happily) I loved it (and hope I can do it justice with Book 2).

But it wasn’t all recreational reading. I had a purpose here – actually, I had two:

  • Identify the unresolved or hinted plot intrigues
  • Create a first-pass style list of key terms, phrases and spelling conventions

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For those of you playing along at home, this is what I did:

i. Took a deep breath and opened to page one

ii. Read the dedication and reminded myself why I was doing this

iii. Read the first chapter as a reader – no pen in hand, no keyboard in reach

iv. After the initial read-through, wrote down all the plot intrigues – all those hints of conflict, the developing complexities, the world-building points of interest.

I can be pretty left-brain at times, so I used a spreadsheet: the first column for the chapter number, the second for the plot intrigue, and the third for whether it was resolved by the end of the book (fully, partly, not-at-all).

For example, in chapter 4 we see Anaiya (the protagonist) playing a time-wasting / tactical-sharpening game on her wristplate. The game is faintly reminiscent of Solitaire. It was a nod to the retro days, but it was also a reminder that not all technology is ‘new’ in the future. It’s the 21st century and I still use a strangely shaped piece of metal with a fine-toothed wheel to open cans, I still use a metal key to open my front door, I still check the mailbox to find paper letters from companies who want my money, and I still occasionally use tiny rounds of copper and nickel to pay for paper movie tickets. All this in a world where space travel is commonplace, libraries of information can fit into a portable drive smaller than my hand, and video-conversations can happen in real-time with multiple people on the other side of the world.

I touch on the concept a little in Book 1, but it’s such an interesting concept to me, that I think I will elevate it in Book 2.

v. Read the chapter again, focusing on the ‘mechanics’. Again, all this was captured in a spreadsheet, but for this step I used multiple tabs –  one each for character descriptions, location profiles, unique terms, capitalised terms, turns of phrase, spelling conventions, timeline milestones, etc, etc.

This is where you should pick up on things like which words you capitalise or hyphenate and which ones you don’t, e.g. rundown or run-down, the Emancipation or The Emancipation.

More important are the character, location and story-specific nouns. The last thing you want is a diminutive character in Book 1 becoming tall and imposing in Book 2 (unless that’s the sort of sci-fi you are spinning).

Sci-fi and Fantasy have it tougher than most. I can’t tell you how many made-up and manipulated terms I have for things like plastics and metals or city infrastructure. Keep track of them and their descriptions and write it all down.

The list of your character descriptions is also useful because it doubles as a character list – use them! Don’t invent new characters for Book 2 if a supporting (or cameo) character can do the job.

vi. Repeated step 4 and 5 for the subsequent chapters (not forgetting to go back and update whether a plot intrigue has been resolved).

vii. Closed the book, sighed a happy sigh, started planning for the next stage of edits.

 

What about you? Are you going through the editing process as well? What other steps do you walk through in your approach? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

 

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

RESISTANCE

 

Editing your sequel – Step 1

Sophomore Syndrome – How to handle your sequels…

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

*Brushes away the cobwebs* Hello! Yes, it has been quite some time since I last shared my angst and discoveries about crafting compelling fiction. For the veteran readers of this blog, you’ll know this is an annual occurrence – marking the shift from musing about writing to figuring shit out and actually writing.

But, today, dear readers,  I am back.

I celebrated the start of 2018 by typing the final words in Divided Elements #2. It’s crazy to think I actually drafted an entire 100,000 word novel in less than 12 months. I’m really happy with how the sequel to Resistance has developed and I’m looking forward to diving into the editing process to polish up this rough gem of mine.

Over the next couple of months I’ll be posting about this process – sharing my approach in all its glory (challenges, pitfalls, successes, frustrations) – particularly as it relates to editing a sequel.

Sophomore Syndrome

Sequels are tricky things. So tricky, in fact, there’s a whole turn of phrase to describe the inherent difficulties: Sophomore Syndrome.

Sophomore Syndrome (aka Sophomore Slump or Second-Year Syndrome) is the common perception that a second effort or sequel will fail (or has failed)  to live up to the standards of the first. It can plague books, movies, albums, sporting careers, academic achievements, and progeny. [Hahaha, just kidding – let’s not give middle children another reason to get all angsty (shout out and love to my middle siblings)].

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Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland via Flickr Creative Commons

Sometimes the slump is just a product of expectations and time pressures. Think about it: Your first attempt enters the world clean; no-one knows what to expect, no benchmarks have been set, no context is available. And you’ve had all the time in the world, up until that first attempt, to hone your craft and prepare for the unveiling of your debut.

And then it’s time for your sequel. Now, everyone has expectations – of you and your work; the quality of your writing, the complexity of your characters, the nuances of your world-building. And they’re not just expectations that these will be merely as good as they were in the first effort – your audience wants to see growth, development, accelerating excellence; a failure to deliver on these will be seen as failure to realise the potential you so clearly presented in your debut.

And just as expectations rise, patience to see these expectations realised diminishes. Before anyone knew you or your work, there was no demand. Your audience didn’t know what they were missing. Now they’ve tasted the Kool Aid and they’re begging for more. Now. Right Now.

For indie/self-published artists, the pressure is a little less constricting – there are no agents, editors, publishing houses banging on doors, waving around contract clauses, to ratchet that anxiety up a little higher. But, still, it’s there – all artists know that no-one is going to wait too long for a sequel when there are other pretty fish in the sea to turn their attention to.

It’s not all bad news…

So, yeah, sophomore efforts are tough. The narrative arts have their own particular complexities – for instance, juggling stylistic and content consistency while being interesting, innovative and fresh (something I’ll cover in future posts on editing your sequels) – but, like all sophomore efforts, they also have their advantages.an

So before you despair about the challenges of the Sophomore Syndrome, I present the key advantages I gleaned from drafting Divided Elements #2:

  • Competency – This isn’t your first time at the Rodeo. You still have a lot to learn, but you’ve also mastered a lot of the basics. You’re firmly off your L-Plates and on to your Ps
  • No Blank Canvas – By now, you should have fairly well-developed characters, conflict, momentum and world-building. Plus, your first book should hold lots of little nuggets to flesh out, spin, turn inside-out in book 2. Winning!
  • Incentive – You know the end goal. You know the thrill of finishing a draft. You know the awesomeness of publishing and having total strangers say things like:
    “A book that would appeal to fans of dystopia (Think 1984, George Orwell) Resistance is an utterly thought-provoking and subversive book in this genre – Highly entertaining, poignant and brutal by shades, Divided Elements is an original novel, pushing the boundaries of this genre – and Mikhaeyla is surely a writer to watch out for.” (I loved this review – My readers are the best!)
  • Curiosity – Just like your readers, you’ve also set off on this journey of discovery. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be just as curious to find out what happens next 🙂

Where do we go from here?

Second attempts are tricky and satisfying in equal measure. If you’re drafting or polishing your own sophomore effort, why not join me over the next few weeks as I wade through the complexities of editing a sequel? Subscribe to the blog to get the posts delivered directly to your inbox!

In the meantime, tell me about your own sophomore issues/anxieties in the comments.

 

Liked this? Want more?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. 

RESISTANCE

 

 

Sophomore Syndrome – How to handle your sequels…

Plotting to the Midpoint: Why you need a half-time plan

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

With Divided Elements in the hands of my copy-editor, I’ve been using July to get some new writing done. Having signed up for both #JulyWritingChallenge and Camp NaNoWriMo, I was worried that my efforts would falter the way my first attempt at NaNoWriMo did – a lot of angst and procrastination, not much writing. Pleasantly enough, I am slaying it! (Already at 12,000 words (I set my target at 15,000))

The two secrets to my success?

  1. Detailed and logically-structured plotting – thanks to my awesome plot roadmap
  2. Detailed and logically-structured plotting only up to the midpoint

The second secret is the important one (at least, for the purposes of this post).

I’m not sure whether it is pure genius or a product of my creative limitations, but it seems to be working. The thing is – when I get an idea for a story, it usually goes like this:

  • Thematic image and general premise – aka A visual and a one-liner ‘this is a story about…’

    Since I don’t want to give away the juicy details of the new WIP just yet, let me show how this would work if I was writing Sons of Anarchy … (bear with me, it’s been a while since I’ve watched it and the memory may be rusty…)

    Jax and Tara

    I would picture that moment where Jax takes on the Presidency and Tara stands behind him as his Old Lady, a corruption of two individuals who had the potential to escape a violent and toxic environment but have ended up as the next generation of everything they didn’t want to be – Clay and Jemma.
    That image also gives me my premise – the story of a son who seeks to escape the corrupted legacy of his father, who finds that escape in the return of an old girlfriend, but who ends up corrupted and corrupting her in his efforts to escape. Like struggling in quicksand – it only conspires to work against you.

  • That image and one-liner (okay, okay – one paragraph) give me everything I need up to the Midpoint – I get the status quo (Jax in the MC, Tara at the hospital), the hook (Jax finding his Dad’s journals), the inciting incident (reconnecting with Tara), the first plot point (going after Clay), the Midpoint (Jax and Tara as the new Clay and Jemma).

And that’s usually where the ideas run out – not because I can’t think of what happens next, but because there are so MANY paths this story can take. I generally know where I want it to end. I just don’t know how to get to that end.

This is why the first half of my plot outline for the new WIP is pages long and full of cool details. And the second half is … um, well… it’s blank.

I was kind of worried about this, but then I figured it could be a good thing. And I figured this while watching my beloved Wests Tigers play (and lose) another game (don’t get me started…).

A book, much like a game of football, is a tale of two halves. Every team goes into a game knowing the starting point (kick-off) and the end goal (walking away with a win, preferably a crushing defeat, that supplies two points on the ladder and a fantastic points differential). There will also be a detailed game plan – based on last week’s performance, where they are on the ladder, what current issues/injuries are affecting them, players playing out of position, whether it’s a home game, what they focused on in training, etc, etc.

But that game plan is only good up to the half time siren.

You walk into the sheds at half time with a 20 point deficit, you shake things up. You end the first forty minutes with three major injuries and a player sent off, and you start thinking twice about your earlier plan of putting on early points.

What it boils down to is this:

You can’t plan your second half until you know what position your first half has put you in. 

Same goes for stories. I’ve spoken about this before – sometimes the little details you use to fill in your plot outlining can introduce a range of subtleties and nuances that shift the direction of your story. In the beginning the shift is negligible – but as it continues on that same trajectory, the difference becomes more and more noticeable.

Tangent

It was the same with Divided Elements – what I had planned for my second half and what I executed were wildly different. In a good way. If I had stubbornly kept to the original game plan, I would have ended up with a incoherent, disjointed story with a lot of loose ends and an unsatisfying ending.

Which is why I am blissfully writing my way through the first half of this WIP without having a game plan for the second half. That can wait. I figure I will use the Midpoint as my new status quo and plot from there once I know my backstory (the first half).

What about you? If you are a plotter, do you plot the entire novel? And if so, do you ever allow yourself to change the plan late in the game?

Plotting to the Midpoint: Why you need a half-time plan

Writing for your readers…and yourself

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

During the initial drafting of Divided Elements, I realised that I needed more eyes on it than just mine. As an untested author, I was unsure whether I was on the right track, whether the story idea was genuinely interesting, whether I had the chops to pull it off. To that end, I joined two online critique groups and found a local critique partner with whom I could exchange ideas and chapters. Feedback is critical for any writer, but sometimes reviews and critiques can seem like a version of ‘how I would write this book’, rather than ‘this is a problem for your story’. In this post, I talk about how to manage reader expectations to avoid the former criticism…

Getting feeback

Honest feedback and constructive criticism from other writers and readers can be incredibly useful in identifying technical areas for improvement, such as:

  • plot holes
  • crutch words
  • writing flaws (spelling, grammar, punctuation,etc)

Feedback, especially when critique partners are also assessing your WIP as readers, can also become more subjective. Personalities, reading preferences (genre, style, audience, etc), and whether they are in a good or bad mood when it comes time to reading that particular chapter, can all impact on how these readers assess:

  • Your characters – are they likable, sympathetic, competent, intriguing?
  • Your world – is it believable, over the top, too dominant, too generic?
  • Your plot lines – is the midpoint what they expected/wanted, does the ending satisfy their need for a perfect resolution of plot?

This is where the subjectivity of reviews and critiques becomes tricky. Yes, you need to write for your readers. But you also need to write for yourself.

This is your project, your creativity on a page, your piece of soul and worldview in ink.

Your responsibility as an author

That being said, you also have a responsibility as a writer to not mislead your readers. Readers may not like your characters or enjoy your world, but that is something that will become apparent early on in the story. It’s okay for this to happen, because at the beginning of the story, the reader’s investment in the book is still low. They may have only spent half an hour reading your novel before realising it is not for them.

No harm, no foul.

But what happens when a reader gets halfway through the book, or worse – to the climax, and their expectations or desires for the story are thwarted? They’ve been rooting for the protagonist to enter into an epic sword fight with her arch nemesis, but at the final moments she is disfigured and loses all of her strength and sword-wielding abilities, ruling out this plot line…

Or they’ve been reading eagerly through the chapters, enthralled by the developing attraction between the two main characters and awaiting that moment in the climax when they just know the two are going to finally put aside their resistance and actually admit they love the other, but just before the peak of this build up, one of the characters dies…

These are the sort of things that can send Goodreads review into vitriol territory – Hell hath no fury like a reader scorned.

Ned Stark - Brace Yourselves

Now, while it is not the author’s job to pander to reader desires – it is the author’s job to manage reader expectations. That is the whole purpose of a story – to take a reader on a journey with the author (and the characters) – and to set parameters within which plot twists and key events will be surprising, but in a way that enhances the reader’s appreciation of the story.

Managing reader expectations

The key to this is managing reader expectations from the start.

This is why the start of a book is so critical – it not only establishes the characters and the world – it should also establish the style, tone and theme. In a way, the start of your book is its constitution – the set of rules and laws by which your book will abide from beginning to end.

George R.R. Martin did this expertly in “A Song of Ice and Fire” – *** WARNING – Spoilers for those who have been hiding under a rock, living in another universe, living a life without television or internet and do not know about GAME OF THRONES ***

– when he killed off Ned Stark early on in the piece he illustrated his story’s constitution – indicating that killing off beloved characters was not something he would shy away from. Because it happened early in the piece, readers and fans were able to forgive him this (they were still orienting themselves to the story), and future instances of untimely deaths (they were, by then, used to his sadism).

So, dear authors, by all means introduce plot twists and intense character arcs and story surprises in your novel – just ensure that you have adequately prepared readers for the possibility of these things by successfully establishing your story’s constitution in the opening chapters where you introduce style, tone and theme.

 

Have you ever been disappointed or infuriated by a story plot point later in the piece? Has an ending ever made you regret picking up the book in the first place? Tell me about it in the comments section! 

 

Writing for your readers…and yourself

Reversing Chekhov’s Gun – Why you can’t introduce new information in Act III

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

There is a well-worn narrative principle that often does the rounds in writer’s circles. You would have seen it on Twitter or quoted in blogs and books on writing. Chekhov, the Russian playwright and master of the modern short story, is credited with saying “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

The principle is often invoked to caution writers against irrelevant details – if it has no impact on the plot, remove it. It is sage advice, but it has a counterpart that is often overlooked – a reversal of the idiom that I would like to phrase as:

If a rifle is going to be fired in the third act, in the first act it absolutely must be hanging on the wall. 

gun

This kind of philosophy harkens back to my school debating days (sigh. remember those? good times.) As the Third Opposition Speaker (which sounds like a key councillor role in a fictional dystopia, but is not), you couldn’t bring up new information – it wasn’t fair to raise new arguments or introduce new concepts that weren’t accessible to the other team for response (and rebuttal).

It’s the same with stories. If you have something major happen in your Third Act, you must introduce it – explicitly or through foreshadowing and hinting – in the First or Second Acts.

Introducing new characters (or other plot devices) too late in the piece is disingenuous. The reader enters the Third Act expecting that everything that is to transpire is a natural progression (likely or unlikely) from the components that have already been built and developed in earlier chapters. Bringing something new in feels like a cheat.

The most common transgression of ‘reverse Chekhov’s gun’ is the much maligned ‘Deus ex Machina’ (which sounds like an awesome futuristic sci fi, but is not (although 2015’s ‘Ex Machina’ deserves a mention…)).

As Wikipedia so eloquently elaborates, Deus ex Machina (literally, God in the Machine) is “a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.” The internet is full of examples.

But, more subtle transgressions are where minor characters or plot devices that make brief appearances in earlier chapters or Acts, suddenly and inexplicably become crucial elements that are central for tying up the loose ends of Act III.

If you find your story falling into the latter category, fear not! There is a solution (and it is simple):

Go back and add some foreshadowing and hinting in earlier chapters/acts. 

That junior intern that has a whole two lines of overlooked dialogue in that scene jammed into the middle of chapter four? The one that will end up saving the day with her personal rocket launcher project that isn’t even mentioned in the story? Go back and beef up her role. Hint at her ingenuity. Give us a glimpse of that awesome rocket launcher. Let her reappear throughout the story, maybe at the pinch points, or points of high tension. Keep her simmering in the back of our minds, so that her reappearance will be welcome and logical (even if it is a little surprising).

 

What about you? Have you introduced a Deus ex Machina in your WIP or are you committing a transgression against the reverse Chekhov’s gun? Offload your guilt in the comments… 🙂

Image courtesy of Don Stewart via Flickr Creative Commons

 

Liked this? Want more?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. 

RESISTANCE

 

 

Reversing Chekhov’s Gun – Why you can’t introduce new information in Act III