Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or smashing you with a wave). Other stories are the equivalent of riding a runaway stallion, all thundering hooves and branches slapping you in the face and maybe, if you’re lucky, the chance to pause and eat some grass at some point.

Okay, I’ll stop with the terrible similes!

The tools for adjusting a story’s pacing are varied; action and dialogue speed the story up, while description slows it down. Short sentences and paragraphs speed it up; long sentences and paragraphs slow it down. I think it’s best expressed by one of my favourite writers (who writes fast-paced speculative fiction and gives the best writing advice I’ve found on the internet), Chuck Wendig.

Further reading … but not, like, in a boring way

I love to give book recommendations, and, happily, I can readily bring to mind two five-star favourites with very different levels of pacing. (Both are speculative fiction, because that’s how I roll.)

The first is Aussie urban fantasy Shadows by Paula Weston (and in fact the whole Rephaim series). The four books of this series are set over the course of a couple of weeks. Sure, there are flashbacks, particularly in the last one, but still. It really gives you a sense for how exhausted the characters must be, the urgency of the storyline. When they had a chance to pause for food or a sleep I was relieved on their behalf! I can’t recommend this series highly enough.

 

The second book I’m recommending is one I just finished, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. This man is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. (I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long.) Because Sanderson spends so much time building his worlds and layering them with backstory and foreshadowing, the books are immersive and the build of tension is slower than in some other stories, but the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. And there are flashes of action that keep you gripped.

 


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose latest urban fantasy, False Awakening, hits the shelves at the end of August. Preorders are now available from your favourite ebook retailers.

Advice, originality and vampires

You think I’d know better than to take the last post slot of the month when we’re doing an advice theme. By this point, dear reader, you’ve seen all sorts of excellent “what I wish I knew” advice posts — and my main messages to my younger self would be very similar to those already described:

So I considered my main advice to younger reader me, and decided it would be “one format of books is not better than another — and, BTW, audiobooks are awesome so get onto that”. But I’ve blogged about the audiobook thing here too.

Given the situation, I lamented to a friend that “being original at this point is impossible”. His reply? “Sounds like a good point in itself.”

Thank you, sir. *doffs hat*

Originality and vampires

One of the things I struggled with when I first started seriously trying to write was that I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I loved vampire stories — but, by this point Twilight was a huge hit, and everyone was writing vampire stories. How on earth could I tell a new story in a market so saturated? (I actually found my plot notes for my vampire novel the other day. It’s still tempting, not gonna lie.)

In the end, I decided on fae instead, as something a little fresher, and Isla’s Inheritance was the ultimate result. But Isla’s ability to see and manipulate emotions was originally born out of the idea of a psychic vampire. Her ability to create a supernatural human servant is evocative of Dracula’s ability to create human slaves (though her cousin gets a better deal than poor Renfield). In other words, I took existing ideas, jumbled them around and came up with something new.

 

Source: Goodreads

Obviously, the state of the market is a factor if your ultimate goal is to publish traditionally. If a publisher already has a vampire story on the books, they don’t need another one competing with the first. But that doesn’t mean that two books about vampires are fungible (I love that word; so fun to say). They aren’t interchangeable. Just because Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, that doesn’t mean that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black is unoriginal. (Anything but.)

Originality and major movie franchises

I found a great example of the way that one idea can give rise to two very different, and wildly successful, stories. Here is a synopsis for your consideration:

I read that and immediately thought of Harry Potter. But it is, of course, also a description of Luke Skywalker’s journey in Star Wars.

Originality and advice

So, coming back to our post theme this month, what’s the take-home message for my younger self?

Whether you’re sitting down to write your first book or struggling to write your seventh, it is important to write something you are passionate about. At the very least, those other books on the same subject as yours don’t have the thing that your book has: your voice.

Stop looking for excuses.

Just write the book.


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose fifth book, False Awakening, is scheduled for release at the end of August. 

Four Times I Got on the Wrong Ship (aka Unlucky in Love Triangles)

Featured image source: Shutterstock

Ship noun (in fanfic) 1. a relationship.
— verb (t) (shipped, shipping
2. to create a relationship between two characters in a work of fiction, as in the genre fanfic.
[shortened form of relationship]

— Macquarie Dictionary

Love triangles* are one of the biggest tropes in modern YA and in speculative fiction more broadly, usually of the two-guys-one-girl variety.

(The geometry nerd in me has to point out that it usually isn’t a triangle but two lines with one connecting point. Gale never snogged Peeta in The Hunger Games … though it’d be the work of a few seconds to turn up a fanfic where he did. Anyway, moving on…)

For a writer, they are loads of fun and a great source of romantic and dramatic tension. For a reader, love triangles can be the ultimate in wish fulfilment. But I have another game that I play when I read books with a love triangle, which is “pick my favourite love interest and watch them lose”. If love triangles are a race between the (usually) two guys for the (usually) one girl, don’t back my bet, people. I almost always get on the wrong ship. Part of that is because I tend to go for the best friend character, the boy next door, rather than the brooding and enigmatic one, and in urban fantasy (my favourite genre) Mr Enigma always wins. 

Four times I got on the wrong ship

Katniss, Peeta and Gale (The Hunger Games) — I was pro-Gale in the beginning, though I did have a soft spot for Peeta (as the boy next door) as well. It just seemed obvious to me that Katniss was hung up on Gale from the start. Of course, then she got broken and he couldn’t deal. By halfway through the third book I had changed ships, but for the first two? I got it totally wrong. 

Hermione, Ron and Harry (Harry Potter) — It’s been a while since I read the books, but I don’t remember JK Rowling inserting much in the way of a love triangle into them. It was more that I was on the Harry ship from the start, and I could never quite deal with the whole Ron thing. Sorry, Ron. 

Clary, Jace and Simon (The Mortal Instruments) — This was a textbook case of me liking the nerdy, normal best friend over the brooding and arrogant Mr Enigma. Given the allegations that Simon is based off Harry from Cassandra Clare’s fanfic-writing days (and Jace is Draco), that shouldn’t be a surprise. At least I’m consistent!

Alyssa, Jeb and Morpheus (Splintered) — This was a race to the bottom between the boys for me. Jeb was the literal boy next door but I hated his domineering attitude even more than I hated Morpheus’s manipulations. At least Morpheus had playfulness going for him, but I wanted neither of them to end up with Alyssa — which, again, was the opposite of what happened. (I only read the first two Twilight books, but I felt the same way about Edward and Jacob. Hard pass on both.) 

Do you play the “who will win” game when you read books with love triangles? Are you better at picking the ship that wins out in the end? Or do you go your own way, fanfic style, and create a ship outside the parameters of the original story — such as Draco and Harry, or McGonnagall and Snape? Leave a comment telling us about your favourite ship!


Cassandra PageCassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer who has used used love triangles a couple of times, in her Isla’s Inheritance YA urban fantasy trilogy and her Lucid Dreaming adult urban fantasy duology (the second book of which comes out later this year). Mmm, triangle-y. 

 

Four non-traditional antagonists

Source: Shutterstock

This month we’re talking about villains; we’ve already had posts about some excellent bad guys, but I thought I’d talk a little about four less tangible villains that I’d argue are even more threatening than your Voldemorts and Levanas by virtue of the fact that they often can’t be beaten, no matter what. They also aren’t always a solo act — they might combine forces with a more-traditional bad guy to deliver a one-two punch to our hero.

War

While in some books there might be a villain behind the war, someone that can be found and beaten, quite often they remain a mysterious background force rather than a real person. For example, in Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden, the characters never fight the unseen general presumably directing the invasion of Australia. Even the individual invading soldiers that they encounter aren’t dastardly criminals in their own right, they’re (mostly) guys doing a job. Alien invasions are another example where the war is bigger than one villainous person.

Disease

This list is starting to read a little bit like the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! But disease (and its unkind sidekick, death) is a pretty common bad guy in YA fiction — you need look no further than cancer in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or any number of other books where one of the characters struggles with illness. You could also argue that disease is the bad guy in certain types of zombie fiction — the types where zombification is contagious.

Time

You often see time as the bad guy in the sorts of books that have blurbs that include phrases such as “in a race against time”. In YA, time is also present in the looming end of high school for characters who don’t want to face that their life is about to change and their friends are going to move away. A great example is The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil.

The environment

I love survival fiction. Loooooove it. The sort of books that do environment as villain well include These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner — with the characters’ trek across the surface of an uninhabited planet — and the first two Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. The latter take the environment-as-villain concept to a new level by having it actually respond to thwart the characters … albeit at the direction of some more-traditional bad guys. (Natural disasters are an obvious sub-category here, though they aren’t my usual genre so I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.)

These are my top four, but there are other candidates, such as famine (the last of the Horsemen!) and poverty. What are your favourite books where the things the characters struggle against most aren’t each other?


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who has just revealed the cover for her fifth novel, False Awakening. You can see it here and read an excerpt. You know, if you want to.

Five totally legit outside-the-box ways to market your book

This month at Aussie Owned we’ve been talking marketing. The others have written excellent posts covering everything from school visits and marketing plans to Facebook advertising and ways to go viral. Their posts have been comprehensive and, if you’ve missed them, are definitely worth a read. They’ve given me a ton of ideas.

They’ve also meant that I, as the person posting last in the month, have had to really rummage around in the old brainpan for other ideas. Luckily, I have huge ideas. The very best. (I am also drafting this on cold and flu medication, so … there’s that.)

Here are my five top totally legit ways to market your book (that the others haven’t already covered).

Book cover tattoos

Get a tattoo of your book cover somewhere visible on your body (or — with their consent — on someone else’s). Your upper arm would be a good spot for a summer release tattoo, but for winter releases I’m afraid it will have to be your forehead or cheeks, especially if you live somewhere cold. Don’t forget to leave space on the ol’ noggin for the next book in the series.

As an alternative, tattoo your website URL there instead. This is a good alternative for those planning a LOT of books. Just make sure you don’t let the domain name expire.

Sky writing

Sky writing — the scrawling across the sky of words by an aeroplane — is limited to, well, words. You won’t be able to emblazon your book cover across the heavens or anything. Think of what you’d put into a 140-character tweet and then go with that. For example:

Hot new urban fantasy <YOUR TITLE> out now! My mum gave it five stars! #aussie #ebookonly <YOURURL.COM>

Sky writing is about as temporary as a tweet is, and is a LOT more expensive. But you love your book baby, right? Besides, you will generate enough buzz that people will be talking about it for days. Or maybe minutes? Who knows?

Stock from pexels.com

Convince your friend to name their newborn after your main character

Speaking of book babies…

This idea works particularly well if you’re writing in a speculative fiction field where the names are made up, such as sci-fi or high fantasy. If your main character is an “Isla”, like mine, that isn’t quite as distinctive and will generate less word of mouth. (“Melaina” is more unusual, but people keep misreading it as “Melania” these days. Sigh.) It works even better if your friend’s child is the first one born in the new year or on Mother’s Day — or if they were born in the back of the car on the side of a freeway. The newspapers LOVE to write a heartwarming story about those kids.

Look at all the babies out there named Bella and Edward. It worked for Stephanie Meyer.

Serialise your book on Twitter (or in chalk graffiti)

This idea has the benefit of being free, if somewhat time-consuming. I just did the maths, and my Lucid Dreaming — which is a total of 407,501 characters (including spaces) would require 2911 tweets. And that’s if I don’t include any hashtags or links.

Unlike a lot of marketing ideas, this one has LEGS. That’s months or years of fresh content, and people will get so impatient to find out how the story (or sentence) ends that they will totes buy your book.

As an alternative for those who don’t like Twitter, consider serialising your book in chalk graffiti at the local pedestrian mall. I’d suggest using chalk rather than anything permanent as you can reuse the same space every time it rains. Besides, you don’t want to do anything illegal, right?

Sneak your book into the local bookstore; leave a fake “staff picks” five-star review

There are some drawbacks to this idea: if the bookstore then sells your book, you won’t see any money for it (unless you lurk near the till and wait to demand your cut, which can be … tricky). But this is about raising customers’ awareness of your book, right? And what gets more notice than a jaunty little note praising a particular work? I know I always read those things!

For bonus points, take a photo of the lovely review and share it on all your social media platforms so your grandma can “like” it. Maybe then she’ll forgive you for the facial tattoo.

Leave your other ideas in the comments

Book marketing is a tricky business, and the book community is a supportive place that loves to share its ideas. In that spirit, if you have any other totally legit, legal ways to market your book, please leave a comment!


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer who doesn’t actually endorse any of the above ideas. Tattoos are kind of permanent, you guys, and book covers can change over time, what with new editions or changes in publisher. 

Still, if you want one, you do you!

Author interview: Sharon M. Johnston, speculative fiction author

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re celebrating the arrival of two new bloggers with round-robin interviews, so you can learn more about each of us — new bloggers and old. 

Today I’m interviewing Sharon M. Johnston, who has been with Aussie Owned since it started four years ago. Welcome, Sharon!

Sharon JohnstonI often think of you as the networking guru of the Aussie Owned team. What advice would you give a new writer trying to figure out where to start?

Ahhh! *blushes*

I think one of the keys to networking is paying it forward. Jump online, connect with influences, cool people and peers, and when one of them asks for help or you see a need that you can fill, put your hand up. For me it all started on a site called Inkpop (now defunct) where you reviewed WIPs. That’s where I met Wendy Higgins, who invited me to be part of YAtopia. Then I saw Pitch Madness needed a new blog host and I offered Brenda Drake the use of YAtopia. And it just keep rolling from there.

You also mentor in a number of pitching contests. If you could recommend one contest — or one type of contest — which would it be and why?

By far my favourite pitch contest is Pitch Wars. It’s got a great reputation with agents; has a better success rate than querying; creates strong communities of writers with the mentors, mentees and applicants; and the mentor works on the WHOLE manuscript. There are not many contests that do this.

OpenHeart_seriesThe first two books in your Open Heart series, Divided and Shattered, have hit the shelves after a fairly tumultuous beginning. How would you describe the series? And what can you tell us about book three?

The series is definitely a labour of love, and had a rollercoaster ride with unprofessional publishing peeps before finding a home with City Owl Press. The series focuses on love and what it means to be human, all wrapped up with some sci-fi and fantasy fun. The first book focused on Mishca’s journey to finding out about her origins, while book two saw Mishca understand that her family may not be traditional but that it is nevertheless important, and delved more into Ryder’s past. Book three reveals to readers the truth about Nerissa, and sees Ryder reunite with his mother and Mishca succumb to her dark side. (Cass: AAAAH! Need!) In each book I reveal more to the readers about the cast of characters and what makes them the people they are.

You’ve posted on the blog before about having OCD and anxiety. Given the push for #ownvoices works in the writing community, is this something you have considered incorporating into a work of fiction? Why?

I have definitely considered writing an OCD project, especially to break down some of the stereotypes and misunderstandings around the condition. I’m very open with people about my mental health as I believe by me being honest about it with people it will demystify some of the misconceptions around mental illness. If I don’t want to have mental health treated as a stigma, it has to start with me.

Tell us about your current project.

I’m working on and off on three projects. The first one is a speculative fiction set in Brisbane around a clan of warriors responsible for delivering karma. The second is a rewrite of a far future sci-fi called Dirty Rainbow. And the third is the latest book in the Open Heart series — I need to talk to the police about what happens in a raid so I can move forward with it.

Either/or questions

Plotter or pantser? Pantser

Speculative fiction or contemporary? Speculative fiction

Dogs or cats? Cats

Coffee or tea? Neither — chai latte

Chocolate or ice cream? Both, smooshed together and covered in caramel (I think I have a problem!)

About Sharon

After growing up listening to her father reading fables and folklore, it’s no surprise Sharon loves stories. As soon as she could read, her nose was firmly in a book. She loves reading, listening to audio books and writing.

She has a gorgeous husband and two wonderful boys. Well-known for her fantastic taste in shoes, Sharon has actually been stalked by women wanting to know where she got her high heels from. She also has a love of fur-babies – cats and guinea pigs, specifically.

Blog | Facebook | Twitter

sharon-and-cass

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who one time got to help launch Sharon’s paperback, Shattered. Which was especially exciting as she (Cass) didn’t faint while public speaking. Not even once!

 

My top three romance likes and dislikes

Aussie_Vday Pink

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking all things loooooove. I don’t read much pure romance but I do enjoy romantic subplots in other genres, so this got me to thinking about what romantic plotlines I love … and which ones set my teeth on edge.

Loves

Characters who are friends first. There’s no doubt that the sizzling attraction of lust-at-first-sight is a thing (and is totally hot), but I love the slow build of a relationship that turns from friendship to romance. Traditionally this is written as one person realising before the other. Then awkwardness often ensues. But still, I like the basic idea — probably because it feeds into my own experiences.

The realistically developed romance. This is tied into the point above, but it applies regardless of whether there’s an existing friendship. I’m not saying that sometimes people don’t jump straight into the sack together (that’s basically a new adult trope!), but I like it when the development of the underlying feelings happens over a period of time.

Diversity in relationships. The more LGBTIQ+ plotlines I read, the more I adore them. I don’t know what that says about my own tastes, exactly — but it’s someting awesome, for sure! 😉

Loathes

Insta-love. I know I said I like lust-at-first-sight, but love-at-first-sight? No. Nuh uh. I’ve very occasionally seen it done well, but only in instances where some supernatural element — reincarnation, say — is at play. I get really grouchy when two sensible-seeming characters decide that they are destined to be together forever after one date. Ugh.

Plots that rely on characters not communicating. I hate it when characters don’t speak their mind when everything suggests that they should, including their own personality. I once threw a book against a wall because the husband commented that his wife must really like the father of the baby she just had, and she said yes (trying to be coy and meaning it was him). He assumed she’d had an affair, because his question was in the third person. And she didn’t correct him, even though he was standing right there. (I still get mad about that.)

Broody, unpleasant love interests. You know the trope: he is a prick to her, either because he’s caught up in his own thing or he’s “trying to drive her away for her own good”. I HATE THAT AS A PLOTLINE. It’s so patronising! I’d prefer to see a man* who is willing to fess up about whatever the problem is and let the female lead decide what she’s willing to tolerate. Even worse are books where the man is “fixed” by the woman tolerating his BS until he gets over it. Ugh.

* I realise this sounds sexist, and I don’t mean it to be. I simply can’t recall ever seeing the roles reversed, with the woman driving the man away for his own good. If I read a book with that storyline, I’m sure I’d hate that too! I’m an equal-rights hater of patronising, cranky characters.

Obviously this list is highly subjective. I’d love to hear what you think, regardless of whether you agree or disagree!

Cassandra Page is a writer of speculative fiction. You can find details of her books here.

Cassandra Page