Revolution?: What's Wrong with America? follows Dino Hatzopoulos' transition from an abandoned boy in Greece to a patriotic American man. He chronicles his early years facing a country caught up in WWII and then a Civil War. Dino discusses his life as a member of the Greek army before his departure of his homeland in search of a better life. He also sheds light on the emotions he endured as notable events and relationships impacted his perspective, particularly his connection with his estranged mother.
Dino Hatzopoulos was born in 1942 in a small village in Greece called Velesiotes. At the age of six years old, his father was killed during the civil war and his mother did not have the financial means to take care of five kids. As such, Dino was taken to an orphanage where he stayed for eight years.
If you're not sure exactly what the Story Map is, be sure to check out last week's post. If you haven't yet downloaded the Story Map, you can find it here.
So here we are -- at the beginning. Part 1 of the Story Map is The Set Up, and it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
Typically, the beginning of your story sets the tone for the rest of your novel. The major plot points are noted. The major characters are introduced. The scene is set. Essentially, you're warming the reader up for the major action. Some outlining methods refer to it as the exposition.
In writing the first part of your story, and in developing your Set Up, you are seeking to accomplish two goals: to introduce and to establish empathy for your protagonist. You are answering two of the biggest questions your reader will have when they start your story: Who is he (she)? And why do I care?
Who is the character?
What do you need to know about your character before starting out? Some character outlines go incredibly deep: everything from hair color and height to religion and political affiliation. Is it all necessary? No. A lot of it, in my opinion, can be distracting from the overall story. Unless it's relevant, it doesn't matter.
What matters is this: Your character needs a name (a way to be identified in communication), they need an approximate look about them (a way to be identified in observation), and they need a group of friends and family around them (a way to be identified by association). This last one is tricky: your character could be a complete loner, and have absolutely no one in his/her life. This would also be appropriate, because it still allows the reader to identify them by association. It also, coincidentally, is a great development arc.
Why do I care?
This is the most important part. If your reader cannot find a connection with your character, they will not get into your story. This doesn't mean your character has to be the "good guy" or even be likeable. Gary Maguire had tremendous success with Wicked, a story completely centered around the villain in The Wizard of Oz (the Wicked Witch of the West). And I didn't particularly like Dolores Price in Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, but I still found a way to connect to her, and for that reason I was able to continue reading the novel.
Now, in order to begin The Set Up, I would recommend having two things already determined: Elements of character tension and compatibility, and major conflicts (and possible solutions) of the first Act.
Elements of character tension and compatibility
This goes back to my point earlier about a character needing to be identified by association. Typically, your story will have one or more main characters (protagonists) and one or more secondary characters, along with tertiary characters to fill in the gaps. How your character gets along with and butts heads with our other characters not only says a lot about them, but it also helps to drive your story forward. Knowing these up front will help you progress in developing your story while staying consistent to your characters.
Major conflicts of the Act, and possible solutions
While the Story Map isn't taken directly from the 3-Act story structure, it does use elements of it. Act 1 is the time for exposition, but the major conflict presented in this Act is typically external. Something has to happen to your character. It's this conflict that your character will spend the rest of the novel trying to resolve.
And while you come up with your first conflict, try to come up with some possible solutions. At least one of the solutions should have the potential to lead to additional conflict (hint: the Act 2 major conflict) and some should be able to generally resolve the issue at hand. The conflict, and the solutions, should contribute either to the elements of tension or the elements of compatibility between your characters. If your characters can't progress forward through your conflict and solutions, your story will remain stagnant.
I know it seems like a lot. But here's a little review. By the end of The Set Up (the first section of the Story Map), you should have accomplished these two goals:
But, before you even start with The Set Up, I would recommend having these two things already figured out:
LIFE EVERLASTING: CATHOLIC DEVOTIONS AND MYSTERIES FOR THE EVERYDAY SEEKER, BY GARY JANSEN
Nonfiction: Religion. TargerPerigee. 304 pp.
St. Jude. The Rosary. Petitionary prayer. These things work. Here is a practical guide for readers of all faiths to discover the lifesaving power of Catholic devotions.
METATRON: DAGGER OF MORTALITY, BY LAURENCE ST. JOHN
Fiction: Science Fiction. Imajin Books. 304 pp.
Tyler must render the most arduous choice of his life. He'll save himself, save his beloved girlfriend Kendall or save millions of helpless people and hinder Kelltie's plan.
MIND MAP MASTERY: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO LEARNING AND USING THE MOST POWERFUL THINKING TOOL IN THE UNIVERSE, BY TONY BUZAN
Nonfiction: Business. Watkins Publishing. 224 pp.
For the past five decades, Tony Buzan has been at the leading edge of learning and educational research with his revolutionary Mind Map technique. With Mind Map Mastery, he has distilled these years of global research into the clearest and most powerful instructional work available in the Mind Map technique.
ELECTRIC GARDENS (ELECTRIC WORLD, 1), BY M. BLACK
Fiction: Dystopian. Creativia Publishing.
In our future, robots known as Tins keep us protected from the floods, fires and diseases of the outside in what are called Compounds. But when the Tins become more our masters than protectors, humans rebel. Lexi019 is turning eighteen, and will then be sent to what Tins call the Electric Gardens. Since no one ever returns from the Electric Gardens, Lexi019 is desperate to escape. With her best friend Kyle53 and his sister, the three of them find an unlikely friendship that helps them escape. But not everything is what it seems in this robotic dystopia, and soon Lexi019 will be faced with hard decisions she never anticipated.
Lolita was always one of those books that intrigued me. As a life-long reader and double English major in college, I'd heard of Vladimir Nabokov's classic novel throughout my entire life. And yet I only read it this year. If I'm honest, it scared me to take it off the shelf, because I didn't want to get that icky feeling in my gut. You know, the feeling you get when you're reading or watching something you know is against everything you believe. And men who pursue younger girls as sexual objects? That gives me all the icky feelings.
However, reading Lolita was an eye-opening experience. Particularly because it went against all of the expectations I had set in place for this novel. At the very least, the story-telling is spectacular. Does that justify the potential icky feelings? Absolutely not, but as I mentioned just above, this book isn't what I expected.
I actually read this novel right around the time that the Harvey Weinstein- and Kevin Spacey-type stories were coming out. Let me tell you, this alone was a unique experience. But it got me thinking: does the shock of Lolita, which was written in the '50s, still apply? And how do we approach this novel in this culture of #metoo that we are currently working through.
To answer the first question: yes. This book is still shocking. It's okay to be shocked by a novel, and it's okay to write a shocking novel. But in order to approach this novel in our current age and have an honest and accurate conversation around it, we need to recognize two truths apparent in the story:
1. Lolita is not a novel centered around sex.
Spoiler alert: Lolita is Humbert Humbert's "first." Contrary to popular belief, Humbert doesn't pursue Lolita as a sexual object. To him, she is a reincarnation of his first love, Annabel, from when he was a boy. Everything about Lolita reminds him of Annabel, and it overcomes him to the point of obsession. If there is a moral to be found in this story, it is the importance to "come of age," if only in the mind. Lolita is, at its core, a coming-of-age story about a man who never came of age in his younger years.
2. The real tension in this novel is our own understanding of who the victim really is.
We are told that in all cases involving an older man and a female child, the victim is the child and the perpetrator is the man -- and for good reason. I don't want to perpetuate the idea that we shouldn't. However, in this story, it is probable to conclude that it is actually Lolita who takes advantage of Humbert. Because the story is told from his perspective, I think it may be hard to understand "how" he pursues Lolita -- namely, in his own imagination. He loves her first because she reminds him of Annabel, and he doesn't truly see her as anyone else until Lolita expresses interest in him. But she is the one who makes the first move, and she is the one who manipulates him. The real struggle we may have with this novel, then, is coming to terms with how we believe the book should unfold, compared to how the story is told.
One film that I am interested in seeing -- but haven't yet seen at the time I write this -- is Call Me By Your Name, which stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer and is based on the 2007 novel by James Ivory. From what I hear of this movie, the story somewhat parallels Lolita: a relationship between an older man and a younger love interest. But Call Me By Your Name is lauded by critics and nominated for awards, while Lolita often appears on banned book lists. I wonder if these stories could spring a conversation of how romance is portrayed, and at what point it is taken too far (if that point exists). Can a romantic story become a modern classic without the shock element? Should we even tell these stories, at the risk of opening up social acceptance of these relationships? Maybe these are conversations we should be having, and maybe these stories can help.
I have tried pretty much every method in my attempts to write a novel. I have sat my butt in a chair and started writing. I have done The Snowflake Method. I have tried outlining my novel using methods other authors have talked about using. And, to this day, I am still novel-less.
So I decided to make my own way.
I took parts of outlining methods that I liked -- The Snowflake Method, The Beat Sheet, the 3-Act Method, etc. -- and I combined them into what I call the Story Map. And then I pieced it out into bite-sized chunks. I've learned from experience that this is the best way for me to write a larger piece, to break it down. I introduced myself to the idea of writing a full-length by first publishing a collection of short stories. Could I do something similar with my novel? Why not?
So I put out the Story Map (it's available for free here). And now was the big step: I had to actually use it. That's currently where I am in the novel-writing process: testing out my own method as I write my first novel. And I'm also blogging about it, both the method itself and my experience using it.
Before I dive into the actual process, however, I wanted to start (way) at the beginning: What is the Story Map? How does it differ from the other outlining methods? And why do I think it could be effective?
What is it?
The Story Map is an outlining method for writing a novel. It is broken down into four sections: The Set Up, The Response, The Attack, and The Resolution. It is designed to be useful with all genres of novel (I'm writing a romance), and the idea is to evenly space out the major points of your story. For example: Let's say I want to write an 80,000-word novel (the average length of a romance novel is 75,000 words, or about 300 pages). Each section would take up about 20,000 words. By outlining out my story, I help protect myself against rushing through the meat of the story and then dragging out the ending, or saving all the action for the last 50 pages.
How is it unique?
Honestly? I don't know for a fact that there isn't something similar out there already. However, I believe the Story Map to be unique because my goal was to make it as user-friendly as possible without actually writing the book for you. There's more direction with regards to the specific plot points you want to include to help move your story forward (one critique I had of The Snowflake Method). There is still work to do on your part, but for those of you who want to write a novel but aren't sure how to actually do it, this may help you. And for those of you who have written a novel but didn't sell as many copies as you would have liked, maybe there are tidbits here that may help your success with your future books. In short, I designed this because I didn't find exactly what I was looking for when I searched for methods of outlining my own novel.
Why is it effective?
This is partly why I'm working through it myself: I want to have first-hand experience using it. And, even though I'm only mid-way through the second section, I've already learned so much about the Map and about my writing style. I went from barely being able to stretch a story to 5,000 words to hitting 171 pages (and I'm not even halfway through the story). As I revisited my outlines and my story, I found a lot of ways I could use the map better, and ways I could improve on the method for the best possible results. I'm so excited to share them with you.
I'd love to hear from you! If you download the Story Map and decide to use it in your next novel, please reach out! The more feedback I receive, the better I can make the Story Map and the more effectively it will work for future and prospective authors who use this method in their own stories.
A BRUSH WITH SHADOWS, BY ANNA LEE HUBER
Fiction: Mystery. Berkley. 384 pp
Sebastian Gage returns home to battle the ghosts of his past and prevent them from destroying his future with Kierra in the latest exciting installment in this national bestselling series.
CLOSE TO HOME, BY CARA HUNTER
Fiction: Thriller. Penguin Books. 320 pp.
A truly original psychological crime novel about a missing child and the scandal that erupts in the aftermath, brilliantly plotted with a shocking twist.
QUIETUS, BY TRISTAN PALMGREN
Fiction: Science Fiction. Angry Robot. 464 pp.
A transdimensional anthropologist can't keep herself from interfering with Earth's darkest period of history in this brilliant science fiction debut.
REMY, THE BROTHERHOOD FILES, BY ISAIYAN MORRISON
Fiction: Paranormal. Self-published. 205 pp.
In Remy, The Brotherhood Files, author Isaiyan Morrison presents a paranormal fantasy about fractured relationships, mistrust, and forgiveness. Here in the City of Love, it's anything but, as Remy's caught between two warring sides who both want him gone. Will his desire for revenge cloud his judgment? Or will he figure out who he can trust once and for all? In this wild journey from the graveyard and through the dark alleys and cobblestoned streets of Paris, Remy is both hunter ... and prey.
RETIREMENT REINVENTION: MAKE YOUR NEXT ACT YOUR BEST ACT, BY ROBIN RYAN
Nonfiction: Finance. Penguin Books. 304 pp.
Retirement has changed, and Robin Rye, America's most trusted career coach, is here to guide you through your retirement reinvention.
SECOND WIND: A SUNFISH SAILOR, AN ISLAND, AND THE VOYAGE THAT BROUGHT A FAMILY TOGETHER, BY NATHANIEL PHILBRICK
Nonfiction: Biography. Penguin Books. 240 pp.
A charming early memoir of midlife by the bestselling author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea, recounting his attempt to recapture a national sailing championship he'd won at twenty-two.
THE SILENT COMPANIONS, BY LAURA PURCELL
Fiction: Historical. Penguin Books. 320 pp.
When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband's crumbling country estate, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting ...
"Would you like to court me to Happyland?"
Prince Gobbledygook asks Lily Marshmallow and himself. Therein the journey begins to find Happyland. Follow him as he tries to define happiness with a little help from his friends, Big Wig Sophisticated Pig, Brutus Beaujolais and Cornelius Wordbook, a book-for-a-head English gentleman. Prince Gobbledygook duels, loses his ladylove, regains his original name and gains a friendship that will last forfourforevers. Will they make it to Happyland?
"It's whimsical and fun, but yet I felt like I worked so hard throughout this book to understand where it was going. And I think it's because it's so poetically written. But, putting my hardships aside, it has a very cool story, and I think it would have worked wonderfully as a children's book if the language had just been rewritten. I understand it's more about the artistic and plot-line part of the story than anything else." - Marleyreads, Amazon reviewer (3 out of 5 stars)
"My favorite part of his novel, and the reason this book will most likely find its way into my classroom library, is because of the wonderful morals that are presented at the end of every chapter. Mekonnen takes the time to give not only an example, he spells out the moral for the audience. I admire his ability to find the moral in the fun." - Ms. J, Amazon reviewer (4 out of 5 stars)
"If you enjoy literary works in the nonsensical vein of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, you'll enjoy reading the poetic prose Happyland. Playing with word meaning, order, rhyme, and reason, Mekonnen paints a fairy tale in a land of fanciful adventure and emotion. The illustrations add to the stylistic rendering of the tale." - WriterbeesBookReviews, Amazon reviewer (4 out of 5 stars)
I'm just a kid from Akron, Africa. I always believed I would come to America and write something of great importance. Guess what? I am in America and I've written something of ... great importance. I'm promising the world a championship in the form of sublime art.
If I'm being honest (and I am) I'd tell you I'm a writer. I write this blog. I wrote a book and published it three years ago, and I spent about five years as a journalist and book reviewer for both my local newspaper and a regional magazine near my hometown. I have a double English degree and I've spent my entire life sandwiched between half-filled notebooks and books. I'm a writer.
And yet, it's been three years since my last book. (I wasn't sure I could handle a novel straight out of the gate and so I started with a collection of short stories). I have pages in my bullet journal filled with story ideas, and I even started writing a romance novel. I'm 171 pages in, and I'm about 1/3 of the way through the story (I'm thrilled, because I never considered myself the "long-form" type). I know the novel I'm going to write, I know how to write it, and yet I haven't written it. The question I had to ask myself was: Why not?
Between my own justifications of why I haven't finished a novel yet, and the reasons I often hear from other people, I put together this list. Nearly every one of these reasons we give is at least in some respect an excuse. But, while we may have our justifications for not writing the book, I imagine our real reason is strikingly similar.
LIE: A novel is too long.
The length of a novel varies depending the story and the genre. A children's novel, for example, might finish at 20,000 words while a mystery might be 60,000 words and a thriller could be 100,000 words or more. There is no correct length when it comes to novels. One question I often see pop up on the writers' groups I'm part of is: "How many words should my novel be?"
There are, of course, two answers to this. The short answer is: As long as it takes. Some books are perfect at 50,000 words and some need at least 100,000. Your story dictates the length.
The long answer also is: As long as it takes. And this is the hard part. It's hard to get yourself in the frame of mind to stretch a story to a desired and appropriate length. How do you know if it's just right or if it needs to be longer? Practice. Reading and study of authors who have published and published well. But not only that. In some cases it's a guessing game. I've read plenty of books that have ended too quickly and I've read plenty that went far past their adequate ending.
But it's not fair to ourselves, and to our stories, to simply use "it's too long" as justification to never begin the process of writing a novel. Yes, 100,000 words is a lot of words. But is 1,000 words too many? Likely not -- it's about two single-spaced pages. Could you write 1,000 words in one sitting? Probably. Could you do it over and over again, approximately 100 times? More or less. Start small -- at whatever number seems comfortable to you -- and build from yesterday's accomplishment until you're finished.
LIE: I don't have the time.
This is such an easy phrase to slip off the tongue. It's sneaky, because it's one of those white lies that isn't entirely incorrect and could feasibly apply to just about anything we don't really want to do. See what I did there? Try this little exercise: Next time you want to say "I don't have the time" or "I'm too busy" replace it with "I'm not going to make this a priority." If we make something a priority, we automatically make time for it in our lives. And if you really want to write a book (more than you want to talk about writing a book) you'll make it a priority and you'll make the time. It's simple.
Of course, you don't need to sit down and pound out the whole ordeal in one sitting. That would be insane (looking at you, Kerouac) and no one expects that out of any author. Not even James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks. But can you spare 30 minutes a day? Probably. Set 30 minutes each day to sit and write. It doesn't matter if it's perfect (Spoiler: It's not going to be perfect) but it will be on the page. Worry about the perfection in the editing stage.
People who make things priorities schedule them. They make sure they have the time. You don't want to miss a doctor's appointment or a meeting with a new client, so you write it down and block out the time. Do the same with your book. Set the time and keep it. Make the commitment to yourself and follow through.
LIE: I don't have a story to tell.
This one is tricky, because I agree with Ann Patchett that not everyone may have a great novel in them. In the same way, she argues in "The Getaway Car" that not everyone has a great floral arrangement, algebraic proof, Hail Mary pass or five-minute mile in them. Being an author is as much of a career as any other profession, and those who succeed at it possess the skill, experience and dedication to excel in their field.
But, also as Patchett argues, the issue isn't whether or not everyone has a story in them. It's not the story, but the ability to get the story out. When you use "I don't have a story to tell" as a reason to write, you're missing the key element. You may very well have a story to tell, you just don't know how best to tell it.
TRUTH: It's easier to have a dream than it is to set a goal.
As I examined my own insecurities and choices, I realized that I have a tough time working toward goals. This isn't just related to writing, but all areas of my life. I want to be a successful author, and I know what this requires, but I'm not putting my butt in the chair and writing. I want visible abs and toned arms, and I know what is required to achieve this, but I'm not running, crunching or pushing up.
The reason I get hung up on actually following through with my goals is that I like having something to work toward. I always want to be moving forward, and having a carrot dangling in front of me helps push me through the muck of everyday life into the life I want. But let's say I sit down and knock out 1,000 words a day for the next 100 days? And then I spend a few months editing, formatting, and publishing this book and putting it out into the world. What happens then? Let's say I do 100 push ups a day until you can see where my shoulder meets my bicep, what happens then? My issue isn't that I don't have a goal, it's that I don't know what I would do if I didn't have a goal to work toward. I'd be in limbo, and that is what scares me.
I don't consider myself particularly extraordinary, and so I suspect there are other people who are like me in these insecurities. It's easy to have a dream. We're in award show season -- you can't flip the channel without hearing someone talking about the importance of having a dream while holding their golden statuette. Dreams are easy, because they're out there. They're something you can talk about working toward without actually achieving. But goals are hard. Goals can be accomplished, and when you reach that particular summit you have to look around and figure out what to do next. There's immense freedom in this, but with this freedom comes the potential for free fall, and it's terrifying.
So where do we go from here? I'm not about to say "well, goal are hard. The end" because 1) This is an awful way to go through life and 2) It helps exactly no one. But getting past the fear of limbo and actually accomplishing the goals you set for yourself is a very personal journey. For some of us, it's as simple as recognizing the fear, sitting down, and knocking it out. For others, it takes a little more personal development work. But regardless of what your journey may be, I'd encourage you to be.
SECRET TRYST (HOUSE OF MORGAN, 7), BY VICTORIA PINDER
Fiction: Romance. Love in a Book. 174 pp.
Damien Morgan learned a long time ago that love was just a figment of someone's warped imagination and good girls simply didn't exist because women were master manipulators. Nonetheless, he's happy to wish his brother well when he decides to take the plunge. Serenity Hanscom is shocked that she's been invited to the wedding a year after her sister played matchmaker for the groom and had an active role in a plot to murder his sister-in-law. will their plan to stay clear of love backfire on them and instead become the first step to an unexpected happily-ever-after?
It's no secret that self-publishing is hard. Instead of four or five other major competitors, we have thousands. And it's completely on our shoulders to get our book in front of readers. But, there are two misconceptions about self-publishing that I believe are holding us back. The first is that we see ourselves first as artists and second (if at all) as businesspeople; and the second is that self-publishing is just like traditional publishing -- you just do it on your own.
According to the old rules, the process to publish a book went as follows: (1) Write a book; (2) Convince an agent to represent it; (3) Sell the book to a publishing house; (4) Hope the book gets on a bookshelf. Ideally, people would buy the book, read it, and the community would form as a result by way of a book club or, more recently, a following (think of the book launches for the latter Harry Potter and Twilight novels).
In this process, the publishing company benefits most from this. Sure, the author receives a small royalty (once the advance is recouped), but the publishing house profits more as more books are sold.
When you assume the role as publisher -- through self-publishing -- it goes without saying that you have the most to gain as both players in the game. However, it also means that you have the most responsibility. Publishers have spent generations building a community. They know that if they approach a bookseller with a series of books, the bookseller will buy them and the readers will find them. As a self-publisher, the only books you've published are your own. You need to take the time to build your community in order to sell your books. And, in order to do this, you have to see yourself as a business at least as equally as you see yourself as an artist.
So how do you build your community as a publisher? Offer value to your audience. First, find your audience by researching other self- and independent-published artists in your genre. Join writers' groups on Facebook and Goodreads. Provide content via YouTube or a blog that your potential readers would find relevant and valuable. Often, this means giving away some of your work for free. But we're not in this for immediate results. We're playing the long-game here, and we have to be patient.
I would recommend starting this process as soon as possible. It's why I'm writing about it now -- before any blog posts are really written about the writing process itself. The more time you have to build your community and offer value to your readers, the more likely they are to want to support you when the time comes.
Unlike the traditional publishing process -- where product precedes community, the community comes before the product here. In order to effectively reach your community once your book is out, you have to understand them now. In the long run, you'll benefit, because you spent the extra time and energy. You provided the value, and now your readers will return that value to you.
KEEP IN TOUCH
2017 Character Name Guide
The First Lines club is a Tumblr blog focusing on the beginning sentences of the books we love and love to hate.
Book Swag is a free weekly email that helps you find the best ebooks from new, established and indie authors. Free for the authors, exciting for the reader. Find your next great read.
THE BOOK ROULETTE
BY CHARLES DICKENS
Disclaimer: I use a variety of resources to illustrate my ideas and opinions in the posts that I write -- including music, television, film and other books. Regarding spoilers, my policy is this -- I will not publish spoilers up until the following time periods have lapsed: One month for television episodes and music albums, one year for films and books.