The Sound of Snap Dragons: Chapter 1: Snap Dragon

The Sound of Snap Dragons, Book 1 in The Kylie Bell Chronicles, is now available for pre-order on Amazon! It is also available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble for Nook, and Apple Books for only $4.99. The Sound of Snap Dragons will be released on October 6th.

For a little teaser again, here is Chapter One: Snap Dragon!

Lingering thoughts were no strangers to Kylie. Sometimes, there were so many things on her mind, she couldn’t put a name to them all. It was all sometimes just a scrambled mess. And it didn’t matter where she was—out and about, at home, or at her job as a so-called journalist. Work was a joke. It was just a shitty gossip magazine, where she was assigned shit stories about celebrities and gossip. It was kind of ironic, really, considering her boyfriend was a celebrity.

But at home, at least she was comfortable. Home was located on the Upper West Side, in a sweet little loft that she had spruced up with some furnishings, some paint on the walls, and some small knickknacks here and there. When it had been just Adam living here, he had left it looking plain as could be.

No matter, she thought. Now that it was getting to be early October again, she had even more on her mind, and there was only one thing she could think about. Especially this year. It was a quiet Monday evening. Maybe it was a Monday to celebrate. She was home from the job she loathed, but she was happy, as she had been offered a position at The New York Star, a major national paper, and she had given her shit job a week notice. She knew, normally, it should be two weeks, but the Star wanted her to start as soon as possible, and she compromised.

Adam’s hand warmed her knee as they settled into the squashy sofa, watching the evening news.

“You sure you don’t want to celebrate your birthday this year?” he asked.

If Kylie had to describe him and his overall looks in one word, it would be youthful. His face was slightly rounded, and a modest boyishness softened the hard lines of his jaw. There existed a certain playfulness in the way his dark eyes brightened, a light twinkle as if he were always up to something. That playfulness was one of the reasons she fell in love with him, back when they both lived down south, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Back to his question. Chewing her lip, she avoided his gaze. “Yes, I’m absolutely certain I don’t want to celebrate my birthday, especially this year,” she said.

“Why?” He frowned, his entire forehead wrinkling.

“Just…” She heaved a sigh and swiped a long lock of sandy blond hair behind her ear as she turned her gaze to her knees. “Because I don’t really want to get into it.”

His eyes were intent. She dared a glance at him, and there was a hint of irritation in the way his eyes narrowed.

“Please, Kylie, when you came to live with me here, you promised you’d be more open with me. But you’re not. At all. You can tell me.” His hand rubbed her thigh.

“I don’t know, Adam. I really just don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Kylie, please. I’m begging you to please open up to me. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

She rose to her feet and stepped around the cherry coffee table to stand beneath the rounded archway that led into the kitchen. “It’s just not something I can explain to you right now. I’m sorry.”

It wasn’t that she didn’t know why she hated her birthdays. She just couldn’t voice it out loud. Every year since she was sixteen, the same slew of emotions attacked her. Where was her father? Why hadn’t they been able to retrieve his body?

“Fine,” Adam conceded. “Will you at least come out with me this weekend? Max is throwing that party—well, the record label, really—at that hotel you like. Lacey will be there with Benny, and Shawn’s new girlfriend will probably be there, too—I think her name is Amanda.”

“Amelia,” she corrected.

“All right, so correct me when I’m wrong.”

“Sorry.” Her lips puckered. “Didn’t mean to offend you.”

He offered the tiniest of smiles, and that bright twinkle lit up his eyes. “I’m joking.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” He stood and navigated his way around the table, reaching for her hands and tugging them from the pockets of her slacks. “So, I take that as a yes, you will come out to the party with me on Saturday? You never come to these things, and I hate going without you.” His fingers released her hands, instead finding the belt loops at the hem of her pants, pulling her against him.

“All right, fine. I’ll go with you, but we’re not mentioning my birthday, deal? We can celebrate my new job, though.” She grinned at just the thought of finally writing stories that weren’t about who slept with who.

He smiled a genuine smile now, his entire face lighting up. Dimples appeared in his cheeks before he leaned down to kiss her. “Deal. Now, about this job.”

“What about it?” Her head snapped up, her eyes meeting his.

“I’m just a little worried.” One hand swiped away a lock of sandy hair that was attempting to escape her ponytail, brushing it behind her ear with a feathery touch. His fingers were warm on her arms as they gently kneaded the muscle. “I’m worried you’ll get into nasty stuff with this job, reporting on crimes and stuff like that. Like, what if you have to get involved with murderers and people like that?”

“That’s part of the job,” she said gently.

“I know.”

“Then, why are you so worried?” A small laugh escaped her lips.

He leaned down to kiss her swiftly. “Fuck it, I don’t really know. Just be careful, okay?”

***

She wanted to groan under her breath as her eyes darted about the open room. It was packed with people bustling about, women in dresses of a rainbow of colors, men in pristinely pressed suits. Jazzy music played from the grand piano in the far corner, the pianist’s fingers flowing expertly across the keys. Sometimes, she thought, it was fun, getting to dress up go to posh parties with Adam. The frequency of these things came in waves, though, in time with his need to be away with the band, whether it was for a tour or just doing promotional events. Again, sometimes it was fun, when she didn’t feel like shit, at least. Her heart was in her stomach at the moment, as she couldn’t stop thinking about her father, but she pushed aside the wish that she could just fade into nothingness. Standing resolute at Adam’s side, she reached for his hand, her other holding up a mojito to her lips.

“Seems like the album is going to be great,” she said in an overly loud tone, mostly to show that she had been paying attention to whatever it was that Max had been saying. Her drink bubbled on her tongue as she took a long sip.

Adam smiled and squeezed her fingers in an affectionate way.

“I’m glad you got to hear it,” he said. “I think it’s a good one. Better than our last one, definitely.” His hand moved to her lower back. A waiter carrying a large silver tray of hors d’oeuvres passed by, and Adam reached for one, popping it into his mouth. His jaw worked slowly, and he seemed to be thinking deeply—his forehead creased, his lips tightened into a slight pucker, and his eyes narrowed. “You still sure you want to take this journalist job?” he asked through a mouthful.

“Yes.” There was a certain note of defiance in the single word. They had already discussed this! Nor was she interested in talking about it in public. “I’m absolutely positive. This is what I want to do,” she snipped. “Crime journalism. It’s what I went to school for.” She took another long sip. Perhaps alcohol was her only consolation.

“I know it is, and I support you.” There was a glint of annoyance in the dark brown of his eyes that plainly said, We’ve been together long enough that you don’t have to remind me. Leaning toward her, he murmured, “Why really didn’t you want to come out tonight?”

Just as Kylie opened her mouth to reply, Oliver, the band’s bassist, stepped up to them, followed by Benny and Shawn, guitarist and drummer respectively. Oliver stumbled slightly and clapped Kylie on the shoulder, holding up his bottle of beer from the bar. His words slurred as he spoke, “Hey, just wanted to say happy birthday! Big two-six, eh?” He turned to Max, the band’s manager, trading hands with his bottle, and roughly slapped him on the back. “And, Max! If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be where we are today.” He grinned and slugged his beer, taking a long drink.

“Where’s, uh, Michelle? I thought you were bringing her tonight,” offered Adam casually, glancing at Kylie with a knowing look. She grimaced.

There proceeded an uncomfortable silence. Shawn chugged his glass of water, while Benny cleared his throat and glanced at his wife, smiling awkwardly. Kylie looked down at the black flats on her feet.

“Welp, turns out that bitch was only in it for the money,” spat Oliver, tipping back his bottle. “So, fuck her,” he muttered.

At that, he stumbled away.

“Well, then,” said Max, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.

His hand still on her back, Adam glanced at Kylie. “So, why—”

“Do we have to discuss it right now?” she begged in a low tone. “I never agreed to celebrate my birthday tonight. I’ll tell you when we’re home.”

“All right, fine.”

A server in black and white uniform approached her, holding a tray that balanced a reddish drink garnished with pink snap dragons—she recognized them immediately—and handed it to her. “From someone at the bar,” he said in a cordial way before turning on his heel and walking away.

“Who’s sending you drinks?” asked Adam, rubbing his chin full of dark stubble.

Kylie held up the highball glass to study the blossoms, then gently sniffed the rim. “Smells like … apple schnapps and something cherry?”

“And? Aren’t you curious about who sent you a drink?”

She shook her head in confusion. “My dad used to give me these flowers every year for my birthday before he died. He knew they were my favorite. Always.” She dared a small sip. She had been right about the cherry syrup. Max eyed her with a concerned gaze, his brows furrowed, his lowball glass of vodka tonic at his lips. She was curious, though, about who sent her a drink garnished with snap dragons. Who could possibly know that these were her favorite?

“I’m going up to the bar,” she announced, downing the drink and placing both of her glasses on a passing waitress’ tray. 

Adam grabbed her arm, stopping her mid-turn.

“What?” she said.

“I don’t know; I just don’t have a good feeling. Who randomly sends you a drink with your favorite flower?” He studied her with wide eyes, his lips unsmiling.

“That’s why I’m going to see who sent it. I’ll be right back.” She yanked her arm from his fingers, not casting a glare, and navigated her way through the clusters of partygoers.

The oak bar was backed by a wall of liquors and syrups, lined with a flickering blue rope light along the bottom. A few stools were occupied, but no faces seemed familiar. She climbed onto an empty seat, leaning her elbows against the stained surface that was filled with divots and knots.

“What can I get you?” asked the bartender, wiping his hands on a rag.

“Someone sent me a drink garnished with snap dragons—apple schnapps and cherry syrup or something like that—from here at the bar. Do you know who sent it? I’ve been across the room.”

“Couldn’t tell ya. That’s a specialty drink, a Snap Dragon, so we make a lot of ‘em.” He shrugged.

“But did anyone send one to a Kylie Lewis? I’m here with Adam Bell.”

“Dunno.”

“Well, thanks.” For nothing, she thought, muttering irritably as she slid down from the stool.

Then, she saw him.

Standing by the exit door was a man with sandy hair peppered with gray. Slightly crooked nose. Small glasses were perched on his nose, slipping down as he looked at his phone in his hand.

Could it be? Could it really be her father? She thought desperately. Her breath hitched in her chest, her body electrified all the way to her fingertips. Then, doubt began to creep in. Of course, it couldn’t be him. He died ten years ago.

Still, she called out, “Dad?”

Taking a step towards the man, she was suddenly cut off by a waitress carrying a large tray of drinks, and they crashed into one another. Cold wetness suddenly filled her cleavage, soaking into her dress, running down her legs and leaking into her shoes as the aluminum tray clattered onto the floor. Kylie stumbled back, her lips parted, and all she could manage to do was stand there with her hands in the air.

“Oh, gosh! I’m so sorry!” cried the waitress. “Let me get a towel for you!”

The liquid was beginning to seep into Kylie’s underwear as the waitress buzzed to the bar and returned several seconds later with several dishrags.

“Thanks,” Kylie muttered, wiping herself off the best she could. Her skin was still sticky, and she grunted in frustration, tossing the towels onto the bar. When she looked back for the man who resembled her father, she found only an empty exit door. The man was gone. With a quick shake of her head, she wove her way back to Adam, who was deep in discussion about the band’s new album with some big-name executive whose name she couldn’t remember. 

“Excuse me,” Adam said to the executive, turning to Kylie. His eyes roved her dress and its obvious wetness. “What happened to you?”

“Waitress spilled her tray on me,” she muttered. “Bartender had no clue who sent the drink.”

“Still seems weird.” Yet he shrugged and returned to talking music production with big-name.

Kylie zoned out, her mind on the man at the exit door. For a second, for one whole second, she was sure it had been her dad, yet she lost him all over again. A certain heat burned in her eyes, that familiar lump rising in her throat. No, no, nonot here, she thought, swallowing hard. It couldn’t be her father. There was no way. Eli Parker, his old partner, had seen him get shot, watched his body fall over the railing and into the harbor. Why would Parker lie about something like that? Besides, she scolded herself, it was more likely that some weirdo fanatic of the band had sent her a drink. One Night Young had grown in popularity in the last two years, thanks to their first tour. Diehard fans even recognized Kylie when she was out and about with Adam, all courtesy of those stupid gossip magazines.

She shifted from foot to foot, her wet dress stuck to her skin, her shoes squishing under her weight. She leaned towards Adam and whispered, “Can we go?”

“What’s wrong?”

Giving an exasperated sigh, she said, “Is it not obvious? My dress is soaked, and I seriously need to take a shower.”

He sighed also and closed his eyes. “All right. Let me just let the guys know we’re leaving.”

***

The taxi ride back to the Upper West Side seemed to take forever, as they kept getting stuck in traffic. (Not to mention they were on the polar opposite end of Manhattan.) But even with the aggravation of the taxi, Kylie felt relief from being out of the crowds of people. Her heart let up, just a bit, and the numbness in her chest wasn’t so overpowering. Adam continually glanced at her with an expectant gaze, yet she still didn’t have the heart to explain.

Inside the front door to the loft, she slipped off her jacket—the only dry piece of clothing on her body—and hung it on a hook by the door. Her feet warmed up the moment she kicked off her wet flats and padded wetly to the bedroom. Adam followed her, ready to bombard her with questions.

“Okay, you gotta give me some answers. What’s wrong with you lately? Why don’t you want to celebrate your birthday? It seems like you don’t like celebrating it any year, for that matter. I’ve always accepted it in the past, but you seem even more against it this year—”

“My dad.” She paused, peeling off her dress from her damp skin, letting it fall to the floor. Even her bra squished in a damp sort of way as she reached behind her back to unclasp it. “But I don’t really want to talk about it.”

His eyes remained intense for a moment before softening. “Okay. That I can understand. And how about the way you’ve been acting lately? It’s like you’ve been different the past couple of weeks.”

He slumped onto the edge of the bed, the pale quilt wrinkling around him, yet his eyes never left her.

She shook her head, reaching up to pull the pins out from the tight bun her hair had been tied up in, and looked down at the floor. Footprints were worn into the beige carpet, leaving beaten-down trails around the bed.

“I don’t really know,” she answered. “It’s like I’ve been feeling off inside my head. More depressed and numb, kind of, I guess. Kind of like high school all over again, when my dad died and I got really depressed. When I stopped talking to Cat and just shut everyone out.”

Adam’s lips parted, his jaw slackened, and his eyes grew wide in a gentle way. Standing, he reached for her hands, as she stood there in just her drink-soaked underwear, yet he didn’t seem to notice.

“Kylie, I’m so sorry. I had no idea you were feeling this way. Maybe you should wait on the new job.”

“No, I want to start my new job on Monday.”

He studied her, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Why do you think you’ve been feeling this way?

She shrugged one shoulder. “Probably because this is the tenth anniversary of my dad’s death. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

“Maybe you should see a therapist.”

“No. No therapists. I’ll be fine.”

Looking up at him, she squeezed his fingers before pulling away. She closed her eyes before looking down at the carpet. Why did she feel so ashamed to say her thoughts out loud? “When I went up to the bar—well, I know I said the bartender didn’t have any clue who sent me that drink—but I saw someone…”

“Who?”

“I saw a man who looked like my father. I know it’s crazy, and I know it wasn’t him, but it just looked so much like him.”

“But your dad is—”

“Dead, I know,” she interrupted quickly. “But seeing that guy just brought back so many memories. It was like losing him all over again.”

Adam reached for her hands again, and his voice was soft yet somehow reprimanding. “It’s that time of year, Kylie. I think you saw your dad because you wanted to see him.”

“Do you know how many times I went down to the Battery in Charleston after he disappeared? His partner said he saw him get shot, and supposedly he fell over the railing and into the harbor. I went down there at least three times a week, searching for answers, hoping to find … anything, really. I was so lost without my dad. He was the one I always went to when I had problems; he used to take me surfing at The Washout from the time I was six. So, just for a split second, I hoped. For one millisecond, I hoped I had my dad back, that he had magically reappeared in my life. Do you realize how paralyzing hope can be?”

She realized she was crying, with tears pouring down her face. They tasted salty on her lips. She hiccoughed.

Without a word, Adam pulled her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how much you were hurting because of your dad.”

“Every year, right around this time, it’s just hard. I feel like if they had found his body, I’d have some kind of closure.” Not to say that sometimes she secretly, deep down in the very bottom of her heart, hoped he was alive, living somewhere.

That was something she’d keep to herself.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

You’ve written a book. Maybe your work is out there, or maybe you’re thinking of finding an agent or taking the self-publishing route. Either way, you’re beginning to doubt yourself, and that’s when imposter syndrome kicks in. You feel like a fraud, despite what anyone else tells you. You feel like you should just give up, because you’ll never be good enough. Everyone knows what they’re doing, except for you.

Don’t believe that pesky imposter syndrome. You are better than you believe. Your writing is worth taking a chance on.

Here are some tips for overcoming imposter syndrome:

  1. Choose to be confident in your abilities.
    Choosing to be confident takes practice. Try practicing a mantra every morning when you wake up. The more you practice being confident in your work, the more naturally it will come.
  2. Practice positive affirmations.
    Similar to choosing to be confident, you can practice saying positive things about your work.
  3. Make a list.
    Make a list of all the things you love about your work and all of your accomplishments. What are you strengths and talents? What milestones have you reached with your writing? Make a long list, and you may be surprised at what you find.
  4. Share your feelings with someone.
    Sometimes, just talking about how we feel can be a big help.
  5. Know that you’re not alone.
    Imposter syndrome is common among writers. Find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
  6. Find ways to improve your writing.
    Maybe I’m alone in this practice, but whenever I start to doubt myself, I look for ways to improve my writing. I ask myself: What are my weaknesses? Where in my writing can I improve?

Again, remember that you’re not alone in how you feel. Try to think of all the things you’ve done so far. Have a finished draft? That’s a big step in your writing journey. Are you querying or pursuing self-publishing? That’s another big step. Just because you’re not as advanced as some other authors doesn’t mean your experience is invalid.

Your road is unique. Remember that.

Descriptive Writing: Utilizing Your Senses

Before I dive into today’s post, I have a couple announcements. One, I have updated the pricing on my Services page. They are much lower and priced for up to 100,000 words, rather than pricing per word. I will soon be up on fiverr.com as well. Two, I have decided to start writing under my real name: Allison Williford. I hid behind my pseudonym (Skylar Wilson) for some time after receiving threatening messages for sharing my positive experience with ECT. (Seriously, I even had someone tell me to kill myself, saying I was promoting torture.) But I decided I won’t be intimidated by people who have no heart or compassion.

Now that I have made my announcements, let us move on to today’s post about description!

Description is important in a novel. It draws the reader in, and it can help with the suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief happens when we are so drawn into a story, we will believe anything the author tells us. While description alone won’t do this, it certainly adds that wondrous element that enriches your story.

There are many ways to include description in your novel, from your characters, to the setting, to even the food they eat. It can greatly enrich the story itself. There’s nothing quite like those moments, when reading a novel, when you are so engrossed in a story that you can almost experience the story firsthand.

By utilizing the five senses to describe what’s going on in your story, you can really dig into another world. What does your character see? Smell? Hear? Taste? Feel? Think about how you experience the world. What colors do you see? What textures do you feel beneath your fingertips? Do you hear birds, or perhaps a storm brewing outside, with its rolling booms of thunder? Are you drinking tart, tangy lemonade? A cold soda, with its carbonation fizzing on your tongue?

You get the picture.

  1. Writing with Sight
    This is probably the easier of the five senses when it comes to writing. Most of us experience the world through our sight. We see the colors of the rainbow. We see everything that’s in front of us. We see the faces of our loved ones. A great writing exercise is to try picking an ordinary object, anything you see in front of you, and describe it in great detail using only sight.
  2. Writing with Sound
    A common description I see in novels is that of people’s voices. Try describing something that isn’t someone’s voice. Is your character at a concert with screaming guitars and pounding drums? Are they in a forest, where the wind whispers through the trees and rustles the dead leaves on the ground? Are they inside, with the rain pelting the windows with every plink plink plink?
  3. Writing with Taste
    This can be a fun one, but I wouldn’t describe everything that touches your character’s tongue. Like the example above, is your character drinking a cold, fizzy soda? Do they bite their lip until it bleeds, that metallic tinge lingering on their tongue? Is their plate of chicken dry and chewy? Are they eating something hot and spicy?
  4. Writing with Smell
    Most of you probably realize that scent can be a powerful thing. Memories can be tied just to a single smell. Perfume is a common description, but you could describe the smells of other objects: a musty old book, someone’s rank body odor like overpowering wilting onions. Remember that with smell, a little bit goes a long way, so don’t overwhelm your readers with descriptions of scents.
  5. Writing with Touch
    I love writing about touch. What your character feels beneath their fingertips or on their skin can really draw a reader into their world. The scratchy, limp fabric of a hospital blanket. The roughness of an unshaven face, like sandpaper, a stark contrast to the softness of his lips. The way a single touch can raise gooseflesh along your character’s arm.

Like previously mentioned, a great exercise is to pick one thing and describe it in as much detail as possible using your senses.

Again, if you are in need of editing services, I invite you to check out my editing services! For a free, five-page sample edit, you can email your sample (Times New Roman, 12 pt.) to allisonwilliford@cloud.com.

Narrative Structure: The Hero’s Journey

Whenever I think of The Hero’s Journey, I think Star Wars: A New Hope. It encapsulates The Hero’s Journey quite nicely. This narrative structure can be split into three acts, similar to the Three-Act Structure, but with more subplots than just pinch points. In a way, one could even think of the plot points as pinch points within The Hero’s Journey.

Photo by Tiểu Linh

This narrative structure can be broken down into 12 plot points, each of which can be divided into those three acts, as aforementioned. You’ll find that some of the plot points coincide with basic plot structure.

  1. The Ordinary World
    This is your opening. We, as readers, are introduced to the characters, the setting, and what their ordinary lives are like. This is the status quo.
  2. The Call of Adventure
    In the Three-Act Structure, we would call this the inciting incident/event. This is when we hear Leia’s famous line: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” The Galactic Empire has finally reached the Outer Rim, and has made an impact on Luke’s normal world.
  3. Refusal of the Call
    This is just as it sounds. Luke initially declines the call, instead looking for his new R2 unit just so he doesn’t get in trouble with Uncle Owen. Luke doubts his own abilities, anyway, and claims it’s too far from him for him to be of any help.
  4. Meeting the Mentor
    While stages three and four blend a bit, but Obi-Wan explains the force, Jedi, and a bit about Luke’s father. Luke initially refuses, but after returning home and finding his aunt and uncle murdered, he agrees to train with Obi-Wan.
  5. Crossing the Threshold
    The cantina scene makes up the “Crossing the Threshold” plot point. Someone picks a fight with Luke in the cantina, and he’s utterly out of his element.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
    Luke gains more allies, Han Solo and Chewbacca, who agree to take them to Alderaan. The Stormtroopers try to stop them as they leave.
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
    Here, our hero nearly reaches their goal. This is when Luke and the gang come near the Death Star after discovering that Alderaan no longer exists. As the iconic line goes: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
  8. The Ordeal
    Rescuing Princess Leia represents “The Ordeal” for Luke. The Ordeal is a test our hero must overcome. However, Luke also loses something: We witness the death of Obi-Wan.
  9. Reward/Seize the Sword
    In most stories based on The Hero’s Journey, this is where our hero would be rewarded. Something important is obtained by our hero, and victory is in sight.
  10. The Road Back
    Luke joins the rebel fleet as a pilot, and his aim is to destroy the Death Star. Our hero realizes that their initial goal may not be the final hurdle.
  11. Resurrection
    Luke has changed. He learns to trust the force, and he uses it to destroy the Death Star (also thanks to a quick save by Han Solo). This is Luke’s first steps towards becoming a Jedi.
  12. Return with the Elixir
    Basking in their triumph, our hero returns to their ordinary world—or as ordinary as it can be. It doesn’t have to be a literal elixir; it can represent our hero’s success (such as in the form of Leia awarding Luke and Han medals. Also, I never understood why Chewbacca didn’t get one).

These are the 12 plot points in The Hero’s Journey. As we saw, the definitive lines of the different plot points can blur together.

For more information on narrative structure, see my post: The 7 Types of Narrative Structure!

Picking a Title for Your Novel

Titling your novel is probably something you’ve either thought a ton about or hardly given a thought to. The truth is, it may be a bigger deal than you think. I mean, come on! That story you’ve spent months on, maybe years, can’t just have any old title! You worked hard to craft this masterpiece of a tale; it doesn’t deserve to be titled just anything.

So, where exactly do you come up with a good, original title? I’m currently querying The Sound of Snap Dragons, but it wasn’t always called that. The original title I had was Forget Me Not. Why did I change it? I did my research. I googled books with the title Forget Me Not, and I was astounded to see how many books there were already with that title. I mean, there were tens of self-published books with “Forget Me Not” as their titles. Honestly? I was a little disappointed. No, I was more than a little disappointed. I was completely bummed. I had clung to my title like a beacon in the night, like a kid and her favorite stuffed toy.

So, what’s my point here? Learn to let go of your first title if it’s not original or catchy enough. Sure, use it as a placeholder until you think of something that really bites, something that really catches the eyes of your readers. Ask yourself: If you were to come across your own book in a store (without knowing it’s your own!), would the title grab you enough to make you pick it up?

A good book title should be:

  • Unique
  • Memorable
  • Insightful

Now, I don’t claim to be the be all and end all of experts when it comes to titling my work. Not by any means. Before I republished The Days Without You, it was called “Waiting for You”. Waiting for You was generic and just very…blah.

Now, how should you title your novel? Well, there are a lot of different considerations you can take into account:

  • The book’s key theme
  • Major characters (The Giver by Lois Lowry)
  • Flow of the title
  • Major events in the story (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)
  • Major motivations
  • Location or setting

You could also combine them, such as the Harry Potter books. But whatever you decide, have fun with it. Of course, make sure your book’s title doesn’t have any unwanted connotations to it. What I like to do is make a long list of possible titles, and that helps me come up with the right title. I sit down and have a brainstorming session. Whatever you do to come up with your title, make sure it’s intriguing!

How do you come up with the titles to your books?

Narrative Structure: The Three-Act Structure

Perhaps one of the more popular narrative structures, the Three-Act Structure is a solid choice when plotting out your novel. As mentioned in my last post about the seven types of narrative structure, the website Helping Writers Become Authors (from K.M. Weiland) has a fantastic, in-depth series on the Three-Act Structure.

Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev from Pexels

Why should you care about story structure? It’s one of the parts of a story that is most often overlooked by writers. Many writers believe that by utilizing narrative structure, they’ll sap the beauty and art of writing right out of their work. That, or they think using narrative structure is too complicated to bother with. I beg to differ. By applying narrative structure to your story, you help bring readers along in your story. Our brains automatically know when certain plot points are supposed to happen. That’s part of the magic of movies: We inherently know when an exciting bit of action is supposed to happen based on its narrative structure. Narrative structure is intuitive.

Back to our Three-Act Structure. It is, as its name suggests, made up of three separate acts. Act I makes up the first 25% of your story. Act II makes up the middle, or 50%, of your story. Act III makes up the last 25% of your story.

Act I

Act I is comprised of a few parts, including the Hook, Inciting Event, and Key Event.

The Hook is just that—it’s the thing that draws your readers in, makes them want to find out what happens to the protagonist. Essentially, when broken down into its most basic form, the Hook is a question: What’s going to happen? It should also be boiled down to a more specific question, such as: What assignment will Jonas receive at the Ceremony of Twelves? (The Giver by Lois Lowry.) Your hook should be specific and easily posed as a question. It should be inherent to the plot, but doesn’t necessarily need to contain action.

The Inciting Event (click for my post about the Inciting Event) is that major event in your protagonist’s life that changes it forever. They can’t go back from this point. It is the moment when your story officially begins.

The Key Event can be, and sometimes is, the same as the Inciting Event, but it can be separate. Think of the Inciting Event as the moment when your story begins, and the Key Event as the moment that defines what the story is about. This is the moment when your protagonist is engaged with the Inciting Event.

Act II

Act II begins, and Act I ends, with The First Plot Point. Act II is the biggest chunk in your story, made up of highs and lows, and growing action. It is also comprised of the Midpoint, which is the very middle plot point at the 50% mark, and two Pinch Points (note: you can have more than two Pinch Points). K.M. Weiland’s series on this structure breaks down Act II into two separate parts — the First Half of the Second Act and the Second Half of the Second Act, divided by the Midpoint.

The First Plot Point marks the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II. It is generally found at the 25% point of your story, and it’s another event that your protagonist can’t come back from. As Weiland puts it, this event isn’t just happening to your protagonist. He reacts to it in an irrevocable way. In my current WIP that’s with beta readers, The Sound of Snap Dragons, Kylie is attacked by a serial killer, which sets her on her hunt to find justice. It’s the character’s reaction that truly begins the first half of Act II.

Pinch Point #1 is a reminder that the antagonist is out there, flexing his biceps. Whether the protagonist attempts to confront the antagonist in some way, or the protagonist falls trap to something, it’s a reminder that our hero isn’t infallible. The first pinch point may reveal certain clues to the mystery, as well. This plot point can happen anywhere in the first half of the second act.

The Midpoint happens at exactly that —the very middle point of your book. Say your manuscript is 100,000 words; the Midpoint should happen at almost exactly 50,000 words into your story, give or take a thousands words or so. By delaying the midpoint, your readers may feel like the story is dragging. It is the centerpiece of your story; it’s the turning point from reaction to action on the protagonist’s part. This is a major plot point in your story, so make sure it doesn’t fall flat.

Pinch Point #2 is the second flex from the antagonist. It’s another blow to the protagonist’s journey, yet it should reveal new information. Again, this can happen anywhere in the second half of Act II.

Act III

Like the previous two acts, Act III should open with a bang, as Weiland puts it. It opens with the Third Plot Point, which should be major in the protagonist’s life and journey. It’s the point of no turning back for our hero, and his back is against a wall. Act III is comprised of the Third Plot Point, the Climax, and Resolution. Unlike our other acts, it’s a bit more flexible in its placement: It can be as early as 70% or as late as 75% in your story.

The Third Plot Point opens Act III in a pivotal moment. It places our protagonist on his last road to the Climax, and all your dominoes should be lined up for the Climax. This point may be utter upheaval for our hero, and may throw his life into total chaos. As Weiland gives, a great example is It’s a Wonderful Life: the third act opens with the appearance of the angel Clarence, who grants George Bailey his wish of never being born.

The Climax is exactly what it sounds like: It’s the moment when our hero battles evil, takes it head-on. Depending on whether your story is a comedy or a tragedy, your hero should either win the battle or lose it. It should have your readers on the edge of their seats. If you’ve built up your story correctly, your readers should have an idea of what’s to come (unless, of course, you throw in some sort of plot twist). It should occur near the very end of Act III.

The Resolution is only a few pages long, maybe one or two scenes, in which all the loose ends are tied up. It should give your readers closure in some way, even if you plan on writing a series. Here, we see how the climax has affected our protagonist’s life, whether he won or lost the battle.

And that’s the end of the Three-Act Structure. To sum up, it’s comprised of three acts, which are also made up of specific plot points. It’s one of the more popular narrative structures for writing novels, but bear in mind that it’s not the only one. Check back soon for my next post on our next narrative structure: Freytag’s Pyramid!

The 7 Types of Narrative Structure

Did you know there are seven, seven, types of narrative structure? From the Three-Act Structure to the Seven-Point Structure, you have a few to choose from when writing your stories. Today, I will be giving you a brief overview of each narrative structure, and be prepared for future posts solely on each story type of narrative structure.

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What exactly is narrative structure? Essentially, it’s a blueprint to follow when outlining your story structure, telling you where to plot certain points in the narrative. It’s the particular order in which narrative is presented in a story, but it’s also made up of narrative elements that drive the action, such as character, conflict, setting, etc. Remember that your plot is driven by a lot of varying factors, so you can think of a novel as one giant spider’s web, all interwoven and connected. Every element should make sense within your story, and every plot point should have a purpose.

Basic story structure goes as follows:
1. Normal life/Status Quo
Your character is going along, going about his everyday business. Everything is hunky dory (or maybe not so hunky dory, depending on your character’s background, like in The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, where Cormoran Strike is sleeping in his office, has broken up with his intermittent girlfriend, and all around down and out with very few jobs as a private detective). You can make this as short or (sort of) long as you want.

2. The Inciting Event/Incident
This is the event that brings your protagonist’s normal life to a total and utter halt. He cannot come back from his event, and his life is about to change forever, whether for the better or for the worse. This should point your protagonist in the direction his ultimate goal, if not at least begin to lead him in that direction.

3. Rising Action
Your protagonist is pursuing their goal, hindered by the obstacles you put in his way, and each time he gets a little closer.

4. Climax/All-Is-Lost
This is the big moment in your story that you’ve been building up to. It’s the final showdown, a battle of wits. There is also most likely a moment when your protagonist thinks he has lost it all, that the battle is lost, and he’s about to give up.

5. Resolution
Here, your character has either a) won the battle, victory! or b) lost the battle or c) lost the battle, but realized they have something more important.

These are the most common “beats” in a story structure. When you dive into the different types of narrative structure, you’ll find that the placement and types of beats within a story structure will vary.

There are seven varying forms of narrative structure. Below, you’ll find a brief description of each one.

  1. Three-Act Structure
    This structure splits your story into three acts: First Act(25%), Second Act(50%), Third Act(25%). The first act makes up the beginning quarter of your story; the second act makes up the entire middle of your story, or 50% of your overall story (give or take); and finally, the third act makes up the ending 25% of your story. Act one is your status quo/normal life and inciting event, and ends with the first plot point. The first plot point then leads into the second act, which includes your rising action and a midpoint. The third plot point leads into the third act, which includes your climax and resolution. For a great series on the Three-Act Structure, check out helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com.
  2. Freytag’s Pyramid
    This is essentially what it sounds like: picture your story like a pyramid of rising and falling action, with your climax at the very peak. While this structure is named after a 19th-century German novelist, it’s actually based on the Greek tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. It’s one of the more basic structures, including an introduction, rising action, climax, the fall, and a disastrous catastrophe. (It wouldn’t be a tragedy without a catastrophic ending, would it? Think the ending of the stage version of Little Shop of Horrors — everyone is eaten by the blood-thirsty plant, Audrey II.)
  3. The Hero’s Journey
    The Hero’s Journey has quite a few more plot points than some of the other narrative structures, but it falls similarly to the Three-Act Structure. The basic plot points are as follows:
    The Ordinary World. Your status quo, your protagonist is going about his daily life.
    The Call to Adventure. Think of this as your inciting incident.
    Refusal of the Call. Our hero doesn’t want to take on the journey.
    Meeting the Mentor. The protagonist meets the person who will teach them or prepare them somehow.
    Crossing the Threshold. Our hero steps out of his comfort zone.
    Tests, Allies, Enemies. Think of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, when Luke, Obi Wan Kenobi, and the droids pick up Han Solo and Chewbacca for passage to Alderaan.
    Approach to the Inmost Cave. Our hero is nearing whatever it is he wants; he nears his goal.
    The Ordeal. Our hero meets and beats his greatest challenge yet.
    Reward/Seizing the Sword. Our hero gains or obtains something they were after, and victory is in sight.
    The Road Back. Things are going backwards for our hero, and he realizes that seizing the sword might have made things harder for him.
    Resurrection. Our hero faces his ultimate challenge or battle, and the climax of the story rests upon everything the hero has learned over their journey. (Like Luke using the Force to fire at a 2-meter wide shot that he must make.)
    Return with the Elixir. Our hero returns to his normal life (or as normal as it can be).
  4. The Story Circle
    This is actually a narrative structure created by Rick and Morty co-creator, Dan Harmon. It is inspired by The Hero’s Journey, but instead of abstract beats, it simply makes the writer think about the character’s wants and needs by instead using beats like: Protagonist is in a Zone of Comfort, They Want Something, They Enter an Unfamiliar Situation, Adapt to It, Gets What They Wanted, Pay a Heavy Price, They Return to Their Familiar Situation, They Have Changed (whether for better or for worse).
  5. Fichtean Curve
    This narrative structure is fleshed out in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. It puts your protagonist through a series of crises and obstacles on his rising way to the climax. It bypasses the “ordinary world” or status quo of structures like the Three-Act Structure, and it begs for the protagonist to continue having to overcome obstacles in order to keep the tension of the story, therefore keeping the reader engaged to the very end.
  6. Save the Cat
    Similar to the Three-Act Structure, this narrative structure was created by screenwriter Blake Snyder, and it tends to remain a popular choice. It’s made up of 15 plot points, all in a certain order. Each “beat” is numbered by page, assuming you were writing a 110-page screenplay.
  7. Seven-Point Story Structure
    Similar to the Hero’s Journey, the Seven-Point Story focuses on the highs and lows of a narrative. It includes major plot points and beats called “pinch points” — basically, when something goes wrong for your protagonist.

Bear in mind that narrative structures aren’t an exact science, especially when writing a novel. They can be great tools in outlining your novel, knowing when and where to place your plot points.

The Inciting Event

Every event, every plot point in a story should matter, and that especially goes for the Inciting Event. Sure, maybe it’s not the most significant plot point or even the most noticeable, but it’s still important in your overall story structure, which is why I want to talk about it today.

What exactly is the Inciting Event? Basically, it’s the very first plot point that sets your story in motion. It could even seem incredibly insignificant in the lives of your characters, but it’s what tips over that first domino in a long line of dominoes. Essentially, it should change your character’s life forever, no matter how small or big your Inciting Event is. You’ll hear some writing advice say that the Inciting Event needs to be huge and dramatic to change your character’s life forever; I don’t believe this is true. The Inciting Event can be one small notch in your character’s life, but it should be one that they can’t come back from.

Now, the Inciting Event can even happen before the story begins. In The Days Without You, the story opens with Kylie dreading a concert she agreed to attend with her best friend, and there, she meets Adam by mishap. While this is the beginning of the story, the inciting event would technically be Kylie agreeing to attend the concert with Cat, even though this happens before the start of the story. And, your character/s may not even realize that their lives have been ultimately altered! It’s important to remember that the Inciting Event doesn’t have to be realized by your protagonist.

In many cases, however, the Inciting Event happens within the realm of the story. Bear in mind, too, that it may not be the very first thing to happen in your story. in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we have character building and world building before the Inciting Event happens. Similar goes for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. Before the Inciting Event happens, we learn all about what horrible people the Dursleys are, not to mention we also see Dumbledore leaving Harry at the Dursley’s doorstep after being rescued from the wreckage of his home.

Some examples of the Inciting Event:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    In the Hunger Games, we learn all about the dark, evil “game” called The Hunger Games, in which one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each District is selected to compete in a battle to the death, and the winner shall be bathed in riches. Katniss, who is our narrator and protagonist, is devastated when her younger sister, Prim, is selected as the next tribute. In desperation to save her sister, Katniss volunteers as tribute to take Prim’s place. This act of volunteering for her sister is the Inciting Event, as it changes Katniss’ life forever. She can no longer go back to her old life; she must now compete in The Hunger Games, fighting for her life.
  2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    As previously mentioned, there’s a ton of backstory in this novel before we get to the Inciting Event: when Hagrid, a half-giant who barges in upon the Dursleys and Harry in their off-shore hut, tells Harry, “Yer a wizard, Harry.” (Can we all agree that this is a classic line of dialogue?) We identify this as the Inciting Event because it changes Harry’s life forever. Why isn’t the event of the never-ending letters the Inciting Event? Because Harry could have chosen to ignore them, or the Dursleys could have kept them hidden from Harry, thus not setting into effect the dominoes to Harry’s learning that he’s a wizard.
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    Can I just say this is one of my favorite books, and has been since I was in, like, fourth grade and I’ve read it a bajillion times? Favoritism aside, we open the story upon Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a futuristic community that seems like a utopia, but really is a dystopia where babies are “Released to Elsewhere” if they don’t weigh enough. He’s nervous about his career assignment, which he is to receive at the Ceremony of Twelves, because he’s worried he doesn’t fit in anywhere. The Ceremony itself is our Inciting Event, because Jonas learns he has been selected as the next Receiver of Memory, in which the Giver passes down memories of the past world so he can advise the community when it needs to make decisions.

So what should your Inciting Event be? Technically, it can be anything! But, it should make sense with your First Plot Point. That is to say, the Inciting Event should be the first domino that knocks over another, then another, and another, leading to the First Plot Point. In my work-in-progress, The Sound of Snap Dragons, the Inciting Event is that Kylie gets hired as an investigative journalist at The New York Star, a major newspaper in her city, leading her to be assigned a story about a serial killer.

I’d love to hear what the Inciting Event is in your manuscript or published books! Tell me, what are your thoughts on this important plot point?

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Voice. Find your voice as a writer, they say. What exactly does that mean? You may be struggling to find your own unique voice as a writer and author, trying to find what makes your work different, what makes it stand out. Voice, essentially, is the unique mixture of vocabulary, syntax, tone, and point of view that makes you as a writer. The way you write your story, a way only you can tell your story, should make your readers feel something. It’s almost manipulative, in a way, how we control our readers’ emotions, isn’t it?

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I don’t believe that finding your own unique voice as a writer is an easy thing to do. Many times, in the early days of writing, we try to imitate our favorite authors and writers in an attempt to find who we are as writers. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. There is, of course, a difference between an author’s voice and character voice. Character voice is something a skilled author can imbibe upon any given character in a story, utilizing a unique tone and choice of vocabulary for said character. You may see more of a character’s voice in a story that’s written in first person, but this can be character’s voice. For example, The Giver (written by the great Lois Lowry) is written from the Jonas’ point of view, a twelve-year-old boy who’s about to receive his assignment in his community, and he’s anxious because he doesn’t really know where he fits in. In the first few pages of the novel, he’s deciding how he wants to describe how he feels at dinner discussion with his family unit. (He decides on apprehensive.) The narration is voiced through Jonas. Every word is carefully written from the point of view of Jonas.

However, one could say that this narration in The Giver is unique to Lowry, making it her voice as a writer. The vocabulary, tone, and point-of-view are unique to Lowry’s style. One definitely wouldn’t confuse it with, say, Ernest Hemingway or Emily Brontë.

Here are a few tips and exercises you can try for finding your voice as a writer:

  1. Be consistent.
    No matter what sort of style you use, what vocabulary or dialect you choose for your story, or even how flowery your description is, be sure to be consistent. If you like long, lengthy descriptions, try to stick to long, lengthy descriptions in your story. The one facet you may decide to vary on is POV. However, I wouldn’t change POV within the same story — that is, if you use first person, stick to first person in the same novel. What I mean is you may decide to use first person in one novel, and third person in another story. Switching between POV types within the same novel may be confusing for readers.
  2. Formal or colloquial?
    Decide whether you want to be formal or informal in your voice. Do you include swearing/cursing in your stories? Big, complex words? Or do you prefer more informal vocabulary and vernacular?
  3. Do you want your stories driven by description or dialogue?
    Some writers like lengthy passages of flowy description, while others prefer their stories to be driven forward more so by dialogue.
  4. Describe your voice (or what you want it to be) in five words.
    This can be a great exercise in figuring out who you want to be as a writer. Really think about what five words you would use to describe your style and voice.
  5. Ask your friends, family, fellow writers or critique partners to describe your voice in five words.
    Same concept as describing yourself, but you’re asking others to describe your writing. You may be truly surprised at the feedback you get.
  6. Analyze your favorite voices in writing.
    Make a list of a few of your favorite author voices and write down what you love most about them. Is it their description? Their dialogue? Their syntax? Their POV? Take what you discover and try to apply it to your own writing, or simply play around with a few scenes in that particular voice you’re trying to imitate.

No matter how you find your voice as a writer, try to be consistent, as it is a way readers can recognize you. However, bear in mind that it can take a lifetime to develop your true voice, so don’t fret if you don’t feel like you’ve quite gotten the hang of it. We’re all on this writing journey, trying to figure ourselves and our stories out.

Writing a Novel: The First Steps

Maybe the thought of writing an entire novel is daunting for you. Maybe you want to write one but don’t have an idea. Or perhaps you have an idea but don’t know where to start. Either way, I know how it is. When I wrote my first book that wasn’t garbage, I didn’t really know where to start. The first first book, the one that was garbage, I wrote by the seat of my pants the entire way, with no planning, no forethought, no nothing. It ended up with no real structured plot, no real goals, no motivations. That’s why I believe in the power of at least a little planning and plotting beforehand, even if you consider yourself a pantser. Just a little forethought can really go a long way in the quality of your novel.

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That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plot out every little detail of your novel, especially if you enjoy writing by the seat of your pants and seeing where the story and its characters take you. There’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing what your characters’ wants and goals are before you start writing can help you get to your ending a little more quickly — not to mention a little more neatly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of explorative writing, but that’s mostly to learn about my characters and who they are — not as a way to write a novel.

But there is something to be said about writing by the seat of your pants. No matter what gets you writing, be sure to write. You can’t edit a blank page. So whatever gets your fingers to that keyboard (or pen to paper), go for it.

Below are just a few of my own tips that I’ve learned over the years in my writing journey on how to start your novel.

  1. Start with a spark of an idea.
    It can be even a tiny glimpse of a scene, of a character, of a problem. I say spark of an idea, because it doesn’t have to be an entire idea for a novel. It can be just a tiny piece of the puzzle, and that’s what you’ll build your novel around. Prompts can be useful if you’re stuck for sparks, and you can find a ton of prompts on various writing websites.
  2. From that spark, figure out a loose plot.
    This is where character goals and motivations come in handy. By knowing what your character wants, you can throw obstacles in their way to keep them from reaching that ultimate goal. What will happen if your protagonist fails to reach their goal? What do they stand to lose? Essentially, that’s all plot is: the events that happen in a story that keep your character from gaining what they want. Granted, a novel is typically more ornate and intricate than just a bunch of plot points. But learning plot structure can help you mold your story, such as the Three-Act Structure (K.M. Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors has a great series on this). By learning plot structure, you can predetermine where the major plot points of your story will go, and this can help you determine what plot points need to happen in your story. There’s a reason pre-determined plot structures, like the Three-Act Structure, are so popular; it’s the natural points, the inherent ebb and flow, in a story when audiences expect something major to happen.
  3. Get to writing! (And don’t worry about being perfect.)
    Whether you’re prone to plotting or pantsing, you should have at least an idea of what your characters want, what their goals are, and a loose plot structure. Like I quoted before, you can’t edit a blank page. Don’t worry about finding that perfect word or perfect phrase during your first draft. You can edit that later. Just write.
  4. Edit, rewrite, and rewrite.
    If there’s one big mistake I made on that first “novel”, it’s that I didn’t take the time to edit it. I didn’t go through it to make sure it adhered to proper plot structure of some sort; the characters had vague motivations and goals. In other words? It was a hot mess. Make sure you reread your story, check it for cohesiveness, for good flow. Find beta readers and get feedback. Be a nitpick, but remember that you can’t edit forever.

These are just some beginning steps to writing a novel. I want to be clear that it can be much more detailed and involved than just stringing some words together. Carefully think out your novel. Think of how you could sum up your novel and what it conveys in just a sentence or two.

As a reminder, I’m looking for writers, authors, and bloggers to interview on my new podcast (available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!), so if you’re interested in being featured, email me at lithiumskylar@yahoo.com or comment on any post on my blog! I’m also now on Twitter and looking for mutual follows, so follow me @SkylarWwrites.