How Close is Too Close?

There’s no such thing as coincidence.

Except, perhaps when it comes to book ideas.

There’s a commonly held idea that there are only 7 plots available for stories, and they just keep getting reused (hence why The Lion King bears an uncanny resemblance to Hamlet – minus the lions, of course).

But what happens when your book idea has more than just a few commonalities with an existing work? (One you’d never read, or even heard of, before writing.)

I mean, obviously, if you wrote a book a bout a young orphan named Mary Blotter who discovers she’s a wizard and goes off to train at a magical school named Pigzits and battles the evil wizard Coldemort, you’re going to have issues.

But what if the similarities aren’t quite as close?

I mentioned last week that the closest comp title I can find for my Adult Urban Fantasy WiP is Julie Kenner’s Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series. I wasn’t even aware the books existed when I wrote my first draft (though now I found them, I’m really enjoying them).

Except, the more I read, the more coincidences I find.

Like, that our main characters have both been out of their supernatural professions for 15 years, both have a young teen and toddler, and both have to hide their supernatural activities from a disapproving husband, resulting in marital strife.

There are lots of differences, of course. My main character is a witch (well, mage), not a demon hunter, and my books don’t have a religious basis (unlike Kenner’s, where the MC works for the Vatican), although both characters have a friend/helper who is a priest/minister.

Also, my MC’s teen is her step-daughter, creating a different dynamic between them than Kenner’s MC who is the birth mom (although her kids have two different fathers).

I don’t want to be seen as copying Kenner, and yet I’m not sure if I can change any of the similarities due to their importance to the plot.

Sigh.

I already scrapped a MG fairy tale retelling because (despite Googling my plot before writing) I discovered an existing book (by E.D. Baker, queen of fairy tale retellings, no less) with the exact same storyline (Sleeping Beauty has a younger sister who didn’t get affected by the spell, and is actually the one who saves her sister). We even gave our King and Queen the same names!

So, what do you think? Do I need to make some changes to create more differences between the two? Or will the world survive two somewhat similar books (I mean, the world survived having two movies about ants come out the same year. And two about penguins. And two about fish/sharks.)

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

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June Check-In

Well, the calendar says it’s June, even if Mother Nature seems to disagree (seriously, I had to wear gloves on Monday), so that means it’s time for another update!

I’m not exactly sure what all I did in May, to be honest, (and not just because I’m writing this while fighting a headache).

I kept working on revising my Adult Urban Fantasy, although thanks to deleting more than I wrote, I’m even farther away from my desired word count than I was a month ago. Go, me!

However, while preparing the first chapter and synopsis for my new critique circle, I was reminded how much I love my story and my characters, so at least I’m in a good mental place with it.

That said, I’ll probably put that novel on a temporary hold this month, as I tackle the revisions on my MG Fantasy that came out of my conference critique.

I also agreed to take on a bit more responsibility in my role as Ottawa Coordinator for SCBWI (I’m now in charge of organizing critique groups for our region, and it’s looking like I will the be the sole Coordinator for Ottawa-area after my partner steps down at the end of this month).

June is shaping up to be ridiculously busy between my daughter’s birthday and appointments, so we’ll see how much work gets done. My goal is to get my MG revised before the kids finish school and I revert to being a Full-Time Mom for the summer.

And, of course, I listened to a bunch of audiobooks.

May Reading Stats:

  • Adult Urban Fantasy/Paranormal (18)

May Total: 18

Year-to-Date: 86 (+22 Re-reads)

Short but Sweet

Just a quick post today, as the shortened week (Monday was a holiday here in Canada) has left me scrambling to get ready to head to Montreal tomorrow for the SCBWI Canada East conference.

My wonderful health issues have also contributed to this week’s chaos, both by slowing me down and by creating wardrobe issues (apparently if you lose close to 20 lbs, a lot of your clothes don’t fit anymore. Who knew?)

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my symptoms under control enough to get through the weekend.

I’m really looking forward to meeting old and new friends, and learning more about the craft of writing (not to mention getting some time to check out the fabulous city of Montreal).

Think that’s it for this week. Expect a conference re-cap for next week’s post.

What I Learned From Comiccon

Okay, I admit it, part of the purpose of this post is to show off the awesome cosplay Hubs and I spent the last month creating. I am super-proud of how my costume turned out, and wanted an excuse to show it to you all.

But I also want to talk about the reaction I received at Comiccon, and what I think it means to me as a writer (admittedly, maybe these thoughts apply more to movies than books, but I’m still going to post them).

First off, the costume:

For those of you who don’t recognize the character, I went as Doc (“my friends call me Liv”) Ock from Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse (in my opinion not just the best animated movie from last year, but also one of the best movies overall from 2018).

I love everything about this character (well, except maybe the fact that she’s evil). She’s smart, strong, driven, and a scientist!

Not to mention how she fulfilled my (medical) necessities for a cosplay: ability to wear prescription sunglasses & flat shoes! (I had previously been toying with the idea of going as The Handler from Umbrella Academy because she wears huge sunglasses, but her heels were a deal breaker – and the costume just wouldn’t have looked right with flats.)

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, that’s where the reactions of others comes in.

People loved this costume. There was lots of squeeing over the character, and one girl even teared up. Everywhere I went I heard how much people love the Spiderverse‘s Doc Ock.

If you’re not a Spidey fan and wondering why I’m specifying the movie here, it’s because in all the Spiderman movies to date Doc Ock has been a guy. In fact – and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t seen all of the movies – NONE of the villains in previous Spidey movies have been female.

For that matter, the first and only main female villain in a Marvel movie was Hela in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok (the 17th of 21 Marvel films, in case you’re keeping count).

And I can only think of four other Marvel films (not counting Spiderverse) that had minor female villains: Guardians of the Galaxy – Nebula; Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 – Nebula, Ayesha; Avengers: Infinity War  – Proxima Midnight [who I don’t think is even named aloud]; & Avengers: Endgame – Proxima Midnight & Nebula [text hidden to avoid spoilers. Highlight to reveal.] (You could maybe *maybe* convince me to add Captain Marvel’s Supreme Intelligence, but as it is technically an intangible entity that appears to Carol as a female, I’m not entirely sure it should count.)

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make, is that, based on what I saw at Comiccon, people are hungry for more strong, well-developed, female villains (and, I’d argue, characters in general. We’re not anywhere near balanced on the hero side, except perhaps in Wakanda.)

And it made me even more intent on writing my (female-centric) Adult Urban Fantasy. I have a feeling it’s going to be a hard sell to publishers – it’s not fluffy (or sexy) enough to be considered paranormal romance, but with it’s mostly female cast, I’m worried publishers won’t see it as an Urban Fantasy. And yet, if my Comiccon experience is anything to go by, there is a market for this kind of book.

And I’m going to hang tight to that thought while I finish revising and eventually start querying the book.

So, tell me: are you hungry for stories (in films or books) about strong women? Who’s your favourite female villain of all time?

Let me know in the comments.

Hooray for Productivity Parties!

Recently some of my fellow writers and I have been meeting to work together. Not to critique each others’ work or brainstorm ideas, but simply to sit in silence and write.

While it may seem weird to meet as a group only to ignore each other and do our own thing, I’ve actually found our sessions really helpful.

For one thing, it gives me the incentive to push through my health issues and write, even if I’m not feeling 100% (or even 60%) that day. For another, it helps keep me on task, removing any chance of getting distracted by social media or household chores. When I’m with my other writers all I can do is write.

Not only that but it gives me a chance to get out and talk with other writers/friends (something that is definitely hard to come by as a stay-at-home parent/writer), as we always work in a bit of time to socialise/catch-up.

So, how productive are these parties? Well, in this week’s three-hour session (which included both eating and socializing time) I increased my word count by 1200 words – which, since I also deleted words from my WiP as I revised, meant I actually wrote closer to 1500-1800 words in that stretch. Not bad for a few hours work.

Right now we only meet about every 2-3 weeks, but I’m hoping we can make it a little more frequent…at least until the summer when I’ll have my kids home and be unable to attend. (How are we only six weeks away from that?)

For now, though, productivity parties are definitely helping me plow through this revision and reach my word count goal.

 

What’s in a Name?

As someone who has gone through her own share of name changes (Kimberly to Kim to Kaye/K), I am a firm believer in names reflecting personality, especially when it comes to fictional characters.

I just can’t help but feel that a Sarah is going to behave differently from an Yvonne or a Morgan when put into the same situations (stereotyping? Maybe, although I’d like to think there’s more to it than that).

And yet, here I am more than 2/3 of the way through the first revision of my Adult Urban Fantasy WiP, and I still haven’t nailed down my main character’s name.

I think I’ve changed her name about four times already during this revision, including swapping it for another character’s name (which I do not recommend, as it’s going to make final edits ridiculous since I can’t find & replace 2-letter nicknames as well as I can full names.)

I swear I’ve had more trouble naming her than I had naming my kids (and that required huge fights compromising with my husband).

But as much as I’ve tried to push through with my revision despite it, the wrong name is constantly rubbing against me like an ill-fitting shoe. Which is maybe part of the reason this revision has been so hard to write.

I’m still plugging away at the manuscript, though. And about once a week I break down and check out baby name websites, hoping for a sudden inspiration (leading to an interesting array of online ads…sigh.)

Hopefully I’ll figure it out soon, and things will magically click into place, making writing a breeze (let me dream).

Question for my fellow writers: have you ever had trouble naming a character? How did you figure it out? Or are you the kind of person who can surge forward using a placeholder and not stress about the details until later?

Let me know in the comments.

 

 

Studying a Mentor Text

I’m a firm believer that reading (including to listening to audiobooks) is a great way to advance your writing skills. Which isn’t to say you need to dissect every book you consume – reading for pleasure still lets you unconsciously pick up on things like dialogue, character, plot, pacing, and reader expectations.

But sometimes it can really help to break a book down and see what makes it work.

My newest WiP (Work in Progress) is an Adult Urban Fantasy, which is a genre I love reading, but not one I’ve tried writing before – leading to some issues.

My biggest problem so far is a low word count. While I do tend to underwrite my first drafts (not put in enough description, or occasionally skip awkward scenes to fill in later) I doubt I have more than 10,000 words worth of missing material.

Leaving me about 15,000 words short of an acceptable length novel. Gulp.

Which is where the mentor text comes in.

I took the first novel of my favourite Urban Fantasy series (The Dresden Files) and broke it down, mainly with an eye to plot and pacing. I’ve probably read this book five or six times already, so I’m pretty familiar with the story, but I’ve never taken the time to look at the mechanics of its writing.

I started by writing some quick point form notes about the events of each chapter, so I could really examine how the story spins out (I’m not going to spell them all out here, just explain the theory of the work I did). I also noted chapter lengths (they range from 7 – 25 pages).

Next I looked at the antagonists. There is one main “bad guy” whose identity isn’t revealed until the end, and who employs four different minions/monsters to attack the main character (Harry) throughout the book. But there are also four separate lesser antagonists who each attack/provoke Harry in their own ways, some of whom turn out to be allies later on.

And on top of all that, there’s a romantic subplot too.

Because this is the first novel of a series (which is what I’m hoping mine will be) I also took note of the way the world-building was laid out. For instance, The basic rules of the world are laid out from page one (Harry is a wizard in a world where magic exists, but hardly anyone believes in it), but he waits until chapters five and six (and later) to introduce certain locations and characters that come to be staples in future books.

Hints about Harry’s past are also dropped in a few places – with just enough information given to make the events happening because of them make sense, without actually spelling out every detail of his past (in fact many of the things hinted about don’t get explained until much later in the series – if that).

The goal of all this analysis is, of course, not to create a carbon copy of the mentor text, but to help see where my own is falling short. Already, I can tell I need at least one more subplot, and perhaps another minor antagonist (or else to expand the role of one of my existing antagonists).

I plan to analyze another couple of first books from other Urban Fantasy series to see how different authors lay out their plots, as well as some later books in The Dresden Files, as a comparison.

After all, as Hermione always says, “When in doubt, go to the library!”