Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Convenient intuition

Here’s a post at Pub Rants: Instinct, intuition, and insight in fiction.

I wanted to chat this month about something that happens quite frequently in fiction (both published and unpublished), something I’ve dubbed “miraculous knowing.” This is when answers or solutions conveniently occur to a character at key plot moments. It tends to manifest thusly:

• They didn’t know how they knew. They just knew.
• She felt it in her bones. This was the place.
• He sensed it deep with his soul, so deep that he was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that he knew exactly what had happened to the woman.
• I had a bad feeling. I knew I was being watched.

This is a really good post! I keep wanting to quote the whole thing. Here:

Humans are intuitive, instinctive, insightful beings. We’re animals. Our survival drive makes us reactive to vibes others are giving off, to that cold prickle at the backs of our necks, to hunches that danger lurks nearby. … it stands to reason that characters in fiction would also experience these types of intuitive moments, right?

Sure. However, in fiction, it’s not quite that simple. The human brain demands a different sort of logic from a story … than it does from reality. When a character “senses” or “just knows” more than one crucial piece of information (maaaaaby two) over the course of a novel, that often signals one of three things: incomplete character development, limp plotting, or false tension.

The post then expands on “incomplete character development, limp plotting, and false tension.”

Please Feel Free to Share:


Not quite finished, but I figured out the ending

So, last night I wrote the last scene I had in mind for TARASHANA. I instantly realized that this was not actually the last scene of the book. I don’t know why I didn’t realize that before I got there. I think I may have been too focused on the overall coolness of that scene and thus could not look at the broader picture until I had that scene written.

Anyway, I wrote this neat scene and then I looked at the computer screen for several minutes. Hmm, I said. This is not the end.

I thought about this for, I don’t know, thirty seconds. Then I said, Well, Pippa thinks it’s bedtime (It was seven thirty) (I know, yes), so I guess we’ll go downstairs and the dogs can go to sleep and I’ll read a bit more of the Touchstone trilogy. (I’m getting close to the end of the second book, but most of my time is devoted to other things right now, so I’m really only reading at bedtime.)

Then I woke up at three thirty, which is pretty much morning for me because my alarm is set for four (I KNOW, all right? My schedule is totally offset from the schedule of any normal person right now, but I really like having a long morning in which to write before it’s time to go to work. I’ll adjust back to a more normal schedule during Christmas Break.) I lay there thinking about TARASHANA, which is how I like to spend those minutes before the alarm clock goes off — I almost never sleep all the way to the alarm — and almost at once it occurred to me that I should absolutely do (A) and (B) and ooh, (C), and then I would have a great ending for this story.

So I’m not quite finished, but it’s fine! My subconscious did its job, thankfully, so I will be ready to write The End for TARASHANA in another couple of days.

No one will see it before Christmas, sorry, but you are all probably too busy anyway, right? I already see some things I need to do:

a) I believe I will replace one minor character with a different minor character. What a pity I did not realize the other minor character would be a more appropriate choice at the beginning, but there it is.

b) I will remove a scene that gives too much away too early. I may remove all or nearly all of that chapter, which would be fine because this is going to be a super long draft.

c) I will smooth out some continuity details in the last part of the book, basically from the climax on to nearly the end, and at this point let me add that there are exactly two reasons I ever, ever put anything in boldface in a novel draft: (a) I want to switch that word or phrase to a different language, but don’t want to take time for that now; or (b) I know perfectly well there is a continuity issue that I need to address involving whatever that is.

100% of Copper Mountain readers pointed to a specific boldfaced thing in the final draft and said, Are you sure you want this to be bolded? Thank you all for catching that and no, I never, ever want anything to be bolded in the final draft. That was supposed to be in Spanish or unbolded, whichever I decided on.

d) I will do some trimming. It’s fine with me if the book winds up long, but seriously, this is REALLY long right now. At least one person is going to get a quite long version with a specific request to say “Bored now” whenever she starts skimming.

After that, I will send the real actual first draft to a couple more of you and ask you to tear it apart, although by the way positive comments are highly welcome and quite motivating. After THAT I will do final revisions and ask for proofreaders to scour the manuscript for however many ridiculously obvious typos may be left at that point.

I’m thinking I will aim for roughly early summer 2021 as the release date. Earlier would be fine, but I don’t want to stress myself out by imposing an unnecessarily tight deadline.

Please Feel Free to Share:


The Beat Goes On

From Writer Unboxed:

It’s confusing.  As if there aren’t enough hero’s journeys and snowflakes to follow in putting together your novel, there is also the matter of beats.  Commonly used in screenwriting, the concept of beats sometimes creeps into thinking about fiction writing.  What exactly are beats, and do they have any utility in fiction?

Sometimes = always in some sorts of formulaic fiction; eg, romance and cozy mystery — most mystery — and quest novels of various kinds.

[Beats are] moments in a story that are plot pivots or emotional shifts.  Palpably and perhaps invisibly, the story takes a step.  Things change: outside, inside or between people.  The story marches forward in a marked cadence.  The felt impact of each step is a beat.

This post doesn’t say this, but romance beats are surely the most standardized. The plot of a romance almost always follows a pattern close to this:

a) Set up

b) Meet cute (or whatever kind of meeting; sometimes not cute)

c) We can never make it work

d) Maybe we could make it work

e) Revelation of some obstacle

f) Dark night of the soul: giving up on love

g) One or both protagonist yields something to the other person and the happy ending ensues

So those are romance beats. This post at Writer Unboxed goes on:

What was supposed to be true might turn out to be false.  Right could veer wrong.  Bad might become good.  When doubt arises, hope is dashed, a silver lining is discovered…when there is any emotional shift at all in the minds or hearts of readers, that too is a beat. … Above all, a beat is something that we experience in a moment.  It’s a stab of fear, a twinge of shame, a shout of encouragement, a shot at prediction, a tremor of doubt, a punishing verdict, a roar of rage, a tear of grief, a nod of satisfaction, or anything that causes us to feel a way that we didn’t a moment before.

The rest of the post is about the importance of emotional shifts that arise from character (and reader) reactions, not from the plot (or not only from the plot). A pretty decent post, if you’ve got a minute and would like to click through.

Please Feel Free to Share:


The series bible

Here’s a good post about how (and why) to create a series bible, if you happen to be writing a long series, especially with considerable time between one book and the next. Time for you, I mean, not time in the series. I can definitely confirm that it’s entirely possible to forget a character’s eye color, so a place to look that sort of thing up is handy.

Here’s a partial list of suggested items to include:

  • Description of main characters
  • Description of secondary characters
  • Description of villains
  • Themes
  • Setting
  • Backstory
  • Timelines
  • Future scene ideas

Etc, etc. I left a lot out. I’ll add one more, though: evocative details and obvious plot hooks you absolutely intended to bring into a later book and might forget about if you didn’t have notes about them. I mean, what’s under the cement floor in that house where Miguel and Natividad found that creepy skull? And, by the way, who was the poor child to whom that skull belonged?

I have more notes about that sort of detail than anything else. BUT, I do have a quick note of everyone’s eye color in black dog form, because that is hard to remember for everyone except Ezekiel.

Notes about villains aren’t so important for me, since I tend to kill them before the end of the book and they don’t tend to come back afterward. (I do have at least one hanging thread of that kind. Anybody happen to remember who that is?)

Villainy, now, I do need details about that. What exactly is the paraphernalia used for witchcraft? That, I would forget if I didn’t have notes.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Best … kitchen tools … for Star Wars fans

This was a category I didn’t know existed.

But here it is: The Best Gifts for Foodies Who Love Star Wars

If you’re still looking for stocking stuffers, then how about, let me see …

Wow. Okay, this is not in the “stocking stuffer” category, but if you were planning to get a pressure cooker anyway, well:

This item apparently functions as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, sauté pan, yogurt maker and warmer.

A sauté pan, really? But that’s what it says! You can buy it here.

I have to admit, this is a pretty neat pressure cooker.

Most of the items on the list are cheaper than that. By all means click through if you’re still shopping.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Statistics in world-destroying catastrophes

Here’s an interesting post by James Davis Nicoll: More Planets, More Problems: The Pessimist’s Guide to Galactic Expansion

This is pessimism based on statistics:

[The statistical unlikelihood of being hit by a giant meteor is g]ood news for any particular world, because the odds are pretty good that civilization will collapse from other causes in the time between successive 1 km object impacts, with excellent odds that the species will vanish from other causes before another dinosaur-killer arrives. Unfortunately, our grand galactic polity has three hundred million independent planetary collision experiments running simultaneously. Thus, absent intervention, in any given year, about six hundred worlds will be struck by a 1 km object, and about fifteen will be struck by a massive dinosaur-killer.

That paragraph made me laugh for a couple of different reasons. Good news! Your civilization will fall and your species will become extinct before you have to worry about being destroyed by a giant meteor — well, MOST of you.

Of course, in a properly run galactic federation, we wouldn’t say “absent intervention.” We’d expect nearly all of those worlds to nudge the giant meteor out of the way before disaster struck. Except that Nicoll is in a REALLY pessimistic mood this morning, as he adds,  Well, unless the funding bodies decide that because there have been no impacts in recent memory thanks to the anti-impactor program, the program was clearly overfunded and could be cut.

Nicoll then goes on to discuss other planetary catastrophes, including my favorite, the kind of extreme volcanic period that formed — for Earth — the Siberian basalts and would — if it happened again — kill us all. Nicoll comments, with the extreme pessimism that pervades this particular post, I guess the good news is “an area the size of India is permanently on fire” is the sort of thing people notice from orbit, so at least it won’t come as a surprise to whoever makes the mistake of settling there. Unless, of course, the flood-basalt event is in a quiescent phase during the survey…

These sorts of things are not as fun in space opera as a good old-fashioned war, but I suppose if you’re writing a long series and the war doesn’t seem exciting enough, you could probably spice it up by adding a nice planetary catastrophe on top.

Please Feel Free to Share:


The Hands of the Emperor

Mary Anderson pointed to this book in the comments to yesterday’s post, as a novel in which nothing terrible happens.

Here’s the description:

An impulsive word can start a war.
A timely word can stop one.
A simple act of friendship can change the course of history.

Cliopher Mdang is the personal secretary of the Last Emperor of Astandalas, the Lord of Rising Stars, the Lord Magus of Zunidh, the Sun-on-Earth, the god.
He has spent more time with the Emperor of Astandalas than any other person.
He has never once touched his lord.
He has never called him by name.
He has never initiated a conversation.

One day Cliopher invites the Sun-on-Earth home to the proverbially remote Vangavaye-ve for a holiday.

The mere invitation could have seen Cliopher executed for blasphemy.
The acceptance upends the world.

This is a GREAT description. It is brief. It is intriguing. It suggests a story centered around a potentially wonderful relationship. It checks off just a few boxes for me, but it checks them off very thoroughly. This is not a little oh, friendship, how nice checkmark. It is a great, huge WHOA, LOOK AT THIS checkmark.

I am absolutely going to try this book. Probably really soon, right after I have finished my (really slow) re-read of the Touchstone trilogy.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Yet another post by Jo Walton

She’s done this kind of post before, and so have I, quite recently, but here we are again: Searching for Books in Which No Bad Things Happen

Children’s books, suggests one friend.

Ha ha, no. Apart from the fact that some of the scariest things I’ve ever read have been children’s books … Gary Schmidt, a children’s writer I discovered recently, is absolutely wonderful, but terrible, terrible things happen in his books, and it’s not even reliably all right at the end. He’s the person who made me think you have to earn your unhappy endings just as much as your happy ones.

Jo Walton then goes on:

[O]ne of my comfort reads is Arthur Ransome. He wrote a long series of books about kids messing about in sailboats on lakes in England in the 1930s, and nothing actually bad happens—except there’s a fog on the hills once, and there’s the time when the boat sinks in Swallowdale and John is so humiliated, 

That’s a good reminder that I have the first book of this series on my Kindle. Walton goes on to mention romances, especially Georgette Heyer, especially Cotillion — one of my very, very favorites of Heyer’s books. Walton ends the post this way:

Phyllis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair is about a far future where people have evolved to be nicer, and there’s a fair, and a woodcarver who can make toys come to life, and there is sex and love and nothing bad happens and everything is all right. It’s gentle and delightful and I genuinely really like this odd sweet little book, and unless I’m forgetting something I don’t think anything bad happens at all.

And because of one of Walton’s earlier posts on this topic, I have that one on my Kindle TBR pile as well, so really, I think I’m set for the rest of this month.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Jo Walton’s November Reading List

At tor.com, this post: Jo Walton’s Reading List: November 2020

The two that jump out at me: The Curse of Chalion and The Pride of Chanur.

CJC is not someone who necessarily works well for me when I look around for something soothing to re-read. That would be LMB, in fact, or at least Bujold is one of the best for this purpose for me.

I haven’t read any of the other books on her list.

This one sounds quite promising:

The Old Nurse’s Stocking Basket, Eleanor Farjeon (1931) Terrific short story collection about an immortal nurse who tells stories to her charges as she mends their stockings, and the stories are about other children she has nursed over hundreds of years and many countries, and they’re also fairy tales with aspects of many mythologies. Surprisingly well done for 1931, and most of the stories are delightful, have no morals, and are just fun. Free on Gutenberg.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Our brains on audiobooks


Our earliest experiences with stories are with their oral forms, both on an individual level and as a society. Many of us developed our love for stories from listening to the stories and anecdotes that we were told by our elders in our childhood. Human beings have been spinning tales and passing them down to later generations orally since long before the first words were put to paper. …

Recent research about the neuroscience of listening and reading has used functional MRI techniques to detect brain activity associated with these tasks. …

This is a short post, so a bit shallow itself, but there are several linked articles if you find the topic interesting.

Here is my favorite of the cited studies. This is quite funny:

Another branch of research seeks to compare brain activity between listening and reading. A recent study found that there are no discernible differences. This, however, might not be a very accurate generalization for the book vs. audiobook debate, since the participants in this study only read one word at a time, displayed at a pre-determined speed.

Ha ha ha! What kind of design is that? I mean, this definition of “reading” and my definition of “reading” don’t seem to intersect much. If one word is displayed at a time, that’s, what, word comprehension? It’s not reading. But maybe they weren’t trying to compare listening to stories with reading stories, but rather listening to words versus reading words. Not sure what the point would be, but let me just take a look. … Nope. This is supposed to be a comparison of listening versus reading narrative stories. Let me look at the actual methodology … The words of each story were presented one-by-one at the center of the screen using a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) procedure… During reading, each word was presented for a duration precisely equal to the duration of that word in the spoken story.

Well, having read the entire methods section, this strikes me as an incredibly convoluted design meant to control for unimportant things at the cost of losing the comparison between the actual experience of listening to a story versus the actual experience of reading a story. Now, granted, this is a rapid glance at the article. I haven’t read through their actual discussion of this topic, because I don’t really care about their conclusions, I was just intrigued by their methodology. This may not be quite fair, but I’m thinking this is a fantastic example of researchers who have gotten distracted by technique to the extent they have failed to realize their study does not and cannot apply to anything in the real world.

I’m still chuckling over this design, but I do want to go back to the Book Riot post long enough to point out that the post does say this particular study may not be relevant. I sure agree. I wouldn’t have cited it at all.

I’ve been listening to podcasts more than audiobooks lately, but the TUYO audiobook should be finished pretty soon, so I’m hoping quite a lot of people are really into audiobooks. Without doing any sort of study, do those of you who listen to audiobooks find the experience extremely similar to reading a book, fairly similar, or rather different?

I find it different in a few important ways:

  1. I like many slow-paced books, but a slow pace will kill an audiobook for me. I just get bored. I have not tried increasing the reading speed because I didn’t realize that was possible until pretty recently, so maybe I should try that and see if it makes a difference.

2. Writing flaws are magnified — I mean any awkwardness with sentence construction or word choice — because of the slower pace, I think, but this could be intrinsic to listening, I’m not sure.

3. I miss being able to flip back and forth and easily re-read (re-listen) to favorite bits.

But when walking three energetic young dogs on flexi-leads, it sure is easier to listen to something than read something.

Please Feel Free to Share: