Danger & Doom: Brainless Brother — My First Ebook for Reluctant Readers

11/14/2013 2 comments

Danger and Doom-Book Cover-Brainless BrotherAnnouncing my new venture into children’s publishing. Danger & Doom: Brainless Brother is the first ebook in a hilarious and exciting new middle grade action/adventure series for kids ages 8-10.

What would you do if your brother lost his mind… literally?

Unusual, amazing, and terrible things always seem to happen to twin boys Daniel and Dominic—that’s why they renamed themselves Danger and Doom—and today, fifteen minutes before the biggest test of the year at school, Danger loses his mind… literally.

His runaway brain has a mind of its own, and it’s on the loose! Now it’s up to his bookworm brother, Doom, to find the clues, track down the brain, battle evil security guards and YouTube-crazy gamers at the greatest video game arcade in town, and somehow get the bitter and vengeful brain back into Danger’s head before the test begins.

Will he succeed? Or will he have a brainless brother forever?

I am SO excited about this project because Danger & Doom: Brainless Brother is the first ebook I’ve written for Reluctant Readers.

When I was a kid I hated books. I know that sounds strange—a writer and teacher of writing used to hate books—but it’s 100% true. If I were in school today I’d be called a “Reluctant Reader” (which, if you’re not savvy to the lingo, is often another way of saying “boy”).

Why was I so reluctant to read? Because I hated the boring textbooks and “classics” we read in class. There were no car chases, no ninjas, no explosions… there wasn’t even any slapstick humor.

The only thing I wanted to read were Calvin & Hobbes comic strips because the characters went on big, fantastic adventures, and always made me laugh. Why couldn’t books be more like that?

The answer is… they can be! But someone has to write them. So, that’s why I created Danger & Doom: Brainless Brother.

I wanted to give Reluctant Readers something that an 8-10 year-old me would’ve loved to read—and if I could create something entertaining enough to satisfy a kid who hates to read, then maybe it would also satisfy kids who already love to read. Judging by the reception its been receiving, we’re off to a good start:

“Exciting! … I could barely stop reading your story until I finished it!!”
— Christina (age 8)

“Hilarious!!”
— Martin (age 9)

“He laughed out loud. … An eight-year-old laughing out loud? Success!”
— Sarah, mother of Judson (age 8)

If you have a Reluctant Reader, or if you know someone with a Reluctant Reader, please share this ebook with them. I would love to give kids a fun reading experience, and I THANK YOU SO MUCH in advance for helping me do that.

Danger & Doom: Brainless Brother is now available on Amazon’s KindleBarnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo, and Apple.

THANK YOU!!!

DD_BrainlessBro2

(Illustrations © the AMAZING Jason Week.)

Categories: Blog, Middle Grade Ebooks

What is an Ensemble Cast?

11/10/2013 4 comments

ASongofIceandFireThe following quote from reader, Paulie Cera, appeared in the comments section for Graphic Novel Script Format:

I was curious what your thoughts were regarding an ensemble cast of essential characters when writing the plot and/or story. How do you keep the story from getting too bloated, when there’s a few plot points & story arcs going on, each person with a their own back story that eventually intertwine?  –Paulie Cera

Thanks for the question, Paulie!

I love ensemble casts. When done well, an ensemble cast can be a really interesting approach to telling a story. A great example of a graphic novel with an ensemble cast is American Born Chinese.

The trouble I have found in discussing “ensemble casts” is how that term is used.

WHAT IS AN “ENSEMBLE CAST”?

TVTropes.org provides a solid definition of “Ensemble Cast”:

In most cases, the protagonist is a defining element of fiction. It is he whom the plot revolves around and, usually, the one the audience is supposed to empathize with most.

However, some shows decide to do something different—there is no protagonist. The plot and its narrative don’t revolve around a single, “most important” main character. Instead, it shares a cast of characters with (almost) equal screentime and importance to the plot. This is called an Ensemble Cast. This type of narrative is interesting because it highlights the relations between different characters by taking away the importance of a single character.

In addition, it allows the writers to focus on different characters in different episodes freely, without worrying about giving the main character not enough screen time.

On the other hand, it can also result in a work that lacks focus and drive. Something must unite the events other than the main character. Most of these works therefore fix on a restricted setting and stick to it like glue.

In other words, a story with an ensemble cast is a collection of stories which may or may not interact with each other but are grouped based upon a single unifying theme (like the struggle for love, power, acceptance, etc.) and possibly a single unifying narrative motif (like setting, color, or a specific item, etc.). The collected stories are NOT grouped in support of a single story featuring a protagonist. For example: American Born Chinese, Magnolia, Nashville, Ragtime.

Unfortunately, I have often heard the term “ensemble cast” misused to mean: A cast of characters, but often larger than normal and arguably more interesting.

The threat of this misinterpretation is that writers assume that because they have an “ensemble cast” (which they don’t) all their many interesting characters need to be in the story (which is false). This leads to a story that is bloated and boring.

So, how do you know if you have an ensemble cast?

Assess whether you have a collection of stories about a single unifying theme, or if you have a large cast of characters supporting a single story. A simple way you could check is to look at the Eight Character Roles that are present in a story with a traditional, non-ensemble cast. If you can group all your characters into these eight roles, then you have a single story.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR ENSEMBLE-CAST STORY FROM BLOATING

“How do you keep the story from getting too bloated?” Well… it’s hard. :) But the solution (whether you have an ensemble cast or not, actually) is simple: editing.

If you have an ensemble cast, then all the stories are grouped together intentionally to show the many different interpretations of a unifying theme through conflicting interactions. How much your characters must do to bring resolution to those conflicts will determine how big your story must be.

Once you figure out what is needed to bring resolution to the conflicts, then you edit out everything that is not needed (also, it goes without saying, edit out everything that is not about the unifying theme). If a lot is needed to bring resolution to the conflicts, then your story could be very, very long.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels are often more than a thousand pages each because his theme (the struggle for power) is presented through an insanely large war. The context of the war allows all the little conflicts within each of his many storylines play out. Eventually, all these storylines will collide or combine and bring resolution, but since winning this particular war is difficult to do, there’s reason for all the time spent chronicling the struggles of each character.

An ensemble story of any size, however, feels bloated when there’s either no conflict (drama for the sake of drama), the conflict at hand has nothing to do with the unifying theme (unfocused storytelling), or when the drama is unnecessarily repetitive (when two or more storylines feature characters who deal with the same thematic problem in the exact same thematic way, but the storylines are dressed in different circumstances).

In all these cases, editing will solve the problem.

(Note: Some readers like a rambling story, where not everything is pared down and focused on unifying thematic conflicts that must be resolved. However, that is a niche readership, so my advice is intended for the creation of mainstream stories.)

Editing is a HUGE topic, but I hope the advice above is a helpful place to start.

Categories: Blog

Middle Grade Novel, Graphic Novel Adaptation, and The Expeditioners!

Hey everyone! These past four months have been amazing! Time has really flown and I’ve had a lot of momentum behind my writing. I feel truly blessed to be doing what I want to do in life and I can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring.

But what have I been up to?

MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL MANUSCRIPT

Did I finish the middle grade manuscript I set out to write in one month (see my post: Middle-Grade Novel Month)?

Well, I finished, but not in one month.

MCSchedule-done

As you can see in the image above, the first pass took two months. Then, the manuscript needed some significant edits before I was comfortable with anyone reading it, and the edits took another month. So, to have a readable “first” draft, it took not one month but three.

I was bummed to not hit my one-month goal, but I learned a lot along the way.

I tracked my progress using this Time Tracker app, documenting what I was working on each day, how long it took to complete, what I struggled with, etc. With this data, I now have a better idea of what to expect from myself in reality instead of what I’d ideally like to be able to do. Now, I can set realistic goals instead of I-should-be-able-to-do-this goals, which will help me feel good as I accomplish tasks.

Now that I have a completed manuscript, what happens next?

After receiving some feedback, I recognize that there are two major problems to address in the next draft:

1) I need to let the reader spend more time with the characters before the action takes over. This is pretty typical of male authors, who are generally less inclined to talk about relationships and feelings than have things blow up. :)

& 2) I wrote the book to entice reluctant readers by including a high number of illustrations. In fact, I wrote it so the images were absolutely necessary to understand the story; if you didn’t look at the pictures, you wouldn’t understand what’s happening. But after reading the draft again recently, I realized that the project doesn’t need that style of writing. I was using images as a crutch because I’ve trained in graphic novel writing and that’s where I was more confident. So the next draft will be a more traditional novel approach.

I’m working on the second draft, now. My goal is to have a stronger next draft by April 2013.

GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATION

Graphic Universe logo

Speaking of graphic novels… I’m going to be published!!!

In October, I was hired to write a graphic novel adaptation of a YA novel for Graphic Universe (GU). A friend from The Center for Cartoon Studies, Robyn Chapman, works as an Assistant Editor for GU and brought me in to write the script for her and Carol Burrell.

I’m afraid I can’t say too much more than that at the present moment, but it should be released in 2013. And I’m really excited!

It was a joy to work on and the script just poured out of me. It felt as natural as breathing. Once I’m able to relay a little more information, I plan to go into the step-by-step process of how I wrote the script.

Until then, here’s a simple trick I used to get started: I had a page limit of 92 pages, and the novel was 125. So, I had 1 comics page to present every 1.35 pages of text. If you can’t make the ratio work, page-by-page, then you have to start cutting moments with the least amount of plot and emotional weight.

THE EXPEDITIONERS

Lastly, The Expeditioners is a middle grade novel that Katherine illustrated. It was written by our former CCS professor, S.S. Taylor, and was recently released by McSweeney’s McMullens.

Throughout November, Katherine and I prepared for the book launch by learning how to be an online business! Since the majority of people shop online, now, we needed to remake her website to be optimal for not only buying books but also establishing her brand as an illustrator.

You can see the current difference between her two websites: caterpillarpublishing.com (old) and katherineroy.com (new). There’s still a lot to be done.

In addition to that, we’ve been learning online marketing, social media marketing, and how to manage book signings and business parties. (With a great deal of help from S.S. Taylor and her husband Matt Dunne. Thanks, you two!)

It has been a lot of fun, but also a whole lot to learn.

That’s it for now. I’ll have more soon. Happy holidays, everyone.

Surprise! – Listening to Your Characters

08/13/2012 1 comment

I love it when my work surprises me. After months of plot development, character development, and thematic development, you’d think I’d have it all figured out, but I never do. Playing in the moment always produces the unexpected. It’s the best (and scariest) part about this practice.

Due to all the prep work I’ve done, I tend to know what will happen within a scene, I just don’t know how it will manifest. I let my characters tell me how. This results in surprises like unanticipated jokes, opportunities for subtext, new settings, or moments for characters to just be themselves.

For example, I blogged about an unexpected moment a few weeks ago, when David (the main character of my middle-grade novel about kid spies) got himself into trouble and I needed to learn YouTube Jiu-Jitsu to save him. I knew the fight scene would be there in the plot, but I didn’t know how it would play out. That is, typically, the unexpected I have come to expect.

This week, however, David really out-did himself. While writing the end of the second act, David and some other characters produced a whole new scene I hadn’t even considered. Bonus: It’s the best scene I’ve written, yet!

I thought everyone would want to go to the right, but they all wanted to go left, except for David. By placing David in a situation he didn’t like at all, he boiled over with emotion and brought the theme home with a lot of heart. In fact, there’s so much heart, I’m afraid to keep it in the story. Of course, I will keep it because the best stuff is what scares you (it’s a sign that you’ve hit on something honest which may upset people who don’t like what you have to say), but I didn’t know it would be there until it came out.

So, thanks David—and all your co-characters, as well—for surprising me with the best and scariest parts of my story. It would be nothing but plot without you.

Secret Headquarters

08/03/2012 3 comments

After the most amazing page spread, ever, in my middle-grade novel about kid spies, I ran into a bit of trouble.

While prepping the novel I was always really excited about the most amazing page spread, ever. “How much fun can I pack into a single two-page image?” was the goal. I wasn’t nearly as excited about the really important heavy-with-exposition scene that follows. So, I glossed over it. I got the gist and moved on …until this week. :(

I made this bed, so I had to lie in it. I had been having dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner until suddenly it was Brussels sprouts time, baby! Fortunately, I survived the onslaught of Brussels sprouts, which wasn’t so bad after all, and I found moments of dessert along the way (What?).

One task that I enjoyed very much was designing the building for the headquarters. I imagined it to be an abandoned subway station, so I found all these great pictures online and I learned of a gorgeous abandoned subway station here in New York City at the end of the 6 line, The Old City Hall Station. Who has two thumbs and is going on a tour of The Old City Hall Station as soon as possible? This guy. :)

 

 

The Most Amazing Page Spread, Ever!

07/28/2012 1 comment

This week, I wrote what I’ve been eager to write for months: the most amazing page spread, ever!

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, I’m working on a middle-grade novel about kid spies, and to serve the reluctant readers of this world (like I was), I’m writing the book with the intention of including many high-action and comedic illustrations. This week, I got to write the most amazing page spread, ever, because it is packed with as many spy cliches (that we know and love) as possible.

In the scene, the main character, David, has just arrived at the headquarters of the secret agency and the first sight he sees are kids flying on jet packs, ejection seats, explosions, ninja fights, botched bomb defusions (with hilarious results), debonair tux fittings, and parodies of my favorite moments in spy media, including the laser scene from Goldfinger (Gold-finga! Bwa bwaaaaa daaaa!).

Enjoy (I sure did)!

YouTube Jiu Jitsu

07/21/2012 1 comment

Thank you YouTube. And thank you to all the contributors who have shared how-to videos of jiu jitsu moves. You got me out of a bind, this week.

While following David (the main character of my middle-grade novel about kid spies) on his first mission, he led me into a situation where an attacker gains the upperhand and pins David to the ground by pressing a knee to his chest.

Fortunately, David has been active in martial arts for years and has also been fighting his older brother (who regularly sits on his chest during scuffles) for even longer, so escaping from this situation required a specific move that was very familiar to David. Unfortunately, it was not familiar to me at all! And I’m the one who has to write it!

Lucky for me, I have YouTube and dozens of jiu jitsu-ing YouTubers who have taken the time to explain the process of escaping from a “Knee on Belly” position. From the surprisingly high number of options a person has to escape from a Knee on Belly, I chose the one below because it made the most sense for the characters.

Thanks YouTube and YouTubers! You saved David from a perilous Knee on Belly.

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