It’s been a while since I’ve done a case study, and since I enjoy talking about them so much, I figured it’s been long enough.
What I’d like to do is talk about a plot type and then see it in action. This plot can be used as a side-plot or a main plot depending on what type of story you want. Because I subscribe to Brandon Sanderson’s WriteaboutDragons. He calls it the Try/Fail plot. The idea is that when a character reaches a challenge a two-pronged series of options happens.
He fails AND the problem gets worse, or he succeeded BUT something else goes wrong. Sanderson also calls this the “No-and, Yes-but” system.
So let’s see this in action:
I’m a huge fan of The 100. My mom turned me on to the show, and I think it’s fantastic. One thing it does better than any other show I can think of is use that plot to keep the conflict going and the tension high. The whole show is a giant “no-and, yes-but” plot, and each challenge follows the same formula. I’ll go over a short example in a part of an episode, just to avoid spoilers and any lawyers looking to take the $5 I have to my name.
The episode title is Many Happy Returns. It’s Episode 4 of Season 3: Here’s the scene. A group of teenagers are searching for one of their friends. During their search, they discover someone trapped, hanging off a cliff by a thin branch. They’re already looking for someone they lost, but they can’t leave this person to die.
One teen grabs a rope and begins to go down to help the trapped teen. Does it work?
No! The rope breaks AND the kid who went down to save said trapped person FALLS TO HIS DEATH!
So what do they do next? Trapped person is still stuck on a branch.
They scour the area (some wreckage) for things to cobble together to get some stuff they can use as a rope. (You see they lost their rope on the first attempt.) Down goes one of the MAIN characters. Does it work?
Well, YES…he gets to her….BUT….
Their hodgepodge rope breaks. One of the characters has to hold the pieces in each hand becoming a human link in the rope. Does he hold on?
(Well, lets pause for a second. That character holding the rope? He tried to kill the main character currently hanging by that hodgepodge rope. So it’s not hard to believe the guy would just let go. So here’s added tension. Let’s get back to this plot though.)
Does he hold on?
Yes…BUT….a group of “grounders” (savages) starts attacking!
Do they hold on? Yes, BUT one member of their team takes an arrow in the leg.
Do they hold on? Yes, BUT while they’re being attacked by grounders a horn sounds, which symbolizes that a vaporous acid is about to blow through the area. They have moments before they’re melted.
They pull their friend up. The main character realizes the kid who tried to kill him a few episodes back was the very one who was instrumental to saving his life.
What about that death mist? Turns out, that was the main character’s sister distracting the enemy.
Sanderson says in his video that he usually likes three failures before the characters reach the goal. If you look above, you’ll notice this mini-plot works in that regard too.
The try/fail plot is a great way to build tension. The trick is to look for ways to make complicated situations even more complicated. I hope this example helps you see how this plot works and is successful. I highly recommend The 100 because it’s good fun, and it’s great for studying plot structures. I’m a bigger fan of it now than I’ve ever been, though I like it for intense scenes like the one above. When there’s a struggle of some sort or conflict or important goal, I tend to ask myself, “Now how can I make this even more difficult.”
NOTE: Beware rage quit! The readers tend to want resolution. And if you keep delaying the issue without some sort of reward for the reader, you’re going to abandon them. If I had to offer you a number as advice, I’d say, don’t exceed five complications for a minor plot, especially if this is a sub plot. Readers tend to be more forgiving if you have a no-and followed by a yes-but. So yes, they get the guy off the rope, but now their party is smaller, and they’ve been delayed in finding the friend they originally went out to save. So the plot moves forward, and the subplot provide an added degree of complication. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Thornbear is the first book of the Champions of the Dawning Dragons series, which is the third series in the Mageborn saga. My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here. My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here.
Spoiler Free Summary: In Thornier, Gram, named after his grandfather, is a young man raised in the shadow of his legendary father’s name, but he doesn’t have the opportunity to prove himself as his mother refuses to allow him to work to become a knight. Just as he gains a secret mentor, he also meets a young woman who seems intent on winning his heart. He’ll have to choose which path means more to him when his friends are threatened.
Character: It was nice to see some familiar faces in this story, but most of the book centers around Gram. Gram is just enough of his father to be endearing. His kindness and compassion do a lot to build sympathy. His earnestness (a key trait of his father) is what drew me in. What surprised me was how quickly I grew to appreciate the bear. (Her name escapes me at the moment, but she was probably my favorite character in this particular book.) I will say this book doesn’t hold up in comparison with others from my perspective. This book is essentially a teen romance story. It’s a well told story, and if you like the themes in that sort of book, then you’ll love this. I just don’t, though. It’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. It just focuses on a plot line (relationship) that I’m not much of a fan of.
Exposition: This was pretty seamless here. The time jump in this book wasn’t as much of a challenge as the one I noticed in his earlier series. There are some scenes that slow the pace, but at least those scenes deal more with Gram’s training than his other challenge.
Worldbuilding: What interested me most about this particular book was how Maning advanced the universe of his story as well as the magic he’d been using. I like it when one can see evolution in action, and this book has plenty of that.
Dialogue: If the romance between Gram and his lady friend didn’t have this dialogue, I’d probably be less of a fan. That said, the wit and interaction of these characters carried me through a plot line that isn’t normally my cup of tea.
Description: I enjoy the way Manning can make description a part of the action. Most authors (including me) tend to have “blocks” of description. Here, the visuals (mostly visuals anyway) are a part of what’s happening. This allows the scene and setting to add to the story rather than interrupt it.
Overall: I hung with this book because of how much I enjoy this universe as a whole. I don’t really think this one holds up against the others, but it’s enjoyable. The ending has a few big payoffs, and there was enough interesting material to hold my attention. Fans of young-love romance will like this far better than I did. CONTENT WARNING: I won’t go so far as to say some of these scenes are explicit, but there is definitely some material in this book that might challenge some readers. As is usual for Manning, this is treated in the interest of realistic situation, and the actions characters take have consequences. This book does a better job of setting up the saga than anything else, but it was still cool to look at this new generation of characters.
Hello everyone! As most of you know, I’ve been interview most Book Cover of the Month winners. Click on each month to see those interviews. December. January. February. April. I wasn’t able to reach the artist for March, but here’s the announcement for it. I never could find anyone to talk to for May, but here’s the announcement for that. Here we are with June’s winner though, the man who designed For Steam and Country!
Without further delay, let’s get right to it!
First off congratulations on your cover winning my blog’s Book Cover of the Month of June.
Thanks, Matt! So, uh, I never received my winnings…I was told there’d be money involved. I’ve got bills, man, and a cat to feed. Just kidding, just kidding.
It was quite the surprise to see it was in the running and the support it received. Made me a very happy artist/designer. And happy to see someone who so thoroughly enjoys cover art/design — that, obviously, means a lot to me.
When did you get in to art?
Oh you know, the usual story of being snatched by the creatures under my bed as a child and thrown into a tiny, dank cell and forced to draw every day… Huh? Only me?
Honestly though, like most children, I was always drawing growing up…but when other kids moved onto other interests I continued on drawing. I can remember making up my own Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles characters (my mom actually painted the Turtles on my bedroom walls — she’s the one I have to thank for passing down the art gene), and then I discovered Spawn later on and began copying the art from those comics and others I’d sneak out of my brother’s room — he’d eventually give me his whole box so I’d leave him alone.
So yeah, basically I’ve always been into art.
How long have you been creating covers?
I’ve actually only been creating covers since maybe the end of 2014. I worked on my first cover in 2013, but it wouldn’t be until the later part of 2014 that I secured a position with a publishing company (Ragnarok Publications) and began doing the design/typography for their covers…and the rest, as they say, is history.
So I’ve really got a special place in my heart for Ragnarok — without Joe Martin and Tim Marquitz (great author by the way, if anyone reading this hasn’t checked out his work, do that now) taking a chance on me I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t know all of the kickass authors and industry professionals I do now, and who knows where my career would be…
What got you started in creating covers?
Since becoming a bibliophile around the age of 15 I’ve wanted to work in the book industry. I used to say I didn’t care if I were the mail-boy, as long as I got to work for a publisher. There’s no graphic design jobs around here so I kept reaching out to publishers and finally one brought me in, Ragnarok Publications. I gained a lot of experience with them, and they eventually introduced me into experimenting with photo-based art, which I’m really enjoying at the moment.
Do you prefer one medium over another?
As far as physical art I’m mainly a graphite and pen type.
As far as covers go as a medium I do enjoy the character-focused pieces (urban fantasy mostly), but I’m real partial to fully designed covers as there’s just something intriguing about them, an extra sense of wonder at where this idea came from, what was the designer thinking, what are they trying to convey to potential readers, and sometimes the “Whoa, how’d they do that.”
Do you have someone who inspired your own work? If so, who? Why?
I can’t really say that I do. I gather inspiration from all over and try not to focus on any one thing too much. I will say, though, that I really like the design work on oldschool fantasy covers — even the over-the-top ones manage to hit the right fantastical mood and leave me wondering how I could work some of its elements into my own designs.
What makes you choose to work with an author or not?
Well, I’ve had a couple horrendous clients in the past, so I know a couple signs to watch out for. One thing I’ve noticed though is everyone I’ve work with in the book industry have been fairly easy to get along with, and they’re usually very appreciative and supportive.
What do you look for in a great client?
I’m looking for a sugar-client (kinda like a sugar daddy, or sugar momma, but not gender-specific) who can sweep me up in their arms and deliver me from the dreadful day-job…huh…oh, sorry, wrong type of client.
For art/design clients, most times I don’t really know until I’ve gotten a little ways in, but if they’re appreciative and respect my work and opinions then I’ll do whatever I can to help them. And once I get one of those clients I try my best to keep them! heh
What are some of your pet peeves about clients?
Haha, hmm let’s see if I can think of some without pissing anyone off…
I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it when someone tells me how easy a task will be…like they think I can just make a couple clicks and *poof*.
And, should go without saying, but any type of unwarranted hostility is a surefire way to end our working relationship. I put up with that for years from one client, and I’ll never do it again.
Other than that, since entering the book world, I’ve been lucky to have very good and respectable clients. Authors can be crazy…ehh, let’s face it, they ARE crazy, but I’ve had the best time working with them.
What would an author need to do to work with you? Do you have a link to your standard rates, or do you negotiate fees by author?
Easiest way is to just inquire via my website, stkkreations.com. I don’t have rates posted anywhere as it could cause some issues if they change and I forget to update them wherever they’re posted, and depending on the style of cover it can also alter the rate, but I’m always willing to discuss that and I’m fairly easy to talk to…I think…
How did you come to be chosen to create the cover of For Steam and Country?
I believe Jon heard (or saw) of me through some mutual author friends and contacted me inquiring of my interest in his new fantasy steampunk novel. I love the ideas and imagery of the genre so I was immediately interested.
Artistically, what were your goals for the cover?
I wanted to be sure I expressed the genre clearly but without overdoing it, and that I could create this character without it looking recycled (whether that be just your generic steampunk character, or overuse of stock — that last part should really be paid attention to as there’s a lot of covers out there that use straight stock photos so the end result is a slew of books with basically the same character on their covers…yikes).
How was Jon to work with?
He was a total jerk and constantly talked about my momma. Nah, seriously he was quite easy to work with. He didn’t have any excessive changes and he listened to my reasoning behind certain things I did with an appreciative and understanding ear.
What inspired the idea for this cover?
The general idea was Jon’s. He wanted to show the protagonist, a young female who knows nothing of adventure and the bravery it requires, but will quickly find out.
He gave me a few necessities, like the cape, sword, ship, obviously it has to look like a steampunk character, and other than that pretty much let me run free.
Can you walk me through the whole process of that cover? From commissioning to final product? How did you feel about it once it was finished?
Let’s see, the commissioning part is kinda boring: Jon approached me, rates were discussed and agreed upon, and that’s about it…pretty standard I guess.
Once all the financial business was taken care of, Jon gave me a description of what he was looking for, and I started gathering resources and pinning down some rough ideas of what I wanted to do. From there there’s a lot of extracting elements from other elements or backgrounds and piecing them all together into something new that you won’t have to worry about finding on anyone else’s cover.
In the end, I’d say I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I had a lot of anguishing fun making it and I think it was pretty well received.
Is it your favorite cover? If so, why?
It’s definitely one of my favorites. It’s one of the ones where I started getting comfortable with my style of character-driven covers, and the most complex one (roughly twenty photo resources were used on this one) I’ve done so far.
What can we expect to see from you next?
I actually just finished another cover for Jon, for his novella Gravity of the Game that will release in October.
I’m currently working on cover art for the sequel to Kirk Dougal’s Reset (very fun series for those who haven’t read it — detective story within a video game story). Those are a fun silhouette style.
I’m also working on design work (typography mostly) for a few different authors.
I’ve got a few projects I’m working on for Vault Books (a specialty press, look ’em up if you haven’t) for authors Dan Wells, Mercedes M. Yardley, and Larry Correia.
Basically, I’m all over the place haha.
Is there anything you’d like to say to readers?
Thanks for taking the time to read this little interview, I hope it wasn’t too boring and maybe even inspired a few of you to explore your creative side — the world can never have enough art.
Once more Shawn, I just want to thank you for spending time to do this interview. Your cover was great. I look forward to seeing more from you.
Thanks so much, Matt! This was an excruciatingly painf…I mean, uh, very enjoyable interview! One of these days I’ll get better at talking about myself haha.
And there you have it folks. Shawn was fun to talk to. And he’s the only designer so far with two covers in the Book Cover of the Year Bracket (He was involved in the design of The Heresy Within). We’re so close to that bracket. I’m really getting excited about it. Until then…
The August Book Cover of the Month bracket has just wrapped up. It was a slower month of voting, but I think that’s because the winner’s shock-and-awe first few days just worked for him. It’s always great to see the support these authors and artists generate. We had 3,122 votes. I want to offer my thanks to everyone who got involved.
This month was unusual in that one cover took the lead and never let it go once he had it.
The August Book Cover of the Month is…
Colony Lost by Chris Philbrook! If you’re curious about how I felt about the book, check out the Facebook post that I posted when this book first landed on the bracket, here.
Philbrook (who owes us a jig) received 325 total votes. He more than doubled anyone else’s votes in pretty much any way you can measure.
Black Ruins Forest finished second, which means she’ll have another chance to be the Book Cover of the Month for September.
That said, Philbrook is the winner this month, so let’s look at his book.
Seven hundred fifty years ago, human colonists left Earth and settled on the moons of the distant gas giant Ghara.
Civilization has flourished on Ghara’s fertile moons, but humanity’s drive to colonize and explore is still strong. Detecting plentiful mineral resources and a rich abundance of alien life on the nearby planet of Selva, the Gharian Colonists mount a dangerous expedition. Young newlywed marines Dustin and Melody will find themselves put to the ultimate test as they forge a way through fierce magnetic storms into an unknown and utterly alien world.
Tensions mount at home, as not all of the colonists support this mission and its high cost of resources, and many are outright hostile towards the Marines and scientists who are setting out to colonize the new world.
As the peace the four colonies have shared for almost 200 years starts to fracture, what the expedition finds on Selva might very well be the worst thing humanity has ever dealt with.
Here’s Philbrook’s Facebook page. Give it a like if you’re curious about him and his work.
I don’t know who the artist is yet, but I’ll see if Philbrook is willing to stop dancing long enough to introduce me.
The September bracket is still under development, but it looks good so far. It’ll kick of Oct. 1.
I will continue to identify and select covers for each day from Amazon’s New Release section for fantasy and science fiction. If you follow and like my Facebookpage, you can see what covers will make the bracket.
This is book five of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here. My review for book two can be found here. My review of book three can be found here. The review for book four is here.
Spoiler Free Summary: In The Final Redemption, Mordecai is in quite an awkward position because of what happened in book four (remember, I said no spoilers). He’s gained some horrific, destructive powers, and those powers have isolated him. The last dark god has set his sites on bringing the world to its knees, and Mort has to use his newfound power to take on someone many times more powerful than even himself. He has to do all of this without friends or family.
Character: Mort took center stage here. By taking everything from him, we were able to see him in a different light. His changes did a lot to set up not just the climax of this book, but the next era in the Mageborn universe. That said, all of our favorites are back for this final showdown with the big bad of the series.
Exposition: Manning was back at full strength here. I’m more certain that the heavy exposition I mentioned in book four was more because of the huge gap between books than anything else. Here, we get what we need when we need it. Sure, there’s some dialogue loosely hiding some exposition, but at least in that manner, we don’t feel force fed information.
Worldbuilding: This book wrapped up everything nicely. I love it when a series ending can tie up all the loose ends while still presenting an option for where the story could (and did) go forward. This book did a great job of connecting a lot of dots and hinting at the depth the universe. I said that right; he expanded his world building to include a universe. Here, we just catch a glimpse, but it’s there.
Dialogue: I love the interaction between Mort and the dragon (whose name escapes me at the moment). Some of the other conversations are great. James has a bit of time in the limelight as does his daughter, who steals a bit of the show. Their dialogue was crips and fun to read.
Description: This book doesn’t rely on description nearly as much, which is a relief to me as I’m not a big fan of it. It does a good job of highlighting what matters (and BOY does some of it matter). It helps create the visual tone and mood of the story. It’s visceral without bogging the story down.
Overall: There was one particular scene during which I wanted to cry. I HAVE cried while reading some books, but I didn’t cry during this scene. It was sad, and it was painful. I’m just trying to create a range so you know my emotional spectrum. This is a satisfying end to a great era in an even better universe. I still feel Tyrion’s era was the most satisfying so far, but I’m still a big fan of the story as a whole. This book puts a reader through a strong range of emotions. It puts a nice bow around all the plot points and teases the universe going forward. I think fans of epic fantasy will enjoy this series.
With just about seven days left in this month’s bracket, I thought this would be a good chance to update you all on how things have been progressing. Things started off fast, but we’ve slowed down a bit.
2,433 votes the support has been nice to see, but some of these covers need your help.
Colony Lost by Chris Philbrook has taken the lead an run with it.
Most Voted on so far: Philbrook has the most round wins and the most votes overall with 288 total votes.
Least Voted for: Kaiju Wars by Eric S. Brown currently has the fewest votes (31). Fans of Brown should rally to help this cover get at least a bit more credit than that.
The Sweet 16 is the closest round so far. Half of those matches are within 10, but Philbrook is the story here as he’s got a commanding lead in every round, so anyone who wants to beat him needs to summon the followers by the dozens.
A quick reminder of how the tournament works. The easiest way to win is to have the most people vote for you in every round (like Philbrook). The trick is you have to have the most people vote you through in each round, all the way to the final. As an example, 10 people (the second most) have voted Blood-Stained Heir all the way to the championship, but that’s not enough because Norman can’t get past Black Ruins Forest (though he’s only four votes away). Just remember. It’s not total votes. It’s not simple championship votes. The winning cover has to have the most votes in each round of the competition.
So let’s take a look at the three covers that have the BEST shot at upsetting Philbrook.
Blood-Stained Heir can grab victory if he gets 23 people to vote him all the way through to the championship. (That’s assuming those 23 voters aren’t answered by voters of Colony Lost or Black Ruins Forest.)
Black Ruins Forest actually needs more championship votes than Heir. While Forest has what it needs to get to the last round, the cover is actually further behind than Heir. That said, if Forest can get 26 people to vote it all the way through, it’ll take the lead.
Lucky or Not, Here I Come is actually the third-closest contender if one looks at the bracket as a whole. It’s behind Black Ruins Forest, but not by much. That said, he’d need a massive show of overall support because he only has one championship vote so far. He’d need 33 people to vote him all the way to the championship in order to take the lead.
Getting 33 people to vote anyone all the way through would be a great start, but believe it or not, the 23-vote lead Colony Lost has in the finals is actually the smallest margin of victory he has. Anyone cover not mentioned above would need more than 40 unanswered voters to push the cover all the way to the championship, and that’s not nearly enough to upset Colony Lost in that initial round (Colony has more than 100 votes in that first round.)
This will be the only update for this type of bracket. It’s been an amazing tournament to watch thus far, and I hope readers continue to support their authors by voting, liking, and sharing the bracket with as many people as possible. You can vote at this address!
Spoiler Free Summary: Flash Point is the first book in the Nite Fire saga. Dahlia Nite is a half-dragon shifter who patrols Sentinel City for magical creatures who’ve gotten out of line. If they snack on humans, she’s the one who enforces the diet plan. But when the secrets of the past she thought she’d escaped return, she’ll have to protect humanity from the ghost of her own history. NOTE: remember, this book just won the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal in the Adult – Fiction – Urban category.
Character: Strong female characters are so rare in fiction these days, but Dahlia delivers. Schneider’s strength is in her character (and world building), so this isn’t surprising. She does have weak moments, and some of them are even traditional problems women are given in fiction, but that is a sub-plot in a complex story, and not the main crux of a plot that most other authors use far too much. Dahlia is strong, smart, resourceful, and proactive which are all things I love in any character. The biggest problem some authors have when they use female characters is they give them nothing but relationship problems. This character is a woman who is a cop. That character is a woman who is a mage. Dahlia is a bad-ass, half-dragon detective who happens to be a woman. This alone would have made this book stand out, but there’s more. I will say that, unlike her Crown of Stonesseries, I didn’t necessarily connect to the other characters the way I did with those in Stones. Then again, I didn’t exactly connect with to many people besides Ian in Magic-Price either. I do expect these other characters to continue to grow on me, but they didn’t quite snag my heart the way Dahlia did.
Exposition: As the first book in a series told from first-person, I expected a bit more exposition than I would have liked. Honestly, I got about as much exposition as I thought, but I didn’t get any more, and what I got all connected to the story. Schneider doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too much foreshadowing. There is more going on. This story hits at that, but what the reader sees is what the reader needs to have a sense to this story.
Worldbuilding: Like I said, this is Schneider’s other strong suite. She does a great job of helping the reader understand the two worlds we see and how they interact. She provides human context (employment, friendship) on Earth and political intrigue in the other world. Even if I hated Dahlia, I’d still probably read book two just to learn more about the other dimensions in her universe.
Dialogue: I’m a bit neutral here. It wasn’t boring or stilted by any means, but it wasn’t overly memorable either. It didn’t have the same punch as her previous work, but holding someone to that high a standard is perhaps unfair. The dialogue is effective, but not crisp.
Description: What helps Schneider here is her use of intense detail in key moments. My imagination does a ton of work for writers, and when someone beats me over the head with detail, it slows me down and frustrates me. Here, Schneider gives general settings, but hones in on the key parts (Dahlia’s shifting and empathy come to mind first).
Overall: CONTENT WARNING: There are some steamer scenes here, though none as visceral as those in Crown of Stones. I still think the Mageborn saga (all eras) is my favorite story of the year so far, but I give Flash Point a solid second best book I’ve read in 2017 so far. I can’t remember the last Dresden Files book (when it came out) I read was, but Dahlia stepped in and filled that void quite nicely. I’m confident fans of that series will enjoy this one.