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.
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.
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!
So I had this plan, where I was going to let Repressed sit and work on The Journals of Bob Drifter 2nd Edition. I was even going to start revising 1,200, mostly because it has just been sitting in my digital file cabinet for years.
Then I had this idea. That idea was like a hungry 4-year-old. Write me. Write me. Write me now.
That idea hit me two weeks ago, and I typed the words “The End” earlier today.
The story is called “The Worth of Words.” Set in a future version of an alternate (Earth-style) planet. They’ve limited speech so strictly that anyone over the age of 7 must wear a collar similar to those that shock a dog when it barks. People have to pay for the right to speak at all. Excessive gestures and public displays are fined or even punished by death courtesy of the drones that fly around and monitor everything. The main character is a mother, and former monitor (police woman) who has assembled a team to take down the server that controls the entire system. It’s essentially a heist story.
If you were subscribed to my newsletter, you got a secret link to the first 2,000 words or so. (Basically the first chapter). I’d love to know what you thought if you read it.
The next problem that occurred to me was, “What do I do with it?”
Then I did what I always do (and that usually gets me in trouble). I had an idea.
I love anthologies. I’m excited about the Slush Brain anthology, but I want to try my hand at editing one of my own (because I clearly don’t know how to stop loading my metaphorical plate).
So I’m making this announcement:
I’m publishing an anthology. The title: The Power of Words: Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories Inspired by the First Amendment.
Any and all interested authors may submit a short story (20,000 words or less. That 20,000 word limit is hard and fast). It doesn’t matter to me if you’re a NYT best seller or someone who’s never been published. If you’d like to contribute, send me your short story inspired by the First Amendment OR (for those less interested in politically charged themes) the title.
I’ll read the entries and select the seven I like best. My intention (though I’m not 100% on how I’ll execute it) is to offer those seven 12% of the royalties for the digital and online sales as well as 100% of whatever they make selling physical editions. (Meaning if they order the book and sell it at a convention, they just keep what they make). Those who I don’t select can still do whatever they want with their work (I mean, it is there’s after all).
I’ll take care of the publishing, editing (PROOFREADING), and cover cost. I’ll also do an edit personally. Like any edits, they’re recommendations. Each author will retain ultimate say over what they create. Marketing and promotion will be on all the authors (PLEASE don’t rely on me for that stuff…I’m NOT good at it.)
I think those are some pretty fair terms myself. So, if you’re interested, feel free to send me your submissions. I’ll start accepting said submissions Nov. 1, and submissions will close Nov. 30. Please don’t send anything before or after those dates. I already have one book and two shorts to revise. Not to mention the rest of this trilogy I promised I’d have done by 2019.
I love anthologies. I love the First Amendment. I love writing prompts. So the combination of these things just seemed too right to do any other way. I’m honestly scared. I don’t know who will enter or how to pull this off. I’m a man of ambition and action though. I also tend to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. One must take chances. One must try. I hope to get several great stories. I hope to pull my hair out picking JUST seven more. Whatever happens, I already have one story I’m proud of. So, in a way, I’m playing with house money on that front. It’s possible this anthology might not happen. But it could also be great. I’ll keep you all updated though.
Anyone interested in this is still free to comment below, email me or contact me via social media. I’m excited by this project, and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.
August’s bracket has 31 plus The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson which is only the second book ever to get third chance at the title.
We’re doing another “vote all the way through” bracket. I think two weeks is the sweet spot. This gives people time to vote. I like to make sure people get the credit they deserve, so please show your support. Please vote and share as much as possible to get people a chance to pick their favorite.
As always, I’d appreciate it if you tag the authors and artists if you know them. I try to tag or friend every author I can, but sometimes it’s hard to track someone down. Max participation is a huge deal to me. The more people who vote, the more recognition these authors and artists receive, and I want this to be as legitimate as possible.
If you are the author, let’s remember to be good sports! 1) Please feel free to message or contact me at any time. 2) Please feel free to like, share, text, ask for support, and call everyone you know. I absolutely want max participation. However, if you’re going to offer giveaways or prizes, please offer them for voting, not just voting for you.
Also, while your summoning your army of voting soldiers, please make sure you ask them to vote in every match. Part of the idea of this is to get exposure to as many artists and authors as possible. By all means, if you can get 1,000 people to vote for your book, do it. Just please also send some eyeballs to the other matches.
A final note to authors and artists: I currently have links to the books’ Amazon pages. If you’d prefer I switch that link to sign up for your newsletter or like your social media page or whatever, just send me the link and let me know. I want this to help you. I want this to be as helpful as possible, so whatever you need me to do to facilitate that, just let me know.
I hope you keep having fun. Please, vote, share, and discuss as much as possible.
The July Book Cover of the Month bracket has just wrapped up. This turned out to be the second-most voted on tournament in the nine-month history of the bracket. It was great to see all that participation, and fun to watch the leads change hand. We had 5,750 votes. I want to offer my thanks to everyone who got involved. We don’t get those kinds of numbers without a lot of people getting involved.
Five different books took the number spot at one point or another in the tournament, but one had the championship spot when the time hit 0:00:00.
The July Book Cover of the Month is…
The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes! 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.
Hayes received 260 total votes. It actually finished fourth in overall voting, but it won where it needed to (the semifinal and final). He beat The Queen of Swords 26-14 in the Final Four, and he beat The Girl Who Could See 15-8. The Girl Who Could See did manage to tie a record. First, she had the most votes in the tournament. Next, she finished as the runner up, which means she is only the second book ever to receive TWO extra chances to become the book cover of the month.
That said, Hayes is the winner this month, so let’s look at his book.
This is the 2017 self-published re-release of The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes.
As any warrior will tell you; even the best swordsman is one bad day away from a corpse. It’s a lesson Blademaster Jezzet Vel’urn isn’t keen to learn. Chased into the Wilds by a vengeful warlord, Jezzet makes it to the free city of Chade. But instead of sanctuary all she finds is more enemies from her past.
Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart is a witch hunter for the Inquisition on a holy crusade to rid the world of heresy. He’s also something else; expendable. When the God Emperor himself gives Thanquil an impossible task, he knows he has no choice but to venture deep into the Wilds to hunt down a fallen Arbiter.
The Black Thorn is a cheat, a thief, a murderer and worse. He’s best known for the killing of several Arbiters and every town in the Wilds has a WANTED poster with his name on it. Thorn knows it’s often best to lie low and let the dust settle, but some jobs pay too well to pass up.
As their fates converge, Jezzet, Thanquil, and the Black Thorn will need to forge an uneasy alliance in order to face their common enemy.
Here’s Hayes’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, and I’m a bit behind with interviews, but I’ll get back on that soon since I’m nearly done drafting Repressed, a novella featuring Kaitlyn from Caught.
The August bracket is still under development, but it looks good so far. It’ll kick of Sept. 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.