Novel Basics: Cards 4 & 5

The cards for today are two important characters in your future novel, one opposed to the protagonist and the other allied, more or less . . .

Card # 4
The Boxing Glove

The Boxing Glove Card asks the question,
“Who will oppose the star of the story?”

Card # 4, the boxing glove, asks the question, “Who will oppose the protagonist as she attempts to reach the goal?” That is, who’s the antagonist of your novel? And why does the antagonist oppose the protagonist? In other words, who’s the bad guy or gal? And why?
(Actually, it’s more fun for you and your eventual reader if the antagonist has some redeeming virtues or at least is interesting.)
You can call him the villain if you like although your antagonist might have a perfectly logical reason for his despicable actions, or at least they make sense to him. For example, in January Jinx, the first novel in my Calendar Mystery series, the ignorant, so-called sheriff of Campbell, Kansas, messes with the protagonist’s goal of finding a job because he thinks he can extort a bunch of money from her.
It’s not uncommon for a novice novelist to let the antagonist drive the plot car from the start and just keep on doing that until the plot car runs right off the road. The protagonist and the antagonist should be worthy of each other. And often the antagonist seems to be winning at the start of the novel. But sooner or later she probably should get her come-uppance.
Personally, I don’t read lots of horror fiction, but I have read Stephen King’s Misery. It has a superb yet terrifying antagonist, Annie Wilkes, who proclaims herself to be novelist Paul Sheldon’s “number one fan.” She is a really scary woman, that’s for sure, and she does many bad things to the author, including forcing him to write another sappy novel in his sappy series. But eventually Paul wins out though he’s left physically and mentally scarred.
Note: The antagonist doesn’t have to be human. It can be a force of nature like the ocean in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Card # 5
The Ear

The Ear Card asks the question,
“Who helps the star?”

This is one of my favorites. Your protagonist needs an ally, that is, someone to talk to, aka a confidant–for a very practical reason. What’s that? you ask. Answer: so you can have dialogue. Fiction needs dialogue, that is, people talking, for it to come alive and jump up off the page. Also, with dialogue comes the ability to have conflict, the essence of what fiction is about.
I once had a student who didn’t like to write dialogue, so she arranged for the protagonist of her science fiction novel not to understand a word of what other characters, members of an alien race, said. Gosh, that novel was dead in the water, and after a while I refused to read any more of it.
But I’ve gotten way ahead of myself. Suffice it to say you need to give the star of your novel someone to help him or her. At the very least, the ally can help the protagonist achieve the goals of the book by listening to the main character, that is, by serving as the protagonist’s confidant.
You can have lots of fun with the ally since there are so many possibilities for this character besides providing someone to talk to. The ally can serve as the foil to the protagonist, for instance, the lippy girlfriend who’s temperamentally very different from the serious female protagonist. The ally can be the comic relief sidekick. You can even let the ally oppose the protagonist sometimes by putting her down or by expressing doubts about his ability to make a million bucks.
Think about how interesting The Silence of the Lambs became when Thomas Harris made the loathsome cannibal Hannibal Lecter Clarice Starling’s ally by giving her information that ultimately helped her find the killer.

P. S. If you want a faster pace, you can order your eBook version of Novel Basics for only $2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

Novel Basics: Cards 2 & 3

Card # 2: the Outcome Card

The Outcome Card asks the question,

“Does (s)he succeed?” 

In answering the question on the second card, “Does she or he succeed?” you will figure out if the who gets what she wants or needs. Or more formally, does the protagonist accomplish his goal by the end of the novel?

Let me explain through an analogy. Writing a novel is a trip, and it won’t be a short one like bopping over to the closest QuikTrip to gas up the truck–unless of course the floodwaters are approaching and your protagonist named George must get enough gas not only for the truck but also for the generator back at the house so he doesn’t lose all the frozen food in the freezer during the inevitable power outage. And that way, his family of five including newborn twins . . . Oh, I do so love to write fiction, but let’s press on.

Writing a novel is a long and maybe even an emotionally arduous and physically challenging journey. So it’s good to know where you’re headed when you start out, so you don’t get lost along the way and end up making lots of little side trips that take you nowhere.

To use another analogy entirely . . . Writing a novel is like walking on a tightrope. It really helps if you have the far side of the narrative tethered to something before you start out, if not to a specific rock or tree over there, at least in the general neighborhood of where you want to be at the end.

Besides these reservations, knowing where you’re going lets you know what kind of journey you’ll make and allows you to plan the journey.

We’ll go into those issues later, but now, you should write yes or no on the back of your 3” by 5” card.

Let’s go back to the “girl wants boy” and “boy wants girl” examples we talked about for the heart card.

Yes, of course, Cinderella gets Prince Charming.

I’ve decided to speed things up a little so here’s another card today.

Card # 3: the Star Card

The Star Card asks the question,

“Who drives the plot car?”

On Card # 3, you’ll jot down a few details about who will star in your novel, that is, the kind of person in the leading role. I put the star inside a car because it’s very important that your main character, aka your protagonist, generally drives the plot of your novel and makes its actions happen, especially as he or she nears the end of the journey.

You might not know this character’s name yet, but probably you can already make some basic decisions about this character. Will your protagonist be male or female? How old is your protagonist?

Another thing you might want to explore on your third card–at least a little bit at this point–is why your protagonist wants to accomplish the particular goal that you’ve given that character. To save a life? His own or someone else’s? To prove herself? To clear his name, or her sister’s or his brother’s? To solve the crime and thus keep the murderer from killing more people? Why does Gatsby want Daisy? That question is so easy to answer. The poor guy loves her.

Another thing to think about even at this early stage of brainstorming your novel: what about the star of the novel keeps her from accomplishing her goal and your novel from reaching its outcome right away? He can’t be perfect. None of us are. Besides, perfection is boring. Even Superman has his Kryptonite. Something internal like self-doubt might hold your protagonist back or something external like a broken leg when she’s out in a blizzard.

Tip: avoid putting a complete schmuck in the driver’s seat of your plot car. It makes most readers uncomfortable to be forced to identify with someone capable of the worst villainy without any redeeming virtues at all, an all-powerful being who, for example, wants to wipe every person of color off the planet or destroy the galaxy or remove one person in every two from the galaxy for his own peace and quiet. On the other hand this sort of character will work very well as the . . .

 

Novel Basics: Card # 1

Novel Basics

About those cards . . .

I put the numbers, names, questions and images on the blank sides of cards and save the lined sides for my answers and specific notes. But you do whatever works for you.

I also enjoy color, so I used a variety of colors of cards and different colors of pens, too. And no, there is absolutely no system or coding to the colors of the cards I used. The very idea of doing that makes my brain seize up. So if you prefer to put everything down in black and white on 3” x 5” cards that are blank on both sides, make it so.

When I teach the class in a physical classroom, I tell the students not to sweat the small stuff like making sure the bottom points of the heart meet on Card # 1 because typically we only have 90 minutes. But since the online version goes more slowly, knock yourself out on the arty stuff if you like.

Card # 1: The Heart Card

The Heart Card asks the question,

“Who wants what?”

At the heart of every novel–every story really, no matter the form it takes, novel, short story, play, movie or television script, or epic narrative poem for that matter–lies the question, “Who wants what?”

As like as not, what you write down on Card # 1, with only a vague notion of what your novel will be, won’t be very specific. You probably don’t have a name for the who, for instance. Your answer might be something not much more than the following:

Boy wants girl.

Girl wants boy.

Boy wants boy.

Girl wants girl.

Even more broadly, someone wants to find true love.

More specifically, a returning veteran named Jay Gatsby wants to find Daisy, the girl he left behind, and make her his own.

Let’s move on to other genres besides love stories . . .

In murder mysteries the detective wants to find the killer to keep her from doing it again and/or to bring her to justice.

Someone wants to escape something, his hometown for instance, or her abusive mother for another.

Someone wants to find something, the Holy Grail, a magical ring, or the owner of a lost dog.

Someone wants to get rich.

Katniss Everdeen wants to save her little sister Prim from the Hunger Games.

Minty Wilcox, the protagonist of January Jinx, the first novel in my Calendar Mystery series, wants to find a job as a typist/stenographer in Kansas City in 1899.

Princess Ella, aka Cinderella, wants to escape the walls that confine her in Walls, the first book in my Cinderella, P. I. series.

Often in fiction, as in life, a want becomes a need. Someone needs to find a job to stay alive. The Chosen One needs to save Middle Earth, the world, or the galaxy before he and everyone he knows perish.

Regardless, to start a novel you need to know what someone wants or needs to accomplish by the last page of the narrative. Or at the very least you need to have a general idea of who wants want in your novel. To put it in literary terms, a story needs a protagonist with whom the reader can willingly identify and who has a worthwhile goal.

I put that in bold because it’s important, but I’m not going into it right now. We’ll talk about that when we get to Card # 3.

Card # 3? What happened to Card # 2?

I’m so glad you asked.

P. S. Feel free to share what you put on your cards in the comment section. Ask questions, too.

P. S. S. If the online version of the Novel Basics goes too slowly for you, you can buy the print version of the book on Amazon and the eBook for only $2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

Novel Basics Online

The online version of my Novel Basics class starts here and on Facebook tomorrow, March 27, 2020.  Here’s an introduction.

 

Novel Basics Online Class
How to Brainstorm a Novel with 20 Index Cards

I know you’re out there. I’ve met you in some way or another.

Maybe you’re the less than confident young woman in an online group I belong to who wants to start your coming-of-age novel about growing up in the Ozarks amid the opioid crisis, but you don’t quite know how to do that.

You could be a short story writer intimidated by the sheer size of a novel.

Or maybe you’re the man I talked to at a local authors fair who always meant to get back to that novel you started twenty years ago, but now it sits hidden in a drawer at home.

Perhaps you tried to write a 50,000-word novel during a National Novel Writing Month event, but you didn’t make it all the way through.

Or you did finish and now you have the diploma declaring you a NaNoWriMo winner, but you don’t know what to do next.

Let’s say that you’re the author of a brilliant, well-received first novel who can’t get that sophomore effort together.

You could be a best-selling author on a tight schedule who needs to get cracking on the next book in your series.

Or you’re the author of a best-selling series for which you still have a ton of ideas, but a notion for a brand new book or series has crept into your head, and it’s so strong that it wakes you up in the middle of the night. Still, before you commit, you’d like to explore it.

Maybe you’re writing a nonfiction book about yourself growing up or a shocking event that happened in your hometown, but you’re thinking the book might be better as a novel, so you can distance yourself from the material emotionally and have more latitude with facts.

Maybe you’re like me. You have several completed novels in your file cabinet that you could never get an agent or publisher interested in, so you gave up on those projects. Possibly taking a little time to explore one of those will help you decide if it’s worthwhile for you to go back to it.

Or maybe you don’t fit into any of these slots I’ve mentioned, but still you’re like the rest of us. You’ve got an idea sparked by that powerful question “What if?” that keeps bugging you, an itch you’d like to scratch at least a little bit.

Maybe you’re not a writer. Instead, you’re an avid fiction reader who would like to learn more about the novel so you can sharpen your insights into the selections you discuss at your book club.

Regardless, I’m thinking that my method using twenty 3” by 5” index cards will help you to brainstorm your novel or study someone else’s. There’s no time like the present . . . So get your cards and join me here tomorrow or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/JulietKincaidauthor2016

If you prefer to go faster than a card a day, you can buy the Novel Basics book available in print from Amazon and as an eBook for only $2.99  at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

Popcorn!

Friends, do you find yourself missing popcorn now that movie theaters have gone dark? Pine no more. Using this very simple recipe from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, you can have this fragrant treat whenever you like.

You’ll need a brown paper lunch bag (the kind you’re not sending your kids or grandkids to school with right now), vegetable oil (I prefer canola) and popcorn. Bittman says it should be fresh. Mine wasn’t, but it still worked, just not so much popped as it did when it was fresh. Also Bittman says you need salt. At our house, we watch our salt intake with great care and prefer to add it sparingly after the popcorn has popped.

Okay, put 2 teaspoons of oil in the bag and add a quarter cup of popcorn. Fold the bag over twice and crimp firmly. Shake the bag to mix the corn with the oil.

Put the bag in the microwave. (Tip: I put the bag on a paper towel to keep the glass carousel from getting greasy.) Our current microwave has a popcorn setting that works to perfection. If yours doesn’t, set it on high and pop the corn for two minutes to three minutes depending on the power of your microwave. With our old microwave, closer to two minutes was best because you really don’t want to burn your popcorn. (Tip from Bittman: stop the microwave when the pops are four seconds apart.) Take the bag out promptly and empty it into a bowl. Bittman makes some suggestions for what you might add besides salt. We’re cheese freaks at our house, so we sometimes put Parmesan on our popcorn. But mostly we eat it plain with a little salt.

Enjoy!

Fun in Old K.C. only 99 Cents

As their wedding day fast approaches, Minty Wilcox has some questions about her fiancé Daniel Price. Did he really kill someone? Why has he never told her he’s rich? And for goodness’ sake, where will they go on their honeymoon?

 

From Minty’s journal . . .

But back to my story of naming the Irish setter puppy that Papa has given us as a wedding present . . . My fiancé, the outrageous Daniel Price, the man that I am to marry in less than a week, told me in no uncertain terms that the dog must be named Butch! I suppose he was just teasing, but still . . . Butch?

Even Papa said, “Why, Daniel, giving this sweet girl pup a thug’s name doesn’t bode well for when you two start giving Laura and me grandchildren.”

(That reminded me of possibly being called “Mrs. Elmer Horace Frankenfurter-Engishdeiler” that at one point Daniel said was his real name, so I giggled a bit over it.)

After Papa said that, Daniel backed down and said, “Well, let me think about it then.”

He does seem to like the pup very much. After he half scared the poor little thing to death with his clown’s wig and white face, he took off the wig, went upstairs to the bathroom and washed up. When he came down again, he looked fairly normal except for the bruise around his left eye.

Speaking of that, my brother Kit said, “Will you have a black eye for your wedding day?”

“I might,” Daniel said . . .

Mischief in March is Book 3 of the Calendar Mystery series that tells the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond a hundred years or so ago, when life in Kansas City could get downright deadly.

For a short time only, Mischief in March is $0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR1STRN and £0.99 at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XR1STRN
(And it’s always free on Kindle Unlimited.)

An Envelope, a Single Stamp

A week or so ago, I walked to the post office nearby to mail something and to buy some stamps. Not knowing if USPS might have jacked up the price per stamp again, I put an extra dollar in my pocket. (I didn’t want to carry my heavy purse or have lots of money on me.)

When I arrived inside the post office, I got in line behind two men. The first, a young guy, was having the clerk on duty price out the various speeds of mailing several different sizes of the boxes stacked on the counter. $37.50 seemed the limit to what the young guy would pay, so he gathered up the boxes that he’d apparently brought with him, and fled.

The next man stepped up to the counter laid a plain white rather square envelope on the counter and asked for a single stamp. I never saw this guy’s face, but I could tell he was older than the first due to his gray hair and hunched shoulders under his thin coat jacket.

During the first failed transaction, I read the nameplate on the pocket of the clerk’s shirt and found out his name was Tom. A man about sixty, he had brown hair and a pleasant, round face. After Tom rang up the single stamp, the older man asked, “How much is the envelope?” He pointed to the envelope on the counter.

“That envelope? Well, that envelope belongs to one of the cards on the rack. It’s not actually for sale.”

“Oh,” the man said.

“If you need an envelope, there are some on the other rack, just turn it around and you’ll see.”

“Okay.” The older man returned the first envelope to the rack among the cards and brought back a postal service envelope of similar size that he lay on the counter.

Sneaking a peek past the guy, I saw that his fingernails were little more than short, white flakes close to the quick.

“How much?” the man asked.

Tom rang the purchase up. “That will be a dollar four.”

The man reached toward his pocket, but stopped. “I only have a dollar,” he said. “I’ll pay with my debit card so I can get change for a twenty. Can I do that?”

“You bet,” Tom said. “Put your card in the machine right there.” After the man did that, Tom said, “The transaction failed.”

“Oh . . .”

And so, finally more from impatience than any kindness in my heart, I reached in my pocket, peeled off the extra dollar bill and tossed it on the counter. The man scooped the bill up with his damaged fingers and handed it to Tom. Tom quickly rang the purchase up adding the four cents he paid. The man left and I stepped up. “Takes all kinds,” Tom said toward at the door after the guy had left. “And what would you like today?”

Not until much later did I realize that the man’s flaky fingernails indicate that he’s probably diabetic, his bounced debit card a sign that he’s almost penniless. Quite possibly he’s homeless, too. And what sort of letter did he put in that envelope and send with that stamp? A plea for help perhaps? Or maybe an apology to a loved one in some place too far for him to travel to. I’ll never know.

“A book of stamps, please,” I said to Tom. They didn’t have any more books of the Winter Berries stamps that I like so much, so I got a sheet of twenty Celebrate stamps, paid for them with the eleven bucks remaining in my pocket and walked home to my life for which I have so many reasons to celebrate.

Free Fun Short Story

“Stop! Thief!” a woman screamed. Across the lobby, outside the New England National Bank stood a stooped woman in black and a raggedy little boy. The woman pointed to a fellow running up the stairs and shouted, “Come back here with my purse.” Then, seeming to notice Minty and Daniel for the first time, she said, “That man took my purse!”

“Hold this, darling girl,” Daniel said.

Minty took the shopping bag fragrant with the lunch they’d just purchased from the deli down the street and clutched it to her chest as Daniel sprinted off past the elevators.

After that, in quick succession, the boy who’d opened the doors for them whistled sharply and shouted, “Let’s get out of here, Mick!”

The little kid turned away from the screaming old lady and limped up to Minty. “Please, ma’am, could you spare a nickel?” he said. “I ain’t eat nothing yet today.” He gazed up at Minty with heart-breaking blue eyes.

“No time for that now, Mick,” said the boy who’d held the door for Minty and Daniel. He snatched the shopping bag out of Minty’s hand and pushed past her to the door.

“Hey!” Minty said. “Give that—“

In their first case together as a detective couple, newly engaged Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price pursue a gang of thieves plaguing Kansas City in February 1900. Distractions include the objections of their boss to any show at all of their affection for each other inside the office and out and Minty’s wayward thoughts about the secret married couples keep to themselves. Join the fun, mystery and romance of this Calendar Mystery short story that takes place between the events of Fatal February and Mischief in March. And along the way meet the son of a famous outlaw.

Praise for “The 9th Street Gang”
If you wish for something pleasant to get your mind off the lately awful news, delve yourself into the story of three little hoodlums that steal this story from the endearing main characters and enjoy the tidbits of Kansas City history. Amazon Reviewer

Get “The 9th Street Gang” for free at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B079YYVTTX

Charming Mystery – reduced price

Mystery . . .

Romance . . .

Wannabe woman sleuth

in old Kansas City . . .

Praise for Fatal February

Book 2 of Juliet Kincaid’s calendar mystery series

In the year 1900, Minty Wilcox has been hired by a private detective agency, her on again/off again beau’s employer, as a stenographer. For this spunky gal, typing and taking shorthand aren’t enough. She wants to be an operative. So, of course, author Juliet Kincaid, accommodates her protagonist by letting her delve into a missing person/murder case, sometimes sanctioned, but often not, by her boss. The ins and outs of the investigation, Minty’s romantic ups and downs, and her inside out family situations are fun to follow . . . Good follow-up to January Jinx, the first mystery in the series. Amazon reviewer

Snippet from Fatal February

Just then the door to Mathison’s office from the outside hall opened and a fellow shuffled in. He wore a loose, black jacket that came down to his mid thighs and brown corduroy trousers that bagged around his ankles. As the man sauntered toward them, he pulled a black, visored cap off his head.

“It’s getting cold out there,” said Daniel Price.

“Why, Mr. Price,” Minty said. “I didn’t recognize you in those clothes.”

He stopped, held his arms wide and looked down. “Like them? These are my workingman’s duds.”

“Fetching, Mr. Price, though they do look like you stole them from a larger man.”

“Not exactly. I bought them second hand or even fourth hand. Who’s to know? At any rate, these duds suit the work. And by the way, Miss Wilcox, I like your pretty hair ribbon.”

“Why, thank you, sir.”

“Enough of your banter, you two,” Mathison said. “It’s about time you decided to come in, my boy. I hope your efforts paid off better than Miss Wilcox’s.”

“But, Mr. Mathison, I discovered quite a bit . . .”

Fatal February is available February 10 through February 16, 2020 for only

£0.99 at  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017081JHM

$0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM

(and Fatal February is always free on Kindle Unlimited.)

 

“But Wait!”

A Progress Report

Since my cataract surgery, I’ve been saying “But Wait” to myself a lot.

“But wait! Don’t you have to put your glasses on before you can see to walk around the house?”

“But wait! Don’t you have to take your contact lenses out before you put those eye drops in?”

 

“But wait! You mean to tell me those green socks you wore to match your green jammies have been light blue all the time?” (And what other surprises lurk in my sock drawer?)

Apparently, I’ve been walking around in a soft, sepia fog for many years. (This isn’t a particularly bad thing for a writer of historical fiction, though.)

On the other hand, I used to say, “But wait! Wasn’t that your turn?” as I whizzed past the place where I was supposed to turn. But now I can read those street signs from half a block away.

So after my cataract surgeries, I’ve had to make small, odd mental adjustments to the changes in my vision. But I also have to admit that I’ve probably never seen as well as I do now.