Category Archives: Colette Black

The Wizard Behind the Curtain

As a child watching The Wizard of Oz, I never suspected a bumbling old man hiding behind a curtain to be the “great and terrible Oz.” I was completely taken aback when Toto pulled back the drapes and revealed the traveling salesman who was pushing all the levers and buttons. I still revel in the concept of a man behind a curtain, but I prefer much darker motives, the pushing of people’s buttons more than any machine, and a more illusory curtain. A good example of this is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.

In the very first book we find our heroine, Vin, taken in by the heroic mentor, Kelsier, who is instigating a plan to destroy the evil and immortal emperor. What they find lurking behind the emperor is much more sinister and complex than any of them had imagined. With many stories, it’s in that moment when our antagonist becomes a mere contagonist and the plot gains that extra dimensional layer, that I find myself moved.

In the original Star Wars series, Darth Vader is a horrible villain, even a danger to his own son, until we discover “the emperor.” Again? What is it with emperors? What a lovely twist when the contagonist proves to be a victim who turns into the final hero. It turns an ordinary hero’s journey adventure story into a redemption story, giving the entire series not only more depth, but the opportunity to add interesting sequels and for Hollywood to bring in some serious money. I’m sure they don’t mind.

I have a book coming out soon through Brick Cave Media called Moon Shadows and I have to tell you, I love to hate my man behind the curtain. He has his reasons, but he’s seriously psycho. From science fiction to fantasy, from mystery to horror, we all wonder if there might be someone hiding in the shadows, someone even worse than the monster we see in the light. As a writer, playing with that suspicion is a good part of the fun. Often, the best suspense lies in the man behind the curtain, or depending on the story, maybe the psycho behind the shower curtain.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the upcoming Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Stab Them in the Back

 

For all of you “Agents of Shield” fans, I think you’ll remember that wrench in your gut when you realized, but didn’t want to admit, that Grant Ward was Hydra. Not only was he Hydra, but he was also quite psycho. Everyone’s favorite character started betraying and killing all of his friends. Except for the recently acquired girlfriend, whom he creepily stalked.

One of the most painful and effective ways to keep our readers enthralled is through the backstabbing friend. What’s the best way to set that up and make it work for you? Let’s look at a few examples from those who draw blood well.

1) Neither the protagonist nor the reader sees it coming. In my opinion, this is the best way to have friend stab friend. It does take finesse, however. For one, you can’t have the stabbing friend act in contradiction to his final evil goal. That doesn’t mean he can’t help your protagonist, seem to empathize, and even help the protagonist further their own goals. It does mean you have to watch out for temporal contradictions. If something nasty happens to the protagonist and the stabbing friend is hiding in the shadows on the dark side, he can’t also be helping his “friend” at the same time. It also means that anything the stabber does for your protagonist has to either not effect his own goals or must further them in some way. He can save his friend’s life, it can seem that it’s because he legitimately cares, and we can find out later that it was only because the backstabber needed information. Besides Grant Ward in Agents of Shield, another great example is in Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. (spoiler alert) Throughout the entire novel, Siri finds in Bluefingers a confidante she can trust, until the very end when he and the Pahn Kahl people turn against her and the kingdom. He was the one person she thought she could trust and with that paradigm shift is a plot twist that changes everything.

2nd) The character doesn’t see it coming, but the reader does. This sets up a time-bomb scenario for the reader where they can see the betrayal coming, don’t know exactly when it will happen, but as the suspense builds and the stakes grow higher, so does the interest of the reader. Who can forget the disappointment we feel as Edmund gradually becomes more and more entwined with the evil queen in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? We see his betrayal coming, but his poor siblings have no idea until he’s gone. We can unfold the tragedy with carefully placed clues that the reader puts together piece by piece, gradually discerning the awful news that they hate to admit may be true, like in the famed Narnia series. We can also slam the reader with the betrayal for greater impact, putting them suddenly on the edge of their seats as they wait for the protagonist to find out. Either way works and I think the best choice is whichever one fits with the flavor of your book. Is it wrought with mystery so the betrayal is one of many factors or is it a book of many twists, turns, and tragedies where this can be one more layer on the cake?

3rd) We see the possibility, but nobody knows what will happen, including the friend who betrays. I thought this was done rather well in Dr. Strange. Yes, I admit it, I’m a Marvel movie fan. Stephen Strange is championed by Baron Mordo from the moment Strange arrives at Kathmandu trying to find healing. Mordo mentors him, worries for him, and cares for him. Mordo’s negative reaction when he discovers their leader has been using forbidden magic all along is a sign that not all is well. Mordo seems to come around, helping Doctor Strange save the world, and it’s not certain what Mordo will do until the moment comes. Even Mordo doesn’t seem certain what he’ll do. And then he turns his back on his friends and becomes the next super-villain. If we hadn’t already known that Anakin becomes Darth Vader, we might have been on the edge of our seats wondering if he’d really turn to the dark side or come to his senses. Because we do know, it becomes an example for the scenario above. We know it will happen, but how and when is the question. I think the unsure betrayer is one of the most compelling and heart-wrenching scenarios in fiction. It gives our protagonist’s friend a great sense of depth as they struggle with the decision. This one is also hard to pull off well, because we must show those forces of good and evil push and pull in a side character while still keeping the protagonist as the focus. Done well, it’s quite powerful.

I could probably name a dozen more types of backstabs, but I’m not willing to make this post any longer. What are some great backstabbing moments you’ve seen? What are some movies/books that you feel have done it well or some styles other than what I’ve listed above? We’d love to hear from you.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the upcoming Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Hook and Carry

I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson say it, I’ve gone to multiple David Farland workshops and heard him say it, and all the best authors know it: escalate!

The problem is, we often think of this only in terms of the action, the main problems, the basic plot. To write that book that nobody can put down we need to escalate everything. Every subplot, every character arc, every social dynamic, needs to be escalated in some way in order to grip our readers so tight that they just can’t let go. I’d like to focus on one point in this escalation process: The Hook and Carry.

Sometimes, a good hook can seem in conflict with the escalate philosophy. You want that first sentence of your book, the first hook, to be so good that the reader HAS to read your story. That means you have to jump in with a conflict that will knock their socks off. Right? Not exactly.

In order to escalate into the main conflict, you need to set the stage, give the reader a sense of the characters and why they’re important and then ease them into the opening conflict. Right? Not exactly.

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is balancing that opening hook with the much-needed escalation of conflict in a story. This is where the fact that we’re escalating every aspect of a book comes into play. That opening hook needs to pull us in with a question (or conflict) that we want to see resolved, though it doesn’t have to be THE conflict.

The hook can be an emotional dilemma: “Susan cried as she knelt over the casket. She would still strangle him if she had to do it again, but she would miss him.”

It can be a physical obstacle: “They circled one another, Chris and the mountain lion, each in the way of what the other wanted.”

The hook can even be completely unrelated, a stepping stone into the setting of the real conflict. “My tight red sweater announced my changed status to the student body with defiance; I was single, available, and I was happy about it, regardless of the pain I hid behind my cherry lipstick.”

Now, I’m not saying these are remotely good hooks. They’re rather thrown together, but I think they get across the idea. You’ve got to hook the fish if you’re going to have him for dinner, but you’ve got to keep some tension in the line if you’re going to bring him to shore. Don’t spend your readers’ precious time introducing them to the backstory. Jump in with a secret, a mystery, a conflict, that immediately grabs your readers’ interest. Then you can set the stage as your character deals with what’s immediately in front of them. After that, then follow all of the great advice from the other posts this month as you escalate, escalate, escalate.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the upcoming Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

The Day Job

Everyone’s heard it, especially if you have aspirations in a creative field. “Don’t quit your day job.” In November, right before Christmas, I discarded the age-old advice and I quit my day job. Am I crazy? Yes. Though I can’t recommend this for everyone, it fit for me. Why did I do it? Honestly, I’m not sure. It kind of just felt right.

A previous post talked about time and motivation; I felt I’d completely lost both. I was starting to hate my job and it’s incurable monotony. Between the job hours, appointments for myself and my kids, and a number of medical problems, I decided I’d rather be poor than dead. That may seem like an exaggeration, but I’d turned into an automaton. You all know the routine: get up, get kids to school, get to work, do boring job, come home, get kids (or yourself) to appointments/practices, don’t have time to make dinner, pick up fast food, collapse on couch, watch a show and look at emails, go to bed. And then start all over again.

Interesting thing, quitting the day job hasn’t actually given me more time to write. It’s about the same, but I actually use that time to write instead of staring comatose at a computer screen and it has given me more motivation in a number of areas of my life. I have to be very careful with the budget, but I like that. I don’t feel like I’m throwing my time at one wall so I can make money to throw at another. We eat more homemade meals and I’m able to get everyone in the family to participate in making them because I’m not running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I’m able to exercise, get everyone to their appointments, take care of my daughter in online school, and now I can help with my mother’s ever-increasing doctor’s appointments. Maybe I sound privileged. I like to think I’m blessed. My husband is able and willing to support me in my decision, and the family is adjusting to the new restraints on our budget.

The point is, if you want to be a creator in any field, find what works for you. Some people have to work and they make time for that creativity as an outlet. Some people enjoy their work and their creative endeavors are a much-needed balance to life. For some, focusing their energy, time, and making their creativity work as a career is the only way to go. For me, balancing my health, my family, my budget, and making time for my creative endeavors is the path I choose. It’s new, sometimes it’s painful, but I’m happy. And isn’t that the real point?

As a side note, I received an offer from Brick Cave Media to publish my novel, “Moon Shadows.” I signed the contract around the middle of December and just turned in the final edits. Maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all. Time will tell.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net