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Friday, 23 May 2014

Maureen Green on the Structure of Revenge Plots.

Master Plot, Revenge


A revenge plot which has as much power today as it had thousands of years ago consists of three phases:

                                                The crime - the first dramatic phase.

            The hero, faced with an injustice, is unable to defend himself.


            The hero makes plan to extract revenge. Several people must pay for the injustice dispensed during the hero's youth. Revenge deals with pursuit as well as preparation for revenge.


`           His motivation single minded, the hero confronts his enemies. This the moment of triumph for the protagonist.

In Consequences, my first adult novel, the plot is loud and clear. This work, a typical revenge plot in which we bristle against injustice, has its retaliation outside the limits of the law. The work published by Literary Road is now available on Amazon and Smashwords. Below is an excerpt from Consequences, the work's prologue.


One minute Donald Bracken was riding along on his way home from swimming humming his favourite tune and the next his bike was pulled from under him spilling him onto the asphalt.  “Jesus. What? What the hell?”

The town bullies moved from the shadows and surrounded him cornering him in the deserted school grounds.

A shudder starting at the top of his head rippled down to the tip of his toes when he saw the menacing look on their faces. His body wracked with terror he began panting and heeling his way across the asphalt until his progress was impeded by a picket of legs. Sweat pilled on his brow. His heart beat a zany tattoo in time to the music wafting up the hill from the valley below. Ears straining, he listened for sounds that would signal help was at hand, but heard nothing other than the excited wheezing of the group surrounding him.

The leader of the pack, the one with the most patches on his silken jacket, was a tall gangly pock marked boy older than the other five.  The fat one, the bully most feared in the neighbourhood, kicked him in the ribs. “Gottcha,” he sneered as he spat a gooby into his face.

“Teach ya to kill my grandma’s dog,” hissed the leader as he grabbed Donald by the collar and slammed him against the school building and pinned him there.

“I didn’t.” Donald protested as he squirmed like a worm on a hook in an effort to free himself, “A car hit him.”[…]

The fat one pushed Donald’s head down to the ground and held it there with his shoe perched on his neck as if he were propping his foot on a desk. Through the slits his eyes had become a shadow moved towards Donald and grabbed his hair and lifting his head to within a hair’s breadth of its face, said, “Did you say something, dickhead?” The bullies laughed. 

The lookout posted outside the school grounds hooted like an owl and called in his tinny fluting voice. “Someone’s coming, someone coming.”

“We’re out of here,” said the fat one. “Come on.”

Five of them ran, but the sixth, the leader of the gang leaned over Donald brandishing a switch knife and whispered, “Talk and I’ll kill you, you creepy piss pants.”

Donald’s steel grey eyes narrowed. “Kill me,” he whispered as the leader moved off. He did not move. He did not move for a long time as he lay gasping, hugging his battered body and thinking about revenge. He had to find a way to get back at them. They were always picking on him. Bullied him every day and now they had beaten him up and smashed his bike. Tomorrow he would have to deliver the papers on foot.[…]

“Had the shit beaten out of me because of a bloody yappy dog,” he muttered as he picked himself up from the ground where he had lain catching his breath. Filled with a burning hate he shouted into the still air. “I’ll kill those bastards.”
Killing them he knew would be a difficult assignment but succeeding would be an accomplishment. It would take much practice if he was to succeed, but he would be patient. It takes time to learn to kill, just like learning a musical instrument he thought, but I can wait until I’ve honed my skills.


Excerpts from Consquences by Maureen Green.


On a less threatening note, here’s a link to an excellent article by Beth Bacon on writing a great book blurb. It’s one of the hardest things for most authors, and the MOST important to get right if you want to attract readers. You can find the full article here -

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Crime – for fun and profit - by Jenny Harrison

The cosy crime story is a subgenre of crime fiction that gives a reader the opportunity to be an armchair-feet-up-glass-of-wine kind of detective. It also gives them the chance to vicariously enjoy a good killing without all the messy stuff.

It is therefore no surprise that Agatha Christie is still considered the best-selling crime writer of all time. And it is no surprise to read that cosy crime is a better selling genre than the grisly sort. In spite of an increase in cosy crime, Natalie Rosenstein, senior executive editor of Penguin’s Berkley Books, says there is ‘a great untapped market for cosier mysteries that [is] not being met.’

Cosies have a specific formula: a protagonist who is an amateur and usually female and a police force just not up to scratch. The crime is often a small-town murder and the heroine solves it without flash forensics and by using plain old logic and cunning. There is always justice on the last-but-one page.

Probably the most important part of a good cosy crime novel is the ‘happy ending’ when the criminal has been brought to justice by the little old lady who works part-time in the library. We need our happy endings. We don't get enough of them in real life and that’s why we turn to books in the first place. Cosies fill the bill admirably.

Many cosy mysteries have some sort of theme; decoupage, quilting, cats (very popular), baking (with recipes), etc. The writer who can think up a series based on something quite different, can very likely break into the Big Time.

There are a few tips on writing the type of cosy that will bring a publisher panting to your door with at least a 3-book deal:

  1. Modern readers require a faster-pace than the typical Christie novel. Like any good book, the reader must be compelled to turn the pages not with gore and spilt blood dripping down the spine, but with intriguing clues and characters they can relate to.
  2. Publishers (and readers) like a series. Think the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini. Think Kerry Greenwood and her Phryne Fisher books. Think our very own Theatre Mystery series by Bev Robitai.
  3. While detection is still the core of the cosy, the characters need to be solidly ‘real’ and ones the reader can relate to.
  4. If you can, join a group that is specifically for crime writers. Heck, join any writing group. Writers need shoulders to cry on.
  5. New Zealand is poverty-stricken when it comes to a popular cosy crime series. This is a market ready to flourish. Be the one to crack it.

So, Brothers and Sisters in Crime, get going, kill off somebody, invent a sassy, intelligent protagonist to solve the crime – and go forth and make millions.
Jenny Harrison
May 2014

[Editor's note: Jenny's own comedy crime series is deserving of attention too. Check out Rusty & Slasher's Guide to Crime, and Rusty & Slasher and the Circus from Hell. The protagonists are far from sassy, intelligent or female but are vivid and entertaining characters to read about!]

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Matthew Wright on NZ Book Sales

History writer Matthew Wright posted a telling snapshot of the NZ bookselling industry on his blog this week. Here's an excerpt of his post and a link to the entire piece. Well worth a read, and Mairangi Writers get a mention in the comments!

"The New Zealand experience isn’t unique. It’s been a ‘perfect storm’ worldwide, a combination of reduced discretionary spending on the back of the general financial crisis, coupled with the explosion of e-book readers, hand-held tablets and phones. Their rise wasn’t coincidental – readers didn’t have $500 to fork out annually on books, but they did have $99 for an e-reader and $3 each for titles.
For New Zealand the issue was complicated by the implosion, a few years back, of the old Whitcoulls chain. The chain was purchased and has since been reconstructed under new ownership, but for a while it looked as if New Zealand might lose a third of its book outlets. That provoked some risk-averse decision making in publishers’ editorial offices. The change was palpable.
On top of that has come the typical Kiwi rush to technology – a requited love-affair with online shopping. Book retailers here can’t compete with Amazon or The Book Depository – it’s an issue of volume coupled with the fact that overseas purchases don’t attract local sales tax.
One of the casualties has been the old publishing model with its sales-by-rep to bookstores. As a distribution and sales mechanism, that was marginal here at the best of times – the New Zealand market was always miniscule, pushing up the cover price on books.
Growth is going to have to pivot on the new principles of book publishing and selling – nimbleness, presence through multiple channels – electronic and print, and an ability to adapt quickly. It’s going to demand innovation, lateral thinking, and creativity.
As for me? I’ve been told history is dead as a genre in New Zealand – yet my history of railways sat for three months at No. 3 on the Whitcoulls best seller list last year and my Bateman Illustrated History of New Zealand sold better than any of my other books have in years. Dramatically so.
At a time when some publishers are shutting their doors, I’m getting approaches from others wanting me to write for them. I have four titles coming up in the next ten months. Only one of them is history. The other two are on popular science. Which, I guess, won’t be too surprising to long-time readers of this blog. And there’s a biography.
As far as I am concerned the need for innovation has never been greater. We must not just re-invent; we must re-conceptualise. I think that’s not just true for me – it’s true for all writers.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014