Issue #152 View in browser
August 21, 2020

What's in this newsletter?

  • Recent Goings On
  • For the Daydreamers: How They Write a Novel, Bonus Lesson
  • Extra: Call for Anthology Submissions!
  • Upcoming Events

Recent Goings On

Almost done with Witchshadow. So close I can TASTE it. Then I can finally, finally spend some time with my wee bébé. 😭

This book has been difficult in a different way from past books. Sure, there were some personal difficulties with a miscarriage, IVF, and then an amazing but also objectively difficult pregnancy...and an amazing but objectively difficult birth. But what really slowed me with this book was all technical.

It was THE craft challenge of my life. I wanted Iseult to have two books, but for business reasons (very important ones I have no regrets or complaints about), I had to give Iseult only one book. And trying to make two books into a single book isn't just a matter of writing two, then smashing them together and tightening. That would lead to two back-to-back rising tension graphs in a single book, not to mention terrible pacing.

To truly combine two books into one, you have to instead find a single story with a single rising tension graph that then does all the plot, character growth, and story reveal work of two books.

In other words, everything I'd had planned for the last 7 years had to be tossed, and I had to start anew. I needed one story instead of two. I needed to get characters from point A to point C with no B along the way. And y'all, it wasn't easy.

I don't regret this in any way. I pushed my craft so hard. I learned to think outside the box (or think beyond, as Ryber would say 😉). I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again more times than I can count. Scene after scene got tossed, and at least once a week, I thought, "This is an unsolvable mess. I can't make it one book. It's impossible."

But I did it, and it was possible.

Bloodwitch came out in a rush of inspiration and emotion and cookie scenes that I'd been envisioning for 5 years. Witchshadow was a laborious, agonizing process of assembling ingredients with no recipe in hopes that I got cookies at the end. Then, when it was clear I wasn't making cookies, I threw it all out and started again.

And ultimately, I'm as proud of Witchshadow as I was of Bloodwitch—even more so, in fact. Best of all, I have an entirely new arsenal of tools at my disposal for future books and challenges.

So remember: no story puzzle is unsolvable. Period. You can always, always find a solution. It might require totally ditching what you'd planned or you'd written and then starting anew. It might require learning new ways of writing or working or thinking. It might require talking it out with writer friends a thousand times until they hate you. And it will most certainly require more brainstorming and deep, concentrated immersion.

But the answer is in that brain of yours. I promise.

What I'm Playing

(Thank goodness for the Bookmark feature in battle)

What I'm Reading

(I'm not a fast reader these days, okay? Blame Cricket.)

What I'm Listening To

(Wow, I forgot how much I love the Mighty Nein)

For the DenNerds:

WEEEEE!! I am so excited to share this cover with you.

It's always amazing to get to reveal new covers, but as mentioned, this book was such a challenge, so its cover holds an extra special place in my heart.

Plus, it's SO perfect for the cookie that this book ultimately baked into.

So without further ado, say hello to Witchshadow!

Notice the shadows around Iseult, the stormy lightning, the shimmery Threads, and her pose! This is a gal in charge.

Also, those hooded people at the bottom! WHO ARE THEY, I WONDER? I guess you'll just have to read to see. 😏

Which brings me to some more exciting news! In a month, we'll be announcing the preorder campaign! And it's an especially epic one this time, in my humblest of humble opinions.

More information to come, but let's just say there's some character art involved by my all-time favorite Dragon Age fan artist. 🥰

So go ahead and preorder so you know you're ready to go when we announce! Links below!

For the Daydreamers:
How They Write a Novel, Bonus Lesson: How to Tell a Story

I've got another awesome guest poster coming in hot for you all! 

Because of the cover reveal, I needed content ASAP and the incomparable Daniel Nayeri stepped up to the plate. What an awesome dude, am I right?

Plus, this is a great post that really lays down some fundamental basics that it's all too easy to lose sight of.

Daniel was born in Iran and spent several years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family—which is the inspiration behind his SOON TO BE RELEASED novel Everything Sad is Untrue. He has also published several other books, including Straw House, Wood House, and Brick House Blow: Four Novellas. A former professional pastry chef, when not writing or baking, he’s likely playing board games or riding motorcycles.

Take it away, Daniel!

Read the rest of this series: 

Part 1: Ideas + Research

Part 2: Building New Worlds

Bonus Lesson: Geography & Magic Systems

Bonus Lesson: Creating Picture Books

How To Tell a Story

Hi everyone. My name is Daniel Nayeri and Susan Dennard kindly let me chat about storytelling a bit here on her newsletter. Also, did you get a look at the cover?

Anyway, I’m the author of Everything Sad is Untrue, an autobiographical novel about my childhood as a refugee. It comes out 8/25 (that’s super soon)! And it has seven stars (that’s a lot of stars)!! And your pre-order would mean the world (that’s a meaningful amount)!!!

But more to the point, I wrote a book called How To Tell a Story a while ago, and I thought I’d share a part of it. The book comes with 20 color-coded blocks that are used to randomize elements of the story while helping you understand the underpinning structures in storytelling.

So, for instance, the images with red backgrounds are all people or animals, the blue backgrounds are for objects, the green for actions, and so on.

We can begin by creating the most basic sentence in storytelling…

It could be a mummy who wants nothing more than a taco, or a detective who wants a drawbridge. That part doesn’t matter. It’s up to you. The part that we want to focus on is the phrase “wants nothing more than”. That’s the key phrase. It’s the phrase that makes this simple sentence a story, because it tells us the character’s core motivation.

Let’s talk about motivation for a moment...

Another way to put it is that your what your protagonist wants is important, but it isn’t a complete picture of their motivation. Their motivation is the order of everything they want as a whole.

A villain disorders his list of priorities and puts “world domination,” at the top. A lot of people have to get hurt in order for him to get it. Sometimes, a hero will be so prideful that she will put her self above everything else. She might even lash out at friends and family if they come into conflict with that self-image.

You can see that the order of the list can make a huge difference in a story. After all, most kids want good grades in school, fun activities, and lots of friends. But how we prioritize those things is going to determine the kind of actions we take.

Let’s give it a try. Take a look at these lovely illustrations by the obnoxiously talented Brian Won. Pick 4 of them (interpret them how you like) and write them as a list.

This is the list of priorities for a character. Tell a quick story about a protagonist whose values are in the exact order as your as your list.

Now, rearrange your list.

How would your character change with this new order of values?

I like that illustration for motivation because it’s a great place to state. People are pretty complicated creatures, however. A list is a nice simply example, but really, priorities are constantly shifting and changing. Some are parallel. Some are temporary. As circumstances shift in your stories, the characters must constantly decide how to act based on their priorities.

So as you draft your next scene, you might remind yourself:

  1. Motivation is the reason why characters do things.
  2. Figuring out a character’s motivation is figuring out the list of stuff they want most.
  3. Values and priorities shift all the time.

And here's a bonus: The most interesting conflicts aren’t random. They pit the characters against one another because of their clashing worldviews or…motivations.

Enough from me. Thank you, Susan, for letting me join you. Congrats on the new cover reveal!

Thank you so, so much for sharing your tools, Daniel! I love the color coding idea and how you've graphically interpreted story. It's so accessible, for kids or adults or anyone looking to understand how story operates at its most fundamental level.

Frankly, that's something even the most seasoned pros could use refreshing on from time to time.

And to all the Misfits & Daydreamers, don't miss Everything Sad is Untrue which comes out next Tuesday! Be sure to preorder!


Kwame Mbalia, the New York Times best-selling author of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is putting together a Middle Grade anthology that will center the joy of Black boyhood, and he is looking for submissions from Black male and Black nonbinary writers!

This is an incredible opportunity from an incredible human being (Kwame, you're awesome). LEARN MORE HERE!

Upcoming Events:

I have nothing planned right now thanks to Covid (gotta keep on social distancing, y'all!), but stay tuned for virtual events as we get closer to the Witchshadow release!

Buy me a Ko-Fi! ☕️
Buy my books! 📚
Thank you for reading! Have a fabulous weekend, friends!

Susan Dennard
110 West 40th St.
Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

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