Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Handling the Damsel in Distress

The damsel in distress is a very old trope, dating back to Greek mythology and beyond. You have a girl that needs rescuing, and this drives the plot. Simple, right? Well, in modern media the unqualified damsel in distress has become less popular, due to the rise of various shades of action girl and self-rescuing princesses. Even Princess Peach, the quintessential damsel of the Super Mario Brothers games, has taken a role in ensuring her own safety from time to time (though she still gets kidnapped more often than not).

As a result, the modern damsel in distress must be handled very carefully in order to avoid accusations of one-dimensionality, bad writing, or misogynist subtext. However, not every female character can be Xena Warrior Princess and get herself out of a pinch. Let's explore the reasons why a damsel might be put in distress.

  • Simple Kidnapping. Yes, this old chestnut. The villain might need to take custody of your impending damsel for a series of reasons, whether it's for financial gain, to force another character's hand, or because the villain has a serious crush on her.
  • She Has a Plot Coupon. Some damsels might possess an item (or know how to access it) upon which the plot hinges. This could be a tattoo that happens to show where the thing that everyone's looking for is, it it might be a book with an encoded message that tells how to get to the thing. In either case, get the damsel, and eventually you get the thing.
  • She Is a Plot Coupon. The damsel has a certain ability or set of abilities that will allow her to get to the thing, or access the thing herself, or otherwise solve the plot's main problem. Or maybe she's the heir to the kingdom and everyone in the land is squabbling for the right to marry her--and then someone just cuts to the chase and makes off with her. (That someone might not even know she's a plot coupon when the absconding happens, only that she's pretty or important or what have you.)
  • She Happened to be Handy. The damsel of convenience in these plots can offer the perfect opportunity to set up epic amounts of ass-kicking if the villain grabbed the wrong damsel out of the crowd. Whether this is foreshadowed before the throw-down happens is entirely up to the writer.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of why a damsel might be in distress, but it covers most of the basics. Of course, now that your damsel is in distress, let's explore reasons that she might not be able to get herself out of distress.

  • Physical Restraints. Again, a classic. This might mean she's tied to a rock or locked in a room or tied up on the metaphorical railroad tracks. Barring any established skills as an escape artist, this is often a perfectly valid reason for the damsel to remain in her predicament and need rescuing.
  • Geographical Restraints. The next best sting to tying her up is putting her someplace secluded where the hero can't get to her right away. She might be locked at the top of the tallest tower or parked in a stronghold on a secluded island or in the middle of the villain's stronghold with thousands of guards between her and the hero. In many cases, the hero might have to find her to rescue her, and him finding out her location can make up the bulk of the plot.
  • Guarded by Something Scary. This could be anything from a trained Bengal tiger to the villain's trusted assistant Moe to a fire-breathing dragon, but in any case the scary thing provides a really healthy incentive to not try to run off.
  • Drugged or Hypnotized. If the damsel is not able to properly get her bearings, obviously she can't make a valid effort to get herself free. Part of the plot might be her trying to clear her head and meet the hero in the middle, bot not always.
  • Physical or Mental Handicap. This needs to be navigated carefully, lest one be the target of accusations of insensitivity. However, certain neurological conditions can make a damsel of either sex unable to properly defend herself from harm, or even recognize danger. A blind damsel might be able to use her senses to evade the bad guy, but that's still a form of distress.
  • She's Naive. DANGER WILL ROBINSON! You better have a really good reason to use this one (like a sheltered upbringing) and it must be handled very carefully lest your prospective damsel be branded an idiot. I know as well as any that there are dingbats and airheads in the real world who wouldn't know a dangerous individual if he pointed a gun at their face, but if this keeps happening repeatedly without her learning her lesson or taking measures to protect herself (that's called character development, for those of you following along at home), eventually the audience is going to brand her an idiot and throw your book against a wall. If your damsel seems to exist solely to have the plot happen to her, you might want to consider heavy rewriting.
While the damsel in distress may have waned in popularity in recent times, she can still be an effective plot point if handled carefully. Just watch out that she doesn't become nothing more than a cardboard cutout with "LOVE INTEREST" written on it in Sharpie and give her motivations of her own, and you will be well on your way to having an interesting, sympathetic damsel.

 And now, for something completely different...

This week's progress report for Sheep's Clothing sales continues my slow and steady trend. Next month I will propose regular book-signings at the St. Louis Bread Company to see if I can do better there with more advertising and an expected crowd, and in October I plan to sell my books at Archon 38!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Future Projects Survey

Well, I've finished taking the Red Pen of Doom to the rough draft of Hungry as a Wolf, and now I have three possible projects I can work on next. I'm eager to work on each of them for different reasons, but I've resolved to pare down the number of Works in Progress I have floating around one at a time.

Here are the candidates:

  • Necromancy Will Kill Your Dating Life: Paranormal/Chick-Lit. A perky blonde seeks love, but her inherited talent with necromancy keeps getting in the way.
  • Silk and Steel: Heroic fantasy/Romantic Comedy. A hot-tempered swordswoman discovers she is the heir to the royal throne. She must enter into an arranged marriage to stop a war that could tear the kingdom apart.
  • The Demon of Butcher's Row: Steampunk. A monstrous bat-demon is hunting down and killing people in 1890s London. A Mage and his Chymist friend investigate, due to repeated (non-fatal) attacks on the Chymist that keep leaving him in strange places.
 So, which one sounds interesting to you? Let me know, and whichever one gets the most votes will be my next project!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's For a Book, I Swear!

Doing research for a novel can be fun. You get to learn about all sorts of things that you never imagined studying, and because you're the one doing the research (as opposed to an assigned paper for school that must be this long and cover one of these topics, learning becomes a whole lot of fun.

Of course, certain topics can earn a fledgling writer some funny looks when pursued. Researching how to make a bomb out of common household materials might even land you on a few CIA watch lists. Asking for help in learning about the bondage scene or NAMBLA might get you dumped on a sex offender list (or else looked at like you are). Looking up how to commit the perfect murder... well, you get the idea.

Fortunately, a writer has the best defense ever for asking increasingly weird questions: It's for a book. People can become very helpful (or at least less-suspicious) when approached by a writer doing research, because what's the harm in helping someone write a fictional story about fictional events happening to fictional people?

Even in stories that have strong speculative elements, asking questions about the theory behind your story can yield surprising results. Max Brooks interviewed members of the military and the CDC when he was researching The Zombie Survival Guide, and discovered that many of them actually had contingency plans in place to handle outbreaks of flesh-eating zombies. (Weirdly comforting, actually.)

Of course, some writers who started out in different fields might come with the research material already pre-learned. Someone who was an Army Ranger would already know how to snap someone's neck with their bare hands. Making friends with these people can be a handy source of research info if asked politely. And that, really, is the key.

That said, researching the internet for bomb instructions or blueprints to the White House or both in rapid succession (no matter how benign the purpose) is still likely to get some attention, so be careful.

And now, some something completely different...

The Sheep's Clothing audiobook is now available for sale from Audible.com here! It's $14.95 to download (or free with a trial membership to Audible), and in my opinion Zach did a great job as the narrator. If you enjoy Western horror and old-school vampire stories, be sure to check it out!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Modest Request: July Summary

You may recall that at the beginning of July I posted about my minor apartment flood and how it inspired me to try to sell 1000 copies of Sheep's Clothing by July 2015. Well, here's a summary of how I did this month.

Here is what I did:
  • Signed up for five free book marketing sites
  • Contacted as many book bloggers as I could find who would be even marginally interested in a horror Western
  • Sent off seven review copies (plus one to my old college adviser, but that's neither here nor there
  • Talked to a lot of people at work
  • Contacted a few places near me to discuss the possibility of a book signing event
The results:
  • Sold 15 copies of Sheep's Clothing, 14 of which were face-to-face sales.
  • One book signing event scheduled for this month.
 It feels kind of anemic, but it was only my first month of this. I want to avoid pay-for-promotion sites as much as I possibly can, as several of them want hundreds of dollars to promote my book, and there are free promotion options for me out there.

My plans for August:
  • Attend my book signing, bringing 100 copies of Sheep's Clothing with me. Sell as many as I can.
  • Go through this list and post my book to as many of them as I possibly can.
  • Post book promos to all the relevant Facebook groups I'm already a part of.
Of course, I'm also moving forward with my other fiction (which is the real key to getting traction with something like this). I'm taking steps to self-publish my SFR novel Heart of Steel, I finished the rough draft of Hungry as a Wolf (the sequel to Sheep's Clothing) this past Friday, and I'm hammering out a fantasy/mystery story entitled One Spooky Case.

Whew! I've got a lot of hard work ahead of me--but it'll be worth it if I can make this goal!

Sales Links

Once again, to make things super-duper easy for you to find, here are links to all the places my book is available for sale:

Amazon Paperback: http://amzn.to/1kkWLR6
Kindle eBook: http://amzn.to/1kDQj80
Barnes and Noble Paperback: http://bit.ly/1srHxel
Subterranean Books: http://bit.ly/1p8ghjO
CreateSpace eStore: http://bit.ly/1kkXguf

Also as a bonus, Sheep's Clothing is available at the St. Louis County Library (and by extension, to any inter-library loan systems they've partnered with).

Link: http://bit.ly/1qVrdEd

And of course, the progress bar:

16 / 1000