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  • Sarah Mussi's Here be Witches blog tour – Post five

    During my blog tour I have been interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

    And today Sarah asks Sarah …

    Q

    Can you recap on Here Be Witches for our readers who have just caught up with this tour?

    A

    Right, Here Be Witches is the second story in the series The Snowdonia Chronicles

    THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA

    Q

    Now this is our last blog post and we’ve covered characters and whether to change them or not; settings and how to keep them fresh; plot and how each storyline needs to stand alone in a series with an overarching goal, and now we are coming to endings – how do you set up the ending, so that you can write the next one in the series and still end this story off satisfactorily?

    A

    Wow – good question and quite hard to answer … anyway I will have a go at it. I think one of the lovely things about writing a series is that readers can keep spending time with characters they have grown to know almost as deeply as they know themselves and they can be guaranteed another adventure in the company of those characters.

    However the adventures have to be separate and different and some of the characters need to take a break and new characters need to be introduced. Also what this and many other series actually need – right from the beginning – is an overarching structure or goal. Or an unanswered question.

    I think the unanswered question in the Snowdonia Chronicles is: will Ellie and Henry ever really be able to get together, or are the difficulties that separate them insurmountable?

    The series then takes completely different adventures in the pursuit of this one main goal. Each of the series titles will have its own separate sub-goal that maintains the same protagonist, sidekick and romance character and antagonist. This gives the stories a coherence. One of the trickiest things to do is how to end the current story in the series so that it has a satisfactory stand-alone ending with its own complete obligatory scene and yet leaves some exciting yet totally different adventure open to happening in the next book.

    Q

    So how did you do this Sarah in Here Be Witches?

    A

    First of all I had to thoroughly understand what the obligatory or climactic scene needed to achieve in every story, so that I could deliver a satisfactory and complete ending for each adventure – this is what I found out:

    The obligatory scene

    The closing section of a story, just before the end should deliver the final confrontation between the forces for good and the forces of evil. This is the moment when my hero must win against all odds against the antagonistic forces (for now). They must face their worst fears to rescue, triumph and survive. And yet the antagonist must not be completely defeated but retire in malice, ready to fight again in the next story with even more wickedness, malice and motive.

    In preparing for the fight, I had to consider: How does the confrontation develop? Does your hero nearly lose? How do they defeat the enemy?

    I also had to consider what inner resolve/strength/truth is in my protagonist: How does it help my protagonist to grow? How does it help my protagonist to overcome the antagonist? (If they do – or accept defeat.)

    I had to be sure I delivered on all the following:

    ACT 3 The climax /ordeal/obligatory scene/

    Several things must occur at the climax of the story: the hero must face the biggest obstacle of the entire story (so far); she must determine her own fate; and the outer motivation (this story goal) must be resolved once and for all (for now).  

    I wanted the outer motivation to be resolved, but also for the protagonist to win by losing (be kept heroic), undergo a ‘seeming’ death (create reader empathy), and be reborn – or returned to a former (yet wiser) state.

    This is important for the satisfactory ending of the story, but also important so that I could set up the way the next story will develop – so that it seemed right and natural that it should develop in that way. To do this I had to keep the series goal unresolved (will they ever be with the one they love?) but deliver on the narrative goal in Here be Witches (save Henry and Snowdonia and break the witches’ spell).

    Q

    So Sarah how did you end Here be Witches … and achieve this duality?

    A

    Well, just like I set up the prologue in order to overcome problems with a first person narration, I set up the epilogue to bring about closure to the current story and yet introduce the possibility that there was more to come. Below is an excerpt from the epilogue and you can see for yourself how it puts to bed the first story and introduces the possibility that this not the end of things. Here it is!

    So Mote It Be

    Later that spring ~ 30th April ~ The Eve of Calan Mai

    ELLIE’S PHONE 30th April 12.00

    Status: In a committed relationship

    This morning the sun is shining. I’ve biked all the way up to the top of Pen-y-Pass.

    I rest briefly. I check the straw man I’ve made is safe inside my pocket.

    Then carry on with my plan.

    I’m going to Dinas Emrys for the first time since March.

    My heart pounds. I bite my lip. But I’m ready.

    ‘I’m coming Henry,’ I whisper.

    Going downhill from Pen-y-Pass is scary. The road falls away in front of me, there’s a hairpin bend just ahead, so I cling on. The road drops and drops away, and I have that feeling, as if I’m flying off into nothingness.

    I hold my breath. I tear through the sunshine, all the way down to the junction, on to the Beddgelert road. Then I race through the morning like the wind. The bike flies beneath me. I want to reach Dinas Emrys quickly. I want to lay my charm on Henry’s lair, before Sheila or anyone else tries their magick there again.

    I hit the Beddgelert road at speed. Air whips my hair back, stings my eyes. The sky is as blue as blue. Sunlight slants off everything. The sides of the mountain lie covered in thick purple heather. The air is charged with such sweetness.

    I shoot downhill, all the way to Lake Gwynant.

    The water on the lake stretches out shining black. Sundrenched slopes rise from its shores. The road lies totally deserted; the mountain is all mine. Sometimes I like it best that way – just Snowdon and me.

    I race past Lake Gwynant crouched low. Just the grey road, winding on down alongside the Afon Glaslyn, down to Lynn Dinas.

    I squint into the distance. My heartbeat jumps about. The fortress of Dinas Emrys lies smack ahead.

    I think of Henry lying curled under the earth, so near, so far.

    He’ll be there.

    I need to keep it that way.

    What did George say?

    ‘Be careful Elles. Tonight – May Eve – is auspicious. Gran says you must lay a charm to protect Henry.’

    No more witchy stuff with covens. No more trying to wake up my Henry.

    An image of Sir Oswald flashes across my mind. Pale eyes. Hooded eyelids. He’ll be under the mountain too.

    I slow down.

    I swing off the road and cycle up towards a lush green pasture.

    I take my shortcut, through a turning to a farm, behind a row of mobile holiday homes, where I can scramble up a steep slope between trees, and get to the fortress from the back. The bracken is tight and scratchy, but it’s really not too far and saves a good three-mile hike.

    I go through the farm gates; it’s private property, but there’s no need to worry about the holiday homes now. They’ll be full of tourists at this time of year. They won’t give me a second glance.

    I chain the bike to a handy sapling behind the first chalet.

    In front of me rises a steep bank, covered by spindly trees. Thick green moss coats every patch of bark. Their roots are tangled knots of black. In parts, the rocky hillside is almost sheer. High above, a skylark trills out short, rapturous notes. I hoist myself up from trunk to trunk. I try to stay strong.

    Since the spring equinox, I’ve stayed away from here, too many memories, too much sadness, but I guess I’m needed today.

    I climb up to the top of Dinas Emrys. Pause. Pant. Just breathe in warm air.

    Since the second landslide, the hill is not much changed. That is the way Henry planned it.

    I turn to look up towards Snowdon. Everywhere is thick with brilliance, but through the blinding sunshine, blurred by the shimmer of late spring warmth, I think – no – I’m certain, I see a figure.

    There he is: the figure of a young man poised on the edge of the mountain.

    I smile.

    I rub my eyes. Is it really a figure? Or just a trick of the light? A memory perhaps? Or George checking I made it safely? Rays from the risen sun dazzle me. By the time I look again, he’s gone.

    My heart starts pounding.

    I squint just to be sure.

    I wish so much it were Henry.

    Nothing.

    But then this is Snowdon.

    Yr Wyddfa.

    The great burial den of the dragons

    Here anything can happen.

    Especially on May Eve.

    Yes, May Eve and I have come here for crogi gwr gwellt: ‘hanging a straw man’.

    It’s a tradition on May Eve that when a lover has lost their sweetheart, they make a man out of straw and put it somewhere in the vicinity of where the lover sleeps.

    The straw man represents the enemy, the one that seeks to take the heart of the beloved away.

    I find the right spot.

    Just where I stood with Rhi.

    Just where half of the north face of Dinas Emrys split open.

    A vision flashes before me … trees uprooted, boulders cracked; great half-broken tree trunks sticking up in the air. That overpowering smell of crushed foliage, that sickly scent of damp earth, that great scar, huge open depths …

    The vision passes.

    I pin a note to my straw man.

    Gran helped me craft the words:

    ‘By water and fire, earth and air,

    Let Henry’s enemies beware.

    Let the words of my charm,

    Protect his heart from any harm.

    Let the power of my love,

    Strengthened by the stars above,

    Keep him safe, keep him secure,

    Keep his heart forever pure.

    By the flowers of Blodeuwedd

    Let none attempt to breach his bed.’

    ***

    I place the adder stone on the note.

    I sprinkle the place with a potion Gran brewed for me.

    I look up to the mountains.

    ‘I will find a way to be with you again, Henry,’ I whisper.

    Then I pray to Snowdon to keep him safe, out of the reach of any evil.

    Until I can keep my promise.

    And so the adventures of Ellie and The Snowdonia Chronicles will continue into book three … a new story with a new goal, but also one that will be the over arching goal of the series to an exciting conclusion and deliver on the seeds planted in Here be Witches!

    THANK YOU READERS FOR FOLLOWING MY BLOGS!

    I HOPE YOU LOVE READING HERE BE WITCHES.

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  • Sarah Mussi's Here be Witches blog tour – Post four

    During my blog tour I have been interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

    And today…

    Sarah continues her interview of Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

    Sarah

    Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.

    I am going to use Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how to give it a go.

    Sarah

    Okay, I’m going to continue to ask Sarah lots of questions to find out all her writing secrets!

    Q

    Can you recap on Here be Witches again?

    A

    Right, Here be Witches is the second story in the series The Snowdonia Chronicles

    THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA 

    Q

    Ummm, mythical Snowdonia eh? So why did you chose Snowdonia as a setting and how did you make it fresh in book two?

    A

    Choosing a setting is so important, but to tell you the truth, I’ve always loved the mountains of North Wales ever since I went on family holidays there as a child. So on this occasion I was choosing what I knew and loved. However Snowdonia also has all the right ingredients to make a very special setting for a fantasy YA novel.

    Q

    Perhaps you can tell us what you think is important to go into a setting?

    A

    OK, well first let’s recap exactly what a setting is and then I can say what I think it does for a story. So a setting sets up the:

    • Where
    • When
    • Genre
    • Time (in history)
    • Space (in the universe)
    • Atmosphere
    • Other people (family/community)
    • Sensory details
    • Weather
    • Context

    Well those are the major things, but it can do more than that. I chose the setting of Snowdonia because I wanted it to do a lot of things, some of which includes using the:

    Setting as character

    The setting functions here as a prod to get the hero going.

    The setting is somehow part of the main character, for instance, Frodo In Lord of the Rings, is very much an extension of his beloved Shire. Or Ratty in Wind in the Willows is very much a part of the riverbank.

    In The Snowdonia Chronicles the backdrop of misty mountains and dangerous chasms and cliffs not only act as a challenge to Ellie, but are also part of her character. She is first and foremost an outdoorsy mountain girl. She prides herself on knowing the mountain. However much she claims to wish to live in an inner-city flat, we know better. We know that she belongs to Snowdonia just as Snowdonia belongs to her. This means she has a lot of the attributes of the mountains. Mountains are exciting, mountains can be dangerous, mountains need to be explored, mountains can offer us a view when we get to the top – so all of these characteristics be found in Ellie.

    Q

    That’s very interesting …

    A

    There is more …

    Setting can act as a metaphor

    When you choose your setting, it can say more about your story on a sub-textual level. For example:

    Sunny places are usually happy

    Cold places are usually scary

    Dark places might be evil etc

    In Here be Witches, the extraordinary beauty and relative inaccessibility of the Welsh mountains acts as a metaphor for all that is magical and unobtainable – like Henry is for Ellie. The deep feeling of awe and beauty inspired by Snowdonia has fostered many myths and a real belief in magic. I was able to harness all of this in Here be Witches.

    Setting can act as weather too and weather conveys the mood of both story and character. 

    Weather is not just part of the scenery. It can be used in the plot. A good example of this is in Narnia where it is always snowy.

    In Here Be Witches it is always snowy too and if anyone has ever been to North Wales they know this to be true in reality, after all the mountain ranges is called Snowdonia.

    Setting can be an emotion.

    The setting may show a character’s emotions. When the character is sad it may rain. When the character is angry a storm may brew up. In Here Be Witches everywhere is cold and this is how Ellie is feeling without Henry’s presence and the hope of seeing him again.

    Q

    I can see why you wanted to write The Snowdonia Chronicles! Can you give us a teeny weeny excerpt to capture the setting – until our next blog post?

    A

    Sure … it’s from the middle section of the story …

    The ponies struggle on. The temperature drops. An Arctic wind springs up and rushes down the slopes of the mountains straight at us. The afternoon sun shines high above. The snowfields glint bright. I pull up my hood, and button my coat tight against my chin. The ponies stick to a trail that I can hardly make out. Their hooves crunch softly into drifted banks of white. In our wake, the punch holes quickly fill again with fresh snowfall.

    Beside sedge and stonewall, lake and hill, we plod on.

    But no sooner are we in sight of Cadair, than the breath of the great king descends. The Brenin Lywdd is on us like a fist. Cold mist smacks out all vision, stinging bare skin, bruising our chests as we struggle to breathe in frozen air.

    A spectral breath and a grey mist descend around us. Strands of icy air slice into eyes and assault nostrils; snowflakes whirl.

    Instantly we are isolated. Total whiteout. I can’t see further than one metre ahead. There just isn’t a path. When I do catch a glimpse of it, there’s a sheer drop: first on the left, then on the right.

    I’m not joking.

    One metre from the trail.

    Sheer drops.

    I actually close my eyes, squeeze them shut. My heart thuds. I feel dizzy. I hang on to Keincaled’s mane, grip it, icicles and all and whisper:

    Oh my God.

     

    I hope you enjoyed that! Watch out for Sarah’s final post where we will be talking about how to deliver a satisfying stand-along ending without a cliff-hanger as such – inside an on-going series – not as easy as it looks!

    See ya there!

     

     

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  • Sarah Mussi's Here be Witches blog tour – Post three

    During my blog tour I am interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

    So here goes …

    Sarah interviews Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

    Sarah

    Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.

    I am going to use Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how to give it a go.

    Sarah

    Okay, I’m going to continue to ask Sarah lots of questions to find out all her writing secrets!

    Q

    For those who are just catching up with your blog tour – can you recap on what Here be Witches is all about?

    A

    Here be Witches is the second story in the series The Snowdonia Chronicles

    THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA

    All Ellie Morgan wants is to be with her one true love, Henry. But she’s caught in the MIDDLE OF A BATTLE as old as SNOWDON itself. A battle between GOOD and EVIL.

    A WITCHES’ SPELL, cast high on the mountain, has sped up time and made matters MUCH WORSE. The dragons are awake and evil creatures have risen.

    And nearly all of them want Ellie DEAD.

    Q

    Now I seem to remember that you promised to tell us then how you dealt with ‘off stage’ scenes and what devices you used to help the reader feel present at the action in Here be Witches?

    A

    Yes I did! Right, I sorted out the problem of Ellie not being present at the initial witches ceremony, by introducing it as a prologue written in the third person. This separated the action in the spell-casting ceremony, from the first person narration of the entire story by Ellie, my chosen point-of-view character. Some writers frown upon the use of prologues, but in YA fiction and often in the fantasy genre the use of a prologue is quite traditional.

    My rule of thumb is if it works use it and don’t be too worried about what so-called ‘wisdom’ says. I particularly liked the use of a witches’ spell-casting scene at the beginning of the story, as I felt it was reminiscent of Macbeth (can’t be a bad thing!) and it also acted as a hook to bring the reader into the story straight away before falling back to tell them what had happened in the previous novel of the series.

    Here is an excerpt. The witches must speed up the passage of time to break the high magic and release the dragons … I even used Macbeth-style poetry for the spell casting!

    As Above

    29th February Leap Year

    At the witching hour upon the eve of St David’s Day

    THE GIRL TURNS HER MASKED FACE TO THE SUMMIT, above her the air shudders. Just seconds left. If only she can time it right. Heart pounding, blood hammering, she poises herself. She pulls out the mirror, angles it, catches the refection of the dark night and the stars.

    I can do this, she tells herself. I am the High Priestess. I am the Supreme One.

    Then she recites aloud:

    ‘Fair is foul – foul is fair –

    By water, fire, earth and air,

    Fair is foul – foul is fair –

    Let those who challenge me, BEWARE –

    Fair is foul – foul is fair –

    FOR I WILL DESTROY THE DRAGONS’ LAIR!’

    Q

    WOW! I can see what you mean by opening with a hook. I certainly want to know what happens next!

    A

    Well I can’t do a spoiler, but I can tell you that in the process of writing the sequel I had to decide about the character cast. I had to decide, should I keep the characters exactly the same as in book one – if not … who should figure in book two and did I need any new characters?

    Q

    So tell me how you decided that?

    A

    Well, the opening of any story must draw the reader into the setting of the story, and reveal the everyday life the hero has been living. This is true of a sequel as well as a standalone story. The only problem is that if my reader has read book one they probably don’t really want to read a repeat of information that they already know. So I had to do find inventive ways of sketching out the setting and the world that my characters lived in for those that hadn’t read book one. However I still had to be sure that I had the main expected cast of characters in the story.

    Q

    So what is the main expected cast of characters in any story?

    A

    I think there is a basic number of characters you cannot really go below: three or four, maybe. There is no upper limit on characters, and there are many archetypes, but the roles of these basic three or four characters needs to be evident in any story. They are:

    The sidekick (George, I thought I would continue his role as sidekick as I thought readers would like to hear more about him.)

    The romance character (that’s the one who everyone wants to love/save – and in this case it is Henry, the Dragon. I thought he better go on through in the series too (!) as definitely everybody would want to hear more about him – especially as he is the one that Ellie wants to be with forever).

    The antagonist (Oswald has always been the major villain of the series, but he needed his own sidekick and supporters).

    Q

    Why do you think Oswald is a good antagonist? Good enough to last throughout the series?

    A

    Well, I think that the strength of a story lies in how much it challenges the protagonist, and therefore any villain who can challenge a dragon has to be more powerful than a dragon! There are very few things that are more powerful than dragons except perhaps bigger dragons. This is why I believe that Oswald is a good antagonist for the series. I also think it is important to make sure that the forces of evil that are challenging the protagonist are always much stronger and more in number. This meant that in book two I needed Oswald to recruit some villains to work with him. When the magic awoke all of the mythological creatures in Snowdonia this gave me a lot of range to decide which ones would work for Oswald and which ones would work against him.

    Q

    Aha! I get it. Clever thinking!

    A

    Mythological characters could work for good or evil, and it was fun deciding which side each creature would join – particularly when it came to the giants!

    Q

    Are there giants in Here be Witches?

    A

    Well, you will have to read the story, but there is a clue in the dedication …

    Dedication

    To IDRIS GAWR, Stargazer, Overlord and Giant of Cadair Idris

    In the land of Merioneth in the parish of Dolgelly in the commote of Talybont is a mount or peak or large high hill that is called Cadair Idris. And on the highest crown of this mountain is a bed-shaped form, great in length and width, built of slabs with stones fixed thereon. And this is called The Bed of Idris. And it is said that of whoever lies and sleeps upon that bed, from sunset until sunrise, one of two things will happen to him: either he will be a hero or poet or bard of the best kind, or descend from that Great Mountain entirely demented.

    From The Giants of Wales and Their Dwellings

    Sion Dafydd Rhys, ca. 1600

    Peniarth Manuscript

    So interesting! Thanks Sarah for sharing that and we will carry on with the Q and A session in your next blog post.

    We read more from Sarah in her next upcoming post – which looks at setting and dilemmas in sequels and how to make them fresh and enticing. 

     

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  • Sarah Mussi's Here be Witches blog tour – post two

    During my blog tour I will be interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

    So here goes…

    Sarah interviews Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

    Sarah

    Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.

    I am using Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how I did it.

    Sarah

    Okay great. I shall be asking you lots of questions … now where did we get to? 

    Sarah

    A.

    We got to the narrative equation and writing a synopsis.

    Q.

    Ah! I remember you were going to share the synopsis of Here be Witches, can you do that now?

    A.

    Well, a synopsis can go on for a bit longer than you might want to post here, and a synopsis for a sequel might have to contain vital exposition from book one … so I’ll just put the beginning of the synopsis for Here be Witches in this blog. The beginning is always the most important bit anyway, as it sets the scene, identifies the genre and whets the appetite (hopefully) for more. So here goes …

    Here be Witches

    Ellie’s heart is broken and there is only one person who can mend it: Henry Pendragon, royal heir and Y Ddraig Goch, Red Dragon of Wales. But Henry can’t help Ellie, for he is badly wounded and entombed under Mount Snowdon, held there by ancient magic along with Sir Oswald, his fiendish uncle, and White Dragon of Wessex.

    Determined to free Henry, Ellie dedicates herself to the task. On the 29th February, an auspicious day in the calendar of dragons, she receives a distressed message from her bestie, Rhiannon, something terrible has happened at Henry’s cavern. Her heart misses a beat. As soon as possible, Ellie sets out for Dinas Emrys where Henry lies imprisoned.

    On her arrival at the lair, Ellie discovers that her friend, and other members of a witches’ coven have performed a sinister ritual on the cliffs above the subterranean cavern, a ceremony designed to break the magic laid upon the dragons and awake them.  

    In horror Ellie hears how the ceremony went terribly wrong. The earth cracked wide, one of the girls slipped into the chasm and was impaled upon two shimmering crystals. With a sound like thunder, the mountain split open and from inside it arose a terrifying white dragon, alive, awake and very angry …

    Q.

    Yes, I see how each paragraph is a scene with some paragraphs acting as exposition too, but I can also see that because you have chosen to have Ellie as the narrator again, you have been unable or chosen not to have her see the witches’ ceremony first hand. Why was that?

    A.

    OK, those are very perceptive questions, and I can’t answer them fully until we have established a few basics. Can I just go back to basics for a minute?

    Q.

    Sure. Go ahead. 

    A.

    Right before we dive into the content and the problems of point of view and the delivery of ‘off stage’ scenes, I’d like to show you how I answered some fundamental narrative questions when planning Here be Witches. They involve looking at:

    What exactly is a narrative?

    What exactly is a plot?

    What exactly is structure?

    Q.

    Why do you need to ask that?

    A.

    It really helps with the planning. Here’s why…

    In a narrative you need at least three things:

    A character, a setting, some events (so in Here be Witches that breakdown runs like this: Ellie lives in Snowdonia and must overcome problems to achieve her goal).

    In a plot we need at least three things

    A character, a goal, a problem (so Ellie’s goal is to be with her true love Henry, but the magic, which has gone wrong, has banished Henry forever from the world).

    For a structure we at least need three things

    A beginning, middle, and an end (therefore Ellie must discover why Henry has been banished and then set out to find a way to reverse the magic and restore Henry to her and finally overcome those who wish to stop her).

    Once you’ve got that in place then you can then decide about narration and point of view and ask yourself, if your lead character/protagonist is really the best person to tell this story and the one most affected by the action in general. If the answer is yes – you can then use additional devices to ‘show’ key ‘off stage’ scenes that are not within the remit of the protagonist’s point of view.

    Only then can you really start to climb the narrative mountain and plan out a totally thrilling story.

    Q.

    OK, but how did you decide Ellie WAS the best character to narrate this story?

    A.

    Well despite the fact that she was the narrator in book one Here be Dragons and there might be readers who are already invested in her story, I had to establish that she was still the best character to continue to tell the story and to do this I had to revisit an important principle – that it’s not what happens in a story, so much as who it happens to that is the most important aspect. Readers live the story through the characters, so they need a really nice/reliable (usually)/interesting and convincing companion to see/live the events through. 

    Q.

    But what makes an interesting, convincing character?

    A.

    Good question! Here’s the way I decide:

    Firstly a character needs characteristics

    A main character should be heroic, and strong (perhaps)? Good-looking (controversial?) Independent? Kind? I try to think of characters I admire in fiction I’ve read and ask myself why do I like them? Then add my answers into the mix when creating my characters.

    I also like to choose a flaw that my protagonist will need to overcome. Flaws make us human and help readers to identify with the character and understand the decisions they make. (My flaw for Ellie is that she is loving out of her element, and it is bringing harm down on those others who love her and on her home.)

    Secondly, a character drives the plot forward

    So a goal is important, as this is the engine of the story. I always choose the person who has the strongest/most interesting/most identifiable with goal to narrate my stories (forbidden love is a V strong goal and has driven many a better narrative than mine!). The character’s desire to achieve their goal drives the action forward, and when the character meets conflict they struggle to overcome it. 

    Note to self pinned on my wall: PROTAGONISTS MUST CONFRONT OVERWHELMING CONFLICT IN THEIR PURSUIT OF SOME VISIBLE GOAL. 

    This is so key because then the plot structure simply follows the sequence of events that lead the hero toward their goal, which mean all the hard work of plotting is done for me! 

    Thirdly, a character with a goal has motivation

    Motivations make the character keep going when things get tough. Though sometimes it is the fear of what will happen if they fail and the stakes that drive them forward.

    Finally, a character needs a background

    Name/age and looks/ family/a place to live – all these things can help to make the story just right for the reader – as I choose a protagonist that might be very like the reader in some of these aspects to create reader identification.

    After thinking about all of these points I decided that Ellie was still the main character and I was going to tell the story from her point of view.

    Q.

    So will you tell us then how you dealt with ‘off stage’ scenes and what devices you used to help the reader feel present at the action? 

    A.

    Yes!

    I’ll do that in my next post!

    So stand by for tomorrow’s blog with tips and tricks for drip-feeding or even elbowing-in all the dreaded EXPOSITION and POV conundrums! 

    SEE YOU THERE!

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  • Sarah Mussi's Here be Witches blog tour – Post one

    I’m totally thrilled to be starting my blog tour for book two in The Snowdonia Chronicles: Here be Witches.

    During the next five days I will be interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

    So here goes …

    Sarah interviews Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

    Sarah

    Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.

    I am going to use Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how to give it a go.

    Sarah

    Okay great. I shall be asking you lots of questions so here we go.

    Q

    What is Here be Witches really about?

    A

    Here be Witches is the second chronicle in the story of Ellie and the mountains of North Wales, its myths and its magic – and how Ellie is ready to do anything for love!

    In fact here’s a sneak preview of the back cover…

    Here be Witches

    All Ellie Morgan wants is to be with her one true love, Henry. But she’s caught in the MIDDLE OF A BATTLE as old as SNOWDON itself. A battle between GOOD and EVIL.

    A WITCHES’ SPELL, cast high on the mountain, has sped up time and made matters MUCH WORSE. The dragons are awake; mythical creatures and evil ghosts have risen.

    And nearly all of them want Ellie DEAD.

    Thank heavens for loyal friend George, disloyal bestie Rhi, and mysterious stranger, Davey. Armed with Granny Jones’s potions, Ellie and her companions must set out on a journey to REVERSE THE SPELL, stop the EVIL White Dragon and find Henry.

    As an eternal winter tightens its grip on Snowdon, Ellie and her friends have only THREE DAYS to SURVIVE and complete their quest.

    THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA

    Q

    So Sarah how did you set out to write this sequel to Here be Dragons? Was it difficult? And is it true that the second book in a series or a trilogy is always the hardest? If so why?

    A.

    Yes, I think writing a sequel to any book is always hard. This is because even though you have your cast of characters well established in your mind, you struggle to find fresh, new and interesting ways to introduce them to the reader. In addition to that, there is the problem of how you let the readers know the story so far. You could employ many interesting ways to bring the reader up to speed (if they somehow have not managed to read book one or received the books in the wrong order). But exposition is always tricky, as it weighs like dead matter on the storyline. It’s not something you really want to have to dump in the text at the start of a story. This in itself makes writing sequels a challenge. Here are some ways you could try: there is the old trick of having your protagonist tell a friend about their previous adventures. Then there is the cunning ploy of introducing the arrival of a stranger who needs to know the full story. In Here be Witches I bring the reader up to date firstly through an imaginary conversation that Ellie has with her mum (who is ignorant of the adventures in book one) and finish the update later on through the ‘arrival of the stranger’ trope. Here is an extract from the start of Here be Witches on exactly how I constructed that first important expositional update.

    Excerpt

    Focus on what to tell Mum. Currently, she doesn’t know anything at all about Henry. Plus she is sound asleep.

    Hmmm.

    But how to tell?

    I imagine a wake-up scene in my head:

    ME:                 OK, (clears imaginary throat) I’m going out, mostly because of something that started last Christmas.

    MUM:            Huh?

    ME:                 You see, I met this boy, but I never told you about him.

    MUM:            Huh?

    ME:                 And it’s a long story, but the short version is: he is a dragon.

    MUM:            Ellie, if he’s not very nice, are you sure you should keep on seeing him?

    ME:                 I’m not ‘seeing him’, and he is very nice. I mean he really is a dragon – you know fire and wings – not bad tempered or whatever.

    MUM:            OOooooh – kaaay.

    ME:                 So I have to go out to check he’s locked up in his cave.

    MUM:            All right darling. That’s just fine. A pitch-dark freezing night is a fabulous time to go on a date/visit an inmate/check your pet monster is under control. Off you go. By the way, my first boyfriend was a three-headed griffin with bad breath. Have fun!

    Short and snappy? Fun to read (hopefully)? Information delivered!

    Q

    Wow –that’s cool! That didn’t bog the storyline down at all. In fact it was quite entertaining. Well done! So what else did you have to consider in writing Here be Witches?

    A

    Well, once the reader was up to speed, and a dilemma had been introduced, then the story was ready to get going. Although it was important for me to base the background of book two, Here be Witches, on the established world I’d created in Here be Dragons, a new adventure was needed and a new dilemma or threat posed. However Ellie’s goal (to be with her one true love) needed to remain as an overarching goal – and I needed to introduce a unique interim story goal for book two. Then obviously obstacles to that goal would need to be introduced (that were thrilling) with clever solutions (that were compelling to read).

    Q

    I see. So how exactly did you create a new exciting dilemma for Here be Witches and retain the old goals of your protagonist?

    A

    This is what I had to remind myself of in starting my sequel in Here be Witches.

    The story equation:

    CHARACTER + GOAL – PROBLEMS + SOLUTIONS = NARRATIVE

    Example from FINDING NEMO:

    A clown fish named Marlin lives in the Great Barrier Reef loses his son, Nemo. After he ventures into the open sea, despite his father's constant warnings about many of the ocean's dangers. Nemo is abducted by a boat and netted up and sent to a dentist's office in Sydney. So, while Marlin ventures off to try to retrieve Nemo, Marlin meets a fish named Dory, a blue tang suffering from short-term memory loss. The companions travel a great distance, encountering various dangerous sea creatures such as sharks, anglerfish and jellyfish, in order to rescue Nemo from the dentist's office, which is situated by Sydney Harbor. While the two are doing this, Nemo and the other sea animals in the dentist's fish tank plot a way to return to Sydney Harbor to live their lives free again.

    - Written by Anonymous

    CHARACTER (Marlin) + GOAL (Find Nemo) – PROBLEMS (sharks etc ) + SOLUTIONS (run/escape/make allies etc) = NARRATIVE

    Q

    This is really exciting – can you share your story synopsis for Here be Witches and tell us how you implemented it?

    A

    Yes I can but this blog post is going on for too long now so watch out for the next one, blog post two, tomorrow!

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  • Author interview: Sarah Mussi, Here be Witches

    Ahead of the launch of Here be Witches, we caught up with Sarah Mussi to talk about the latest instalment in the Snowdonia Chronicles series.

     

    1. Was there any such thing as a good witch in Welsh mythology or were powerful female figures usually treated with suspicion? Was it fun to write about two strong female characters leading the battles for good and evil?

    Interestingly in Wales witches were treated a lot less harshly than in the rest of the UK, and in certain places they were revered and honoured as wise women. Wizards too enjoyed the same good press! It seems that in Welsh mythology in the Mabinogion bad witches were relegated to beyond the Breacon Beacons to Gloucestershire! The Mabinogion has a number of sorceresses and women with great power like the Lady of the Lake and Blodeuwedd most of them are beautiful and kind but with a deceptive or dangerous streak especially when wronged! However in all mythologies there are wicked witches and Wales in that respect has some too – especially in local legends.

    It was wonderful to write about two strong female figure battling for good and evil – and I loved writing into the story the female wise mother archetype: Granny Jones too!

     

    2. The series draws on a certain traditional fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Other recent teen books (such as the Twilight series) have similar themes; did you set out to put your own spin on a traditional love story?

    WOW – I didn’t really think about Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve when I conceived The Snowdonia Chronicles and to be honest I’m not sure that The Snowdonia Chronicles really draws that heavily on the tale of Beauty and the Beast – even though there is certainly a beauty (who is very practical and not obsessed by self at all) and a beast – albeit a very noble and majestic one and not at all ugly. Rather than chose the boy next door and be satisfied with living on beautiful Snowdon, Ellie hankers for adventure, fantasy, something different, exotic and entirely her own. 

    3. Through all the epic drama, Ellie and the gang always maintain a sense of humour, which we think will really appeal to readers. Did you watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on repeat before you started writing?

    Haha! No I didn’t watch Monty Python on repeat at all – but I LOVE dry British humour and listen to the various Radio 4 comical shows at 6.30 every day!

    4. In Here be Witches you pack in a smorgasbord of characters from Welsh mythology. Do you have a favourite? We like the Knockers best!

    Yes I really wanted Here be Witches to introduce the reader to some of the great mythologies of Wales. I loved writing the sections with the Knockers, but my favourite mythological character is the giant Idris Gawr. I adored thinking of him up atop Cadair lying on his lonely bed. In fact I climbed up Cadair with my sister to be sure of the location and was very tempted to spend the night up there to see if the myth was true and anything could improve my poetry!

    5. Rhiannon plays a much more important role in this book. She’s quite a complex character and she’s certainly not always to be trusted. Do you like her and is she anything like her counterpart from Welsh mythology?

    Yes, Rhi definitely develops in this story and hopefully starts growing up. She was always a kind and loving girl, but her adventures in Here be Witches teach her to become more aware, less self-centred and more thoughtful – and she definitely needs to for her role in Book Three Here be Wizards when she will have to face some very scary truths!

    In the Mabinogion as Miranda Jane Green says Rhiannon draws in the international folklore motif of the calumniated wife: "Rhiannon conforms to two archetypes of myth ... a gracious, bountiful queen-goddess; and ... the 'wronged wife', falsely accused of killing her son." In The Snowdonia Chronicles – Rhi is gracious and beautiful and rich - living in the equivalent of a palace – her Dad’s hotel. Like the Rhiannon in the Mabinogion she sets her sights on a lover that was not meant for her (George) but unlike her mythical counterpart she never really gets him. In Here be Witches Rhi is wronged and tricked, but she invites that because of her misplaced affections for George – so, yes, there are similarities.

    6. Finally, can you give us some exclusive insider info on what’s in store for Ellie and the gang in Here be Witches?

    Well … I’ve mentioned giants and Cadair Idris and a misled Rhiannon … but the real insider info is the witches’ spell that wakes up the old magic and with it Ellie’s old enemy Oswald! Ellie and the gang have got to find a way to break the spell and SURVIVE – and that involves being chased by weird wolves, attacked by a subterranean, underwater monster, the Afanc, and dealing with a magical mirror that cannot be trusted!

    BEWARE when you start reading Here be Witches … it is not for the faint hearted!

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