Idea vs. Concept vs. Premise

I finished my second novel! Woohoo!

In celebration, I’m going to blab about the idea that started this whole project, which is not the same as the concept or premise – writing terms that can be as confusing as %#$@.

Once upon a time, in a small-city in Kentucky that no one has heard of, a young woman was researching for another story that she finished but has never been sold. (It did win an Honorable Mention in the WOTF contest though, so there.)

Seth

She was researching about, SURPRISE, Ancient Egypt! While doing so, she stumbled across a little dollop about the god Set in a book called ‘Egyptian Mythology’ by Geraldine Pinch. (I’m summarizing here.)

Set/Seth was red-headed. (Picture doesn’t show that, I know.)

Ancient Egyptian’s with red hair, of which the most famous example is Ramses II, were called ‘Children of Set’. Left handed red heads were especially considered of the god.

Somewhere, in that strange place in my brain, (you take two steps to the left and spin around til your sick, and you’re there,) this popped out. ‘A redhead in Ancient Egypt. Coooool.’

That’s an idea.

Simple.

Then, sometime later, probably in the shower (cause that’s when ideas happen, right?), it blossomed into this: a red head who really is Set’s child.

That’s a concept. Little fancier, got some meat, but no driving conflict element, right?

I could write a scene of a redhead wandering around in Ancient Egypt, but if she doesn’t have some sort of problem, then that’s all it is. *yawn*

Then, like magic, the premise came out of nowhere. I had a story.

An Ancient Egyptian redheaded girl, the bastard daughter of troubled War God Set, was born to save occupied Egypt, but doesn’t want to.

Set needs redemption, damn it, and Fourth’s gonna do it or die.

That’s a premise.

Why? Conflict is visible in it. HIGHLY visible in this case, because she ‘doesn’t want to’. (Might as well wave a red cape in your face.) No conflict, then no premise, then no real story. Princess on rug

Now, that doesn’t mean that my pacing is right or the conflict is strong enough, but hey. Who’s perfect? (My cat, that’s who. Look at that whiskery face! Nobody loves your cat like you do, Katie…)

Let’s do somebody else’s novel, a really successful one.

The Shining, Stephen King.

Idea: evil hotel.

Concept: Little boy with psychic powers lives in evil hotel.

Premise: Evil hotel wants to eat little boy with psychic powers, in order to grow stronger.

Pretty simple breakdown for a long scary book, but that’s it.

Does your story have an idea/concept/premise breakdown?

This stuff is not easy. If you can’t clearly set down a premise, then you might have an issue, either over-plotting or no real plot at all. (I hope not. Nothing more brutal to discover than that second one.)

That’s all! I’ve got a new idea bubbling, which has absolutely nothing to with Ancient Egypt. A story that arrived like the VOICE OF GOD. My favorite kind.

Go write! Here’s a really good article about idea/concept/premise. It’s free! Love free.

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‘Moneyball’ movie and the Hero’s Journey

*WARNING* Movie Spoilers ahead

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My husband and I were discussing the movie ‘Moneyball’ recently.  If you’ve never seen this flick, go out and rent it, cause it’s great. Prepare to be entertained.

‘Moneyball’ takes two really boring things – math and *ahem* baseball – and spins them into this story that you can’t stop watching. Oscar nominations and whatever.

Why? How? Is it because it’s about baseball? (My husband.) Brad Pitt? (Umm, duh, of course it’s because of Brad Pitt!) Just general awesomeness?

If any of these was your guess, then I’m about to tell you that you are WRONG. EHHH. (There’s no crying in baseball!)

The answer to this movie’s greatness, friends, is a little thing called the Hero’s Journey. The most famous example of a movie/story that uses this plot device is Star Wars. Most any genre (fantasy, sci-fi, so on) fiction will follow this basic ‘mythologic’ plot line, including my own novels.

As a budding (ie: struggling, frustrated, neurotic) writer, I’ve studied this plot principle. Anyone who writes fiction should study the Hero’s Journey, because it WILL help you create a better story. Should be on the ‘Writer’s Requirements’ list.

Moneyball is the perfect example of a non-genre fiction story that uses the Hero’s Journey, and living proof that the oldest tropes are the best tropes. The movie’s plot follows the Hero’s Journey TO A TEE.

And here, my proof: (warning, beginning of plot spoiler. As in, the entire movie broken out for you, according to the Hero’s Journey plot points.)

  1. The Ordinary World: Our fabulously handsome, always eating hero, Billy Beane, is introduced. He’s just trying to do his job managing the Oakland A’s in the good old game of baseball.
  2. The Call to Adventure: The Hero’s team loses it’s best players, and it’s revealed he’s divorced but really cares about his daughter. He’s also a failed ball player himself. On top of all this sympathy-building-sadness, his team also possesses the smallest budget in the league, which makes his job so much harder. He needs to do something about this situation.
  3. Refusal of the Call: Our hero is unhappy with the way things are going, but doesn’t know what to do, he’s blocked on all fronts, so he does business-as-usual.
  4. Meeting with the Mentor: Here it breaks with the old trope a bit – instead of meeting our ancient-Yoda-character, full of wisdom, we meet a very young Jonah Hill. Jonah provides the hero with a radical new way of thinking, thanks to his awesome college education and crazy smarts – apply statistics to baseball! This magic potion is called ‘Moneyball’.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: Our Hero decides to apply the Mentor’s new idea, Moneyball, to his team, breaking with a tradition that is over 100 years old. (Movie even demonstrates this oldness, to emphasize how radical it is.) End Act One.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The recruiters are dead-set against it, the players he recruits aren’t sure about it, and the concrete enemy, the team manager, tries to thwart him left and right. Some of the players become his allies, but the Mentor Jonah Hill remains his ultimate ally.
  7. Approach: They prepare to bring their assault on the world of baseball, and all its tradition and superstition.
  8.  The Ordeal: Things just aren’t going well. People aren’t doing what the Hero wants – baseball players are being ornery, team manager won’t play the guys he wants him to, the team owner, fans (and those obnoxious radio hosts), are questioning the Hero’s decision to use Moneyball. Even his daughter is concerned. Our Hero has his moment of doubt, but takes a risky, daring action that could get him fired to ensure his new method is applied. End Act Two.
  9. The Reward: Things begin to go right. The A’s win more games in a row than has been done in decades, beating old, old records. Fans believe, the owner believes, even the Team Manager believes. The Hero Billy Beane is vindicated.
  10. The Road Back: Then, just when everything is peachy, a moment of doubt. In the Hero’s Journey, its typical for there to be a chase scene here, and Moneyball doesn’t fail – the Hero races back to a game, only to see the game go from an 11 hit lead, to tied up. Danger! End Act Three.
  11. The Resurrection: Just when all seems lost, that the A’s will lose the game, the Hero walks away, sacrificing his viewing of the game. It works – one of his ‘radical choice’ players hits a h0me run, bottom of the 9th, and the A’s win, tieing the all-time winning record. All earlier conflicts are pretty much resolved by this point – daughter issues fixed, conflict within the team over, proving Moneyball works.
  12. Return with the Elixir: Our hero has had his moments of doubt and challenge, but in the end, because of his daring, he is offered a dream job managing the Red Sox, for major buku bucks. He refuses this offer, wanting to stay in California, but he feels complete – he’s changed the game. Moneyball is a success, and even though it’s hard ‘not to romanticize baseball’, the world of baseball will never be the same.

Voila.

Not baseball, not Brad Pitt.

The Hero’s Journey, and it ain’t even fantasy. Now study and apply, writers!

Best Ancient Egyptian Historical Fiction Authors

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I’ve begun reading ‘The Seventh Scroll‘ by Wilbur Smith, which will be my 44th book of fiction involving Ancient Egypt in some way. OMG, yes?

Having read so many books about the place clearly makes me an expert in good vs. not-so-good Ancient Egyptian fiction. The field of authors whose work is set in Ancient Egypt is not a crowded one. I’m running out of books to read set in the time period! (Which is part of why I started writing my own, cause I have to feed the need.) Some major titles are still missing from my ‘Read’ list, such as Agatha Christie’s ‘Death Comes as the End’ and Mika Waltari’s ‘The Egyptian.’

Anyway, without further blabbing, here is my non-scientific, vaunted opinion on the  top two writers who’ve wasted time make-believing they’re somebody else in the Two Lands.

#1 Pauline Gedge

This Canadian author is the best writer of Ancient Egyptian Historical fiction. Period. Start with either ‘Child of the Morning‘ or ‘Scroll of Saqqara.’ If you can find them. For reasons mysterious, her work is quite difficult to come by in physical form, though many of them are now available as eBooks.

No one brings to life the Land of the Pharaohs in a historically accurate way (although as research continues, her novels are becoming dated) like she does. If you are an Egyptian obsess, then you need to read her.

#2 Wilbur Smith

Whaaaaat? What about Christian Jacq? Or, umm, Michelle Moran? Judith Tarr? Don’t get me wrong, those writers are good too (and my arrogant opinion places them in order of #3, #4, and #5), but Wilbur beats them. While Gedge writes true historical fiction, Wilbur Smith brings the Thriller novel to Ancient Egypt. His work (there are four set in Egypt) is NOT historically accurate, ie it’s completely made up. But they are so much fun!

River God‘ is excellent, and so is ‘Warlock‘. (I’ve actually read the latter one before, many years ago, though my Goodreads says I haven’t. Lies!)

There you have it. Now, go read.

Equality and Ancient Egypt

After finishing ‘The Woman Who Would Be King,’ by Kara Cooney, I’ve been thinking about how difficult and horrifying living in the past was. Of course, the ancient peoples couldn’t possibly understand how awful things were, they didn’t have modern medicine and science and the internet to look it all up and harass their doctors with.

The Ancient Egypt of Satset and Iusen is an Ancient Egypt that never really was.

Why? In Set’s Daughter, magic of all sorts is available to cure problems both serious and minor. For example, Satset has a lice infestation at the beginning of Dancer. Instead of having to shave her head (and then keep her head shaved) like a real Egyptian, a sorcerer simply banishes the bug. She will never have them again, too. All wealthy Egyptians in this world possess anti-parasite spells. Spells that dull pain, spells that heal wounds to the point there are no trace of scars… Some of this is better than what we get!

In college I studied the Dismal Science, Economics. Which is why my thoughts led me in my next direction – did the addition of magic raise or lower the living standards of these people?

The power to get rid of parasites is a huge plus, and would raise the standard of living. However, you have to be able to afford this spell. Satset, as the unwanted fourth daughter of a serf, most certainly couldn’t afford such a thing. She gets the treatment because she’s gifted. Satset is a serious social climber! Born to nothing, her talent with magic allows her to become a useful member of the court of Kamose.

So, magic allows my Ancient Egyptians to live long, healthy lives. It also allows those who are truly gifted to ascend the social later and achieve great things. Positives.

But you have to be able to afford it, because a sorcerer charges large sums for his or her talent. (Ankhmin charged someone a years worth of income for a death curse, for example.) A huge negative. Satset doesn’t give away her spells for free, and she came from poverty.

Overall, I think it’s to the benefit of all people, lowering the inequality between King, noble, serf and slave. Even a Pharaoh gives a great sorcerer respect – no one messes with Ankhmin, and they give Satset a wide berth too. Hard to be an absolute dictator in a situation like that, unless you are both King and magician.

It would be interesting to know the Gini coefficient for Ancient Egypt. Would need to know the distribution of wealth, the GNP, etc. When I have the time!

The Kushite Goldmines

So, I’ve made an error. I just started reading The Woman Who Would Be King, by Kara Cooney. A number of maps of Ancient Egypt are displayed at the beginning. As I perused these, I noticed something.

In the second of the novels I’m working on, Chantress of Amun, a good 15 chapters are devoted to Pharaoh Kamose’s retaking of the old Egyptian forts in Nubia, down to Buhen, including the Kushite goldmines, something of which he really did.

These goldmines were very important to the later wealth and power of the Egyptian Empire, and were important to the Dynasties before, too. Kamose took these with lightning speed, after they’d been in possession of the Kerman kingdom for over 100 years. I’m filling in the blanks as to how he did it (a young woman with some serious magic skill).

Here’s my problem – I’ve got the mines on the wrong side of the Nile. Right now, I’ve set them on the western bank, when in reality they are on eastern, close to where the Nile swings south again. OMG, OMGeeeeeee. Or, Set’s Balls! as Iusen would say.

Fortunately, I’ve got my other details right, all I have to do is reverse the mirror image. For example, in a scene where Iusen and Satset are staring down at Fort Ikkur, the Nile should be on their left, not their right as I currently have it. But Kamose almost certainly would’ve taken Ikkur first, not Kuban, so my flow of events is still correct. Phew.

I should’ve caught this – part of the Theban family’s advantage over the Hyksos was their control of the western desert routes, which Kamose and crew follow down to Ikkur. (Iusen uses these roads too, to get back and forth from the Delta.)

The moral is this – never stop researching, even when you’re 3/4’s of the way through writing the book.

First post!

Ugh. Figuring this blog website thing out is a pain in my tushy…

Anyway, welcome to my blog. ‘Daughter of Set’ refers to a series of novels I’m working on (a trilogy, actually, following the three Pharaoh’s that repelled the Hyksos out of Egypt, end of the  second intermediary period.) More interestingly, ‘Daughter of the God’ is the Ancient Egyptian way of referring to a princess. Take note of the implications here, please. I AM a princess. You may kiss my hand, and then my foot. If I’m in the mood.

I’m a nerd. How nerdy? I’m obsessed with Ancient Egypt. So obsessed I’ve started writing fiction in the time period! (That’s about as bad as it gets.) I’ve read many novels set in Ancient Egypt (there aren’t that many, especially not professionally published ones, compared to Viking/Roman/European-era set novels. To make it worse, most Ancient Egyptian era novels are actually set in Ptolemaic Egypt, which is the late-Greek/Roman era, ala Cleopatra, and not all that Egyptian at all.) I started running out of new novels (read: fed up), so my solution was to write my own. Only I took it a step further – as a true nerd, I love fantasy, too. So, why not combine the best of both worlds? Thus, ‘Daughter of Set’ was born.

This blog will really be a discussion on the writing of a historical novel, which is another way to say ‘a lot of hard work’. Fun work. So, not really work. 😀