Bracketology for Story Plotting?

Well, I certainly didn’t expect this! But it just might work, if you’ve got the mindset to pull it off:

Brackets in sports are used to match up opponents, and then show how the winners from those matchups go on to compete in turn.

The simplest kind of story to use this pattern would involve different characters who were each out to kill the others, ruin them, best them in a competition, or otherwise force them out of the plot.

Little Folk and Zoning: Not Just in Iceland

From New England Folklore:

In September of 2012, a developer trying to build housing in Montville, Connecticut received some surprising news during a town hearing. They would need to alter their project because it threatened small stone structures that had been made by magical, dwarf-like creatures that lived underground.

Readers may be familiar with situations like this from Iceland, where construction projects are not allowed to harm the dwelling places of elves. But they are rare here in New England, where most people don’t believe in fairies, elves, and dwarves. (Bigfoot, ghosts, and UFOs are another story…)

However, magical little people are an ancient tradition among the Algonquian tribes that are native to this area, and the developer was planning to build 120 units of housing on Mohegan Hill, which is the historic and spiritual home of the sovereign Mohegan Tribe. Although the hill is not technically within the boundaries of the tribe’s reservation, it is still very important to them.

There follows an excellent introduction to the Makiawisug, the Fair Folk of the Algonquian traditions of New England.

500 New Fairy Tales Discovered

Please hurry, English translators!

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.

Outlining till It Hurts

While I’m waiting for The Devil’s Due to come back from my beta readers, I’m trying not to jump ahead and start working on the things I’m fairly certain they’re going to tell me about where the story could use some work. But I am filing away this nice piece of advice from Charlie Jane Anders about getting rid of the extraneous verbiage and making one thing flows from another in a logical manner.

Are you ready? Here’s the surefire advice for cutting without hitting muscle or bone: outlining. Specifically, keep outlining until it hurts. Outline things you’ve already rewritten a ton. Outline backwards. Do micro-outlines of every scene that’s not working.

The magic of outlining something you’ve already written and rewritten is, you can see where the actual beats are, and get a rough sense of just how much space each of the beats needs to have. (Not that pacing is an exact science, of course. Quite the reverse.) Outlining and re-outlining lets you see where you might have jumped a groove or had someone behave illogically, and also where you’re repeating steps.

And outlining backwards is magic. Start with the end, and then put “because” after that, and keep going back. This happens because this happens, because that other thing happens, and so on, back to the beginning. If you can’t stick a “because” between two things that are supposedly causally linked, that’s a bad sign.

Kowi Anukasha: Choctaw Forest Folk

Alfred Boisseau, "A Choctaw Man in Louisiana," 1844–48

Alfred Boisseau, “A Choctaw Man in Louisiana,” 1844–48

Kowi Anukasha (also kówi anúkvsha, kwanokasha) are the little people Choctaw folklore. Their name literally means “forest dwellers.” They have powerful magic and can be very dangerous, although they are more often mischievous than malicious. They are often equated with another Choctaw figure, Bohpoli or “Thrower.” These beings were never seen by the common Choctaws, only the prophets and herb doctors. These reported that the kowi anukasha assisted them in the manufacture of their medicines. Some stories even give the account that Bohpoli would “steal” little young boys (from two to four years old) and take them into the woods, to teach them about herbs and medicines. The initiation follows a distinctive pattern:

When the little one is well out of sight from his home, “Kwanokasha,” who is always on watch, seizes the boy and takes him away to his cave, his dwelling place…. When they finally reach the cave Kwanokasha takes him inside where he is met by three other spirits, all very old with long white hair. The first one offers the boy a knife; the second one offers him a bunch of poisonous herbs; the third offers  a bunch of herbs yielding good medicine. If the child accepts the knife, he is certain to become a bad man and may even kill his friends. If he accepts the poisonous herbs he will never be able to cure or help his people. But, if he accepts the good herbs, he is destined to become a great doctor and an important and influential man of his tribe and win the confidence of all his people. When he accepts the good herbs the three old spirits will tell him the secrets of making medicines from herbs, roots and barks from certain trees, and of treating and curing various fevers, pains, and other sickness.

A Muskogee equivalent is called este fasta or fastachee, guardian spirits associated with Seminole shamanic practices, providing the medicines contained in a medicine bundle and acting as intermediaries between the Creator and the people. They are said to provide both corn and medicine.

Trinity Syndrome, or: What Was I Thinking, Writing a Female Protagonist??

Tasha Robinson laments the loss of many Strong Female Characters (a term she acknowledges is “more a marketing term than a meaningful goal”) to what she calls Trinity Syndrome:

For the ordinary dude to be triumphant, the Strong Female Character has to entirely disappear into Subservient Trophy Character mode. This is Trinity Syndrome à la The Matrix: the hugely capable woman who never once becomes as independent, significant, and exciting as she is in her introductory scene.

I’ll be the first to admit I have a lot to learn about writing female characters—which is kind of sad, since Children of Pride and its coming sequel, The Devil’s Due, are chock-full of them! Readers can decide if I’ve written “strong” female characters. Following the checklist Tasha provided, I’m at least on the right track. At any rate, I’m at least fairly sure I’ve written interesting female (and male) characters: motivated, complex, fallible, and, on some level, familiar.

The concluding paragraph is an excellent diagnostic:

So maybe all the questions can boil down to this: Looking at a so-called Strong Female Character, would you—the writer, the director, the actor, the viewer—want to be her? Not want to prove you’re better than her, or to have her praise you or acknowledge your superiority. Action movies are all about wish-fulfillment. Does she fulfill any wishes for herself, rather than for other characters? When female characters are routinely “strong” enough to manage that, maybe they’ll make the “Strong Female Characters” term meaningful enough that it isn’t so often said sarcastically.