Tuesday, February 4, 2014

24 How To Start a Kickass Series Plus a DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE Photo Tour and Signed Trilogy Giveaway


I'm going to interrupt this craft post with a giveaway! I hope you don't mind. Also, it's going to be a bit lighter on craft than usual, but I'll finish it with some critical points about how a master storyteller sets things off to create a compelling read.

Since this is COMPULSION's (formerly BEHOLDEN's) debut year, I'm celebrating by giving away a signed book or series I love every month on my personal Tumblr. (You'll be able to get the links here on Adventures as well.) This month, because DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS, the third book in Laini Taylor's DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series, will be out April 8th, I'm going to give away the whole set to one lucky winner. And even better, I'm sending away to have all three books signed. (The winner may just need to be a little patient.)

To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. The giveaway is International. And I'm going to be doing a DoSaB photo tour, posting relevant pictures of Prague and quotes from Laini's fabulous books all through the month. You can enter again with each post to increase your chances of winning.

But today is a Craft of Writing day here on Adventures, and honestly DoSaB is the perfect book to use in establishing how to build a compelling sense of movement, character, mood, and setting into the first few pages of a novel. Jan Lewis already used Laini's opening as an example in her post on Imagery, Intrigue, and Danger in Novel Openings, and I've used DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT in a post on Inspired Openings, among other things. Here, I'll skip over all that, and the wonderful way Laini uses the camera lens of POV to close in or zoom out, and I'll concentrate on how she sets the stage for the action that is coming.

From the first lines of DoSaB, you know you are in for a magical ride in a magical place. 


"Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark--in the dead of winter the sound didn't rise until eight--but it was also lovely. The falling snow and the early hour conspired to paint Prague ghostly, like a tintype photograph, all silver and haze."

Those lines give you everything. Character. Voice. Setting. A hint of danger. It's a wonderful beginning, isn't it? And I can tell you that the setting is dead on as well.

The light in Prague often looks ghostly, which is fitting, because the whole city swirls with history, and it's haunted by the ghosts of saints, and sins, and sudden shifts of fortune. Which suits DoSaB better than any place I could imagine.

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I know Prague well because I was born there. My family and I lived there until my mother and stepfather escaped the Soviet occupation and eventually settled in the United States. My parents have since gotten back property there, so I have been back frequently to visit. Not only do I have cousins, aunts, and uncles who never left Prague, but my father and my stepmother escaped to Sweden some years after I left, and then recently moved back to the Czech Republic. Because of the odd way that things happened, I ended up with half-sisters I never met until we were all adults. Oddly, they are more like me than the sister with whom I grew up. We like the same foods, the same movies, and even the same books. When I went back for Christmas this year, I thought it would be fun to do a DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE scavenger hunt, searching out the places mentioned in the books and in the recent novella, NIGHT OF CAKE AND PUPPETS.

My sisters hadn't read the books yet, but I knew it would make the perfect gift. So imagine my surprise when I showed up and this is what my niece looked like:

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Note the blue hair, right? And she hadn't read the books yet either. :) In fact, she hadn't heard of the books yet, but the moment I described scuppies and crannies, and Karou and Akiva, and Zuzana and Mik, she was sold. It was a blast getting to share DoSaB with my family. But it was even more fun to discover new things about my family because of DoSaB.

When I got home to the States, Laini Taylor sent me an email question about the use of family names. I confirmed that Czech women still use the patronymic (ova) at the end of the name, and that also becomes the family name, but that not all Czechs are doing that anymore. My sister Sabina, for example, uses Dr. Abbrent--my father's name without the patronymic--as her name. Because of that, I somehow never processed her ex-husband's name, and I didn't realize until she emailed me that my niece's last name is Novakova, the same as Laini's character Zuzana. (I also have a cousin named Zuzana.)

We don't meet the Zuzana character in DoSaB for a bit (I'm not going to include direct quotes for her in this post), but she's another reason why Laini Taylor's opening is so brilliant. Zuzana is feisty, ascorbic, funny, and intensely loyal to Karou. She shows us the human side of Karou, and allows us to feel the otherness as we begin to grasp the magical side of Karou's world. Most importantly, her presence and friendship lets us see how between worlds Karou is when the story opens.

Laini sets us up to grasp that by foreshadowing it in the setting as well. Having already given us Karou's loneliness, her lack of something, in the first paragraphs, Laini sets us up for her "between two worlds" starting place by echoing it in the setting. 

On the riverfront thoroughfare, trams and buses roared past, grounding the day in the twenty-first century, but on the quieter lanes, the wintry peace might have hailed from another time. Snow and stone and ghost light, Karou's own footsteps and the feather of steam from her coffee mug, and she was alone and adrift in mundane thoughts: school, errands. The occasional cheek-chew of bitterness when a pang of heartache intruded, as pangs of heartache will, but she pushed them aside, resolute, ready to be done with that.


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modern world



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world within a world


You see? Laini paints the descriptions of Prague with the brush of Karou's aching vulnerability. But she doesn't wallow there. Instead, she immediately sets Karou into heroic motion by introducing beautiful, narcissistic Kaz and having Karou fight her own loneliness to resist him.

"Shut up," she hissed, coming to a halt in the middle of Maltese Square. God, she thought. How stupid had she been to fall for this petty, pretty street actor, dress up for him and give him memories like that? Exquisitely stupid.

Lonely stupid.

Kaz lifted his hand to brush a snowflake from her eyelashes. She said, "Touch me and you'll get this coffee in your face."

Not a word is wasted. Laini has already sets us up with the essential mixture of Prague's old world beauty and tangled streets punctuated by trolleys and buses and tourists. She doesn't need to spend time describing Maltese Square, and she plunges us straight into the story instead. That's fabulous. It's enough.

Since Maltese Square happens to be one of my favorite places in Prague, though, I'm going to pause the lesson here to add a few tidbits from the photo tour for anyone who is interested. (Feel free to skip down, if you are only about the craft.) 


The statue grouping of St. John the Baptist in the photo above used to be part of a fountain dedicated to the patron saint of the Knights of Malta after a plague outbreak in the early 18th century. The Knights used to own much of the square, including the Priory they occupied since the 12th century and what's now known as the Lennon Wall.

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They recently received the property back in the restoration following the fall of communism. The Maltese Embassy is here now as well.

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There are a number of great restaurants on Maltese Square, including one of my favorite restaurants in all of Prague. (No, it's not one of the posh, elegant places. It's the Konirna, which used to be a stable. It has great food, and horseshoes and photos of horses on the wall, and let's face it, I feel right at home in a barn.)
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Also on Maltese Square are a number of wonderful Baroque palaces and buildings, including the old Nostitz Palace, which now houses the Czech Ministry of Culture, and the beautiful pink Rococo Palace of the Turbes that serves as the Japanese Embassy.

It could be one of these, or any number of the other beautiful Baroque buildings in Prague that served as the inspiration for Karou's Art Lyceum of Prague. There are many art schools throughout Prague, many in private buildings.

The were just a few doors down from her school now. The Art Lyceum of Bohemia was a private high school housed in a pink Baroque palace where famously, during the Nazi occupation, two young Czech nationalists had slit the throat of a Gestapo commander and scrawled Liberty with his blood. A brief, brave rebellion before they were captured and impaled upon the finials of the courtyard gate. 

I'll let you speculate on and go digging for the various incidents that Laini might have borrowed from for that snippet, if you're so inclined. But note that in addition to building on the beauty of Prague, she's already hinting at the darkness. The resistance. The rebellion. The loss and sacrifice. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you start an epic series. 
  • Use the setting to paint the character's wound to begin the series arc.
  • Foreshadow danger coming.
  • Foreshadow the series arc.
  • Begin with the character in motion.
  • Begin with the character's emotion.
  • Add humor and fabulous writing.
  • Sprinkle in a bit of magic.
Got all that? Good. Easier said than done though. I'd kill to be able to nail Laini's particular recipe. But I'll keep working and maybe in a few dozen books I'll figure out more precisely how she did it.

In the meantime, I'm participating in the DoSaB reread on Goodreads, in case you'd like to join in. I can't recommend it enough as a lesson in craft, as an example of beautiful writing, and as an example of a book that's hard to put down.

If you're interested in seeing additional pictures of the places mentioned in DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE and NIGHT OF CAKE AND PUPPETS, I'm going to keep adding to the photo tour throughout the month. You can always check the DoSaB Giveaway link on the sidebar of my tumbler (http://martinaboone.tumblr.com) to see all the stops on the tour and find additional places to enter the giveaway.

In the meantime, whether you're new to DoSaB or re-reading it along with us, enjoy! And good luck in the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

24 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful post!!

    LOVE the photos and the tour, and how you talk about your family and your history.

    Thank you for creating a craft post that's both perfect for writing and also beautiful and informative :)

    Thank you for the giveaway!

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    1. Thank YOU, Christina! I'm so grateful for this comment. I don't talk about my family or history a whole lot, and I still get embarrassed putting things like this up, so I'm so happy that you liked the post! :)

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  2. I love those books! She does a great job with setting. :) And I love all her characters!
    So, I screwed up the rafflecopter entry! For mailing address I typed the first line and hit enter, to type the next one below, and it closed it out! *facepalm* I'm thinking that might not be enough info. So, here's the rest of my address, you know, just in case. :)
    Chatfield, MN 55923

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    1. No worries, Rachel. I've got you covered :) I'm the queen of face palm moments, so you've got my empathy!

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  3. Thanks so much for sharing your photos and enthusiasm with us! I love DoSaB but got a little lost in the 2nd book. I'm hoping the 3rd one brings it all back together. :)

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    1. I loved both books, so I'm hopeful you'll get back into the swing in book three. I'm counting down the days!

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  4. I traveled to Praha this summer and fell in love with the city! Thanks for a great post!

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    1. You have good taste! I fall in love even more every time I go. :)

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  5. Fascinating post today! I love the DoSaB series and am anxiously awaiting the next book. Thanks for sharing the pics and details.

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  6. This is a great post. Thanks for it. The photos were a real treat too.

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    1. My pleasure, Rosi! I wish I could take everyone to Prague, and I wish I could personally hand this book to everyone. :)

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  7. Prague sounds so beautiful. I'd love to go someday. And Laini Taylor's books are wonderful. Looking forward to the conclusion! Thank you.

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    1. Prague is simply magical, Heather. To me, it is the most beautiful city in the world, and there's something there for everyone. I hope you will get the chance to go someday soon!

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  8. What a great post. I enjoyed hearing your family history, and learning more about character and setting via Laini Taylor's writing. And what a great prize, also. Thank you, Martina!

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    1. Thanks, Michael! Isn't Laini's writing rich? She does character as well, if not better, than she does setting. And that's truly a feat.

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  9. I adore Laini Taylor's series and can't wait til April! I've also been dying to visit Prague ever since I read the first book.

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    1. Can't wait until you get the chance to visit Prague. And now if only April would hurry up! :)

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  10. What gorgeous photos! I haven't read this series yet. I'm signing up!

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    1. YAY, Julie. Go sign up. And when you finish, I hope you'll do one of your fabulous "What I've Learned" posts! And I also hope you'll let me know how much you loved it!

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  11. What beautiful photos! Makes me want to visit Prague and read the Laini Taylor's books there.

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  12. I adored this book and love how you broke down the beginning! And all the photos and notes about the city. Thank you thank you! So excited for the last book coming out.

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    1. Martina, if you get a chance, visit my post http://margoberendsen.blogspot.com/2014/02/how-to-start-epic-story-and-giveaway.html to see how your post analyzing Daughter of Smoke and Bone, really encouraged me on a blue day!

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  13. What an amazing post! And LOVED all the pictures from Prague. Other cultures fascinated me, so I think it's pretty cool to learn stuff, like what you said about last names. Thanks so much for sharing and your awesome (as always) break down of her writing. Hopefully I'll get to the point of being able to write so amazingly someday as well. :)

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