Writing, Rewriting, and Craft by Elena Hartwell

 

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Writing, Rewriting, and Craft

By Elena Hartwell

 

As a novelist and playwright, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Almost every writer I know gets this question, and I think we all feel the same. Ideas are never the problem. That’s the easy part. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part, the magic part, is turning the idea into a polished, final manuscript.

The writing process varies wildly from author to author. Some write extensive, detailed outlines. Others sit down with an idea and write scenes on the fly. A number of writers fall somewhere in between, while they may not outline, neither do they sit down and write completely organically. They might write a synopsis or outline a chapter in advance.

The various combinations of these methods all work, depending on the writer and the project. There is no “wrong” way to write a novel. The “how” a writer works isn’t why their manuscript sells or doesn’t sell. The primary reason an author’s work has not yet sold is a lack of craft.

People who lack craft skills rarely sit down to write a novel. Or if they do, they can start, but never finish. Or if they do finish, they don’t rewrite. Or if they do rewrite, they quit after a single pass. Or, if they do continue to rewrite, they aren’t aware enough of craft to recognize the flaws in their own work. You get the picture. The problem is the writer stops too soon.

As a writing coach—I do one-on-one manuscript critiques as well as teaching workshops—there are some fundamental issues I see repeated in early drafts, over and over. These same issues show up in my own work, and probably on some level, in the early drafts of every writer out there. So the first thing aspiring writers can do to increase their chances of writing a successful manuscript, is learn how to identify these problems.

 

 

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The first is a lack of clear objectives, obstacles, and stakes. It’s not enough to have a dead body to write a mystery. Someone has to investigate the murder. The person investigating the murder has to need to solve the crime. If they don’t need to solve the crime (objective) there’s no tension about the investigation. If the solution doesn’t matter to the investigator, it won’t matter to the reader.

The sleuth also can’t solve the crime easily, that’s not dramatic. Various impediments (obstacles) have to appear, one after the other, to prevent the protagonist from catching the killer. The more the investigator has to overcome, the more satisfying to the reader when they do.

Lastly, it has to matter (stakes). For example, the protagonist with an internal struggle, coinciding with their investigation, is far more interesting than someone who simply goes through the motions of solving a crime.

The more important solving the case is to the protagonist, the more dangerous or difficult the journey, and the greater the importance to find the guilty party, the more invested a reader will be. That’s what keeps a reader turning pages.

Complex protagonists will also have personal objectives, obstacles, and stakes to go along with their investigation. For example, a crumbling marriage, a child in danger, or overcoming an addiction are common tropes within the genre. When we know an investigator has to choose between catching a killer and saving their marriage, the stakes are high and we breathlessly turn each page waiting to see what the character chooses.

 

 

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Another common error I find is a lack of structure. All stories have an underpinning structure. While there are variations to that structure, for the most part, especially in crime fiction, we start with the world as we know it, which is disrupted by a specific event, followed by rising action, where events pile one on top the other, each more important than the one that went before. This ends with a climactic scene, with the maximum danger to our hero or heroine, followed by a glimpse into the new world order for our characters.

If any of these parts are missing, the story can feel unfinished. For example, if we don’t have some sense of what the character’s life was before the intrusion, we don’t know what they are putting at risk. The “world before” can often be well hidden, it might not appear in the first chapter, but later in reflections the character makes as the story progresses, but usually a reader can identify it if they look for it.

The middle of a manuscript might falter if a lot of exciting things happen at the beginning, then nothing exciting follows. Rising action is important, because it builds dramatic tension, making it impossible to put the book down.

Lastly, an ending can feel unsatisfying if we have no sense of the outcome. Readers don’t need everything tied up in a bow, but they do want the primary threads to be resolved enough to know what the character’s lives will be like after they read “the end.”

 

 

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Dialogue can also be difficult to master. One of the most common problems I see is when authors have their characters say exactly what they feel and exactly what they mean. That doesn’t ring true. People lie all the time. We lie because it’s expedient, it benefits us in some way, it keeps us from hurting others, or we don’t want to get in trouble. We rarely say what we mean, we obfuscate, we dither, we agree out loud when disagreeing feels like a mistake. Dialogue works best when each character speaks distinctly from the others, through word choice, sentence length, grammatical accuracy, and the use of slang.

If a writer can identify just these specific problem areas in their own writing, their next draft will be a much tighter, more polished manuscript. It can feel overwhelming to try to identify and fix all the issues I’ve outlined at one time. My recommendation for writers is to choose one aspect and rewrite just for that. Heighten the stakes in one rewrite. Focus solely on dialogue for the next. Breaking down the process into smaller chunks can make each rewrite a more successful venture. This will help the writer get through a series of rewrites rather than attempting one and feeling like the mountain is too high to climb. My final piece of advice. Don’t give up. That’s the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one.

 

 

Giveaway Colorful Stripes

 

 

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 I’d be happy to do a giveaway! Copies of my Eddie Shoes Mystery Series will be available to the first 3 people that sign up for my newsletter win! Send me a PM with your email! More info on the series here:  www.elenahartwell.com

 

 

 

Elena Hartwell author photo with horse

 

 

Elena Hartwell started out her storytelling career in the theater. She worked for several years as a playwright, director, designer, technician, and educator before becoming a novelist.

Elena has more than twenty years of teaching experience and now works one-on-one with writers as a manuscript consultant and writing coach.

She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, two cats, and the greatest dog in the world. When she’s not writing, teaching writing, or talking about writing, she can be found at a nearby stables, playing with her horses.

For more information about Elena, please visit www.elenahartwell.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sibel Hodge Discusses Her Writing Process

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INTERVIEW

 

 

Is your creative approach to writing each novel the same or does it vary?

I often get asked whether I plan out my plot in advance before I start writing. Urgh, the dreaded P word, I think! I hate plotting. Absolutely hate it!

There are some authors who won’t type a single letter until they’ve got every inch of their plot structure finely tuned in advance. Some authors know their characters intimately before they begin writing, down to what they just had for breakfast. And I wish I could be like that, I really do. I think it could make my job a whole lot easier. But I’m definitely a fly by the seat of my knickers kind of girl! If I get too hung up spending a lot of time plotting in advance, I tend to lose my creativity. I start thinking about it too much and get nowhere. I think I must suffer from some kind of plot dyslexia, because as soon as I pull out a pad and pen and start trying to come up with vast plot notes, the words swim in front of my face in a blur and my brain turns to mush. Is there such a thing as plot-o-phobia?

But unfortunately, plotting is a necessary evil if you want to write a novel. Without a plot, it’s just words on the paper. Your plot should encompass all sorts of things: goals of the characters, conflict, crises, turning points, climax, resolution. And everything you write should advance the plot, although I personally think when writing comedy, you can get away with a few extras in there!

When I wrote my debut romantic comedy, Fourteen Days Later, I didn’t have a clue about any kind of plot, or characters, or structure. All I knew was that my heroine had to do a fourteen-day life-changing challenge, where she completed a new task every day. I knew my ending, but I didn’t have a clue what happened anywhere else. Hmm…slight problem, I hear you say! Well, yes, but as soon as I started tapping out the words on the keyboard it all developed naturally. My characters invented their own plot as they went along.

So far, so good, but what about the next novel? Surely this must’ve been some bizarre fluke, and I’d have to actually think of a plot in advance for the next one. Well, yes and no. My second novel was a comedy mystery. Because of the mystery element, I did need to know a few things before I started. Otherwise how would I weave in all the clues? So this time I did actually write an eency weency plot before I started. It was about three lines for each chapter of things I needed to happen. That was it, though, and I still didn’t have hardly any of my “clues” in there. But again, it all seemed to come together as I wrote it. Creative or crazy? I’m not sure which.

With my third novel, I was getting really stressed trying to plot. I read about different techniques like the Snowflake method and using index cards or graphs, even plotting software, but the plot-dyslexia was kicking in big time! Robert McKee’s Story is an excellent book, by the way, for plotting. (It’s for screenplays but works just as well for novels). But none of it helped me in writing a plot in advance. I wrote a few lines for the first two chapters and after that, nada! So once again, I just started to write and my characters invented their own story. The voices in my head just tell me to do things.

My fourth novel was also a mystery, so again I thought I’d need to at least write some lines of plot to allow for my clues. And this time I did it! Hurrah, I wrote out my plot in advance, doing a storyboard of a paragraph per chapter of things I needed to include. In a lot of ways it was easier to write in this way, but that was the only time I’ve ever managed it.

In my world (which is sometimes scary!) my plot advances on its own, with one scene logically following on from the next. I’m very much character driven. And what works for one author won’t work for another. Even what works for one novel won’t always work for another. However you choose to write a novel or story is very personal. Who knows whether I’ll finally get to write an advanced detailed plot for another novel. Watch this space and I’ll let you know!

 

 

 

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What do you normally begin with?

I usually have a single line idea. For example, with The Disappeared it was that Nicole’s husband died in a plane crash in Africa, but ten months later she receives a letter that could only have come from him. So what happened to him out there? Sometimes I can think of an idea and start on it the next week. Sometimes it has to fester for a year or so to be mixed with another idea.

 

Name some things that has helped your craft as a writer.

Reading. For me, it’s the number one thing that’s helped me understand the craft, to see what I think works or doesn’t work, to understand a writer’s voice that I’m a fan of, and to hone my skills. Then you have to write, write, write! Even if it’s a project that’s never going to be published, it’s all about practice and learning, like anything in life. Also passion is important. If you believe in something so strongly, it will shine through in what you do and motivate you to carry on.

 

 

What are the most challenging aspects of writing?

Every single word! Because one word leads to another and another, which eventually becomes a story (hopefully!). Because I’m not a plotter I can’t relax with my work in progress until I have a first draft and I know for sure I’ve got a story to work with.

 

 

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How do you incorporate pacing in your books?

Chapter length, sentence and paragraph structure, and using multiple points of view are all methods I use to increase or decrease pacing.

 

 

How would you define a Psychological thriller?

A story that messes with your head or emphasises the psychological and emotional states of the character(s). I love psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, where their motivations or emotions are questionable or you don’t know who to trust.

 

 

What motivated you to write about them?

With The Disappeared it was a documentary I watched, but, unfortunately, I can’t tell you the name now as it will give away the whole story in advance! But I do mention it in my author note at the end of the novel.

When I’m writing I see the scenes playing out in my head, exactly like watching a film. Often they’re accompanied by actors who I think my characters are like or would portray them perfectly. One movie that was also a backdrop in my mind as I was writing this novel was Blood Diamond. And, yes, Leonardo DiCaprio also featured in there, too, who I admire, not just because he’s a hugely talented actor, but because of his work with The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation that does amazing things for both wildlife and the environment.

Most of my thrillers are inspired by real life events, and research for The Disappearedincluded reading hundreds of online articles from NGOs, government organisations, humanitarian groups, and investigative journalists. I also read many books on the subjects covered in the novel. When I’m writing, I have notes everywhere—snippets of dialogue, character traits and names, statistics, one sentence reminders of things I need to include, and much more. This book was no different, and I had about a hundred pieces of A4 paper filled with the stuff that I had to, somehow, turn into something readable. Fingers crossed readers will experience something that’s both thrilling and exciting, but also authentic and sympathetic to the subject matter.

 

 

In the Disappeared, how did get to know your characters?

I don’t know much about my characters at the beginning of the novel (unless I’m using repeat characters from other books). They always evolve as I’m writing the story.

 

 

 

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Who is Nicole Palmer and what motivates her?

She’s an ordinary woman who’s become unexpectedly widowed. A primary school teacher who believes her husband died in a plane crash in Africa ten months before. But she’s also stronger than she thinks, independent, brave, with a fierce motivation to find out what really did happen to her husband when she realises not everything is as it seems. And she’s about to be tested to the limit.

 

 

Sibel Hodge

 

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Award Winning and International Bestselling Author

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Leave a comment below to enter for a chance to win a free e-book of The Disappeared by Sibel Hodge! 

 

 

 

 

Writing with Author S.W. Frontz

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Interview with S.W. Frontz

 

 

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S.W. Frontz is the author of the Land’s End Series. When The Morning Comes, Don’t Look Back, Closer Than Yesterday, and Sins of the Father are books one, two, three, and four respectively, and all are available in both paperback and kindle on Amazon.

Frontz won the grand prize in the 2017 Top Female Author for Don’t Look Back, which was also a semi finalist in the Golden Quill Awards and a finalist in the fiction category of the Books Excellence Awards. Frontz was also one of fifty winners in both 2017 and 2018 “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” contest. When the Morning Comes was nominated in the 2018 Top Female Author Awards and Closer Than Yesterday was a finalist in the 2018 Golden Books awards.

 

www.swfrontzauthor.com

 

 

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How do you approach writing a book, outlining or intuitively?

Intuitively.  Ideas float around in my head, and I write sections out of order.  What really helps is when I have a cover and a title in mind.

 

What comes first, plot or character?  

I usually know before I finish the previous book which character I’m going to write about in the next.

 

 

 

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What was your process in creating Robin Drexel?  

Robin went through a couple of personality changes before she became the Robin in Sins of the Fathers.  I kept changing her until I found the one I liked.

 

 

Describe a typical writing day.  

I have no typical writing days. Depends on my mood.

 

 

Why did you choose Sins of the Fathers for your book title?

The storyline and title changed twice before it became Sins of the Fathers.  I was visiting family and I saw this old church in Gloucester, Va, and knew immediately it would be on the cover, which led to a title, which led to the plot that became Sins of the Fathers.

 

 

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What did you learn from your research?  

I learned about different statutes of limitations of crimes in different states, and the penalties for them.

 

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

Always the hardest part-making myself sit down and write, then the editing.

 

What would you say to a struggling writer?  

Not to give up. My first novel took 3 years to write.  Sins of the Fathers took a year and a half. Books 2 and 3 were easy-six months for each.

 

 

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The Writer’s Digest Podcast: Old and New Technology with Elizabeth Sims

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The Writer’s Digest Podcast with Gabriela Pereira

 

Episode 11: Writing Technology Old and New with Crime and Mystery writer Elizabeth Sims

 

 

This podcast originally appears on Writer’s Digest December 7, 2018. Duration: 51 min.

 

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Photo credit: Thomas Bender

 

Elizabeth Sims is an American author and writing authority. Her novels include the Lambda Award-winning Lillian Byrd crime series and the Rita Farmer mystery series, and she writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine, where she is a Contributing Editor.

Booklist calls her work “crime fiction as smart as it is compelling,” and Crimespree magazine praises her “strong voice and wonderful characters.”
Are you a writer too—or would you like to be one? If so, you might find inspiration in Elizabeth’s book You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams, published by Writer’s Digest Books.

Elizabeth earned degrees in English from Michigan State University and Wayne State University, where she won the Tompkins Award for graduate fiction. She has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer, technical writer, bookseller, street busker, ranch hand, corporate executive, and symphonic percussionist. Elizabeth belongs to several literary societies as well as American Mensa.

To learn more about her and to view a full list of her available works, including free excerpts and book discussion guides, visit www.elizabethsims.com
There you can get in touch and / or join her newsgroup.

 

Writer’s Digest | Elizabeth Sims

 

 

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Why You Need to be Publishing Audiobooks – With Mark Dawson, James Blanch, and Tina Dietz

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Why You Need to be Publishing Audiobooks

 

 

 

 

Highlights

  • The importance of creativity in every type of business
  • How creativity makes us more productive
  • The different approaches to audiobooks by fiction and non-fiction authors
  • Thoughts on narrating your book yourself
  • The range of cost for producing an audiobook, including what you can expect to pay a narrator
  • Auditioning narrators to find the right voice for your book
  • Providing character information to narrators to find a good fit
  • Reading your book out loud yourself to get a sense of your characters’ voices
  • The three reasons for starting a podcast

 

This podcast originally appears on selfpublishingformula.com Sept. 14, 2018. Duration 50 min. Download full transcript: Here

 

 

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Tina Dietz: Website

 

 

 

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ThrillerFest 2018 part 3 with Mark Dawson – SPF

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Prepare to be thrilled….

 

 

 

 

Highlight summary

In the final part of our three-part series of interviews from ThrillerFest 2018, James talks to prolific hybrid romance author Lexi Blake, Rambo’s father David Morrell, USA Today best-selling author Alan Jacobson, and, last but not least, megastar thriller author Lee Child.

 

 

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Lexi Blake

 

 

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David Morrell

 

 

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Alan Jacobson

 

 

 

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Lee Child

 

International Thriller Writers

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ThrillerFest 2018 Part 2 via Mark Dawson

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Highlights per Mark Dawson:

Mike Lewis on building relationships at conferences, Jon Land on picking up the Murder She Wrote franchise — Bringing Jessica Fletcher into the present day, The advantages to readers when authors have choices about how to publish, Lynda La Plante on doing research for her novels, The inspirational female police officer behind Prime Suspect, The luck and skill involved in Lynda’s writing career, Resources mentioned in this episode: Karen’s marketing book for authors of children’s books.

 

Sneak Peek of ThrillerFest 2018 via Mark Dawson

Thrillerwriters.org

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Sneak Peak of ThrillerFest 2018 via Mark Dawson

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Sneak Peek into ThrillerFest 2018 with Mark Dawson

 

 

 

 

 

See which books won big in the ITW 2018 Awards via TheRealbookspy.com

 

 

 

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How To Get Your Book Into Schools And Double Your Income With Volume Sales With Dave Hendrickson

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Link to full transcript

 

 

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Amazon | Goodreads

 

Have you ever dreamed of an entire school reading your book?

 
Would you like to double (or more!) your writing income?

 
This book shows you how.

 

Drawing from his own first-hand experience, David H. Hendrickson leads you through every step of the process. He highlights the critical pitfalls to avoid, and points out ways to maximize your profit when a school adopts your book.

With advice and insights that are adaptable to getting your book in front of audiences ranging from middle grade to high school to college, and even to corporations, this book is for you!

 
“If you have a book you want to get into K-12 schools and sell in the thousands,
you MUST read this book.”
—Maggie Lynch, bestselling author, Career Author Secrets series

 

www.hendricksonwriter.com

 

 

Getting to Know Author Cameron Poe

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Cameron Poe (Barry Cameron Lindemann) is a student of classic literature. He earned his undergraduate degree from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and his MBA from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He is an observer of politics and the interplay between nation states. He has a keen interest in structural and mechanical engineering. He has three sons and resides in Las Vegas where he manages real estate portfolio financing.

 

 

 

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The most sought after commodity in the world is power, and when money is no object, power is up for grabs. Desiring autonomy, one small nation develops an unlikely plan to procure a nuclear-powered submarine. If all goes as intended, the Middle East will destabilize and the OPEC Alliance will crumble. Yet as money might buy power, there’s no guarantee that it buys loyalty. So when the submarine breaks the ocean surface it doesn’t travel to the Middle East, it sails for Russia, in an attempt to return the nation to its Soviet roots.

Alerted to the possibility of the theft of a Russian sub, the CIA must foil the plan for acquisition without alarming the rest of the world. A step behind and suffering from department infighting, the CIA watches in disbelief as the single most powerful weapon in the world rises from the ocean floor. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that the commander of the vessel has no intention of honoring his contract.

Scrambling to prevent a world-wide disaster, CIA operatives in coordination with the US Navy launch a daring and risky plan to quietly thwart a rogue submarine captain before he can obliterate Moscow and take control of the country. Those who volunteer for this mission risk their lives. Those who don’t risk the safety of the entire world.

 

 

 

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GETTING TO KNOW AUTHOR CAMERON POE

 

What was your journey like becoming a writer?

Very long! Most people talk about writing a book, but doing the first one takes forever. Approximately 25 years because back in the day you had to beg people to read it, and if they liked it then maybe they would talk to you about publishing. Needless to say, it was written and then collected a lot of dust.

 

 

What are your favorite pieces of classic literature?

The Homeric tales, The Iliad and The Odyssey. I have an appreciation for Tolstoy, especially The Death of Ivan Ilyich. That being said Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is always at the top of my list. The inverse would be Ulysses; not a fan of James Joyce and his supposed adaption.

 

 

Is Red Agenda your first novel?

Yes. The initial draft was back in the Clinton era. When editing and publishing became problematic (I couldn’t afford it) I shelved it. In late 2013 I resuscitated the book because the story still resonates today. All I did was upgrade the technology and lingo. It’s true, the more things change the more they stay the same. That being said I did write a screenplay (Supergrass, with co-writer Clem Connolly) and submitted it to Final Draft’s Screen Writers contest in 2007. Out of 3,200 submissions the screenplay place in the final 10. I heard later it was 6th. Still, it is Hollywood and no one had their story made.

 

 

 

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What were some major hurdles while learning to write?

Convincing myself that my writing style worked. I don’t like input until I have a finished draft. It was a big risk for me to write it (yes, no one saw it for 20 plus years), have it edited, and then wait and see what the reviews say. It is very gratifying to see the positive comments on the pace and style of the book.

 

 

What’s the difference between good writing and telling a good story?

I would think they are too similar to separate. Word usage is key. Good writing demands tactile expressions and good story telling also requires such. On some level your story telling has to engage your writing ability. You become laser focused and your story gushes through your repertoire of words, down to your fingertips, and spills onto the page

 

 

Take us through your plotting process for your book Red Agenda.

That is tough. I know I wanted a story where the Soviet Union rears it head, but I didn’t want it as simple as someone in the Russian government plotting the overthrow. I also like the confluence of unrelated events producing an outcome no one thinks about. The problem with that kind of plot is that it comes off as expansive with many character for the reader. So to keep them engaged you have to move the book fast to a point in the story where it all melds together. Then you can step off the gas and let them become engrossed. I also wanted to blow up a nuclear missile for grins. So I did.

 

 

 

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Do you take your ideas based on world events or create your own?

I base them in world events and then put an unusual twist on it. I would assume today that what we don’t know about our government is 10x more scarier than what we can think about.

 

 

Is there a central protagonist?

Yes. Nicholas Shaw. I don’t introduce him until a third of the way through because he needs something to rescue. He is loyal, flawed, and scared most of the time. Most of written American hero characters seem to be able to solve any problem, no sweat. I don’t want a McGyver for my protagonist. I want a guy who needs a shot of bourbon to calm his nerves later.

 

 

Are there any authors you model yourself after?

Cussler and Clancy. That is the fiction in which I will fit. I have never read a Vince Flynn novel but I might have smattering of him in my style too judging from reviews on his books.

 

 

What are you working on next?

I am keeping some of the characters in Red Agenda to continue into the next book. I am thinking about a platform from which they all work and solve pressing problems to the US and the world. The plot will be about rare earth metals and China’s (or some antagonist)  reason for purchasing all that is mined across the world. Am waiting for the antagonist to form. Title – Dyson Sphere. Which is a hypothetical megastructure that completely encompasses a star and captures a large percentage of its power output. Just kicking that around.

 

 

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