A well-executed plot twist

If you follow me over on Tumblr, you may have noticed me getting quite excited recently about an anime show called Yuri!!! On Ice. I thought this show deserved a mention on this blog because it includes what is probably the best-executed plot twist I’ve seen on a TV show. I will explore this here while attempting not to give major spoilers (which is going to be tricky, since I am discussing a plot twist).

Yuri on Ice credits As a bit of background, Yuri!!! On Ice is a show about figure skaters and the main character is a Japanese skater called Yuri Katsuki. There are two other characters main enough to get featured on the show’s opening credits and one of those is a Russian skater called Victor Nikiforov. As the story opens, Yuri has just suffered a humiliating loss and is considering quitting the spots, while Victor is at his peak performance, setting world records, and winning gold medal after gold medal. In the first episode, Victor decides to quit skating, flies to Japan, and announces that he is now Yuri’s coach – much to everyone’s astonishment, especially Yuri. Yuri has idolised Victor for years, so their early interactions are filled with awkwardness, but gradually they open up to each other.

Yuri On Ice - YuriGiven that the show has Yuri’s name on it, it’s unsurprising that as the audience, we see all this from Yuri’s perspective. We see him discussing the situation with friends, we hear his thoughts in inner monologues, and he acts as a narrator speaking directly to the audience at times. This means that a lot around Victor, specially his reasons for coming to Japan, are concealed from those watching the show. This led to some speculation among the fans about his motivations.

Yuri on Ice VictorThen we reach episode 10 of this 12 episode show. After having seen 9 episodes narrated by Yuri, we get an episode with Victor as the narrator. During this episode, a key piece of information is revealed that changes the interpretation of everything that came before it. Not that I said “changes the interpretation”. This information doesn’t create plot holes or raise questions in the way plot twists sometimes do. The revelation instead answers questions – only some of which the audience knew to ask.

The key answer it provides is, of course, why Victor chose to become Yuri’s coach, but it allows their early interactions to be seen in a completely new light. On top of that, behaviour and dialogue from the minor characters, that had previously been dismissed as that character just being like that, now slotted into place. An insult from one character, an angry statement from another, an overly touchy-feeling greeting from a third, all make more sense in the wake of the revelation. It also allows the audience to go back and watch the early episodes again and see Victor’s side of the story. Nothing about the episodes had to change, but the intepretation of so many interactions is completely flipped.

As a writer, I think it’s worth highlighting what this show does well because these are lessons we can take to our own writing.

First, the plot twist doesn’t create any plot holes. I’ve read books and seen shows before where a plot twist leaves the audience wondering, “But if this is the case, then why did that thing happen?” You don’t want a plot twist to raise more questions than it answers.

Which brings me to point two, the plot twist should answer questions. A well-written plot twist will leave readers/viewers thinking, “Oh! So that’s why that thing happened. It all makes sense now.”

Finally, the plot twist should be surprising. I don’t think anyone saw this revelation coming. I watched the show with a friend who’d been seeing discussions on Tumblr about Yuri!!! On Ice and knew that there was a major plot twist coming in this episode, but she was still surprised by the nature of it. If a plot twist can surprise you even when you know it’s coming, the writers have definitely done something right.

So if you want a lesson in how to get a plot twist right, I recommend watching this show. Plus it’s fun, which is always a bonus.

Artwork of Technicality Man

If you read last week’s post, you will have seen the amazing cover art for the upcoming book The Adventures of Technicality Man (UK link, US link). As well as the official cover, I have a couple of pieces of artwork drawn by Aredblush, who read a pre-release copy of the book and described it as: “too darn funny and such an enjoyable read.”

Technicality Man and Continuity Leopard

The first picture is of Technicality Man and his trusty companion Continuity Leopard. We also have a picture of the whole team:

Technicality Man teamFrom left to right we have Bemused Girl, Traditional Blu Tack Gatherer, Technicality Man, Continuity Leopard, Chesty Cough Girl, and Origami Man. If you look closely, you can see bits of paper sticking out the folds in Origami Man’s shirt.

Cover Art Reveal: The Adventures of Technicality Man

The Adventures of Technicality Man cover

Everyone knows how the stories are supposed to go. The good guys win in the end, the hero ends up with the designated love interest, and the plucky band of misfits pulls together to save the world.

But what happens when a villain targets the nature of stories themselves? All the tropes that the heroes have come to rely on are under threat.

Technicality Man and his trusty companion Continuity Leopard must join forces with a group of minor heroes to save the day. They won’t let any barrier stop them. Not even the fourth wall.


My new superhero parody, The Adventures of Technicality Man, is now available for pre-order from Amazon (UK link, US link). This is the story of a ragtag bunch of heroes and a lot of ridiculous puns.

So join Technicality Man, Continuity Leopard as they fight to make sure that the good guys will always win.

A couple of editors

I’ve written a post in the past about editors and the work they do in turning a unpolished piece of writing into something ready for publication. I’ve worked with a number of different people over the years, some of whom were employed by a specific publishing companies and others who worked independently. If you’re getting published through a publishing company, that publishing company should handle the editing and get your manuscript in front of people with the right skills (not the word “should” – I once had an editor that kept getting past and passed the wrong way round and changing correct instances to the incorrect ones). However, if you’re embarking on self-publishing, you have to find the people with those skills yourself. An internet search will uncover a mountain of resources but it’s hard to know who can be trusted to do a good job.

Since I’ve been going through edits recently for the next Codename Omega book and the much sillier Technicality Man story, I thought I would mention a couple of people who have done some great editing work for me. Both of these are people I’m happy to recommend.

The first is Ro Smith, who I was once part of a creative writing group with. Since then, she has done work as a professional editor and proof-reader for both philosophy journals and publishing companies. She has been the main editor for two of the Codename Omega books now, including the one which should be coming out early in 2017. Her website is http://www.rhube.co.uk/ and you can find her contact details on that site if you want to work with her.

The second person is David Stewart. He was a former colleague who does work, amoung other things, as a librarian, researcher, and editor. He offers proofreading and copy-editing services, or a combination of the two. He is very flexible in offering what might be needed to check, tweak, edit, or reshape work. You can contact him at stewart_dk@hotmail.com if you want to hire him.

Both of these people do great work at very fair rates.

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day coverEvery Day by David Levithan (US link, UK link) is the story of A, who lives each day in a different life. Each morning they wake up with a new body, a new name, and a whole new life. They must bluff their way through the day and then, the next morning, start all over again. They have no control over whose body the inhabit and no way to stop the transfer happening. Normally, they try to leave the people they inhabit exactly the same after the experience, but sometimes they make exceptions to the rule, such as when they spent the day in the body of a girl contemplating suicide.

When A meets Rhiannon, one day is enough to fall in love. A doesn’t want to leave her behind when they move into another body and so they start taking stupid risks for the chance to see her again. And now one of their hosts knows he was possessed and is desperate to find out what happened.

This was an enjoyable book and it was fun to see the different lives A briefly experiences. It gives a real variety of family situations, from an undocumented underage worker to the rich and bitchy queen of a high school. The book is really good for the diversity of people included, with A jumping between bodies of different races, different genders, and different sexualities. I loved that it showed the depressed sufferer as having serious problems with her brain chemistry that impacted A as well, rather than being dismissed as a “bad mood”. A themselves describes themselves as not really having a gender. Because they jump around each day, they don’t really feel either male or female but a bit of both.

Plot wise, most of the book is about A trying to stay with Rhiannon, but there is the threat of Nathan poking around, trying to uncover the truth. It’s more of a romance than an adventure.

I enjoyed this book. There were a couple of things that irritated me, including an event that happens near the end, so I won’t spoil it for anyone, but on the whole it was entertaining and enjoyable and kept me guessing. Four stars.

Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Viral Nation coverViral Nation is a post-apocalyptic book with many of the standard hallmarks of a YA dystopian story. The world was ravaged by a deadly plague and now the few survivors have come together into a small number of cities. They are all reliant on a drug that keeps the virus suppressed. Without regular doses, the virus will return. In the cities, law is kept because a time portal lets the authorities know what crimes will be committed so that they can stop them before they happen.

Clover is an autistic girl who depends on her support dog Mango to help her through loud and crowded situations which are incredibly stressful to her. She is extremely intelligent and is accepted into the prestigious Academy, only to be told that Mango can’t stay with her. When she refuses to be parted from her dog, she is sent instead to be a time mariner – to travel through the portal to bring back information from the future. In her new job, she learns that the system may not be as perfect as she’s been told.

The story is told largely from the perspectives of Clover and her brother West, with occasional sections from their father’s viewpoint. Clover’s character is a real strength for this book. Her experiences and thought processes are clearly described and made understandable to non-autistic readers. The way she behaves feels completely genuine and there is a real emotional connection. That feeling of reality is also reflected in the way she is sometimes treated by other characters in the book because of her autism. There were times when I felt fury and indignation on Clover’s behalf about the unfairness of how she is treated and I wished I could leap into the pages and yell at the other characters.

On the other hand, I didn’t think the plot did justice to the strength of the main character. There were a number of plot elements that seemed really convenient. I don’t want to give spoilers, but in particular the way the time travel is handled seems to lack consistent logic and there are details that are revealed that make no sense and seem to be there only because it furthered the plot.

The book also suffered a bit for being obviously the first one in a series. There are a lot of significant plot points that go unexplained which is frustrating, but I know I do this in my own series, so I can accept this. I trust that these mysteries will be resolved in the second book of this two-part series. The second book is already out, so at least I won’t have to wait to get the answers.

This isn’t going to make it on to my favourites shelf, but it’s an enjoyable read if you like dystopias and especially if you like well-written representations of autistic characters. Three and a half stars.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been cheering myself up by revisiting a story that’s been gathering dust on my hard drive for several years. Back when I was at university, I was part of a creative writing group that often had some strange and interesting conversations. In one meeting, we got on to discussing superhero names and silly secret identities. This included Policeman Man (“By day he’s a mild-mannered police officer, but by night HE FIGHTS CRIME”) and Good For Nothing Boy.

From this collection of ridiculous names and silly puns, I started creating a story around one character in particular – Technicality Man, who has super-powered pedantry. Along the way, he gained a sidekick, Continuity Leopard. I can’t claim credit for that name either. One of the other writers in the group, a week or so after the initial creation of Technicality Man, read out a story that included a leopard described as being there for continuity purposes. We discussed the “continuity leopard” and someone suggested that it sounded like a good sidekick for Technicality Man. So the leopard got worked into my story.

The story started as the product of writing games – activities intended for fun rather than any serious writing. Over the course of several weeks, my writing games started following on from one another until they had something resembling a continuous plot. It was enough that I was able to take the output of all these writing games and stitch them together into a single story following the adventures of Technicality Man and his team of adventurers.

I never did anything with this story except read it out for the entertainment of the creative writing group. But I found it again and it still made me chuckle. It needed editing. There were a number of in-jokes that only members of the writing group would get, and so those were pruned out (most of them anyway). The end result is something that I hope will be entertaining to anyone who loves superhero stories and who is found of ridiculous puns. We all need something to laugh about right now.

I’m planning on putting it out there as an ebook, but it should come with a warning that it’s nothing like any of my other books. Watch this space for more news of it.

A Dark Chapter

Today feels like the prologue to a dystopian novel. America has just elected a man who wants to torture terrorists and shoot their families; who wants to round Muslims up and put them in concentration camps; who wants to built a wall across the borders of his country; who thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese; who is going on trial accused of raping a child; who is accused of sexually harassing multiple women; who is going on trial for fraud; and who stirs up mobs with hate speech and vitriol.

I still don’t quite believe it. I’m worried what this means for the future, not just of the US but of the rest of the world too, because America has global influence. I can’t understand how anyone could vote for such a vile, racist, mysoginistic, ablist, homophobic, Islamophobic, monster.

I follow people on social media who live in the US and who are terrified or distraught or both over the results. There are people who are afraid for their lives because of this result.

If you are among those people, you have my sympathy. You are not alone. This may be dark right now, but you a lot of people are feeling what you’re feeling. Let’s survive this together.

Shadows of Tomorrow reviews

People have been saying some very nice things about the Shadows of Tomorrow audio book, on both the US and UK Audible sites. Here are a few samples.

“A good, thought provoking science fiction adventure suitable for all ages. Recommended.”

“Shadows of Tomorrow is an entertaining scifi novel which explores of what life might be like if you could see into your future. Looks so simple but it will turn out that time is not a single, unbroken, continuous forward line. Very interesting novel adding a superb narration.”

“I absolutely loved this book. The story and well developed characters drew me in. Ended up listening to this book in three days. I loved the characters, their back stories, their flaws and their strengths. As with any good book it was the characters that made this book great.”

“What I really liked most about this audiobook is that Jessica Meats really took her time, in the beginning by fleshing out the story. Each of the supporting characters had their moment in the sun, describing how each of them became a member of the Defenders. The Outsiders are pretty horrifying creatures, so expect lots of blood, gore and death. But there’s also love and strong bonds of friendship between people thrown together by circumstances.”

“Highly recommend this different Sci-Fi to anyone who enjoys contemporary science fiction.”

“Shadows of Tomorrow by Jessica Meats is a terrific book with interesting and believable characters that you can’t help but feel for and become emotionally invested in. With the author’s attention to detail, the reader can’t help but be drawn into the story and the world in which she has created.”

The audiobook is currently rated 4.2 stars on the US Audible site and 4.9 stars on the UK site.

Submitting your novel

If you want to be an author, writing the book is only part of the book. You might have written an amazing story, but that means nothing if you can’t convince agents and editors to look at it. If you want to be traditionally published, you still have to go through the work of submitting the book to publishers and agencies. Here are a few top tips and things to think about when submitting your book. Some of these are based on my own experiences, some are based on advice I’ve heard from agents and editors over the years.

Send to the right place

I was at a talk once by an editor who worked with non-fiction children’s books. The publisher she worked for only produced educational books, but she said they still got hundreds and hundreds of submissions of fiction. Those were a waste of time for everyone involved because it didn’t matter how good those stories might have been, they were never going to get published by someone that didn’t publish stories. Pay attention to what the publisher does and doesn’t accept. If they have a big notice on their website saying that they don’t accept science fiction and fantasy submissions, there’s no point submitting your sci-fi novel. If they only publish romance, there’s no point sending your horror. You are basically guaranteed to be rejected if you send the book to the wrong place.

Most places accept electronic submissions these days, but you used to have to print out sample chapters and post them in, which meant each submission cost actual money to send. Now, you don’t waste money in the same way, but you’ll waste your time and the publishers. Better to focus on finding a publisher who does print the sort of stories you’re sending them.

Spend time on the cover letter

When you send in a submission, you send it with a covering letter or email. Some books get rejected here if the cover letter makes it sound like the book isn’t particularly interesting or isn’t what the publisher is looking for. Take your time to craft a description of the book that explains the key concepts, genre, and target audience of your book in a few short sentences. You don’t need to explain all the intricacies of the plot in the cover letter, but you need to explain how it’s going to be marketed. You want someone to read your description and think, “Yes, I’d be able to sell a book like that.”

Keep your cover letter short, describe your book in a way that makes it sound interesting, explain who would be likely to buy your book, and then proofread the whole thing at least five times. I’m serious about this last part. You don’t want to be rejected because of a typo in your first sentence.

Get someone to check your synopsis

When you submit a novel, you almost always have to send a summary of the plot. This is called the synopsis and it describes the key events that happen in the book from start to finish. Different publishers and agents provide different guidelines for how long your synopsis should be – 1 page, 2-3 pages, 500 words, 1000 words, etc. You may end up writing your synopsis several times to fit with all these different submission guidelines. I always find this incredibly difficult because there’s so much that happens in a book and it’s hard to know what to cut out. As well, you need to create a synopsis that’s coherent. Again, this is something I struggle with because I know all the background and everything that I’m leaving out, so something will make perfect sense to me while it’s thoroughly confusing for someone else. When I’m submitting a story, I will get someone to check the synopsis for me. It’s important that this is someone who hasn’t read the book because they will be in the same situation at the person to whom you’re submitting the story with no prior background knowledge. They will be able to spot any points where you’re assuming knowledge the reader doesn’t have.

This is not a definitive list of advice, but hopefull this will help you out if you’re at a point where you’re sending your story off to publishers. Good luck.