WIFYR Notebook: “Unputdownable”

I’d like to share a few things I learned from Ilima Todd’s “Writing the Unputdownable Story” lecture from WIFYR last month.

An unputdownable story will have a character you want to follow. He or she doesn’t have to be likeable, but s/he should be relatable, have a complex personality, have faults, and go through some kind of growth.

S/he needs to have a need. A concrete need. As the author you have to make sure s/he doesn’t get it and make it more and more difficult to get as the story progresses. At the end, s/he either gets it or learns that s/he doesn’t need it anymore.

Another element to keep readers reading is tension. Each scene should have conflict, internal or external or both. Let things go wrong for your character. Have characters with conflicting goals, where both can’t win. Or give your characters’ actions unintended consequences.

Stakes. This is an area I was falling short in with my recent drafts. What happens if your character doesn’t acheive his or her goals? There need to be stakes, which should rise throughout the story and series.

These were the big things I took from her lecture. I hope they’re helpful to you.

I’m putting my fingers where my mouth is (yum?) and doing another 10,000 word Camp Nanowrimo this month.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett

IMG_4507Little Lord Fauntleroy is a quick, happy read. I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I anticipated.

The narrator’s droll voice had me smiling or chuckling nearly every page. The characters are not very complex, but I loved them anyway. I felt I knew them from the moment they stepped into the story.

Recommended for everyone.

Happy Yarning!

P.S. Pretty sure I know now who Cedric Diggory’s namesake is. Just saying.

Book Report: Yearbook by Allyson Braithwaite Condie

IMG_4448One of my writing groups decided to read this in our efforts to improve at juggling multiple point of view characters. I have to confess, I wouldn’t have read the whole thing otherwise.

The author had about eight or ten viewpoint characters. Most of the chapters were told in first person narrative style, but some were in the form of journal entries or poetry. Smaller ways she differentiated the voices were with sarcasm or a high vocabulary.

One thing that really helped to keep the narrators straight was that she alluded to specific events from the character’s previous chapters.

My main beef with the book was that it was supposed to be set in Seattle, but for a good chunk of the beginning I thought they were in Utah. Having lived in both the Seattle area and Provo, Utah, I didn’t feel the author captured the feel of Seattle or the people here at all.

I think it’s still a good read for Mormon teens because, let’s face it, there aren’t a whole lot of books out there with Mormon main characters. But those who didn’t grow up in Seattle will probably enjoy it more than those who did.

Happy Yarning!

Introducing First-Person Narrators

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I gave the first chapter of Featherfolk Draft II to one of my writing groups. The general consensus was that I didn’t introduce my main character very well. One of my groupmates was not even certain of the character’s gender.

I realized this is something I have long struggled with. How do I elegantly introduce facts about a first-person narrator?

There are plenty of (to my mind) inelegant ways, such as providing a convenient mirror within the first few pages for her to glance into, or otherwise having her dwell on her appearance at length for no apparent reason.

I did some research on how other authors introduce the gender of their first-person narrators. This involved pulling down twenty-odd books written in the first person from my shelves and reading until the author stated positively the character’s gender.

Sometimes this happened on the first page, or within the first paragraph. Often, it took a few pages. Always, it was within the first chapter.

And actually, it was fun to think about how and if the stories would have changed with a main character of the opposite gender.

I found six tactics that authors used to identify the character’s gender.

  • The main character told the reader his or her gender-specific first name.
  • The character identified himself/herself with a group of men/boys/sons or women/girls/daughters.
  • Another character spoke the main character’s gender-specific first name.
  • Another character spoke about the main character, using a gender-specific pronoun.
  • The main character described his or her clothing. (This only works if the character is part of a culture familiar to the readers.)
  • One author included a prologue in third person that described the main character.

As far as physical descriptions of main characters, some of the authors didn’t bother in the first chapter. A few gave full descriptions (one included exact height and weight). The most non-intrusive method I noted was comparisons to other characters’ appearances or to a desired norm, and these tid-bits of description came naturally in the flow of the story.

So, since my main character does not have a name that is clearly feminine, nor is she part of a familiar culture with western dress, I will try having her identify herself as one of the girls in her village.

And as she and everyone that she knows has black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin, I will have to find more subtle differences between characters to help bring out these facts.

Although, I really don’t care if my readers ever know that she has brown eyes. It doesn’t matter one bit.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

IMG_4389I put off reading this for years after it was recommended to me. I think it was the cover that turned me off. I couldn’t relate to that girl on the cover. She looked like the heroine of a sappy romance.

You’d think I would’ve learned by now not to judge books by their covers.

The Goose Girl is full of frank characters and great imagery. I enjoyed it very much. It didn’t matter that I knew the story already since I grew up on Grimms’ fairy tales.

Highly recommended.

Merry Christmas!

Pregnancy in Fantasy?

Conflict drives stories.

It’s probably a good thing.

But it seems to mean that the only time a pregnant woman is allowed “on screen” in a story is when the fact of her pregnancy causes conflict.

And I wish we could explore not only the tense and exciting parts of pregnancy (like the reveal and the delivery), but also the invisible, quiet bits.

Strangers couldn’t tell I was pregnant until just about yesterday (I’m 33 weeks along). Not too long ago a nurse at a new-patient visit, after taking my height and weight and blood pressure, was stunned I wasn’t worried that my last period was five months before.

~Three months. Can you spot the fourth person?

~Three months. Can’t spot the fourth person yet, but she’s there.

From week 1 there’s so much going on mentally and emotionally that affects only one girl. Is it enough to make a story out of? Maybe a subplot?

Can anyone point me to some fantasy that fills this gap? (And I do mean fantasy. I recognize there’s a good amount of contemporary fiction with pregnant characters.)

Happy Nesting! I mean, Yarning!

Distinct Narrators

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I’m trying to figure out how to make my three first-person narrators sound like three different people. Maybe typing out some of my thoughts will help:

What do they each sound like when they talk? Who uses more long, rambling sentences or more short ones?

Who are they each telling this story to and why?

Which of them tends to look beneath the surface of his or her own motivations? What about others’ motivations?

What things interest each of them most? How does this govern what details they notice in the world?

What sense(s) do they each rely on most? Or rather, what stimulants are they each most sensitive to?

Who/what do they each believe is or should be in control of the world (God, nature, herself/himself, other people)?

How would they each define themselves? How does this color their perceptions of others?

How do any or all of the above answers change as they mature in the course of the story?

What markers (themes, repeated words, etc.) can I use for each narrator to clue readers in quickly when I switch? Sometimes a chapter break doesn’t seem to be enough on its own.

I think if I can answer these questions for each narrator, I’ll be a lot further toward distinct voices than I am now.

What are your thoughts? How do you deal with multiple narrators within the same story?

Happy Yarning!

 

Some Thoughts on Magic Systems

Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

Every magical ability has an effect on the world. This is a principle I’m working to follow as I rewrite Featherfolk. My main magic system consists of special powers granted by spirits. The availability and breadth of different powers alters the setting and plot, but that’s the way it should be.

The poster child for what I’m talking about is teleportation. If characters in a fantasy story can teleport magically from place to place, why would they rely on x for sending messages, and why didn’t they use teleportation when event y or z occurred? Why do social problems a, b, and c still exist? Even with limitations on when or where or which characters can teleport, it’s  hard to catch all these and keep things consistent.

I tend to shy away from teleportation, because it gives me a headache to pin down all the effects such a power would have on economics, politics, warfare, etc, but I still have to be careful with the powers I grant my characters.

Have any of you had to re-work a magic system to match a setting or vice versa?

Happy Yarning.

 

Deepest Fears

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Does your character have a fear so strong that it literally paralyzes her/him?

I learned that I do, when I found myself for the second time within a month curled up and crying at the mere thought of the thing I fear.

What is your character’s strongest fear? What makes it so strong (are there several elements at work here)? When does your character become cognizant of it? What happens when the feared event occurs/doesn’t occur? Where does your character’s courage to continue to function in the face of her/his fear come from?

Happy Yarning.

Big Conflicts and How Much Characters Actually Know

What’s going on in the Middle East right now? I don’t really know. I could find out. Reading news articles and books or interviewing a few people would give me a general idea.

How much does an average person in Palestine know, or someone in Israel? Certainly a whole lot more than me. But I would guess that many on both sides don’t know exactly what’s going on either.

What I’m trying to point out is that there are few if any people who know everything happening on all sides in a political conflict. Most people are not affected directly and/or hear skewed reports. (We tend to get a bigger picture only in the aftermath, like when we found out what Hitler was up to after WWII. And you know what? I bet even WWII historians still don’t know everything.)

Does any one of your characters have all the puzzle pieces? I’m inclined to say he or she shouldn’t. If the reader ever gets a full view of the political conflict, it is usually through multiple points of view.

I think Brandon Sanderson does a good job of this in the Mistborn novels. The characters end up taking two books to figure out everything involved in the political conflict of the first book.

Just some thoughts.

Happy Yarning!