Sacrifice

I had an interesting talk with a writing buddy about whether or not a main character must always make a sacrifice in order for it to be a satisfying story. We finally decided that it depended on the type of story. For simple stories like early chapter books and some picture books it’s not necessary. In those sometimes the character just learns something or experiences something—like the first day of school. There’s not a lot of character growth in those kind of stories. This is also true of series mystery characters. There isn’t a lot of character growth in a continuing character. The detective or amateur sleuth figures out the mystery and catches the bad guy, but doesn’t change a lot from book to book. They often don’t even age. They are stuck in a time warp. For me I see characters changing the most in middle grade and young adult novels. In order for the characters to grow they have to make choices and learn from those choices. And in the climax they are going to have to make a sacrifice. They have to give up something they want or have  in order to achieve the better good. That sacrifice forces them to change, to grow, to mature so they aren’t the same person they were at the beginning of the story. If they don’t have to make a sacrifice then the change doesn’t feel real. They haven’t earned it. And once they’ve made the sacrifice, they can’t get back what they gave up. Janie gives up her place in the cool kids’ clique in order to help...

Character Debt

Economic times aren’t bad enough, now we owe our characters a debt? Yes, but we don’t owe them money. We owe them our time and our effort to make them real. I can hear someone yell “Time is money.” I see it more as an investment. We invest in our characters to make them dimensional so our readers fall in love with our story. That pays off in compound interest. Okay, that exhausts my financial vocabulary. To be blunt, writers have to make their characters come alive. That doesn’t happen by filling out character charts on what’s in their closet or hanging on their walls. That only comes when you ask yourself what would this person kill or die for? What matters to your character? What type of person are they that they want or need this thing that matters more than life or death to them?  That takes some thought. You’re searching for their soul—what makes them tick—and that doesn’t come from making snap decisions about their likes and dislikes. You must move beyond the superficial if you want to create outstanding characters. Easily said, but how do you go about doing it? First off, don’t worry about their physical characteristics. You don’t need to go into detail about the color of their hair and eyes, body build, clothes they’re wearing, etc., unless their physical appearance is part of your plot. Josie shops at Goodwill. She’s into retro and doesn’t care what the cool girls at school say. Her choice of clothes, then, is a statement about her personality. Generally, though, physical details are quickly forgotten by the...

Mojo’s Back!!!!!

I finally have a novel idea that I love. It feels so good to have a story idea that I can think about and write notes for and get excited about. It’s been two years since I last wrote a first draft and I’ve been feeling the drought. Hilari is almost finished with a first draft for her second novel since my last one. Way back when I was writing the first draft of Quantum Striker I remember her telling me that she was jealous that I was working on something new. Well Hilari got her payback and then some. But she’s been hogging the creative fairy, and now it’s my turn. I’m not turning him loose until I’ve got this first draft finished. Seriously, though, I was beginning to wonder if I had writer’s block. I’ve spent all my creative energy on developing apps and I was having a hard time coming up with an idea that was big enough for a novel. In the past I would see something or read an article and I would get that first spark for a novel idea. Ooo, that’s interesting. What if… and I’d be off into my creative bubble figuring out a plot. But that didn’t happen this time. I got tired of waiting for the spark to strike so I started trying to force myself to come up with an idea. I thought about themes I like to write about. I looked at my file of book ideas. I picked up and discarded several ideas I’d had in the past for potential story situations. Nothing was turning up the...

Beautiful Writing

I recently finished reading Goblin Secrets by William Alexander, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. While I had a few problems with the book, mainly questions I had about his world-building, there is no doubt that he is a master at creating beautiful images and bringing out gut-wrenching emotions. I’ve quoted some passages from the book that made me envious. Rownie woke up. He felt the cushioned chair underneath him, expecting to find the straw floor of Graba’s shack. He didn’t, and he didn’t know why—not until he gathered up all the pieces of yesterday and put them back together in his head. Then he remembered how alone he was. Sunlight peered down through the tarnished glass of the arched ceiling, outside the railcar. It was morning. Pigeons roosted on the tops of the hanging clocks. They seemed to be ignoring him. He didn’t think they were Graba’s birds. He didn’t think so. I love that extra beat of “He didn’t think so.” You can feel him trying to convince himself it’s safe to step outside. (Graba used the pigeons as her spies, which is why he was worried.) I think what really impressed me was how well he got into Rownie’s head. He brought out all the emotions—fears, insecurities, frustrations—that Rownie experienced while trying to find out what happened to his older brother. As the youngest he was used to piecing together his understanding from snatches of overheard conversations, and the rest he set carefully aside on the shelf in the back of his mind. Unlike the Guard, Rownie understood these winding streets. The...

Beautiful Writing

I recently finished reading Goblin Secrets by William Alexander, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. While I had a few problems with the book, mainly questions I had about his world-building, there is no doubt that he is a master at creating beautiful images and bringing out gut-wrenching emotions. I’ve quoted some passages from the book that made me envious. Rownie woke up. He felt the cushioned chair underneath him, expecting to find the straw floor of Graba’s shack. He didn’t, and he didn’t know why—not until he gathered up all the pieces of yesterday and put them back together in his head. Then he remembered how alone he was. Sunlight peered down through the tarnished glass of the arched ceiling, outside the railcar. It was morning. Pigeons roosted on the tops of the hanging clocks. They seemed to be ignoring him. He didn’t think they were Graba’s birds. He didn’t think so. I love that extra beat of “He didn’t think so.” You can feel him trying to convince himself it’s safe to step outside. (Graba used the pigeons as her spies, which is why he was worried.) I think what really impressed me was how well he got into Rownie’s head. He brought out all the emotions—fears, insecurities, frustrations—that Rownie experienced while trying to find out what happened to his older brother. As the youngest he was used to piecing together his understanding from snatches of overheard conversations, and the rest he set carefully aside on the shelf in the back of his mind. Unlike the Guard, Rownie understood these winding streets. The...

A Passive Character That Works

I watched About a Boy recently and it struck me that Will, played by Hugh Grant, is a passive character for most of the movie. In writing books we’re told that passive characters aren’t acceptable. A character has to be active for a story to be interesting. In this movie, though, it works because Marcus, the boy and other main character, is active. He makes things happen. At the beginning of the movie a friend sets Will up on a blind date. She’s a single mother but she’s not interested in a long term relationship. Will thinks single mothers are the way to go. They offer sex without wanting the messy love stuff and commitment. He invents a kid and joins a support group for single parents in order to get a date. That’s the only action he takes for most of the movie. But that action does set the story in motion. He goes on his date and meets Marcus. Hugh’s date has brought Marcus along as a favor so her friend (Marcus’ mom) can have a break. Afterwards, when they return Marcus home, they discover his mother has attempted suicide. At the hospital Marcus decides one person in your life isn’t enough. You need backup. So he decides to involve Will in his life. Through his relentless pursuit, Marcus makes Will his confident. Will and Marcus both meet girls. For Marcus it’s an older girl at school. For Will it’s a single mother. When she mistakes Marcus for his son, Will doesn’t correct her. He wants to get to know her and he knows connecting through their...