Fantasy Friday – Prince Caspian


Well, I finally saw it—Prince Caspian, the movie based on C.S. Lewis’s second book in the Narnia series. By now, I’m guessing most of my visitors have seen it as well, and some of you, twice.

I purposefully stayed away from most reviews because I wanted to see the movie without a host of expectations, but it’s hard to flit around the blogosphere and not pick up on the tenor of the discussion. From what I’ve seen, there is hardly agreement.

Some reviewers were nearly irate over how the movie ruined the story. Others thought this movie was a huge improvement over The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Some accused the film makers of purposefully filtering out the Christian symbolism.

Here’s a sample, this from Sebring Cinema and Sports:

Where Adamson falls short is in his development of the characters and Lewis’s emphasis on innoncence and faith as the elements that propel the children’s relationship to Aslan and the magic of Narnia. He fumbles with it, and he loses us a bit when he raises the question of why Aslan does not save Narnia the same way he did before. It is, primarily, the erosion of innocent, childlike faith that begins to separate the older children from the younger – the pure faith by which we follow God when he calls whether or not anyone else does. It is a lesson we all need to learn or to be reminded of, and one that Adamson serves up halfheartedly.

On the other hand, Andrew Adamson himself says in an interview with Indielondon:

Andrew Adamson: I think CS Lewis would have hated the term allegory. He never intended the book to be allegorical. Certainly, he wrote from his own beliefs and he was a Christian. But he never intended it to be a direct allegory. And I didn’t steer clear of anything [any religious allegory]. I think everything that’s in the book thematically is in the movie. I just think it’s up to people to interpret it however they want – and that’ll be differently for people in different countries, from different cultures and different generations. You know, I read the book when I was eight-years-old and I didn’t know what allegory meant. I just thought it was a great adventure. Obviously, I look at it now and I get much more of the mythology and the other things that are going on and, as a filmmaker, you want to tap into all of those. But I think the movies are really reflective of what the books are.

(emphasis mine)

And in the same interview, he said, after re-reading the book once the movie was made:

I felt like I was reading the same story, just told differently …

My take? I loved the movie. It was the same story and different, by the very fact that it was a movie, not a book.

There were some changes, but certainly not as many as The Lord of the Rings movies made. There were some hints at key themes rather than full development. So be it. I was more pleasantly surprised that the themes were there at all. The bit I’d read ahead of time implied the movie was stripped of these thematic elements.

Cinematically, it was excellent—well-acted, great scenery, fast-paced, entertaining, up-lifting, without holes in the plot, funny, touching, special effects were special and not distracting, believable battle scenes, and on and on. It was really, really well done.

Most of all, however, I came away wanting to re-read the book. Now that’s probably the best part of seeing a movie, don’t you think? 😉

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It’s a Wrap


Another blog tour winding down, on its way to beddy-bye. I’ve enjoyed the content from the participating bloggers this month as much as any other tour. Each interview was unique, reviews were honest, opinions thoughtful, and very, very little canned content anywhere to be seen.

I’ll tell you, this is what I love about CSFF Blog Tours. I come to the designated tour dates with some familiarity with the book, author, or Web site, and what I want is to learn something new. Or find out what others who interacted with the material thought. Sometimes I have to rethink my position. Sometimes, I have to strengthen my reasons in order to explain and maintain my position. Often other bloggers raise issues I never thought of.

And all the while, I’m learning more about these amazing people who participate on the tour. Many are writers but not all. Without exception, they are busy people who selflessly give their time to make a blog tour work. Oh, sure, there are small rewards: a free book perhaps, though not always; increased blog traffic, though that’s not a guarantee at all; interaction with authors, but again, that varies considerably. Small, iffy returns for thoughtfully interacting with a book and with others who have read it.

This has become such a big deal to me, I’ve initiated an award for the best blog posts during the tour, called the Top Tour Blogger Award. (I tried to rework the name of this award so we could refer to it as the BATT or some other clever acronym, but didn’t come up with anything sensical [as opposed to nonsensical – 😀 ] ).

Of course, this month, with such good posts, awarding one blogger over the others that also did a wonderful job is especially tough. If this continues, I may have to turn this over to the public and have you all vote on who deserves the honor, or have the featured author pick a winner, but for now, the opinion, and a very subjective opinion it is, belongs solely to me.

I will say that I’m most swayed by bloggers who posted all three days. Length of post doesn’t enter in, because I tend to think blog visitors, who probably also are very busy people, don’t have time to read many 1000 word posts. So what I’m looking for is pretty much what I said I enjoy from the tour—something fresh (ho-hooo! I’ve been listening to editors too much, me thinks! 😉 ), something that makes me think, something that shines new light on the author or work.

Tough call. The June CSFF participant to win the Top Tour Blogger Award is Chawna Schroeder. Great job, especially considering she posted an interview and a review.

A great tour once again. As cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, Vanished reached second on Technorati and remained in the top ten all tour long, even though several other books were touring. Open thank you note to all the participants who made this such a great tour.

Now go tell your friends about Kathryn Mackel.

And one last time, if you haven’t visited tour participants this week, consider seeing what all these folks have to say:
Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
CSFF Blog Tour
* Gene Curtis
** D. G. D. Davidson (excellent discussion of horror developed in the comments)
** Jeff Draper (someone actually dared to discuss Christian horror!)
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene (short summaries of her other books)
Katie Hart
* Christopher Hopper (has an excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel!)
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
+ Magma (Note: new member; not on the list posted by other participants)
Terri Main
Margaret
* Shannon McNear (check out the special news Shannon has released)
* Melissa Meeks (also has an excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel)
* John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
* Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir’s Here
* Chawna Schroeder Winner of the Top Tour Blogger Award
Stuart Stockton
* Steve Trower
Speculative Faith (There’s a short quiz)
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

A “+” indicates a blogger left off the original list
Bold type indicates a site I know has posted.
An “*” indicates “must read” content.
“**” indicates “must read” content, an intriguing discussion you might want to join.

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 12:11 pm  Comments Off on It’s a Wrap  
Tags: , ,

Two for One – Vanished, Day 3 and Sir Kendrick


Well, this is awkward. As you know, if you hang around A Christian Worldview of Fiction very much, I participate once a month (with few exceptions) in the CSFF Blog Tour, as I have been this week. Occasionally, I also tour books with CFBA. I am quite selective with those books, reading in my genre as often as possible. Imagine my pleasure when CFBA announced a tour for a YA book by an author I hadn’t heard of before. Then imagine my consternation when the tour date was moved to coincide with the CSFF tour. Precisely coincide. Which wouldn’t matter if I only posted one day, but with CSFF, I post all three days of the tour. What to do? Post late for CFBA? File two separate posts?

I settled on a Two for One post instead. You get double the value for your buck! 😀

On to Day Three of our tour of Kathryn Mackel‘s latest, Vanished.

If you’ve stopped by Kathryn’s blog, you undoubtedly read today’s post about the tour. In it she says “We know Vanished has suffered a blow at the hands of my publisher.” Most likely tour members and visitors here didn’t know Vanished had received a blow from her publisher. I searched Kathryn’s archives to see if I could unearth a post giving the details, but did not find one.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious this is public knowledge. Kathryn has very graciously mentioned that the sequel to Vanished will be put out by a different publisher. That is the blow. This hunt for a publisher for book 2 of the Christian Chiller series was not by author choice. However, I think in one of Kathryn’s interviews, she said she had hoped to announce during the tour which publisher had picked up the series. That would have been cool, and certainly appropriate because a number of you are now hooked by a story that will not resolve until the next book. But evidently the deal is not yet signed and sealed.

My suggestion for those of you eager to finish this compelling story is to sign up for Kathryn’s newsletter, which, by the way, also enters you in a contest for a free book. That way you’ll be sure to hear when the next book is coming out and where you can find it.

With that said, I want to encourage you to visit other blogs on the tour, as I will be as soon as I post this. There are some interesting interviews, a couple incisive reviews, a few topical discussions (one for writers on POV, a couple on “Christian horror” as a genre), a getting-to-know-Kathryn-Mackel quiz, and a news-breaking announcement. Lots to read, to think about, to comment on.

I’ll do what I can to update the list throughout the rest of the day, but here’s the latest for now:
Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
CSFF Blog Tour
* Gene Curtis
** D. G. D. Davidson (excellent discussion of horror developed in the comments)
** Jeff Draper (someone actually dared to discuss Christian horror!)
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene (short summaries of her other books)
Katie Hart
* Christopher Hopper (has an excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel!)
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
+ Magma (Note: new member; not on the list posted by other participants)
Terri Main
Margaret
* Shannon McNear (check out the special news Shannon has released)
* Melissa Meeks (also has an excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel)
* John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
* Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir’s Here
* Chawna Schroeder (Day 2 is another excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel, very different from the others)
Stuart Stockton
* Steve Trower
Speculative Faith (There’s a short quiz)
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

A “+” indicates a blogger left off the original list
Bold type indicates a site I know has posted.
An “*” indicates “must read” content.
“**” indicates “must read” content, an intriguing discussion you might want to join.

– – –

And part two, the CFBA tour for Chuck Black’s Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione. And this, by the way, is a review.

The Story. The best way I can begin this discussion is by quoting from the last page in this small book, “Author Commentary”:

Unlike the Kigdom Series allegory, in which characters and events are based on people and events taken directly from Scripture, the Knights of Arrethtrae Series presents biblical principles allegorically. Each book teaches about virtues and vices conveyed through the truth of God’s Word. Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione teaches about loyalty, forgiveness, foolishness, and rebellion.

Coupled with the opening of the book, an introduction to the Knights of Arrethtrae and the prologue, which explains about the King and His Son the Prince and the rebellion of a third of the Silent Warriors, led by the Dark Knight Lucius, the book appeared to be tracing-paper-thin allegory. However, I was pleasantly surprised by an unpredictable knights-of-old fantasy story with more than one twist. It was fast paced and engaging.

Strengths. I liked a great deal in Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione. The characters were interesting from the start, and I quickly came to care what happened because I cared about them.

The “what happened” was a wonderful surprise. About the time I thought I saw the direction of the story, it took a turn. Not one that was improperly motivated, however. The parts combined to create an interesting tale.

The lessons were surprisingly well-woven into the lives and actions of the characters. I say “surprisingly” because I was pre-disposed to think otherwise by the intro, prologue, and commentary.

Weaknesses. I think the main weaknesses were the intro, prologue, and commentary. I thought of something I read in a writing book recently (I think the one by Jerry Jenkins), that writers really need to get out of the way and let the readers experience the story. Yes, indeed.

Also, it seems this book is aimed at homeschoolers because there is a complete study guide in the back—questions over each chapter of the very small book. I call this a weakness, though others might put it under strengths. I want to see a book be a book first and for most. If a writer wants to make questions available, this era of technology makes that so easy to do electronically. For me, seeing questions at the end, I immediately think this story has an ulterior motive for existing. It doesn’t make me inclined to lose myself in the world.

Another iffy weakness is the fact that most of this story is told, not shown. In the current writing climate, that is rare. The fact that it is such a short book (170 pages from Introduction to Epilogue), but covers a significant span of time, includes multiple points of view, and encompasses as much action and danger as it does, could only be true if the author chose to tell large portions of the story.

I’m listing this as a weakness because of the visual generation we live in. And because I know readers don’t enjoy quite as close a connection with the characters in stories like this. However, since I grew up with books that started out like, “Let me tell you the story about …” I found myself in familiar surroundings. Good story, good, good story, but what would it have been like if it showed more, explained less?

As allegory goes, there were some places I had a little difficulty. Sir Kendrick’s part in the climax, was one issue. That God and Jesus were represented as King and Prince is another. Not that I’m opposed to allegory. It’s that I don’t understand why.

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the allegory served the purpose of enlightenment. Each stop, each bend in the road, each person Christian encountered along the road showed some aspect of the journey of life that was clearer, more easily understood because of the allegorical picture. I don’t know what aspects of God and Christ were clarified by referring to them as King and Prince.

As to Sir Kendrick’s part in the climax, I question it because of who he was pitted against. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I wondered, in a one-on-one allegorical correlation, just how accurate a representation the story turned out to be.

Recommendation. After my “Discernment” posts, I’m less inclined to give a recommendation. I will say, it’s not safe. 🙂

I enjoyed reading this story, much more than I expected to after reading the parts that explained the allegory ahead of time. I found it uplifting and even touching in places. If I was still teaching, I’d recommend this book to my students in a heartbeat. (And they’d love it because it’s short. 😀 But I suspect they’d also love it because it was an enjoyable story). I know I found it entertaining, but it also brought to the front some issues that are important and can, therefore, serve as a jumping off point for some serious and relevant discussion between parents and kids.

CSFF Blog Tour – Vanished, Day 2


Well, we got off to a good start yesterday. There are several brief reviews, an interview, and other blogs posting reviews in multiple parts. For those of you with limited time, I’m going to red star the ones I think are especially notable.

I’ll also mention, for humor, be sure to catch Steve Trower’s posts. He is one funny guy. It doesn’t really matter if he’s read the book we’re featuring or not or whether his posts are lengthy or short—his wit comes through.

Since I’m not one who enjoys the chiller genre, not even the Christian version, I decided my role on the tour for Vanished would be to help readers learn more about the author. After all, Kathryn Mackel has been writing for some time—full-time for the last twelve years (a fact I learned in her interview with Christopher Hopper). Yet it seems she is one of those writers, talented as she is, who is somewhat anonymous. Maybe it’s just me.

Here’s the reality. Kathryn has been a speaker at several writers’ conferences and is slated for more. She has been in the writing profession long enough to complete four adult novels, two YA novels, six books for children, and numerous screenplays. She has worked for Disney, Fox, and Showtime; was part of the story team for Left Behind: The Movie; and was the credited screenwriter for Frank Peretti’s Hangman’s Curse (with Stan Foster). In other words, she is an experienced, talented writer. But still somewhat of a secret to many Christian readers, even to me. This is the third Kathryn Mackel book tour I’ve participated in, and I feel like I am for the first time becoming familiar with her.

For one thing, last November she started a blog. Well, you must know how I feel about blogging! 😉 Here is one of Kathryn’s posts that will give you a peek at her heart (writing makes us so vulnerable).

Also, take time to visit some of the other tour participants to learn more about Kathryn and her latest release, Vanished.

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
CSFF Blog Tour
* Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
** Jeff Draper (someone actually dared to discuss Christian horror!)
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
* Christopher Hopper (has an excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel!)
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
+ Magma (Note: new member; not on the list posted by other participants)
Terri Main
Margaret
* Shannon McNear (check out the special news Shannon has released)
* Melissa Meeks (also has an excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel)
* John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
* Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir’s Here
* Chawna Schroeder (Day 2 is another excellent interview with Kathryn Mackel, very different from the others)
Stuart Stockton
* Steve Trower
Speculative Faith (There’s a short quiz)
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

A “+” indicates a blogger left off the original list
Bold type indicates a site I know has posted.
An “*” indicates “must read” content.
“**” indicates “must read” content, an intriguing discussion you might want to join.

Published in: on June 24, 2008 at 12:01 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – Vanished, Day 2  
Tags: , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – Vanished


A touring we will go
A touring we will go
Hie-ho the dariole,
A touring we will go.

Well, that’s a blast from the long ago and near forgotten. I’m not sure of the spelling or even of the words in that third line, but that, of course, is immaterial because my point is, it’s That Time again! 😀

Today we participants in the CSFF Blog Tour begin discussing Kathryn Mackel’s latest novel, Vanished.

My primary role during this tour will be to act as facilitator. You may remember that back in April I opted out of a tour for a supernatural suspense novel we featured. Just not my genre. Yet other fans of speculative fiction love those kinds of stories. Consequently we want to include some of the best titles on our tour.

Vanished, first in the Christian Chiller series, falls in that category. However, I did not want to opt out of this tour. I’ve read Kathryn Mackel books before and found her to be a wonderful talent. I want to let others know that here is a writer who has good mastery of the craft of novel writing. If supernatural suspense is the kind of story you enjoy, you don’t want to miss Kathryn’s work. Seriously. I believe in her writing.

But supernatural suspense? Not for me. I’ll read it on occasion, but that type of story precludes my enjoying a book. So what to do? Opt out and not tell blog tourers what a wonderful writer Kathryn Mackel is? I couldn’t bring myself to do that, so I’ve decided to take the middle ground. I won’t be reviewing Vanished, but I will be discussing Kathryn’s reworked Web site and blog. Above all, I’ll be pointing you to some of the best posts on the tour. And in the end, I’ll be awarding the Top Tour Blogger Award. So you’ll want to check back here from time to time during the next three days.

And the participants this month—the updated list:
Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
CSFF Blog Tour
* Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
* Christopher Hopper (has an interview with Kathryn Mackel!)
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
+ Magma (Note: new member; not on the list posted by other participants)
Terri Main
Margaret
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
* John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
* Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir’s Here
Chawna Schroeder
Stuart Stockton
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

A “+” indicates a blogger left off the original list
Bold type indicates a site I know has posted.
An “*” indicates “must read” content.
“**” indicates “must read” content, an intriguing discussion you might want to join.

The Turquoise and Red Mentality


Turquoise and Red. Or green and purple. Blue and yellow. Opposites on the color wheel. For some reason which I haven’t yet figured out, our culture has fallen into an all-or-nothing way of thinking. It’s all my way—and of course, my way is right—therefore every other way is all wrong. This trend is more surprising in light of the “tolerance movement,” but that’s a subject for another day.

Here I’m concerned with how this “if I like it, it’s good, it’s all good” concept affects Christians reviewing books. Because, sadly, Christians have bought into this mindset as much as or more than the rest of the culture.

After all, we’re in a spiritual warfare. Evil is real and opposes God. And there is only One way to salvation; all other roads lead to destruction. On top of which, righteousness matters.

All true. But what I think we Christians lose sight of from time to time is the fact that the world is a mixed bag.

Jesus even said so in the parable of the wheat and weeds. In the story, the landed nobleman ordered his servants to plant grain. They did, but in the night an enemy sneaked into his field and contaminated the crop with weed seed. When the plants grew, the servants realized weeds were intermingled with the good grain. They went to their lord and asked him if he hadn’t planted good seed and what were they to do about these weeds. Leave them, he said, until the harvest. That would be the appropriate time to sort the weeds from the wheat.

Here’s the deal. We’re living in that wheat and weed field. The weeds, by the way, called “tares” in the NASB, were darnel, a rye grass that looks much like wheat. In other words, telling the two apart was not an easy job. It’s not easy for us, either. What looks to us like a tare now, might in fact be a stalk of wheat.

What in the world does this have to do with reviews?

I find it a little astounding that in a mixed bag world, we can see anything as all good or all bad. Yet readers rave all the time that such-and-such novel is the best book ever written. Or that such and such other book is from the pit of hell and will bring destruction upon every person foolish enough to expose their minds to it.

I remember hearing Liz Curtis Higgs speak at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference some years ago, and she was commenting on responses she got to her novel set in Scotland. One reader raved how this was as good a book as those by an author of classics—Sir Walter Scott, I think. The same day she received a letter tearing her and the book apart. Obviously, both positions couldn’t be true. In fact, Higgs said a writer really must believe neither.

But why do readers and reviewers write as if a book they love has no faults or a book they hate has no value? We live in a mixed-bag world, where made-in-God’s-image creatures fell into corruption. Why are we shocked to see God’s image, tarnished as it is, in those very people who rail against Him? And why do we think everything coming from the fingertips of His redeemed children will automatically be without the rust of corruption? I wish the latter were true.

But I’m as much a mixed bag as the world is. Less so every day, as God does His sanctifying work of transforming me into the image of His Son. Even if I lived without sin, however, I don’t believe that would mean that my writing would also be perfect. I could have pure intentions. My motive might be to honor God, but does that mean my writing will automatically be flawless? Not in a mixed-bag world.

And final question. Is God most honored by our closing our eyes to what might be improved or by an honest appraisal that calls writers to reach for better?

The Review Is …


We used to know how to complete that line. The review is in! But today it seems there are other words that are more fitting or more common. The review is non-existent, comes to mind. Or the review is pure promotion. Or the review is dangerous. Or the review is tainted.

You see, I’m aware of a couple on-line “battles” centered on reviews or reviewing. One such controversy questions the objectivity of reviewers who receive free books. Another questions a specific review that doesn’t take a strong “thou-shalt-not” stand to a certain movie.

Of course, there is the fact that writers for some time have been decrying the lack of review publications, especially for Christian fiction. In truth, more and more newspapers are dropping book reviews from their content, so it seems that no review is more commonly the truth for many books.

I suspect this is why blog tours have increased in popularity and why authors encourage readers to post reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The beauty is, these kinds of reviews come from readers. Not professional reviewers who may or may not have the mindset of the target audience.

To be sure, anyone can write a review with wrong motives, even professional reviewers. I suspect that’s why fewer and fewer formal reviews exist—readers have learned not to trust reviewers who have a track record for pushing their own preferences or, in a worst case, foisting a personal agenda on the public.

In contrast, blog tour reviewers and reader reviewers on book-selling sites have nothing to gain by pandering to their own whimsy. People will simply tune them out, and in the case of bloggers, stop visiting their sites, so there’s nothing to gain.

A blogger who cares at all for his visitors is more apt to give a balanced and meaningful review than not. In addition, he is not setting himself up as an expert which eliminates the problems swirling around the other review controversy.

This debate centers on a publication giving the pros and cons of a particular movie rather than posting a “not recommended” warning. I haven’t read the review, seen the movie, or read much of the confrontational posts or comments. I don’t think it’s necessary to be familiar with all the particulars because we’ve seen it all before. “Don’t read Gone with the Wind because it uses a cuss word.” “Don’t read Harry Potter because it has witches.”

These kinds of “reviews” are dealing with externals while ignoring heart issues. What’s more they wish to act as the Authority, to step in and make a declaration about what the true-blue followers should Stay Away From. For Christians, this seems antithetical to our stated belief that the Bible is the authority for life and godliness.

To review or not to review? By all means, Review. Do so with honesty and candor and kindness. If you’re a believer, do so with Scriptural relevance. Then let your review stand as one piece of the public record that may influence those who trust your opinion. But don’t lose sight that your opinion is nothing more than your opinion. It may be informed. It may come from your vast experience. It may be right. But in the end, those who read your reviews still have to decide what to do about what they read.

Piquing Curiosity


Yesterday I mentioned some things that cause confusion—conflicting facts, improper motivation, a lack of adequate details to ground a scene, and a lack of foreshadowing. In trying to avoid confusion, however, I’m opening myself up to another novel killer—a boring story.

Well, maybe not a boring story but a story told in a boring way. I suggest a story can turn boring for several reasons.

First, the characters are flat (synonymous with cardboard, two-dimensional, stereotypical). A character who is not well-rounded is predictable, lifeless, a mere placeholder. There is no surprise, no wonder, no passion in such an individual.

The point here is to avoid oversimplifying characters in order to avoid confusion. Instead, a character, like a real life individual, should unfold in increments. Readers are not going to expect a detailed character sketch when the protagonist first shows up on the page. Rather, there will be a process of getting to know him through his actions, words, and thoughts. In fact, that process should continue all book long. Part of what will keep readers engaged is this getting to know the characters on an ever deeper level.

A second thing that makes the telling of a story boring, in my opinion, is a predictable plot. Again, it would be easy to fall into this writing pattern in an effort to avoid confusion. Even a “standard” premise, such as a romance, where the reader knows going in that boy and girl will meet and marry (or fall in love—I just liked the alliteration of meet and marry 😉 ), the story can be interesting, even exciting, because the how unfolds in an unexpected way.

The real plot question I think an author should prompt in his reader’s mind is, How will the protagonist overcome? And the secondary question might be, Or will he? Overcoming, I think, is at the heart of plot. Yes, the character must want something and must want it desperately. This something must matter. But it is in the overcoming of the obstacles that stand in the way of the character obtaining his desire that has readers sliding to the edge of their seats and turning pages as fast as they can.

But if the obstacles are ho-hum, nothing new, seen that one coming a mile away, or if they make the character look foolish because he didn’t see them coming a mile away when the reader did, the plot will fail to pique curiosity. Who is curious about what he is sure will happen?

A third area that can spark curiosity in the reader is the story world. What’s it like in this place, whether it’s the world of a research scientist working in a name university, a missionary starting an orphanage in Indonesia, an astronaut landing on Mars, or a hobbit traveling in Middle Earth. Again, readers won’t want to know all about this place up front. Just as the author must introduce the characters gradually, so must the story world unfold gradually.

Steve Almond gave a good way to determine what needs to be revealed when. I quoted it yesterday, but I think it bears repeating:

[Readers] don’t need to know everything, just those facts that’ll elucidate the emotional significance of a particular scene.

Makes sense to me. 😀

Published in: on June 18, 2008 at 10:03 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Confusion or Curiosity


So I’ve determined my new writing goal: Create no reader confusion. And I’ve also deduced that creating reader curiosity is not the same as confusion. In fact, the former is desirable and a key factor as to whether or not a reader will continue on with my story.

Like so much in life, then, there is a tenuous balance between what information a writer gives and what he withholds.

Maybe one way to look at this topic is to consider what causes confusion. In her comment to yesterday’s post, Sally Apokedak said that a writer creates confusion by providing conflicting facts. I agree, but I think there is more.

I think confusion results from improper motivation—when the reader isn’t given enough to understand why a character is acting as he is.

Another cause for confusion, in my opinion, is when the writer does not ground the story in something concrete. Playing off Steve Almond‘s examples in his Writer’s Digest article, I’ll offer one of my own to illustrate this point.

He didn’t know why she said it, but more importantly why she said it about him.

Does this create confusion or curiosity? The answer to this question can only be determined by what comes next. If the reader doesn’t start getting some answers (who is he, who is she, what’s the relationship between the two, what did she say, and why did she say it?) in the next little bit, I suggest confusion sets in.

The author does not need to give all the answers, perhaps not even complete answers, and probably not answers without introducing new questions. But the point is, unanswered questions or long-delayed answers are a cause for confusion.

A third cause, in my opinion, is the appearance of that which has not been foreshadowed or outright introduced in a scene. If a character is confronted by villains on the right and another baddie on the left, even as the true antagonist closes in from behind, what’s the hero to do? Well, he’ll hide in the barn, of course. The barn that the reader had no idea was in the scene. Above all, this kind of manipulation breaks the trust of the reader. He no longer feels confident that the author has told him all he needs to know.

But just how much should an author tell the reader? Almond’s answer to this dilemma is helpful:

The reader should know at least as much as your protagonist … [Readers] are happy to open with a scene, so long as they get the necessary background. And they don’t need to know everything, just those facts that’ll elucidate the emotional significance of a particular scene.

Helpful guidelines, I think.

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 10:49 am  Comments (2)  
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What’s in the Beginning


I keep changing my mind about today’s topic! First an announcement. Recently agent Rachelle Gardner ran a fun contest, which she does with some frequency. This one was a 100-word story based on a writing prompt—a picture of a young girl seated on a small suitcase. Today she posted the finalists, and wonder of wonders, my story made the cut. Thing is, Rachelle’s blog visitors are voting on the winner, so if you’re inclined to read 600 words (6 finalists), I encourage you to click on over to Rachelle’s site and vote for your favorite teensy-weensy story.

Actually, the finalist thing plays into what I finally decided to talk about today. I read an article in the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, and the author, Steve Almond reiterated what he considers to be the writers Hippocratic oath: “Never confuse the reader.”

Even at the beginning.

Initially this may seem to clash with the advice I’ve heard, often from those with literary leanings, that writers don’t need to put everything up front, that readers are far more patient than we think, and, in fact, enjoy being led into a story, enjoy figuring things out rather than having all handed to them.

In other words, one sign of an amateur is too much description, too much back story at the beginning. But Almond’s article is saying that a sign of an amateur is to leave the reader in the dark.

Are these two points in opposition, as they appear to be? I don’t think so. I think there’s a huge difference between being confused and being curious. The best story piques a reader’s interest. I don’t think that will happen successfully if the writer gives too much information. Neither do I think it wil happen if a reader is confused.

So what about it? Take a look at those shortest of stories (you can read all contest entries here). The ones you liked best—did the writers ground you quickly in the what and wherefore? Or did they leave you wandering—and therefore wondering—a bit?

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 12:12 pm  Comments (5)  
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