Steadfast Characters

This is our final post related to Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus, and it gives me an opportunity to discuss something I’ve always liked but struggled with. I like characters that don’t change! There I said it. In so many pieces of advice written about character development, it’s espoused that a character must undergo a significant change. Now, I guess there could be some argument over what defines “change.” Is it an overall philosophy? Is it an attitude toward another character? Is it a point of view or even a simple single trait? All qualify as changes, but I find myself rooting for those characters who aren’t bad apples and must fight like mad to keep the batch from spoiling them. SPOILER ALERT: In Circus Mirandus, Micah loves his grandfather, a gracious and good man. Ultimately, he wants his grandfather to be healed by the Lightbender, but his immediate desire is to be with his grandfather and to share the magic in his stories and experience it for himself. He detests his aunt who does not believe her brothers stories and thinks both of them are foolish (we later come to know why she feels this way), but the point is Micah is fighting a force that wants to change him and change his goals. He is steadfast when his new friend Jenny tries to convince him that magic isn’t real. He constantly wars against his great aunt and her attempts to keep Micah away from his grandfather, and he refuses to accept the fact that his wish does not come as he wanted it to. Now, I suppose one could argue that change does occur. Jenny changes. The Lightbender changes. Some of the other characters change, and even Micah accepts a different outcome than the one he longed for, but fundamentally, he as a character does not change. I feel as both a writer and reader there is a place for stories like this. Sometimes the world around us changes–sometimes in a way that is not right or good or for the better. We need to see characters that refuse to give in no matter how difficult the surrounding circumstances. I have a vast of books I love with steadfast characters but what are some of yours. Love to hear about... read more

Authentic Dialogue in Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

As mentioned in previous posts, the WWAT crew just finished Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. In our group post, I spoke about how impressed I was with Ms. Ruby’s use of dialogue. There are quite a few great articles out there about writing authentic dialogue and formatting it appropriately, so for the sake of this post, I’ll just summarize some things. As writers we have several tricks when it comes to how characters speak to one another. Dialogue tags: This is of course when you denote the speaker by saying: he said/she said. ie. “Dialogue tags do the job,” he said. Action or Descriptive tags: This method makes use of a character’s actions before or after what is said. This method can be very powerful, giving the reader the added benefit of expression and movement. ie. He scratched his chin and glared. “So you like action tags, huh?” Again, I won’t get into when to use each one. The important thing is this–as a reader, our primary interest is knowing who is doing the talking. I want to highlight how Ms. Ruby does this–and let you judge the result. In the beginning of the novel, we have a scene between Finn, the main character and the aptly named Rude boys–a band of bully brothers:    One of the Rude boys turned around. “Hey, look. It’s Moonface. Trying to sneak up on us again.” “Whatcha doing, Moonface?” “Mooning at the moon?” Mean as yellow jackets, dumb as dirt. He sighed, the sharp exhale like the hiss of the plants all around. “Who you laughing at?” And easy, too. “I’m not laughing.” “Yes, you are.” “Okay, I’m laughing.” “Not at us,” said one. “Not if you’re smart,” said another. “Haven’t you heard?” Finn said.  “I’m not so smart.” Remember how I said the most important thing when writing dialogue is noting who is speaking? Well,  so much for that. In this scene, there is one character we know, and a group we don’t. Her focus here is the interaction and not getting bogged down in nameless, unimportant characters. We still get the idea that Finn is outnumbered, and she uses an economy of words to do it. Here’s another–this time between two important characters, Finn and his best friend Miguel:    “I don’t have an act,” said Finn. “You know what Amber Hass told me?” Miguel said. “No, what?” “That you looked like that actor.” “Which actor?” “Who cares, dude! Amber Hass says you look like an actor, you... read more

The Benefit of Judging a Book by its Cover

Wrapping up our reading of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I wanted to expound on the point I made in the group post earlier in the month. That cover! As mentioned in that post, Miss Peregrine’s was first pitched as a picture book to be filled with the wonderful photos found throughout the narrative. Also mentioned in that post was how so many readers commented on how drawn in they were by the photos. I have to admit, they got me too. This is one of those books that does a remarkable job of combining an image with a title in a way that absolutely reaches out and grabs the reader by the collar. It is that cover and the title that attracted many to the book. I will admit, I thought the book started a little slow, but there was no way I was going to quit reading–not with the promise of a school of people with wondrous abilities. The reader’s patience is rewarded when we are introduced to Emma, Olive, Millard, and the others (and not much of a spoiler alert, they get their own photos as well). I found this to be a great example for our writer friends as evidenced by comments on Amazon and Goodreads as well as my own experience: While you can’t always judge a book by its cover, some times it’s not so bad if you can. The actual quote of not judging a book by its cover can be dated back to the mid-19th century. Books during that time were somewhat limited by the printing capabilities at the time, and their covers were often abstract designs or simplistic representations of the story inside. In contrast, today’s books take full advantage of full-color printing and computer-generated artwork. Even if the actual book resembles those of long ago (cardboard covered by thin cloth or leather), the book jackets can be amazing. And regardless of the cover, the title can always be amazing. I know it may sound simplistic, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children nails both of these in the most amazing manner. Some of the books I picked up at our recent Friends of the Library sail, I did so mostly because of the name and/or title: Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson. I thought the title was catchy and combined with the cover offered what I hope to be a witty and humorous journey.              ... read more

Bah Humbug! The Most Wonderful Character

MARLEY was dead, to begin with. So begins what many consider to be the second greatest Christmas story of all time. There are many things I love about this time of year: the food, the family, and (as an educator) the break…but one of the things I love the most is the opportunity to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the season it was intended. I took the opportunity to read a portion of the book with my class last week, and before doing so I did a little background research on the story. I actually learned a few things I never knew. I knew that Dickens was actually struggling as a writer when he wrote it. His recent works had been less than well received and money was tight. I didn’t know that his own father had been thrown into debtor’s prison forcing him at twelve years old to work 10 hour days in a boot blacking warehouse. This experience would shape much of his later views, and these remembrances may have been on his mind when he first devised the plan for A Christmas Carol. After several trips to visit some of the less fortunate of the time, Dickens planned to write a pamphlet that would change people’s opinions of the poor. He soon determined that it would have more impact if he wrote a story instead. Maybe the most interesting thing I learned was the state of Christmas at the time. The celebration of Christmas had been on the decline for some time, but Dickens saw it as an opportunity to not only inject new energy into a once merry time, but also highlight the plight of the poor in a most powerful way–and thus, A Christmas Carol was born. I have always marveled at the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. He is no hero, not in the beginning anyway. He is a character who you want to see get what’s coming to him. And yet, that’s not what Dickens does. He takes Scrooge by the hand (or by the collar when necessary) and with the help of a handful of ghosts, guides him through a life-changing journey–one that sees him go from the worst humanity has to offer to the best. It struck me as I taught this story to my students that in Scrooge we witness not only one of the most entertaining transformations of character, but we witness Dickens’ effort to change the society he lived in. Scrooge is the England that... read more

Hooked! Intrigue in The Night Gardener

As a writer, it’s very difficult for me to simply read a book. I find that other part of my brain taking over–the one that wants to analyze and dissect why something does or doesn’t work in a book. In the case of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, I found that the story soon had me reeled in and obsessively turning pages. Luckily for me, that other section of my brain didn’t have to work too hard to figure out what it was that sucked me in. As I mentioned in WWAT’s group post last week: “What Hooked Me in The Night Gardener,” It was the intrigue. Before reading The Night Gardener I’d really been thinking quite a bit about backstory and flashbacks, so I was already dialed into paying attention to how authors provided necessary details while avoiding the dreaded info dumps. Arguments against a spray of words revealing a character’s backstory are plentiful. But for me, the reasons crystalize in the following statement: Info-dumping robs your reader and just importantly you, of the opportunity to hook your reader slowly. Instead of the wall of text that comes with revealing information all at once, if a writer scatters those snippets like breadcrumbs, a reader will eagerly follow. Now, there is a balance of how much is enough, and that leads me to my next theory: Don’t give a reader what she needs, and she will stop reading. Don’t give a reader what she wants, and she’ll read until she gets it. The trick is to discern the difference between what the reader needs and what the reader wants. In The Night Gardener, Auxier hits just the right balance and knows the difference between the two. Caution: Spoilers ahead… As I mentioned above, it didn’t take long for Auxier to set the first hook. We open with two young siblings on their way to work for an odd, but wealthy family. The first piece of intrigue is where are their parents? Auxier doesn’t reveal this, and it becomes a central piece of the story. Soon they meet an old lady, as mysterious as the woods they’re traveling through, who warns them about their destination–a supposedly haunted house. From there, the intrigue keeps mounting: The tree they find growing near and through the house The mother and her comments The father and why he hasn’t been around What happened to the father’s parents The mysterious door and the room it protects The figure that comes at night The footprints that seemingly vanish The hole and its malicious contents The father and... read more

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