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Feeding the Monster in Your Story

Our writing group just completed a read through of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (get more thoughts here http://whatswriteaboutthis.com/what-hooked-me-a-monster-calls-by-patrick-ness-story-inspired-by-siobhan-dowd-who-passed-before-the-completion-of-the-book/. In this award-winning upper middle grade novel, a monster visits a boy in his dreams (or is it?) to deal with a profound problem. Whether a novel features real monsters (aka…the villain) or a conflict that functions as a monster to the protagonist, it’s important to understand some of the most complex monsters in literature, and how your own writing or reading group can benefit from understanding what drives them. Dracula – The sophisticated monster We all have enjoyed a good James Bond villain. No matter how evil, how sociopathic, there is always something just a little bit charming and erudite that makes this type of “monster” worthy of our heroic opponent. In children and young adult literature, this might qualify as the President Snow (Hunger Games) or other such villains who stay one step of the protagonist, forcing our hero to move out of his or her comfort zone and rise to a higher level. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – The misunderstood monster Some of the best villains are those for whom we feel a certain empathy. People in bad circumstances can either become...
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A Monster Calls: Fairytale or Truth

A Monster Calls cover was a little misleading. It wasn’t the typical fantasy or horror I had expected to read. Instead, it was an unexpected fairytale, that was also not a fairytale. An original for its time, I wanted to explore its elements of folklore. Many say that fairytales use groups of three. Three objects, events, characters. I attended an SCBWI conference in Birmingham this past fall. Bruce Coville, the keynote speaker, said that wasn’t exactly true.  He claimed there was groups of four: three things and a twist. Like three bears and goldilocks or three pigs and a wolf. In A Monster Calls, the monster comes to Connor. He promises to tell 3 stories and then Connor must tell his own. In true fairytale fashion, there are lessons to each of the Monster Yew’s stories. The values of action over thoughts are highlighted. But they are also atypical. Usually in fairy tales there are clear good and evil characters. In the monster’s stories, there is an evil witch worth saving and a prince that is both a murder and a savior (witches/royalty/monsters/mentors are all motifs of fairy tales). I appreciated the contradictions in the Monster’s stories’ characters. It made it feel less far,...
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What Hooked Me–A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness Story inspired by Siobhan Dowd who passed before the completion of the book)

  Megan: Loss is such a difficult subject. It’s hard to handle it in a book in a way that doesn’t make it feel too light, but also doesn’t destroy the experience for the reader or the sense of hope we need from stories. That’s why The Monster Calls drew me right in. For those who’ve lost family, it deals with loss in a very specific, expert way. By using an metaphor larger than life. That’s why I love metaphors in stories, especially in this instance. I love books that know how to use them, how to grow them into something so monstrous and wonderful, that we can’t barely deal with the emotions that come from being exposed to them. I think sometimes, it’s really hard to use metaphor in a way that’s compelling for a young reader. But in dealing with the loss of someone you love, this book showed us that monsters have all sorts of names. John: When the Monster comes calling, young Connor O’Malley expects a nightmare, instead he gets stories. The Monster plans to tell Connor three of them, and not unlike Scrooge’s ghosts, they will be delivered on three separate visits. Hearing that his intentions do not frighten...
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Falling in love (again) with anthropomorphism

One of the things I like best about the One and Only Ivan  was the animal perspective, as I’ve expressed in a previous blog. Each and every one of us grew up with children’s books that connected us to animals, either through anthropomorphism (quick vocab lesson: animals with human feelings) or through a child’s relationship with a pet or farm animal. Having worked with veterinarians and vet techs over the last couple years in the publishing biz, I realize that this connection never changes for them, and that for some of us, our humanity is connected and clarified through our relationships with animals and our conception of their feelings. Disney is one of the best purveyors of anthropomorphism. Movies like Bambi made certain I’ll never go hunting. Dumbo made me suspicious of circus animal treatment. Dozens of Disney sidekicks (Flounder, Abu, Pascal, Mushu, etc.) have me pondering what talking-animal sidekick might work best for my life. But of course, children’s literature is where it all started. Three favorite classics utilizing anthropomorphism include The Jungle Book, Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little. You’ve probably heard of them all (or at least watched the movies), but when you really start digging, anthropomorphism in kid lit isn’t quite...
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The Newbery Medal

  In the same month I read the 2017 Newbery Medal recipient: The Girl Who Drank the Moon along with the 2013 Newbery Medal winner: The One and Only Ivan. And I couldn’t wait to share these great books.   Newbery Medal winners are considered the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. That means that kids have to actually enjoy these books and they do. I was a fourth grader who fell in love with Katherine Patterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia.  I believe young readers enjoy them because the powerful messages these books have are not preached. The authors tend to present difficult issues, but never talk down (The Bridge to Terabithia deals with death). Readers are allowed to think their own big questions as they escape into the words of the pages. Katherine Applegate captures her readers’ imaginations with Ivan’s unique gorilla voice.  She shows differences in the way he thinks and how humans think. His thoughts come at their own pace. She uses appropriate descriptions and verse to allow the reader to imagine a gorilla’s world view. This allows kids a chance to think about the way they look at animals and reflect inward. It gives them experience in a world...
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Welcome to WWAT!
What's WWAT? What's Write About This is a blog dedicated to examining what works in kidlit. By tackling various themes and topics, we'll break down passages, examine sentences, and explore concepts that make-up the components of successful writing. We welcome you back each week with a new post. Thanks for stopping by!
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