I actually did have a post planned for today just before I jump into a fairly extended stretch on my blog tour. Incidentally the next five days I will be bouncing all around the place and I hope you will come with me to some amazing blogs (links below). However, I re-read my post and realised that what had begun as a discussion about why I had been disappointed by a trilogy I recently gave up reading had actually degenerated into a rant and I decided to scrap it and try again.
Here is my second attempt.
I recently began reading a trilogy of YA fantasy books and was instantly hooked by the first book. There was this interesting (if a little generic) female protagonist who did some reasonably unexpected things and over the course of the first book I came to really want her to succeed in her goals. The villains were a bit on the melodramatic side and their scheme was clearly delusional and set to fail before it began but you can forgive that in YA because overblown villains are the norm and when stupid people reach for the moon, of course they fail. The story was enjoyable and the side characters well fleshed out.
Enter book two and we see our heroine in a new location only now she’s less interesting because she has nothing left to reveal and this time the actual complication of the story isn’t introduced until half-way through because they are so busy trying to get us to see the protagonist in the new location. Instead of some dark past haunting her every step, we now have petty annoyances and domestic squabbles that fill in time until somehow there just happens to be a serial killer stalking around in her new home and somehow she just happens to be the one who is going to solve everyone’s troubles. Not that she isn’t out of her depth and completely lost and with no actual reason to involve herself at all. In point of fact, the author spends a bit of time trying to convince us that she becomes emotionally attached to one of the almost victims, but this doesn’t really sit right with the protagonists character and ends up just being a plot pointer.
By book three, I was more or less over the protagonist. However, in the grand tradition of trilogies, the danger is now upped to the point where it is so overblown and melodramatic that you fully expect the sky to darken at any minute. And yet, I just didn’t care. The characters of the first book were now mostly too far removed because they had all but been completely absent (other than a tokenistic appearance) in the second. The characters of the second book hadn’t endeared themselves to me at all. And the third book seemed determined to rush us into a complication that made very little sense as fast as possible.
I’m going to point out at this stage that I didn’t finish reading the trilogy. I made it half-way through the third book and then realised I was hoping that mysterious, overblown, master-mind villain guy would just wipe them all out and call it a day. At that point I realised that I’d completely disengaged from the story and there was no point in my finishing it.
The point of this was my wondering where it all went wrong. The first book won me over. I loved it. I was totally hooked into this world and these characters. In all honesty, I think it was the big shift in scenery that lost me. I loved the world that was created in the first book, but in the second we were in an entirely different setting and I didn’t really feel it. I missed too much of the first setting. Perhaps that is a petty quibble but as a reader it threw me.
So my question to the readers out there is this: How long will you read when you know you have disengaged? Do you give up straight away, or do you plow on and hope for a big finish?
Tomorrow Laura Diamond is sharing a post here on the realm and I am off to her blog to talk about females in fantasy writing.
I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.
Everyone will tell you a story has to have a problem. Or a complication. Or a conflict. It all amounts to the same thing. There has to be a central issue that is in some way connected to the central characters. Why? Because otherwise, what is your story about.
If someone handed me a book and said ‘read it’, my first question would be ‘what is it about?’. This isn’t me wanting the blurb read to me or someone’s review. This is me just wanting to know what is the point of the book. Boil all the fancy words down, what is the reason for the story. Read the two answers below and decide which you would read.
1. Luke and Lane are getting married.
2. Luke and Lane are getting married but Lane’s mother doesn’t approve.
The first tells me what events to expect but it doesn’t sound particularly interesting. Unless it is a biography about two people I had heard of and I was wanting to know about their wedding, I’m unlikely to read it. The second tells me there is a problem. They want to get married, but… And that but is enough to keep me interested. How does Lane’s mother react? Does she try to interfere? Stop the wedding? Why doesn’t she approve? So many questions that I instantly want answered and now I have to read the book to find out.
You have to have a complication.
And before you run off and try to think of something so intensely convoluted that even Nostradamus would have asked for directions the central complication doesn’t need to be too complex. The important thing is that there is a point to reading and the reader can expect some kind of satisfactory explanation. It is not really important to try to confuse them. If you want to make your story more complex, you can layer other complications and side plots in later, but the basic storyline should be relatively clear.
What kind of problem could there be?
Most people I’ve spoken to and most of the advice I’ve read points to four basic types of conflict that appear in books.
1. Man against society – The protagonist (for whatever reason) opposes the world and society in which he lives. The story then usually revolves around the protagonist trying to change things in some way.
2. Man against man – Two characters for whatever reason have opposing view points or goals and the clash of personalities creates the conflict. Frequently one will be villianised while the other will be set up as a hero.
3. Man against himself – Looking at internal conflict of someone trying to change who they are within.
4. Man against nature – Protagonist trying to defeat some kind of monster, natural disaster, climb a mountain, save the world, etc, etc.
While these are the basic types of conflict there are many books that use variations or combinations of these, plus if you include multiple sub-plots it will enable you to explore more than one of these within a single story.
And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.
I have decided that the most evil, malicious creature in all existence is the shared photocopier at work. Admittedly, I can hand my photocopying in, neatly labelled and have someone else do it and return it in around three days but I hate asking people to do something I can easily do. Easily – if the stupid machine would actually work.
There is a writing related point at the end of this rant – I hope.
I was preparing some materials and needed approximately 60 copies of eight different sheets. Some were being done back to back, some needed stapling, some needed to be enlarged, shrunk or whatever. No problem.
Ran off the first sheet. It beeped away and hummed and did its thing and only had three paper jams during the run and only sprayed toner over four of the pages. That counts as success with this photo copier.
Next run, out of paper. Fill it up with paper and resume. No toner left. Because it sprayed it over the last run but fine (I’ll resist the urge to shake the machine and just get on with fixing it).
Walk to the main office, request toner, wait until they look up which toner goes in that photocopier, get toner, read directions, place in machine and oh, wait for it to realise it now has toner.
Three more sheets and then there is a paper jam.
Five more after that, it runs out of staples (okay,really wanting to hurt the machine at this point).
The bottom line is I ended up spending nearly forty minutes doing something that shouldn’t have taken very long and I should have accomplished easily. And I didn’t actually finish the run. I still had three sheets that I hadn’t photocopied at all.
My writing related point. Just because something sounds easy, doesn’t mean it will be. Your character can be perfectly capable of completing what should be a very easy task and yet something can happen to make it an absolute nightmare.
When writing I tend to focus on the big things, the major complications and problems the characters are facing and sometimes I forget that it is the little things that can make or break a person. Something really small can set off major turmoil for an individual.
The big things are important. Characters have goals and they go through certain challenges to reach them, and these all have an impact on our characters. But while these big, major events are going on, life keeps happening and we all know that life has a way of having the last laugh.
It might be as simple as having a friend not feeling well and so missing the usual moral support. It might be the mother who says the wrong thing at the wrong time and utterly shatters what remained of the character’s confidence. It might be that the sales assistant is not interested in assisting and it is just the last straw in bringing a character down.
Then the character reacts. Because they are feeling pressured, instead of feeling sorry for their sick friend they might explode instead. They might fail to say something as simple as ‘hope you feel better’. The situation escalates. The friend is now not only feeling sick but slighted and now doesn’t feel any particular need to help out. They aren’t actively hindering our character but they aren’t lifting a finger to help them. The situation is going to deteriorate fast and now our character is in real trouble.
Minor setbacks – definitely having an impact on our characters.
What are your thoughts?
Do you find the big events interesting or do prefer to see what is going on behind the scenes?