Monthly Archives: May 2013

Dee Tales: Eviction Notice

35 - Eviction Notice

Dee Tales are whimsical stories inspired by photographs taken with my i-phone. A tiny story for you, a wee sense of accomplishment for me. Enjoy.

I can’t imagine how it used to be. Lands unexplored. Oceans uncrossed. Fields, valleys, hills, mountains, all untouched…

Disease, famine, and natural disasters use to keep us in check. But we found cures for the diseases, stored food for the famines and even after the waves reseeded, we had more and more babies.

Many city councillors apposed it at first, but what could they do? The people had to go somewhere. Condos, no matter how high, still needed space on the ground.

I imagine they will name the streets Skeleton Lane or Ghost Crescent. People will be told what land they are on but they’ll soon forget. The dead must make way for the living.

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Fantastic Fantasy Part 3: Character Descriptions

As a reader I don’t always care what colour the protagonists’ eyes are or how tall or short they may be. What I care about is whether or not he’s a brute or a sensitive man. Whether he is a willing hero or was thrust into the role. If you can show this through his physicality, great. If you can juxtapose his personality with how they look, even better. (Perhaps your protagonist is tall and muscular but so cowardly he will never succeed as a soldier) What you want to avoid is a running list of what they look like. This can be very boring.

In Raymond E. Feists’ Magician: Apprentice, he subtly slips in two small descriptors.

Pug danced along the edge of the rocks, his feet finding scant purchase as he made his way among the tide pools. His dark eyes darted about as he peered into teach pool under the cliff face, seeking the spiny creatures driven into the shallows by the recently passed storm. His boyish muscles bunched under his light shirt as he shifted the sack of sandcrawlers, rockclaws, and crabs plucked from this water garden.

We know his eyes are dark. We know he’s young. That’s it, and it’s enough.

The use of metaphors and similes is not a bad way to spice up your description. In Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass he describes Lord Asriel in the following way,

Lord Asriel was a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter. It was a face to be dominated by, or to fight: never a face to patronize or pity. All of his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it.

The great thing about this character description is it evokes emotion in the reader. We’re intrigued by this character and maybe even a little scared.

Before describing your characters ask yourself, does it enhance the readers experience to know what they look like? Are there physical features important to their character? Why? Can you evoke emotion with the description?

Don’t forget, you can always have your reader decide what they look like by not describing them at all. It’s your choice.

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Dee Tales: You’ve Changed

33 - You've Changed

Dee Tales are whimsical stories inspired by photographs taken with my i-phone. A tiny story for you, a wee sense of accomplishment for me. Enjoy.

You don’t see it. Not in the mirror. Not when you hold your hand up in front of your face. You keep asking why people are staring. You don’t believe me when I tell you you’re different. You’ve changed.

If it was just physical, I could live with it. The horns, the eyes, the tail. I could live with it all, but you’ve changed inside. You’re meaner. A lot meaner.

After I’ve finished packing I look out our bedroom window at the building across the street. I’ll try one more time to make you see. To make you understand.

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Fantastic Fantasy Part 2: Clever Exposition

Back in the day, before reality tv shows, soap operas would try to lure new viewers by constantly recapping what had happened. Dialogue between characters consisted of listing both their relationship and what happened in previous episodes. (Sample dialogue: “You are my brother and if you think I’m going to sit back while you sleep with my wife days after our father’s funeral, you’ve got enough think coming!“) If you don’t want your novel sounding like an episode of Young and the Restless, you need to understand how to write exposition.

Whether you are describing your world, the rules of magic, or your character’s background, delivering exposition is a tricky task. Too much and you risk boring your reader. Not enough and they might not understand what’s going on. Here are some examples for how to deliver what your reader needs to know.

Through dialogue
Have your protagonist talk to a character who doesn’t know what’s going on. By delivering information to that character, they are also delivering it to the reader. (Example, Hagrid telling Harry Potter about Voldermort, what happened to his parents and why he’s special) Although not my favourite method, it is better than straight narrative.

Through mystery
Let the reader piece together the necessary information rather than spoon feeding it to them. If your protagonist is a retired solider, show him looking at his worn uniform or a rusty sword. Is your character a powerful wizard who can’t control their powers? Have them burn spell books or refuse to assist someone in need.

Through emotion
How does your protagonist’s past affect their present? Has their heart been broken which makes them leery of relationships? Have your character tell us how s/he is feeling and why. Your reader is less likely to skip passages if your protagonist is passionate about what they are revealing.

Of course you should go through your favourite books to see what methods those authors have used, but it doesn’t hurt to go through books you’ve put down to see how they’ve failed.

However you chose to approach exposition, make sure your reader is going to keep turning the pages. Do that, and you’re golden.

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Fantastic Fantasy Part I: Great Beginnings

Friends often recommend books to me with the caveat, “It takes a while to get into it, but it’s worth it.” I’m not against a challenging read, but why would an author make me wait fifty pages to get me interested in what they have to say? If it’s a great book it should have a great beginning.

The Hook

There are three ways you can start your book that will have your reader continue reading. The first is using a hook. Take the first chapter in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s titled The Boy Who Lived. Before we even get into the text we’re asking ourselves ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ Then there’s the opening paragraph,

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

Strange? Mysterious? What things are these? By enticing your reader with questions you have a better chance that they will continue reading.

Conflict

Let us know what the humongoloid problem is and why we should care about it. Audrey Niffenegger does a great job with this as The Time Traveler’s Wife begins,

CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.

Shortly after we learn that Harry cannot control his time traveling abilities and is always disappearing against his will. So we have Clare who loves Henry and Henry who loves Clare but it always vanishing into different times. Can they save their marriage? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.

Tension

Tension is an especially good tool for keep your reader turning from the first page to the second and third. Philip Pullman opens his novel The Golden Compass with,

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

I’m not going to lie. The rest of the chapter falls a bit short. (It presents a lot of exposition which we will talk about in a later post). But it’s an effective first sentence. Lyra is sneaking. She could get caught. What would be the consequences? Where is she going and what the heck is a daemon?!

Whether you use first person or third person, whether you start with narrative or dialogue, make the reader want to keep reading. That’s your beginning. That’s your way in.

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Dee Tales: The Door

30 - The Red Door

Dee Tales are whimsical stories inspired by photographs taken with my i-phone. A tiny story for you, a wee sense of accomplishment for me. Enjoy.

I thought there would be a guard. Or perhaps a test to prove I was worthy. Instead there was only the door.

I kneel down and try to look through the mail slot. (Why there would be a mail slot for The Door of Transformations, I’m really not sure). I can’t see anything.

I wrap my fingers around the handle. I pulled the door open and stepped in.

What will I be when I come out?

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