Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bringing Your Character to Life

By YA Fantasy author Andrea Buginsky

When writing a story, your characters, especially your main character, become just as real to you as a tangible human being. She becomes your sister, daughter and best friend all rolled into one. You teach her a lot, but you also learn a lot from her. You get to the point where you want to reach out and touch her, and pull her further into your world. You can find ways to make your character a bigger part of your world than just inside your books.

I’ve seen several authors do separate blogs hosted by their character. This is one idea you can do for your main character, or even several of your favorites. If you already have an author website or blog, set up a separate one hosted by your character. You can also add a separate blog written by her on your current website.

Another way of bringing her into your world is to write a prequel to your first book she was featured in that’s all about her background: who she is, where she comes from, how she grew up… You can create an entire book with just her world and how she came to be there before the event that took her on her adventures in the other stories you wrote for her began.

To introduce your main character to a different audience, you could write stories involving her for different age groups. For instance, if she’s the main character in your YA fantasy, you could develop a series of picture books about her daily adventures for younger readers, and another series about her earlier years for MGs.

There’s no telling how far you can go with developing your main character further and bringing her to life.

Check out “The Chosen” available from Solstice Publishing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elements: The Building Blocks of Everything

Last time, I wrote about what to do after you've got your story written. This time, I'd like to discuss what the basic building blocks are for a good story.

You've learned in school that the Universe is made up of elements. A story is built up from the same thing. It's more than just stringing words together. How you put them together will make the difference between whether anyone is going to be glad they read it.

First, a story contains a protagonist. This is the main character, the person whose point of view you're most concerned with. It's usually the good guy, but some books take the POV of the "bad guy" and make them the protagonist. For example, read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. The author does an excellent job of turning the story of The Wizard of Oz on its head and making the "bad guy" into the protagonist.
Second, the protagonist needs a goal. Your story is about how your hero or heroine gets the guy/girl, or makes their fortune, or takes the throne, or whatever.

The story needs an antagonist. This is the bad guy. The antagonist could be a situation, a force, some immaterial object or presence that works against the protagonist. In Moby Dick, the antagonist is a whale. In Robert Heinlein's book Friday, the antagonist is the human culture of the day. The heroine fights against enemy agents, but mostly the mindset of most of humanity against artificial persons. The antagonist, in a word, then, is the obstacle between the MC and their goal.

Now, with these two first elements established, there necessarily follows conflict. Without some kind of conflict, there is really nothing to write about, so why are you writing to begin with? Conflict doesn't have to be a direct fight between people, though in most of my writing so far, there is a lot of that sort of thing going on. There can be a conflict between your main character and a difficult test, for instance. You could write about the passage into manhood or womanhood of a young person in a fantasy story. The antagonist would be the trails and process of their passage, and the conflict is about how your MC overcomes the antagonist and achieves their goal.

Okay, we have a protagonist, a goal, the antagonist, and a conflict. You string them together by asking (and answering) three questions (Let's use my book Becoming NADIA):

1.     -- "What if…?" What if there was such a thing as a living weapon of mass destruction? You can make a "what if?" out of anything.
2.     -- "What then?" What if she was on the run from a nefarious organization? This is the largest part of the story, and is the step by step of the conflict.
3.     -- "So what?" What is the value of her life if she isn't even a human? This is the part where we care what happens.

So here are the elements of what makes a story:
  1. 1.      The protagonist
  2. 2.      The goal
  3. 3.      The antagonist
  4. 4.      The conflict
  5. 5.      "What if?"
  6. 6.      What then?"
  7. 7.      And "So what?"

When you put these together, you'll find a story that comes alive to your readers and pulls them into your world. You can do this with a short story, or a novel, and it works as well with any scenario you can make up.

Written by Cyrus Keith, author of Becoming NADIA. Available from MuseItUpPublishing.com.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How About that Beast?

When an audience applauds at the end of a movie, you can be assured the story touched their hearts. That is what happened last Saturday when the curtain rang down on Beastly. I went to see the movie with a group of teens and teen writers.

The movie is based on the book of the same name by author Alexandra Flinn. Flinn took the familiar Beauty-and-the-Beast Story and brought it up to date, setting it in modern-day New Yord City. The story moves from Manhattan to Brooklyn, with one sequence outside the city at a lakeside estate. An enjoyable advantage of movie versus book is the dazzling visuals of New York City at night and the bridges lit up like strings of diamonds.

Flinn's main characters are high school students Kyle and Lindy. And to assure us that this is truly a fairy tale, there's a real witch who sets the plot in motion. Kyle has been taught by his mostly-absent father that looks count for everything. He is a vain boy who offends the witch, played by Mary-Kate Olsen--gothly strange, but not really ugly.

The witch curses Kyle (played by Alex Pettyfer) to be ugly until someone loves him for himself. The trouble is, Kyle is not lovable. That is, until he, now calling himself Hunter, rescues Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) from harm and brings her to live with him in the house his father has stuck him in in Brooklyn. Gradually, Lindy brings out the lovable Kyle inside the Beast he appers to be. The two teens share the house with Kyle's long-time housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and blind tutor (Neal Patrick Harris).

The essence of the story deals with appearance and seeing. What does it take to "see" a person as he/she really is? The theme is reinforced by symbols and images. The name Kyle indicates norrow-mindness; one-sidedness, and the name Lindy represents sweetness and prettiness. The tutor, being blind, sees a different side of Kyle, and the housekeepter has always seen Kyle's inner beauty. Kyle's father is totally blind to his son. Kyle roams the city at night, hiding inside a hoodie, trying not to be seen at all.

And what would Beauty and the Beast be without roses? As Kyle begins to realize looks are not everything, his heart opens to the plight and needs of others. He knows Lindy loves roses, so he builds her a greenhouse on the roof and fills it with roses. Comic relief comes in Kyle's construction mishaps.

The witch's curse includes a rose bush tattoo on Kyle's arm that changes with the seasons. This symbolizes another aspect of the story, transformation. By the time the rose bush fills out with roses in the Spring, Kyle must have become lovable OR ELSE stay this way forever.

All this might give the appearance of a fairy tale. But perhaps it is the truth of the story that elicits emotions from the viewer. What do you think? Do we put too much empahsis on looks and expensive clothes and not enough on actions and motives? Would you go out of your way to be nice to someone you consider ugly? Have you ever overlooked someone's ugliness and made friends with that person? Have you ever ridiculed someone for his appearance? Is transformation possible? Let us know what you think.

I think you would applaud the movie, Beastly, but for a slightly different experience, check out the book by Alexandra Flinn.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dragons Are Too Cool for School

By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

During my junior and high school days, I landed pretty squarely in the geek click not because of my television preferences—my television viewing was highly regulated by the parental units—but because I joined the computer club in junior high. I joined the math club for the space of about three or four math tournaments before I realized I hated it with a passion and dropped out. Too late! I had the geek label. I took notes in class. I understood things the teachers said. I could respond to the them and sometimes make them laugh with intelligent humor.

I was doomed.

My parents didn't have oodles of disposable income for the latest fads like Strawberry Shortcake or Barbie stationery so I "made" my own with stickers on paper. The other girls saw this for what it was—poor girl’s stationery. It drew attention to my highwater pants and K-mart blouses from the previous school year. It was only seventh grade, but kids were forming their groups of monstrous, self-centered, and self-interested aristocrats. Those with—and those without.

I found an escape through the novels I read and the stories I wrote. Unfortunately, burying yourself in fantasy novels kinda buries you further in that geek category. The nice thing is there are a lot of nice characters to keep you company down there. In fact, if you take a look around, you'll find there are also a lot of nice IRL people to keep you company in that category.

As a tween or teen, it's easy to think that we're alienated or ostracized by "the cool kids" for our differences. We need to be reminded that there are always like-minded people "out there" who enjoy the same activities we enjoy and share the same mindsets we've adopted. Anne (of Green Gables fame) referred to those people as kindred spirits. I prefer that term to "click member." We're not alone in our desire to make funky stationery to fit in with the kids whose parents have oodles of disposable income. We're not alone in our wish to discuss the latest dragon heirarchy in the latest Robin Hobb novel or the newest incarnation of the Stargate universe on SyFy.

Even as an adult with a fulltime job editing magazines and writing fantasy novels, I still have my days when I feel that I've plummeted face-first into the deep end of the geek pool. Luckily, it's become fashionable to be a dragon fan. People who can drop Twilight updates and Supernatural news are en vogue.

And I love it.

I'm sure there are guilty pleasures that you all escape with or that you all think "alienate" you. What oh-so-uncool interest keeps you out of the mega-great club? Keep in mind that we're all geeks and nerds at heart. There'll be no judging here...just scaly fun.

From Sandy Lender, author of Problems On Eldora Prime, Book I of the Dragons in Space series
"Some days, you just want the dragon to win"