Monday, February 27, 2012

A Twist of Lemon

I recently finished "The Book of Heroes" by Miyuke Miyabe (Translated by the incredible Alexander O. Smith), and I adored the book. It's a perfect read for mid-grade all the way up to young adult, although I wouldn't class it as adult fiction like a lot of people. That's beside the point.

Without revealing too much of the storyline, it's all about a fifth-grade girl (Yuriko Morisaki) who has to save her brother from the evil and nasty King in Yellow (a classic figure in Chinese mythology that somehow leaked into the book and turned all kinds of evil.).

It had a good setup, unique characters, a good world--and then came the twist. Twist endings are good, but only to an extent. The end of "The Book of Heroes" teeters dangerously close to the line between a good twist and a sour turn of events--a twist of lemon versus sucking on the whole bloody thing. It can be a fine art to master, and it won't keep your book from getting published, necessarily, but keeping your plot twist lemony fresh instead puckertastic can't hurt, right?

Take "Archenemy" by Frank Beddor. It's the final book in The Looking Glass Wars trilogy, and the trilogy is quite wonderful, as I've espoused in the past. However, that twist ending was sour to me, and to the other fans I've talked to--it was a deus ex machina, which is a big no-no. If you find yourself having to write a deus ex machina to complete your plot arc, I can only say two things:

1: Try to find another way. The last thing you want to do is have your villain struck down by lightning, unless your hero summoned the lightning and struck down the villain him/herself.
2: If you can't find another way, fix it. Edit backwards and drop hints instead of springing something out of the blue for no apparent reason. It's just bad writing.

Now, go out and twist your lemons!
Voss

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's the Hook? How about in Japan? Ireland?

Unless you give me the Mother Fucking Theresa of vampires, there is no hook.

Kidding.

I was watching Hanna over the weekend, and realized it has a great hook--it makes you want to know why this fourteen year old girl, or however old she's supposed to be, is doing in this tundra. Why is she hunting elk? Why is she fighting this guy. Why did she use a bow when she was carrying a pistol?

Why why why why...

So you watch it.

That's what you have to do--make your reader ask why. It can be done with events, as it is in Hanna, or with a single line, as in Frances Pauli's A Moth in Darkness (The dancing would kill her eventually.). Okay, maybe I'm not talking about the traditional definition of a hook, but just anything that draws your reader into your book. If your reader is interested from the very beginning, you hvae them.

I've been reading Miyuke Miyabe's Book of Heroes lately, and that's what the title's all about. It's from Japan, and you can feel that it's different, even as a translation (a very good translation, I might add.). Americans, apparently, aren't willing to wait for a book to hit the action. They want it now. Almost invariably, however, books written as part of another culture flow and take the time it takes to hit the point. Look at Harry Potter. His Dark Materials. Both of those series were written in English originally, and they still meander.

I'm not saying either way is good or bad, but it's a good thing to consider--in those books that don't have the 'American Hook' in the first little bit, how is it that they keep reader interests, even in American readers?

Just a thought,
Voss

Monday, February 6, 2012

What Jelly Bellies can Teach us About Writing

Yes, Jelly Bellies. Those little, glorious jewels of unabashed flavor. I'm currently resisting the urge to nosh on the little buggers, since some horrid demon decided to bring some into my home...okay, I'm not really complaining, but still--they might be gone by tomorrow.

Just saying.

Anyway, back to the subject. Now, my personal favorite are the Belly Flops--the little mistaken buggers that don't meet the quality control standards. Today, I found a triple watermelon, and nearly shat. I've always loved the watermelons, just because they're red on the inside, green on the outside--like a watermelon. Amazing, the things that inspire me to write these blog posts, isn't it? I'm sure we'll be talking about lessons from cat crap, next week.

Back to the jelly beans. Aside from the obvious lesson--higher quality equals more money--there's something deeper. As a reader, I (and, I believe, most people) will reread a good book over, and over, and over, and I (and I also believe most people are like this) like to be surprised when I reread. Give me something deeper, something that only slowly savoring your book can reveal--like biting a watermelon Jelly Belly in half instead of just gobbling it up.

As a writer, that means we should strive to include thee things in our books. If there's a fresh layer to be had the second time, you've written a very good book. If a reader still finds new, tasty bits after a fifth reading, you've written a downright great book. If, after ten, twenty, fifty readings, you can still captivate your reader--well, I bow at the altar of you.

The Belly Flops themselves are also a lesson on wastefullness--your mistakes, if they're well-crafted mistakes--will be accepted. Don't just give up because your story isn't what you want--somewhere, at least one thing is salvageable, often the whole thing. Show it love and you'll have a very pretty mistake--like a Belly Flop.

Now you can return to your lives--my psychotic rambling is over for the day.

Peace, love, and chicken grease,
Voss

NOTE: Jelly Belly and Belly Flops are registered and trademarked by the Jelly Belly Candy Company.