Archive by Author

A Vlog about World Building Using Maps!

7 Mar


by Julie Eshbaugh

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Hi Guys!  For today’s post I made a video about world building using maps and floor plans.  I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!  Please leave comments letting me know your thoughts and suggestions.  Thanks!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency.  You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Revisiting Your Writing Resolutions

25 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh

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We are quickly approaching the end of the first month of 2011, and I thought today would be a good day to look back at our writing resolutions, assess our progress, and consider any new goals we should be setting.

At the start of the new year, we here at Let the Words Flow made the following resolutions:

My writing resolution is to be a more patient writer.  Right now I try to force my writing too much.  My goal is to let my writing flow more naturally.

-Julie

Gah, just one resolution? There’s a million things I want to do better. I just finished Bird by Bird and it’s really inspired me. Mostly though, I want to experience more. Whether that means reading more or just getting out of the house, I want to open myself up to more possibilities for inspiration.

-Savannah

After all the cookies I’ve been eating, I want to make use of the gym that’s included with my ridiculous tuition… but a more writerly resolution is to focus on one writing project at a time instead of jumping between several.

-Jenn

Oh, New Year’s resolutions….:] As far as writing goes (though I suppose this applies to all aspects of my life), I resolve to start practicing what I preach and develop my patience. Things will happen. Things will come. Just need to work at it, not fuss over it

-Kat

I have so many resolutions this year, but I think I’ll agree with Kat and say that I’d like for 2011 to be the year I learn to be patient. I’ve got a lot of waiting ahead of me this year (with QUEEN OF GLASS coming out in 2012), so learning to be patient will be a pretty useful skill! And I’d also like to stop eating so many double stuff oreos.

-Sarah

My resolution is to find a balance: between keeping up with my client’s needs, answering submissions, completing conference talks, meeting deadlines, and promoting current releases, there is always a lot to do. My Hope for 2011 is to continue the juggling act. And not drop any balls.

-Mandy

My resolutions this year are pretty simple for once! I want to complete the 2011 Debut Author Challenge, and finish up the manuscript I’m working on. Nothing too exciting from me this coming year!

-Sammy

As I read through these, I noticed that they could be broken down into three neat categories:

1.)    Patience (Julie, Kat, and Sarah)

2.)   Self-Discipline (Jenn and Mandy)

3.)   Reading more (Savannah and Sammy)

Since I think it’s probably safe to assume that other writers are struggling with similar goals, I’ve decided to look at each of these three and discuss tricks and tactics to help make these goals more easily attainable for all of us.

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Patience…

I’ve yet to meet a patient writer, so if being more patient is one of your 2011 resolutions, you are in GOOD COMPANY!  Here are a few suggestions to make patience more attainable:

~ Keep busy!  Nothing makes the time pass more slowly than watching your inbox.  Start a new project.  Try turning off your internet/email access for a half an hour while you write.  You will not only feel more patient, you will stay more focused on your writing.

~Accept the things that are out of your control.  Agents need time to consider submissions.  So do editors.  Even once you have that long-awaited book deal, you cannot control your release date.  Instead, focus on the things you can control.  Take your time with your current project rather than submitting it prematurely.

~Find a good listener.  If you have a writing buddy, turn to that person when you feel like the waiting involved in writing is getting to you.  Avoid voicing your frustrations on your blog or through your twitter account!

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Self-Discipline…

As a writer, you answer to yourself on everything from what you write to when you write it.  Here are some tips for holding yourself accountable and staying on course:

~If you feel like Jenn and want to focus on one project instead of starting three more, try concentrating on the end result – that completed manuscript!  There is definitely a long, dry hike between the thrill of starting something new and the satisfaction of seeing it finished.  If you are tempted to start a new project because you’ve gotten bored with the routine of your current task, mix it up a bit.  Try writing sprints; write as many words as you can in a set amount of time – say ten minutes.  You will need to go back and edit, but you will see your word count growing and feel inspired to stick with it.  Word sprints are even more fun if you can do them with a writing buddy.

~Budget your time.  If you’re like Mandy and wear several hats every day, it’s important to realize that you can’t do everything at once.  Decide which responsibility is going to get your full attention for a particular period of time, and commit yourself to that task.  Worrying about ten tasks at once only makes you less effective at all of them.

~Set small goals that you can keep, so that you don’t feel like a failure as soon as you start.  If your goal is to “write every day,” accept the fact that 15 minutes before you go to bed may be all that you can spare at times.  Allow yourself to “succeed” by keeping your goals realistic.

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Reading…

We can’t be good writers if we don’t read, but how often have you heard a writer say that they don’t have time to read because they are too busy writing?  Here are some thoughts to help you get your reading done:

~Read what you like.  If EVERYONE is talking about a particular book but you just can’t get into it, don’t force it.  Granted, I do believe that you should be familiar with what people in your target audience are reading, but there will be books you prefer to others.  Read the ones you enjoy.

~Discover new authors.  Sammy has encouraged us all here at LTWF to join her in the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.  Reading newly published authors is a great way to stay inspired (and to keep your eyes off that inbox!)

~Read for research and inspiration.  If you have a strong curiosity about Machu Picchu, don’t feel guilty reading an article about it in a travel magazine.  Machu Picchu might turn out to be the setting of your next novel.  Or maybe you want to read about genealogy, or sailing, or asteroids.  Give yourself permission to read about things that seem unrelated to your writing.  You never know what might spark the idea for your next WIP.

Are you succeeding with your writing resolutions?  Have you already abandoned them?  Have you re-imagined them?  Please share your experiences in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Discover Anagnorisis!

12 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh


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Anagnorisis (pronounced something like “and ignore all this,”) is a fancy word that refers to the moment in a novel or play when the hero makes a discovery and moves from ignorance to knowledge.  If you’ve heard that classic line of dialogue, “Luke, I am your father,” then you have a clear example of a moment of anagnorisis for a character.  Not only is the knowledge gained by an instance of anagnorisis often startling, it is generally game-changing.  Once the character has this new piece of information, things usually can’t return to the way they were before.

The Greeks developed the use of anagnorisis through Aristotelian tragedy.  In this context, anagnorisis went beyond the simple recognition of some previously unknown fact or circumstance; it generally involved the recognition of a previously hidden “truth.”  The hero’s discovery went beyond the sudden awareness of another person, but included awareness of that person’s true nature.

In the Aristotelian tradition, the best tragedies involve a moment of anagnorisis when the hero discovers his or her own true identity or nature.  Consider, for example, Oedipus, who kills his father and marries his mother without knowing what he is doing, but later, at the moment of anagnorisis, discovers the truth.  Compare this to the tragedy of Medea, who kills her own children, but is aware that they are her children all along.  Aristotle believed that the best tragic heroes were those who experienced a sudden understanding of themselves and their actions – an anagnorisis that came too late.

But don’t imagine that anagnorisis is limited to tragedy.  This plot devise of the ancient Greeks works just as well in comedies and mysteries.  For a contemporary film example of the comedic use of anagnorisis, think of the scene in WEDDING CRASHERS where Vince Vaughn discovers that the cute redhead he’s been chasing is a lot more complex than she had originally seemed (starting with the fact that her claim to be a virgin stands in stark contrast to her very sensual true persona.)  Anagnorisis can be employed just as well in the context of a mystery.  For examples, look no further than the films of M. Night Shyamalan, particularly THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE.

What do you think of anagnorisis?  Do you believe it can be a clever way of working a twist into your plot, or do you see it as a simple trick of “smoke and mirrors” that takes little more than the simple withholding of information?  Have you ever used it in your own writing?  I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

The Snowflake Method of Drafting a Novel

5 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh

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If the idea of methodically building your novel appeals to you, then the Snowflake Method, designed by Randy Ingermanson, might be just what you are looking for.  (A link to Ingermanson’s site can be found at the end of this post.)

The Snowflake Method contains ten steps.  These ten steps will take you from your concept to a completed first draft.

TEN STEPS:

Step One – Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.  The best summary sentence is one that includes a reference to the character who has the most to lose and the thing he or she wants most to win.  The one-sentence summary for Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES would be something like this, “A girl tries to stay alive in a fight to the death against twenty-three other teens that is aired on live television.”

Step Two – Expand your sentence into a full paragraph.  In this paragraph, you should include the story set-up, each disaster, and the ending.  You can decide the cause of each disaster, whether it is internally caused or brought on by external circumstances, and include those details as well.

Step Three – Next, your characters.  For each of your major characters, write a one page summary sheet that includes the following:

  • The character’s name
  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?)
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Step Four – Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph from step two into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends.

At the completion of step four, you should have a fairly concise one-page skeleton of your novel.  (Don’t sweat it if it’s longer or shorter than one page.   The point is that you are taking your seed of a story from step one and growing and expanding it.)

Step Five – Write a one-page synopsis of the story from the point of view of each major character.  (For more minor characters, you may want to write a half a page.)  This step may seem tedious (and it can be time-consuming if you have a lot of major characters,) but it will really get you into the heads of the people who will give your story life.  You will begin to see where they agree and where they clash.  While plot is always important, honestly drawn characters are what make us lose ourselves in a novel.

Step Six – Take a fresh look at your one-page plot synopsis from step four and expand it into a four-page synopsis.  One way to approach this would be to expand each paragraph from step four into its own page.  This step gives you the chance to find the complexity in your story, discover new plot ideas that may have been inspired by your character explorations in step five, and weave in subplots.  By keeping it to four pages, you can also easily identify plot holes or problems with the story’s logic.

Step Seven – Expand your character summaries from step three into full-blown character charts.  Make sure that you not only know each character’s motivations and goals, but also the smaller details, such as the one thing they would grab before running from a burning house, or the person who has been the greatest influence on them.  This is the step where you make sure your characters are fully alive in your mind.

Step Eight – Take the expanded synopsis you created in step six and make a list of every scene that needs to be written to tell your story.  If you’re adept with spreadsheets, creating one for this task will allow you to use the columns for details such as setting and POV character.  For those of you who like to hold your writing in your hands, index cards will work just as well.

Step Nine – Using the scene list, write several pages of narrative for each scene.  If you choose to add in dialogue, that’s fine.  By the end of this step, you’ll have a miniature rough draft of your book.

Step Ten – Write your first draft!

So what do you think of the Snowflake Method?  Do you think it would be helpful, or do you think it would hold you back?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

For more information about Randy Ingermanson and his writing theories and methods, you can visit his website, here.

 

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Why I Write for Young Adults

29 Dec

by Julie Eshbaugh

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Today is my birthday, *throws confetti* so I thought that, instead of a typical “Julie post” centering on a specific writing technique, I would post a more philosophical post (what I tend to think of as a “Savannah post” ;D) about why I write Young Adult fiction. My birthday seemed a proper occasion to discuss the reasons why a writer who has moved beyond her own “young adulthood” might continue to write about characters in their teens. Tucked in with my “reasons why” are a few “reasons why not.” In other words, YA isn’t for everyone. In explaining why I continue to write for young adults, maybe I can help other writers see why YA might be right – or wrong – for them.

Reason #1 – Teen Protagonists Rock

Why are teen protagonists so fabulous? I could list dozens of reasons, but here are my favorite characteristics of teens, in no particular order:

• They are still discovering who they are. They can do something incredible and not seem to be acting out of character, or be going against everything that has defined them for the past ten years.
• They aren’t jaded yet. They may think they are, but their ideas are still flexible. Compare your favorite teen hero to his or her parent to see what I mean. Katniss did things in THE HUNGER GAMES that her mother could never have done. Well, maybe her mother could have done those things, before she’d been broken by life. In other words, back when she, herself, was a teenager.
• Teenagers are resilient. Their young bodies bounce back. If Haymitch survived some of the physical challenges Katniss survived, the writer might lose some credibility. Imagine Dumbledore in Harry’s place and I’m sure you can see what I mean.
• One of the universal truths of humanity is that we all started out young and naïve. We all were children once. We all were teenagers. The experience of seeing the world through young eyes is universal.

Reason #2 – I LOVE teenagers

This is a pretty important reason to me, and should be considered carefully by any writer beyond their own young adulthood before deciding to write for young adults. If you don’t truly enjoy the company of teenagers, I think you should reconsider if this is the audience you should write for. There are a lot of adults who feel they have something to “teach” teenagers. Those adults should consider ways other than YA novels to reach out to young people. Teenagers are smart. They know if they are being preached to or if the book they are reading is meant to deliver a moral lesson. YA editors recognize these “lessons” disguised as “fiction” too, and reject them. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that a book shouldn’t have meaning. But there is a difference between a story with meaning and a sermon written as a story.

Personally, I know I love teenagers because I’ve been working as a mentor for teens for about twelve years now. My favorite hour of my week is the hour I spend with about fifteen teenagers. I also know that not everyone my age feels this way. That’s understandable. Young adults invigorate some people; others they drain. Keep this in mind if you want to write YA. If you can’t imagine yourself spending time with your characters and their friends, then maybe you should write for a different audience.

Reason #3 – I choose to read YA books

I don’t read YA exclusively. My favorite genre to read is YA, followed closely by literary fiction. However, I’ve noticed that many of my favorite non-YA books have teenaged protagonists. The action of ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan is set in motion by an event that involved young adult characters. LOLITA by Nabokov involves a young girl and her complex relationship with an adult man. CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE LOVELY BONES revolve around teenagers, even though they are not generally seen as YA novels. I count all of these books among my favorites.

But the truth is, when I walk into a bookstore, I head straight for the Young Adult section. My favorite books of 2010 were THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. I absolutely devoured them, and I know that they will forever remain near the top of my “favorite books of all time” list. Though it sometimes may be unpopular to admit this, I truly enjoyed the TWILIGHT saga. I recently read THE POISON DIARIES by Maryrose Wood (a book that really deserved more attention than it received) and wondered, as I closed the last page, how I would endure the wait for the next installment. Add the realistic worlds of books by writers like Laurie Halse Anderson to the sci-fi/fantasy worlds of writers like Suzanne Collins, and there is nothing my literary appetite craves that can’t be found in the YA section of the bookstore.

So these are my personal reasons for writing YA. My husband says the true reason is that I have never stopped being a teenager. Sadly, I know that isn’t true. But it is true that I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a teenager. And I hope that by reading and writing YA, I never will forget.

Long live my teenaged self! Because “young Julie” was flexible, unafraid, resilient, and unjaded. Somehow, I’ve managed to keep young Julie’s spirit alive inside “not-so-young Julie.” If reading and writing Young Adult fiction have contributed to that, may I NEVER EVER stop!

Do you write for young adults? Are you still in that age group yourself? Do you know that the adult market is the only market for you? What about middle grade or children’s? Please share your opinions with me in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Point of View – First Person, Third Person, or Objective?

20 Dec

by Julie Eshbaugh

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There are few decisions a writer can make that will have a stronger influence on their story than the choice of point of view.  The point of view (POV) from which a story is told answers more than the simple question, “Who tells the story?”  It determines “How much is the narrator allowed to know?” and “To what extent can the narrator perceive the characters’ thoughts and emotions and share them with the reader?”

There are four basic choices when it comes to POV:

1.)    Third person omniscient

2.)   Third person limited

3.)   First person

4.)   Objective

THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT may appear to a writer as the simplest means of telling a story, because the reader can know the thoughts of all the characters and therefore the writer can take the reader to any scene in the story and reveal as much – or as little – of the story as needed.  Unlike third person limited or first person, the writer isn’t tied to what a single character sees or experiences.

Here’s an example of a scene from the classic story Hansel and Gretel told in third person omniscient POV.  Italics are used to show the places the narrator conveys knowledge of a character’s thoughts or feelings:

“Hansel walked ahead of Gretel; after all, he knew he belonged in the front because Gretel was just a girl. Gretel dropped breadcrumbs behind her as she went, knowing that her bumbling brother couldn’t be counted on to find his way home from the outhouse, let alone from the middle of the woods.

Ahead of them, an old witch waited, her stomach rumbling at the thought of what a delicious dinner the two plump children would make.”

In this example, the writer is fairly liberal with her knowledge of all the characters.  However, this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.  Some narrators may reveal the thoughts of all the characters but one, which raises the mystery and significance of the “unknown” character.  Other times, a story might be told by a narrator that confines his observations to only one character at a time.  This happens in the short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” by Richard Connell, where the POV shifts from Rainsford to Zaroff near the end of the story.

Third person omniscient gives the writer the most flexibility, and, when used well, it can enable a story to capture both depth and breadth.  However, there are certain inherent dangers to omniscient POV.  For one, the writer may come between her reader and her story by offering too many interpretations of events.  The reader may become confused by an apparent inconsistency from shifting points of view, and the story may lose its realism by revealing so much more than what is experienced by the reader “in real life.”

THIRD PERSON LIMITED is similar to omniscient, except the writer can only access the thoughts and feelings of one character.  The writer stays by the side of this character, so the story is limited to this one person’s experiences, and the narrator tells the story through this one character’s eyes and mind.  Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is told in third person limited, with Elizabeth Bennet serving as the point of view character.  By putting limitations on what the reader is able to know, suspense and mystery become much more available to the writer.  Also, the narrator often takes on the attitudes of the point of view character, assuming that the character’s beliefs about the events of the story are true.  This brings the focus in on this one select character and makes the story much more personal.

Here’s our Hansel and Gretel example, but from third person limited, with Gretel as the point of view character:

“Hansel walked ahead of Gretel.  Gretel dropped breadcrumbs behind her as she went, knowing that her bumbling brother couldn’t be counted on to find his way home from the outhouse, let alone from the middle of the woods.

Notice that the mention of the witch is gone, since Gretel has no knowledge of her at this point.

FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW takes the narration and moves it completely into the interior of one character.  At first it may seem that the flexibility and limits of third person limited and first person would be the same, and they are very similar, but there a few key differences.  Since in first person, the story is told by the character directly, the author as intervening narrator is completely eliminated, adding a bit of extra immediacy to the story and making the character’s “voice” much more discernible.  However, the author who chooses first person over third person limited sacrifices the ability to interpret the character in any way that the character is not personally aware.  Whereas third person limited allows the writer the opportunity to tell the reader things about the point of view character of which he or she may be only dimly aware, first person is limited entirely to what the narrating character asserts he or she sees.  This makes the point of view very subjective, and if the first person narrator has a limited outlook, the reader will receive all the events filtered through the narrator’s limited ability to interpret his or her surroundings.  One great example of a first person narrator who filters the story’s events before telling them to the reader is Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s CATCHER IN THE RYE.  Holden isn’t the most objective narrator, so the reader is left to figure out the story’s events and their meanings while simultaneously figuring out the particular quirks of Holden’s personality.

Here’s our Hansel and Gretel example, but from first person, with Gretel as the point of view character:

Hansel walked ahead of me.  I made sure I dropped breadcrumbs behind me as I went, since my bumbling brother couldn’t be counted on to find his way home from the outhouse, let alone from the middle of the woods.

Notice that the entire passage is italicized, because all of it is Gretel’s thoughts.

OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW is often referred to as Dramatic point of view, because the story is narrated by the author as if he is a mere spectator of events.  Objective point of view contains no references to thoughts or feelings; it only reports what can be seen and heard.  One way to imagine this POV would be to think of the narrator as a roving movie camera.

Objective POV has its own advantages and disadvantages.  Of all the points of view available to an author, it could be argued that it offers the most speed and the most action.  However, it doesn’t allow the writer any room to interpret events at all.  This works well when writing stories with serious themes, because it removes the danger of the narrator coming across as “preachy.”  Objective POV allows the reader to form his or her own opinions.  It puts a lot of pressure on the writer, therefore, to convey all that needs to be conveyed with action and dialogue.  A classic example of objective POV used to perfect effect is the short story “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson.

Here’s our Hansel and Gretel example, but from the objective POV:

“Hansel walked ahead of Gretel. Gretel dropped breadcrumbs behind her as she went.

Ahead of them, an old witch waited.”

Notice that none of the passage is italicized, because all of it is action, and no thoughts or feelings are included at all.

So which do you like the best?  Have you ever attempted objective POV, or do you stick to a more standard approach?  Do you always write in the same POV, or do you like to mix it up, depending on the project?  I hope you’ll share your attitudes toward POV in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Chekhov’s Gun – How to Make this Technique Work for You

22 Nov

by Julie Eshbaugh

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The term Chekhov’s Gun refers to a literary technique built around playwright Anton Chekhov’s assertion that, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”  (This quote is found in endless variations.  This particular version is from Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No 28, July 11, p. 521)

Though this pearl of wisdom may be quite clear and helpful to you the next time you find yourself designing the set for your local community theater’s production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, perhaps you are currently wondering how Chekhov’s advice could possibly benefit you as a novelist.

First, let’s analyze what Chekhov’s Gun is NOT.  Although the technique is often mistaken for advice concerning foreshadowing, seeing it as such is a bit backwards.  Chekhov’s advice is less concerned with what should be included to hint at the coming events (what we generally think of as foreshadowing) than it is with what should not be included.  Without going too far into a discussion of foreshadowing – a technique worthy of its own post for another day – I think we can agree that true foreshadowing concerns references to plot elements, characters, or even eventual outcomes in the conflict that are made early in a story with seeming insignificance.  If Chekhov’s Gun were truly a technique concerning foreshadowing, Anton Chekhov might have said something more like, “If a pistol will be fired in the second act, it ought to be hung on the wall in the first act.”

Instead, Chekhov’s Gun is more a warning against unnecessary clutter in your story.  Chekhov is advising us writers against frivolous detail.  Let’s look at his literal example of the gun again.  In Chekhov’s play, UNCLE VANYA, a handgun appears as a seemingly meaningless prop early on in the action.  However, its presence on the stage becomes much more significant late in the drama when the character of Uncle Vanya grabs the pistol and tries to murder another character in a rage.

If we look at this example of Chekhov’s own implementation of Chekhov’s Gun, we witness what is often thought of as “economy of detail.”  For us as novelists, “economy of detail” can be used to keep our writing tight.  Utilizing the technique of Chekhov’s Gun helps to maintain tight stories, tight scenes, and even tight paragraphs.

Often, our first draft will contain lots of extraneous “firearms” lying about.  For an example, I can point to a recent cut I made in the first chapter of my current WIP.  Originally, I planned that the arrival of an older relative would cause the teenaged main character to be forced by her parents to play the piano and sing.  I imagined this to be a family ritual (one that, I must admit, I took from my own life experience.  Ugh…)

I wrote this scene into the first draft.  I intended this performance to have meaning later in the story.  However, I changed my mind about later events, and now there was no real purpose for this “command performance” by my MC, accept for the fact that it revealed a bit of her character.  Otherwise, it did nothing to move the story forward, and, in fact, slowed the pace of the all-important opening of the story.

Still, I hated to cut it.  After all, I’d ruminated quite a bit on this particular experience as I’d developed my ideas about this character.  I imagined this ritual humiliation at the hands of her family as quite significant.  Yet, when I re-read the draft, I realized it was meaningless to the story as a whole.  The piano, her singing, her embarrassment – none of it had any significance at all once the later part of the draft had been rewritten.  I realized this scene was an extraneous pistol hanging on the wall.  So I cut it.  (It wasn’t easy, of course.  I often quote the truism that as writers, we are forced to “kill our darlings.”  As meaningless and distracting as it was, I loved this little scene.  So I cut and pasted it into a character study about my main character.  Now it can live on, if only for me.)

Any discussion of Chekhov’s Gun inevitably leads to thoughts of the opposite technique – the technique of the Red Herring.  Writers of mysteries, especially, may be wondering how the technique of Chekhov’s Gun can coexist with the technique of the Red Herring, which is a plot device that is intentionally designed to divert attention.  For example, in a mystery, attention may be drawn away from the truly guilty character by deceptively casting an innocent character in a suspicious light.

But when a Red Herring is employed, it isn’t extraneous clutter at all.  It is in the story for a genuine and necessary purpose, although that purpose might be to divert the reader’s attention from the true direction of the story.  The use of a Red Herring may, in the most literal sense, break the rule of Chekhov’s Gun, in that there may be “a pistol hung on the wall” in an early scene that will not, in fact, be fired in a later scene.  But when the rule of Chekhov’s Gun is considered to encompass the idea of “economy of detail,” then the “pistol” used as a Red Herring fits within the rule, as it is “hung on the wall” for a willful purpose.  Eventually, the reader will understand why the “pistol” was there all along.

Can you think of stories that neglected the rule of Chekhov’s Gun?  (Many times a television series is cancelled before “the pistol hung on the wall” gets the chance to go off!)  Have you ever had to cut a scene because it distracted your story’s progress and broke the rule of Chekhov’s Gun?  Do you think there are good exceptions to this rule?  I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Archetypes, not Stereotypes

11 Nov

by Julie Eshbaugh

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In my post about the Hero’s Journey (which you can read here,) I mentioned a few characters, specifically the Hero and the Mentor, who fall into the category of archetypes.   Archetypes are a main tenet of the theories contained in Joseph Campbell’s watershed work, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES.   Most writers are familiar with the idea of archetypes and many may be interested in finding out how archetypes could function in their own writing.

Yet, doesn’t the term “archetype” bring to mind the term “stereotype?”   How do we define the difference?   How can it be that archetypes are good, while stereotypes are bad?   And most importantly, how can you get all the benefits out of the use of archetypes without falling into the trap of using stereotypes?

One way to see the difference is to imagine an archetype as a base to build upon.   An archetype is a prototype of a character.   On the other hand, a stereotype is an overly simplified concept of a character, with overly simplified opinions or behaviors.   A stereotype is two-dimensional and generally stays that way.

An archetype works best as a pattern upon which an original character can be built.   Take, for example, the archetype of the Mentor.   In the HARRY POTTER series, Professor Dumbledore fits into this category, but so does Glynda the Good Witch in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, and Haymitch in THE HUNGER GAMES.   All of these characters have, at their foundation, the archetype of the Mentor.  Yet no one would ever confuse them for stereotypes of the same character.

According to Christopher Vogler, who took Joseph Campbell’s theories and applied them to the craft of writing in his book THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, and Stuart Voytilla, who expanded on Vogler in MYTH AND THE MOVIES, an archetype can be imagined as a mask a character wears that fits the role that character is playing in the story.   Sometimes a character wears the same mask throughout the story, but not always.   For instance, Obi Wan Kenobi wears the mask of the Mentor through most of STAR WARS, but he must wear the Hero’s mask when he sacrifices himself to Darth Vader to allow Luke and Leia to escape.  Voytilla also uses another film reference to demonstrate the sharing of a mask between several characters.   In CASABLANCA, Voytilla points out, Rick is generally seen as the Hero.  Yet the mask of the Hero is originally worn by Victor Lazlo, then passed to Ilsa, who passes it to Rick.   In many ways, Rick would have been a much less effective hero had he not had the Hero’s mask passed to him through this progression.   (If you’ve never seen CASABLANCA, go add it to your Netflix list right now! You don’t know what you’re missing!)

A list of the most frequently occurring archetypes in fiction, and the roles they play, would include:

1. Hero                                                 “to sacrifice and serve”
2. Mentor                                            “to guide”
3. Threshold Guardian                  “to test”
4. Herald                                             “to warn and challenge”
5. Shapeshifter                                 “to question and deceive”
6. Shadow                                           “to destroy”
7. Trickster                                        “to disrupt”

When deciding how to use these archetypes (or any of the many additional archetypes) in your own writing, or which characters should wear which masks in which scenes, try asking yourself these questions:

• What is this character’s function on the Hero’s Journey?
• What is this character’s goal?
• What means will the character be using to achieve this goal?

Do you use archetypes in your own writing?   Have you ever completed a story and then recognized the presence of archetypes you hadn’t intentionally included?  Do you think archetypes are too limiting to a writer?  Please tell me what you think in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Book Recommendation: FIRELIGHT by Sophie Jordan

31 Oct

“Just surrender to the sizzle.” (Kirkus Reviews )

With her rare ability to breathe fire, Jacinda is special even among the draki—the descendants of dragons who can shift between human and dragon forms. But when Jacinda’s rebelliousness leads her family to flee into the human world, she struggles to adapt, even as her draki spirit fades. The one thing that revives it is Will, whose family hunts her kind. Jacinda can’t resist getting closer to him, even though she knows she’s risking not only her life but the draki’s most closely guarded secret.

I truly enjoyed FIRELIGHT.  From the first page I was unable to put the book down. Firelight is book full of vivid prose and description!  The characters seem to materialize right in front of you and drag you into their story with them. Jacinda and Will were favorite characters of mine, but I couldn’t help but feel drawn to by Jacinda’s sister, Tamra, as well.

Jacinda is a draki. As a descendant of dragons, she has two forms: her human one, and her truer draki form, complete with shimmering skin and dragon wings!  What makes her even more unique among her kind? She has the ability to breathe fire, thought to be lost among her species.

I really only had one issue with Jacinda, and that was her lack of decisiveness.  She see-sawed back and forth about Will a bit too much for my taste.  However, Will is a hunter, and what’s more, a hunter of her own kind.  So maybe Jacinda has a right to her indecisiveness.  It only interrupted my enjoyment of the story in spots.

In general, I would say that this series is very intriguing and Sophie Jordan has definitely brought a fresh voice to YA paranormal!

 

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.

 

Symbolism – How to Make it Work in Your Writing

25 Oct

by Julie Eshbaugh

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Symbolism is an aspect of literature that makes a lot of people groan. Perhaps it takes us back to those days of high school English class when we were told about symbols that seemed to exist only in the mind of our teacher. For instance, I loved THE GREAT GATSBY, but I snickered when my teacher told us that Gatsby was a Christ figure. Really? I scoffed. Only an over-analyzing English teacher would come to that absurd conclusion! (By the way, I now realize that Gatsby is, in fact, a Christ figure, and I apologize wholeheartedly to my English teacher, who will remain anonymous.)

Just to demonstrate how symbolism can enhance widely varied books, let’s look at two books that employ symbols to the great advantage of the story. The first is THE LORAX, by Dr. Seuss. The second is THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins.

In THE LORAX, Dr. Seuss tells us about a fantastical place where the beautiful Truffula Trees grow. Soon the Once-ler arrives, and begins to chop down the trees to use their foliage to knit “Thneeds,” a product that is apparently incredibly versatile. The Lorax is a creature who takes up an argument with the Once-ler, in an attempt to stop him from destroying the Truffula Tree forest with his efforts to make innumerous Thneeds.

If anyone ever attempts to convince you that symbolism only exists in the minds of English teachers and literature professors, steer him or her directly to Dr. Seuss’s THE LORAX. The symbolism is fairly impossible to miss. The Once-ler symbolizes industry, the Thneeds he makes (Thneed=The Need?) represent consumerism, and the Lorax symbolizes the environment. Despite the heavy use of symbolism, THE LORAX succeeds as a piece of fiction (just ask any pre-schooler!) because it is an entertaining story first and foremost. The symbols are there; the theme is there.  But you don’t have to “get it” to enjoy the book.

THE HUNGER GAMES is another book that is enjoyed by many readers regardless of the theme or the symbols that enrich it. I’ve discussed the theme of the HG trilogy with many writers and readers, and some have stated the theme and the symbols made the book richer, while others have said they’d rather not analyze the books, because it takes away from their enjoyment of the story at the trilogy’s core. I won’t argue that analysis makes the books better or more interesting, (although looking at the symbolism does increase my own appreciation of the books,) but I will argue that symbolism is undeniably present in the series.

With great pains to not “spoil” the story for any readers who haven’t gotten around to reading THE HUNGER GAMES yet, I think I can mention a few symbols that Suzanne Collins employs in the first book. One of these symbols is right on the cover – an arrow. The book’s main character, Katniss, is very skilled with a bow. Arrows and archery are a major component of her character. Looking at an arrow as a symbol, it can be argued that they are only effective if they are straight, and shot with accuracy at the proper target. Those of you who have read the book will see that this symbol certainly fits Katniss. Another symbol exists in Katniss’s own name. She tells the reader that her name, Katniss, is also the name of a wild, edible plant that her father taught her to recognize when foraging for food. Her father told her that, as long as she can find “herself,” she’ll always survive. Lastly, I’ll mention the oppressive President of the country of Panem, President Snow. Katniss describes how she realized, one early spring day, that her family could survive on her skills at hunting and foraging when she saw the yellow of an early dandelion (another edible plant,) emerging from the snow. The fact that this memory contains a reference to the name of the President is more than coincidence and is arguably quite symbolic.

Symbolism is a fantastic tool for enhancing and clarifying your story’s theme. It can weave subtle shades of meaning into your writing, turning what began as a simple rug into a rich tapestry. So why does it seem so difficult to incorporate symbolism into your own writing? Perhaps the answer is in the fact that most of us start a new project based on a new character we’ve created or a plot idea that we feel compelled to explore. I would venture that few of us start a new project because a theme is keeping us awake at night.

By the way, this is a good thing! Starting with theme rather than character or plot sets you on a path toward a moralistic, preachy story faster than almost any other technique. That’s not to say it would be impossible to start with theme and finish with a wildly entertaining and fascinating story; I’m just saying you may be taking the more difficult road with that method.

So how does a writer incorporate meaningful symbols into a piece of fiction? By being patient. By waiting out the first and maybe even the second draft. By getting a piece of writing to the point where the theme begins to emerge and resonate louder with each new revision. Perhaps for the first time, you, the writer, might have that moment of epiphany where the real meaning of a piece of your own writing becomes clear to you. Finally you know why your subconscious pushed you to write this story to begin with. A theme has revealed itself. Now, with the next round of revisions, you have the tools to add the symbolism you didn’t have when you started the first draft.

You may find that symbols that had lain unseen until your theme became clear are already present in your piece. If you realize that the theme of renewal is woven into your work, you may discover that you already, perhaps subconsciously, have included references to the leaves budding on the trees in spring. You may decide to incorporate more specific references according to the progress of your main character’s journey, perhaps mentioning the drips falling from melting icicles, the greening of the grass, and the return of songbirds to the trees. You may decide to alter the names of characters during a revision that is focused on symbolism.

In my own novel, FIREFLY, I originally had only one scene that mentioned the insect referenced in the title. At that time, the novel was called STAR-CROSSED. When I had to find a new title, I immediately looked at the theme. I settled on FIREFLY because, like one of my main characters, fireflies stay for only a short time each summer, and they are impossible to keep. This realization inspired me to re-work the existing scene that mentioned a firefly, and to build extra layers of symbolism into the text.

Does symbolism in the books you read interest you or turn you off?  Do you use symbolism in your own writing?   Have you ever discovered a symbol you hadn’t consciously intended to include?

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.