Tag Archives: Julie Eshbaugh

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.

 

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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?

~~~

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

 

LTWF Anniversary…What A Year It’s Been!

7 Oct

By

 

Sarah J. Maas

 

~

Looking back to last year, it’s hard to believe how far this blog has come in just twelve months.

When I got the idea for Let The Words Flow, I had very few writing friends—fewer still from FictionPress. The FP friends I did have didn’t know each other—didn’t know that there were others out there, struggling to make the leap between FP and publication.

The only proof I had that you could make the jump was embodied in Mandy Hubbard, our resident rock star, who supported this group from Day 1. I knew that if Mandy was on board, we’d have a degree of credibility—Mandy, with her multiple book deals and oodles of success, was our poster child for all that we could accomplish.

But there had to be more of us out there—there had to be other FP people with book deals, or agents, or querying agents. So I looked. I looked and looked, browsing through the profiles of other FictionPress “Greats.” And I found a few—enough to start a blog, if they would only join Mandy and me.

I still remember the terror and anticipation of sending out those initial emails to potential contributors—I remember praying that any of them would respond to me.

After all, very few of us were friends—in fact, most of us had been fierce rivals on FictionPress. We never talked, and if we ever came across each other, it was in fan-run contests that did nothing but increase the tension between us. We were all islands surrounded by a sea of adoring fans.

You can’t imagine my surprise when all of them not only replied to me—but they all accepted my offer to join LTWF.

The biggest surprise came from Savannah J. Foley not only accepting the offer, but being absolutely thrilled to join the group. She’d been one of my biggest rivals on FP—QUEEN OF GLASS and WOMAN’S WORLD were always matched up against each other in contests. But it was our similarities, not our past differences, that bonded us: we both had agents, and had both started submissions to editors. Though she had a ton of potential, I had no idea—none—that she would become not only a close friend, but also the solid foundation upon which LTWF would be built.

I will admit, initially, I was swamped. I managed a lot of features on the site, and would often bolt upright in the middle of the night to realize something needed fixing. We only posted three days a week, but it was enough to keep us all busy. We survived the initial few months, and our readership grew more and more every day—we actually had readers! We had people who were interested in our journeys, people who were having journeys of their own—people who were interesting and brilliant and oh so lovely.

One of those people was Biljana Likic. A long-time friend of mine from FP, Billy is a bit of a child prodigy—though she was only 17 at the time, her writing was  (and is!) incredible. At the risk of sounding like an old person, Billy showed a tremendous amount of potential. She’s also wonderful person—funny, kind, and clever, and she brought a much-needed burst of humor and fun to the group dynamic when she joined in January of 2010.

With Billy on board, we had enough members—and enough readers—to start posting more frequently. We dared ourselves to start posting five days a week. I fretted over that (when am I NOT worrying?), wondering if we could possibly keep it up, and how we could keep our readers interested. I also wondered if we had enough diversity in the group—there were plenty of aspiring writers in LTWF, but what about the other side of the desk? What about aspiring agents and editors?

That answer came in early March, in the form of Vanessa Di Gregorio, an aspiring writer attending a publishing course, but also an intern at a literary agency with dreams of working in publishing. The other side of the desk didn’t look so empty anymore. Of course, we had no idea that being on the other side of the desk would later be the way we got hooked up with prizes for all of our giveaways, or that she’d become the Grand Dame of our Saturday Grab Bag posts and book reviews. Or that she’d be the one to revamp our site and become the ghost behind our twitter account, taking it from 50 or so followers to over 450 followers (and counting)!

By that point, it seemed only natural to add Jenn Fitzgerald to our ranks in late March. Another aspiring author, Jenn spends her days living out one of everyone’s childhood dreams: working as an archaeologist. Her adorable MG novel brought a bit of a change from our usual YA fare, and her determination to keep querying and writing, despite digging all day long, made her an inspiration.

At this point, we found new members left and right. We had people applying to be in the group. That absolutely blew my mind.

In the group itself, the number of emails back and forth skyrocketed. Communicating with my contributors was no longer a daily thing, but an hourly one. Girls who I had once seen as my enemies were my confidantes and cheerleaders. I’ll never forget the joy of sending an email to them, announcing my book deal with Bloomsbury—and I’ll never forget crying in my car as their replies showed up on my blackberry. Sharing that moment with them was one of the best moments of my publishing journey thus far.

In the wake of getting a book deal, one of the congratulatory wishes I received was from a FP writer named Julie Eshbaugh—who sent me a message to say that LTWF had inspired her to keep querying, and that she now had an agent. She was so passionate about the group (and had received multiple offers of representation!) that we knew she had to join us. So, in early April of 2010, she did. And she meshed perfectly.

With so many members, we no longer had to worry about filling out the calendar. In fact, we were all so eager to post that we added another day of posting, and in May, we kicked off our Saturday posts.

Swamped with pre-wedding preparations, I had to step back a bit from my LTWF duties. I wondered if this group—which I had once managed all on my own—could function without me for a few weeks. Well, to my delight, it could—and it did. The site that I had struggled to maintain months ago was suddenly a well-oiled machine—people had assumed responsibilities without even my asking. Realizing that it had become a community-run blog was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had.

One of the members who would later become a huge help was Kat Zhang. She submitted an application that blew us all away—not only was she querying agents with a wonderful manuscript, but she was also an amazingly talented spoken word poet. We had tentatively discussed not taking on any more un-agented new members, but Kat’s humor, kindness, and brilliance won us over. We knew it was only a matter of time before she landed an agent. And this September, she did. Kat claims she didn’t cry the day she got the call, but I think a few of us cried enough on her behalf to compensate.

After Kat joined, we had a dilemma: did we have too many members? Were our readers getting detached from the warm, cozy atmosphere of the site? It would take a truly incredible member to get us to change our mind. We found two.

Sammy Bina originally joined us as a month-long guest contributor, though by the end of week 1, it was pretty apparent that we had to have her forever. An intern at a literary agency, Sammy brought invaluable advice to our readers regarding all aspects of the querying process—and as an aspiring, querying writer, she was also a contributor our readers could connect with. More than that, Sammy was also a part of the wildly-popular Plagiarism Haven group, and many of her readers became LTWF regulars. If you attended our latest livechat, you’ll know that she’s a firecracker, and provides us with endless hours of entertainment (which is obviously the most important thing she could do!).

The last member to join our ranks was Vahini Naidoo—who came to us just days after accepting an offer of representation from an agent (after receiving multiple offers)! Not to mention, she’s still in high school (way to make us all feel bad, Vee!). Hailing from Australia, Vee took LTWF from a North American group to a truly international one, and her dry sense of humor melded beautifully with our group dynamic.

Had you asked me a year ago if I knew that the group would become so large, and so diverse, I would have laughed. When I started the blog, I had high hopes, but I never thought farther down the road than a few months. Now we think in years.

One of the exciting new features that we’ll be adding is our free online creative writing course, which will begin in February of 2011 (details soon to come)! We’re also planning tons of livechats (next month: querying!), adding some new members, and we have a few more surprises up our collective sleeve.

But we wanted to do one more thing—just to say thank you to the readers who have helped make this blog such a success.

In honor of our one-year anniversary, we’re going to be giving away nine gift baskets customized by each LTWF member! On Saturday, we’ll post the official contest announcement/sign-up, but gift baskets will include contributors’ favorite books, moleskine notebooks, and much, much more!

Because we owe it all to YOU. We never could have added new members—we never would have met each other—if we didn’t have readers coming back every day, asking us QOTWs, entering our contests, and turning this blog from a dream into a reality.

A year ago, that’s all this blog was—a dream. A dream that we weren’t the only FictionPress people trying to get published. And if there’s any moral to this post—to this blog in all its entirety—it’s that you are not alone.

I think that’s what took us all by surprise: despite years of rivalry on FictionPress, we are more similar than any of us realized. We are not alone. We are no longer islands.

Thank you all for proving that.

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

Creating Characters Using the Dialectical Method

6 Oct

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Dialectics is a method of argument that dates back to ancient times.  Central to both Indic and Western philosophy, the method was popularized by Plato in his Socratic Dialogues.  Dialectics is based in dialogue, but unlike debate, which centers on two people of opposing views trying to prove the other wrong, dialectics starts with two people of opposing views who wish to reach an agreement.

What does any of this have to do with creating characters?  Good question!  All strong, well-rounded characters have a dual nature.  So when I talk about “dialogue,” I’m not referring to a conversation between two opposing characters; I’m talking about an inner dialogue between the opposing forces within an individual character.  In other words, dialectics can be used to draw out and reveal the dualism and conflict within each of your characters.

The dialectical method is made up of four basic principles:

  1. Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time (this idea is not accepted by some dialecticians).
  2. Everything is made out of opposing forces/opposing sides (contradictions).
  3. Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one force overcomes the other (quantitative change leads to qualitative change).
  4. Change moves in spirals, not circles.

Opposing forces?  Turning points?  Now we’re talking about writing!

As your novel opens, your main character will be of a specific frame of mind.  One attitude is dominant.  You should be able to sum up this perspective in a statement.  For instance, Romeo’s original perspective at the opening of ROMEO AND JULIET might be phrased as, “I will always hate all Capulets.”  This original statement, in dialectical terms, is the “thesis.”  Later, Romeo is faced with a contradictory view point.   An opposing statement would fit Romeo’s new attitude.  This statement might be, “Capulets and Montagues no longer matter, because I love Juliet.”  In dialectical terms, this opposing point of view is the “antithesis.”

Character development happens on its own when you delve into these opposing points of view within your character.  Once your character’s original view is opposed by a contradictory view, the original view must yield.  This doesn’t mean that the thesis is thrown over completely in favor of the antithesis.  In dialectics, unlike debate, truth is sought through compromise.  In the example of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo avenges the death of Mercutio by killing Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt.  So his love for Juliet has disproved his thesis, but his loyalty to his own clan has disproved his antithesis.  Romeo’s compromising view point could be stated as, “I will always be a Montague, but that fact will not prevent my love for Juliet.”  The compromise, in dialectical terms, is known as the “synthesis.”  When the synthesis is reached, generally your character has completed a full character arc.

Taking Elizabeth Bennet from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as an example, Elizabeth’s thesis might be stated as, “Mr. Darcy is an overly proud, obnoxious person, not worthy of my attention.”

Elizabeth’s antithesis might be, “Mr. Darcy is a good man, and I do not deserve him (and he knows it!)”

Eventually, Elizabeth reaches a synthesis that might be stated as, “Mr. Darcy and I are both proud and stubborn, and we belong together.”

Take a look at your own favorite books.  Do the characters’ turning points and arcs fit the dialectical method?

Do the characters in your own manuscripts move from thesis, to antithesis, to synthesis?  If not, and you think the development of your characters could be stronger, can you find where the principles of dialectics could be applied?

I’d love to know if this approach works or doesn’t work for you. I don’t know that it will work for every book. Im looking forward to reading your comments!

~~~

 

 

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