Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nuts and Bolts

The literature club met again this past Wednesday, but I've been struggling on how to accurately represent our discussion.

I read aloud the prologue as well as chapters 1 and 2. Along the way I stopped and discussed active versus passive writing, point of view, and the manner in which the characters were introduced and scenes set.

The bad thing is that I loaned out my copy of Magickeepers to a late joining boy so I can't reference it directly for this post. That means I'll be working from memory as I create this post.

Active versus Passive

Simply put the subject of the sentence needs to be the one supplying the action.

Active -- The bed was made.

Passive -- Billy made the bed.

Active -- Billy ran.

Passive -- Billy was running.

But active sentences alone are not enough to make the writing come alive.

Billy made his bed. Bill ran to the store.

Blah, blah who cares. The reader knows nothing of Billy, the store, or Billy's reasons for running.

Show the reader something. Give them an idea about Billy, his room or the store he is in such a hurry to get off to.

Billy pulled his Steelers comforter up and tucked it under his pillow. Now that He'd made up both mattresses of his bunk bed were made, he could run down to 7-11 and have a Slurpee with his friend Ben.


Point of view is the person from who's perspective you are telling the story.

Billy hated making his bed. None of his friends had to make their own bed. Of course none of them had Attila the Hun for a mother.

These are Billy's thoughts, therefore we are in Billy's POV. Books and stories can have more than one POV character but you can only be in one POV at a time. And if our POV character cannot see or hear what is going on than we cannot include it.

For example. Billy could not be making his bed and see his friend Ben sucking down his Slurpee. Why? Because Billy is not at the 7-11. Now he can imagine that Ben is already there. He can even have a thought similar to this.

Here he was making the stupid bed while Ben was probably on his third wild cherry Slurpee. Billy could almost see his friend's triumph smirk that he'd gotten there first.

The words probably and almost make it clear to the reader that while Billy can't actually see Ben he can guess to what his friend is doing.

And if you shift POV's it is important to signal the change to the reader either with a chapter break or some other means such as a page break.

With the exception of the prologue, Magickeepers is told entirely from Nick's POV as is most Young Adult books.

When introducing both new characters and new scenes it is important to clue the reader in as soon as impossible. Choose the words you use carefully and you can convey exactly what you want the reader to see.

In chapter 2 of Magickeepers, Nick's grandpa takes him to a magic shop out in the dessert. The words the author uses, such as blood red, help to not only paint a picture but also a mood and feel. Ripe apple red, or clown nose red might state the color but they would not lend the scene the proper tone. Blood makes us think of danger and fear which goes along with the scene.

The same principle applies to characters. An overweight man described as having a belly like Santa will give the reader a different idea as one having a belly that bulges like bloated roadkill.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain and is ...

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

... so choose your words carefully and pick out the ones that mimic the feel of your story.

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