Tag Archives: The Hunger Games

Writing Great Micro-concepts

Today I’m going to talk about what I call “micro-concepts.” I don’t know if there is a real term for them, but micro-concepts are cool little tidbits, little concepts that come up in some minor point of the story. They can be about a minor character, or a bit of indirect plot, or a snip of detail. They are really cool ideas or just great ideas that come up in passing. They may be only one sentence long or a couple of paragraphs.

In contrast, a “macro-concept” is an overall concept in a story. It might be the concept of your story itself. In The Hunger Games the idea that kids have to fight each other to the death in a reality t.v. show is a macro-concept. In the trilogy, Peeta becoming exactly what he feared was a character macro-concept. Macro-concepts are usually what come to mind when we talk about concepts in a story–we’re thinking of the big picture. The overarching ideas.

 

 

But concepts appear in small aspects too. Micro-concepts are like that post I did a while back on picking the right details. We could pick some kind of generic concept for something small in our story, or we can pick something fresh or interesting. I’ll give some examples.

Continue reading Writing Great Micro-concepts

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

How to Write What’s Not Written (Subtext)



Subtext: *tries to be invisible*

 

I’ve been seeing a number of stories lately that are lacking in subtext. And honestly, it’s no surprise. Writing subtext (or, I guess not writing it) is flipping difficult to 1) understand 2) do. I had read about writing subtext like over two years ago, and only now do I feel like I’m starting to understand it and have conscious control over it. So, I’m going to attempt to try to explain how to do it.

What is Subtext?

The best definition of subtext, in my opinion, is this: subtext is what’s not said; it is what is implied.
Remember my humor post from a few weeks back? I talked about how Lemony Snicket had a specific technique he employed for some of his humor. He states the obvious. And then strongly implies the un-obvious.
So subtext is what is implied. Look at this example of it that I just made up:

Robert, not bothering to raise his hand, spouted out an inappropriate joke.

“Robert, I don’t want to hear that kind of language in my class,” Mr. Henderson said, but the ends of his lips twitched up. “That’s very offensive.” He failed to suppress a full-blown grin.

Here, we can tell that the teacher found whatever Robert said funny, but neither he nor the narrator comes out and tells the reader that. Instead it’s implied by his body language and behavior–what he doesn’t say. What Mr. Henderson actually says to Robert is at odds with how Mr. Henderson acts.

Continue reading How to Write What’s Not Written (Subtext)

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Picking the Right Character Names

One of my followers asked, “I can’t for the life of me get my character’s names right. I have two main characters and I just can’t find satisfactory names for them. Do you have any tips on how to find the right names?”

Which led me to write a whole post that covered everything I could think of about character names.

Setting and origin is an important factor.  If I lived in China, my name might be “Li Ming Fan.” Names like “Alohilani Smith” suggest a mix of ancestral heritage or perhaps the character’s mother is Hawaiian and the father American. I have one friend who has a Native American name and she’s super pale, yet she has Native American blood, so you could even play around with things like that to make your character a little unique.

harry pavarti

Names can suggest culture and ethnicity. Never in the Harry Potter books does Rowling describe the Parvatis’ skin color. She just gave them Indian names, Padma and Patil. In The Maze Runner series, we meet Fernando. Dashner doesn’t need to tell us Fernando’s ethnicity.

Names can also establish time period. I had grandmother named “Merle.” No one names their kids that these days, but if you wanted to write a story that took place about 80 years ago or you’re writing about a grandma in 2015, it’d be fine, just like “Gertrude.” Some of those names are coming back in fashion. “Emma” used to be an old name, but in the last decade or so it’s become one of the most popular baby names. For my generation, everyone was named “Jessica” or “Megan,” so those name would be great for someone my age.

A lot of people are named after public figures or ancestors, so you can think about that. I’ve known people named after movie stars or prophets in scriptures. It can tell a lot about the character’s parents or the character’s family. I’ve heard of one family where the youngest child got to name the next baby–one can only imagine how that turned out.

Maybe your character’s parents are movie buffs, so they name their kid “Harrison,” after Harrison Ford, because they want him to be an actor. Does the boy want to be an actor? How does he feel about being in a family pushing him into that? That’s something you could explore. What about a character named after a prophet? Does he feel inadequate because he’s not saintly? What if he’s atheist? Would he try to go by a different name? Or wear it more proudly out of spite or snark?

You can pick names based on their meanings. J.K. Rowling does this all the time. “Dumbledore” is Latin for “Bumblebee,” and she picked it because she pictured Dumbledore to be the sort of person to hum when he walked about the castle. “Lupin” relates to “wolf,” and he’s a werewolf.  Many of the pure bloods are named after stars, like “Bellatrix” and “Draco,” and Sirius is named after the Dog Star, and he can turn into a dog. Suzanne Collins named her character “Katniss,” which is an old word for arrow or arrowhead–something like that. (There was once an early time when I could google “Katniss” and that’s what would come up. That time has definitely past.) Continue reading Picking the Right Character Names

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Writing (Magical) Items: Weapons, Attire, Potions, Tools, Steeds

I used to loathe the idea of having to research things like weapons for my fiction. It’s just not something that interested me. I’d rather just say “he had a sword,” or “she pulled out a gun,” and get back to the plot and characters. But I know some items, especially if they are important to the main characters, should be specific, should have names technical or given. Then one day this part of the writing process came alive for me when I applied The Legend of Zelda to it.

I don’t consider myself a “gamer,” but there are some games that I love. Zelda is one of those. I haven’t played all of them but several. One of the coolest parts about The Legend of Zelda, is that Link, the protagonist, acquires all these wicked weapons during the course of the game. They’re unique. They’re personalize. They’re awesome. Once I married my love for Zelda with writing, I finally gained an understanding of and appreciation for characters’ items.

Whether you write speculative fiction, like fantasy and sci-fi, or stick to the real world, you can get something out of this post. Even if your characters’ items aren’t Magical they can still be “magical,” and should be. In this post I’ll be talking about how to take your characters’ items to the next level, what makes an item a good one, and how to use an item well in your story. But first, let’s talk about the different kinds of items your character might have, both fantastical and realistic.

ocarina_of_time_inventory_by_blueamnesiac-d6wamuk

Continue reading Writing (Magical) Items: Weapons, Attire, Potions, Tools, Steeds

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Writing Creepy: Perverting the Normal

Creepy doesn’t have to be outlandish to send chills down a spine. Often what’s really creepy is something normal that has been twisted, distorted, or perverted either physically or through the story line.

 

Take dolls for example. If you go to a store and see a doll, you probably won’t look at it and consider it scary, right? But put the doll in a horror movie with a knife in its head (physical) or give it a criminal conscious (story), then it becomes a little more disturbing, and if done well, you might feel uncomfortable whenever you see a doll.

Sometimes, making something normal creepy is more powerful than creating something foreign and outlandish.

After I read The Hunger Games trilogy, I couldn’t look at roses the same way for months. Every time I saw a rose, it reminded me of President Snow, him poisoning people, killing children, and his constant, omniscient presence in Panem. He, and by extension his roses, became creepy.

But perhaps more unnerving were the genetically engineered, human-animal hybrids. In the first novel, the Capitol mixes dogs with the DNA of dead tributes. They unleash the creatures on Katniss in the arena.

Here is some concept art from the movie. As you can see, the mutts were toned down a lot in the final product.

 

 

 

These images have creeped me out ever since I first laid eyes on them because they marry two normal things (dogs and humans) in a perverted way.

Another example of a twisted creature that comes to mind is the dementors from Harry Potter. Dementors have a humanoid figure that resonates with the concept of “death,” but one of the creepiest dementor moments for me is when Harry finally sees what’s under a dementor’s hood:

Where there should have been eyes, there was only thin, gray scabbed skin, stretched blankly over empty sockets. But there was a mouth…a gaping, shapeless hole, sucking the air with the sound of a death rattle (Prisoner of Azkaban).

Again, something normal (a human face) is made creepy by perverting its appearance.

I have one more example. In the film adaptation of The Hobbit, we are introduced to the character Azog the Defiler. Part of his arm was cut off in an earlier battle, so he has a metallic claw. We’ve all seen pirates with hooks for hands, so the idea isn’t all the shocking in today’s world. But the filmmakers took the concept further. They added one little detail: the end of the claw goes through his arm, so you can see it poking out the other side. What a small but powerful detail. It made me uncomfortable whenever I saw it. They took a familiar concept and twisted it.

There are, of course, other ways to ramp up creepiness in a story, such as good, specific word choice, but consider this technique next time you need something unnerving.

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

The Value of Shock

Shocking Your Readers the Right way for the Right Reasons

Sometimes as a writer, you might want to make your readers uncomfortable or shock them. Here are some reasons why—

  1. You want to leave an impression on your readers
  2. You want to inspire a change of heart, perspective, or action from your readers. Or simply increase their awareness of a specific issue.
  3. You want to illustrate, realistically, how a particular situation is.
  4. Just for sake of it, for effect.

Number four is usually referred to as “gratuitous”—it’s there for the sake of it. It doesn’t add to the story. It doesn’t further the plot. It’s just there.

One example that comes to mind is the first Transformers movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent movie, but it has gratuitous content: a random sexual conversation about the protagonist…having his own private time in his room, senseless swear words, sexual objectification of Megan Fox. To me, I felt like this kind of content was just put there for the sake of it (or to make sure the movie got a PG 13 rating, heaven forbid it got a PG rating, then no one would take it seriously, right?). None of this really added to the theme or plot of the movie.

Honestly, what girl sticks her rear-end out and curves her back that much when she’s looking under a hood?

Many writers consider gratuitous writing, bad writing.

Let’s look at an example that isn’t gratuitous. Although shocking and horrific, the content of The Hunger Games is there for thematic purposes. The loudest point of the books is that we shouldn’t have an entertainment industry like the Capitol’s—one that glorifies violence. The series illustrate how under the guise of “entertainment,” evil acts can become acceptable ones. (It’s a worldly truth.)

Collins shocks her readers to get her point across. It worked on me. I think twice about the “entertainment” I choose, and the story made me want to change our entertainment industry. Collins’ message wouldn’t have been conveyed as well if her readers didn’t actually witness the atrocities of Panem. The bloodshed had a purpose to the story.

Another example that uses shocking content to good effect  is Tadeusz Borowski’s short story “This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen,” which takes place at a Death Camp during the Holocaust. Was the content put there for the sake of it? No. The author includes it to illustrate, realistically, what happened—he would know, he was there. The story increases readers’ awareness of the events that took place in our history.

(Note: a lot of “worldly truth” stories contain shocking content that is thematic as opposed to gratuitous. A lot of “deceptive” stories contain content that is gratuitous.)

There are writers and readers who don’t want any shocking content, and stories that don’t need any. That’s perfectly fine.

A Thin Line—Pulling Back

If you decide your story needs shocking content, you walk a fine line. For a writer, the challenge comes from making the content jolting enough that it fulfills reasons one through three above without making it so shocking that it drifts into reason four, because you can overdo it.

In New York, J.K. Rowling addressed this problem when talking about a scene she axed from The Casual Vacancy:

“There was a scene where there’s an autopsy. You saw Barry’s autopsy, and I liked it as a piece of writing, and the reason it was there was because so much of the book is about what is hidden, and stripping layers away and behaviors and so on, so obviously the autopsy was symbolic in that way. And I did like it. I spent quite a few days on it, and then I just chucked it. Because it didn’t belong there. It felt too graphic, and grisly, and it was one of those occasion where I felt it was veering into shocking for its own sake and [that’s] not at all what I wanted to do, so it went.”

One of the problems with making a scene too shocking is that it draws too much attention to itself, and as such takes the readers’ attention away from the actual story. I experienced this, personally, with the latest film adaptation of Les Miserables.

But I’ll touch more on that in my next post, and I’ll discuss how you can tell if a scene is too shocking for your audience.
So, do you use shocking content in your stories? What do you think about shocking your readers? Do you agree that it has a purpose in storytelling?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Limitless: What Authors do to their Characters

When Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer released, my friend and I discussed that someone should die in the last third, to make the story more interesting. But I think, somewhere, a part of me knew it wouldn’t happen. Meyer doesn’t kill good guys in the Twilight saga. Sure, Harry Clearwater has a heart attack, but I mean killing characters fans are emotionally attached to, like Alice, Emmett, or at least Seth. I’ve wondered if Meyer liked her characters too much to kill them.

In contrast, when I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Runelords by David Farland, I found myself questioning whether the authors loved their characters much at all. In The Hunger Games, characters not only die, but are burned, poisoned, tortured, have limbs amputated, are forced into prostitution, and even brainwashed. Young, old, male, female, likable, unlikable, good guys, bad guys, named, nameless all suffered at Collins’ hands. Likewise in The Runelords, a stunning princess turns hideous, a stately King becomes mentally handicapped, and often strong, intelligent people are reduced to insanity and then murdered.

Sometimes in these novels, as a reader, I felt the authors had no limits. And I was scared. What could possibly happen next? Was anyone safe? Would the King ever regain his status, or was he doomed to die in his own filth? I had to read to find out.

Not all stories need to be as limitless as The Hunger Games and The Runelords to be good stories and to keep people reading, but notice that what Collins and Farland did added more tension to their novels. Also note that early in their stories, they let the reader know that nothing is safe. So as a reader, you have the whole series to worry.

And of course, putting your characters through heck doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t love them or that you harm them senselessly. J.K. Rowling loved all the “good guys” she killed. In New York she said she hated writing a particular death scene for The Casual Vacancy, but felt it had to be there for thematic purposes.

Collins and Farland didn’t harm their characters for the sake of it either. In their cases, their characters’ ailments came with the backdrop of the story—horrible things happen in the worlds and societies their protagonists live in.

Should Meyer have killed a likeable character in Breaking Dawn? Maybe not in the way we would see in The Hunger Games or The Runelords—the Twilight story didn’t call for it. But perhaps a different death or misfortune may have fit and added tension.  Or maybe I’m just twisted and like to see characters suffer and die. Or both.

Whatever the case, when we write, perhaps we should consider what our stories’ limits are and how early to alert our readers to them. Giving your reader a heads up not only makes them worry and adds tension, but if anything horrific is going to happen to a main character, they need a warning.  Our readers grow attached to our characters, and if we do something awful to the protagonist without any kind of foreshadowing, they’ll feel betrayed. (Imagine, for example, if in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the main characters was suddenly hit and killed by a random car. Readers would say “Hey! That’s not what I signed up for! I wanted a happy ending!” That incident doesn’t fit with the limits the story set up.)

Thoughts? Do you like reading limitless books? Can you think of anymore examples?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

2 Types of Truth in Fiction: Which are You Telling?

Did you know there are two types of truth in fiction?

Whatever stories we write include statements about the world, whether or not we want them to. Brilliant authors use theme to their advantage; they use story as a means to tell others about poverty, slavery, love, and courage. Less attuned authors, on the other hand, might imply messages unintentionally. Stephenie Meyer, for example, has been ridiculed for presenting females as weak and dependent, although she never meant to. While I like Twilight, some of the arguments are valid.

 

Writers, like other artists, use fiction to tell truths.

“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are, but our choices,” “Sometimes it is harder to follow than it is to lead,”  “to hurt is as human as to breathe,”  “Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life,”  “It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart,” are all truths writers have penned.

But there are different kinds of truths. Some truths are steady and consistent while others are more subjective or relative. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west is always true (unless you’re writing a crazy sci-fi novel). The fact I’m wearing a red shirt is true right now, but won’t be tomorrow.

When it comes to the arts, I see two kinds of truths: the Absolute Truth and the worldly truth. (Please note that when I say “worldly” I mean “of the world” without the “wicked” connotation.) The Absolute Truth is comprised of eternal, ideal teachings—love conquers all, be true to yourself, never give up—and presents us with how life should be. The worldly truth is comprised of teachings that hold true in the imperfect world we live in—feed and entertain a people to make them lose political power, sometimes the oppressed grow more ruthless than the oppressors—and presents us with how life is.

Both truths are important. Both truths are powerful. Lord of the Rings can inspire me to press on during trials just as effectively as The Hunger Games can provoke me to reevaluate our entertainment industry. Here are some points I use to define Absolute Truth and worldly truth, with some pictures for examples.

Absolute Truth

 

Characters rewarded for choosing the right and enduring to the end


Good overcomes evil


Uplifts and encourages


Inspires others to be better

 

Worldly truth

 
 
Illuminates one’s understanding of the world
 
Increases awareness of issues in the world
 
Sparks reflection and incites worldly changes
 
Leaves audience “sadder but wiser”
 
 
 
Sometimes, these truths can overlap. In Les Miserables, for example, Jean Valjean witnesses worldly truths while seeking Absolute Truth. The worldly truths are evident in the poverty and lack of freedom the characters’ experience, while the Absolute Truths appear in the themes of mercy, redemption, and love. This works so well in Les Miserables partly because in the end we follow the characters beyond death, bringing both the worldly and Absolute truths to a satisfying close.

 

But you don’t have to go beyond death to create this type of story. Give a character an Absolute or spiritual journey on a personal level while he witnesses and battles the reality of the world in outer conflicts.
But what about stories that don’t tell truths? Unfortunately, they exist. And they’re dangerous because under the guise of entertainment, they deceive us.

 

Deception

Glorifies evil, sin, lust, violence
 
Desensitizes
 
Promotes and encourages “wrong” or immoral behavior
 

Employs shock value for the sake of shock value


I didn’t use anything literary for my example picture, but the image above is from a professional photo shoot. Intentional or not, the pictures from the shoot glamorizes domestic violence. Likewise, these pictures taken from a Glee photo shoot sexualize minors, and that fact is presented to us as “okay.” Deceptive stories breed damaging perspectives and strike at our humanity. They can often influence a people without them even noticing.

Whatever you write, be savvy about which of these categories you are tapping into. Certain genres lend themselves to certain categories. Fantasy often deals with Absolute Truth. Dystopian can be a great vehicle for worldly truth. Porn, in my opinion, delivers deception.Think about the message you are putting out into the world with your story. Your readers will be influenced by your work. Does your story tell of Absolute Truths or worldly truths? Make sure it doesn’t stem from deception. Strive to be aware and have control over what your story is saying.

So, in closing, do you prefer to explore Absolute Truth or worldly truths in your fiction? Or both?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

(Don’t) Tell Me How You Really Feel

I’ve been thinking about dialogue a lot this year. Particularly, I’ve been interested in dialogue where characters don’t say what they mean. In Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern, Stern notes,

“Advice about dialogue generally starts with discussing what your characters say. It might be better to start off with what your characters don’t say and the way they don’t….the more intense the feelings, the more likely people are to say the opposite of what they really mean. If you want to keep a high level of tension, keep the dialogue evasive, filled with suppressed information and unstated emotion.”

He also says that how a character sits, stands, fidgets, pauses, or adverts eyes can be as important as his or her words.Three examples of narratives that follow Stern’s advice are The Office, The Hunger Games, and The Lord of the Rings.

Here are some clips to illustrate. The first video takes place when Michael Scott, one of the main characters of The Office, leaves Dunder Mifflin. Watch how Jim avoids (and gets Michael to avoid) saying what they actually think and feel. The second video is very short, but you can clearly tell through Ryan’s tone and facial expression that his words are an understatement of what he actually thinks.

Often The Office plays with the gap between what characters say and actually think for humor.

For The Hunger Games I couldn’t find the clip I wanted, but it’s the scene at the starting where Katniss and Gale are talking in the forest. In the book, Gale says “We could do it, you know…Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.” In the same conversation, when Katniss says she never wants to have kids, Gales says, “I might. If I didn’t live here.” And later, Gale gets frustrated and snaps at Katniss.

What Gale really wants is to be in a relationship with Katniss, but he can’t say it straight out. And Katniss, who never intends to live a lifestyle that includes a significant other, doesn’t catch on. Gale’s real frustration lies in the fact that Katniss doesn’t pick up on what he’s getting at. That’s why he snaps back at her.

And for my last example, I have the very last scene of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Here is the dialogue between Frodo and Sam.

Sam: I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs or tales. 

Frodo: [turns around] What? 

Sam: I wonder if people will ever say, ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.’ And they’ll say ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.’ 

Frodo: [continue walking] You’ve left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. 

[stops and turns to Sam

Frodo: Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam. 

Sam: Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t make fun; I was being serious. 

Frodo: So was I. 

In this example, Frodo expresses how much Sam means to him, but indirectly. It’s clear Frodo really values Sam, but instead of telling Sam something sappy, he works it into their conversation. And Frodo takes no chances that Sam will misunderstand him; he makes sure to say “So was I.”

So you can play with the gap between what characters say and actually think to add humor or tension. Sometimes playing with that gap creates moments even more powerful than situations where characters speak their minds. If Michael and Jim really just spoke what they meant, the scene wouldn’t have been as significant. Same goes for Frodo and Sam. The fact that they withhold their words shows how much those words mean to them.

Do you have moments where your characters don’t say what they mean? When do you think it’s best to be most indirect? Do you have any other examples for us?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Playing with Foils

The Basics—

Foil: “a foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character.” (Thanks wikipedia)

Creating a foil for your character helps highlight your characters’ qualities. In Harry Potter, Harry and Voldemort are foils for each other. Harry is protected by love while Voldemort is harmed by it. Harry sacrifices himself to save others. Voldemort sacrifices others to save himself. Harry ultimately greets death like an equal. Voldemort does everything he can to escape it.  Because they are opposites, it’s easier for readers to notice their attributes; Harry knows love, has courage, and serves others while Voldemort, in reality, doesn’t have any of those.

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean and Javert are foils. Valjean is full of mercy. Javert is full of justice. Valjean believes people can change and change for the better. Javert doesn’t. Valjean breaks laws. Javert goes above and beyond to keep them. Their differences are more obvious when they have each other for comparison.

Often you’ll see the protagonist foils the antagonist, (and often they will share similar origins,) but foils can be any two characters.

Taking it Further—

While by definition, foils refer to two characters contrasting one another, you can take it further. You can use foils in other aspects of your story. You can foil settings, creatures, dialogue, relationships, and pretty much anything else. In Lord of the Rings, the elves, with their beauty and grace, foil the orcs—each is more striking because of the other. Do you want to create a stunning setting? Create a foul one to contrast it. The more prevalent the foul, the more beautiful and special the stunning.

This concept is what makes Katniss in The Hunger Games such a remarkable character. The fact she volunteers to take her sister’s place is more astounding when we learn no one else has done such a thing in District 12. Ever. She is extraordinary compared to others.

In my own story, I want to highlight how exceptional a particular relationship is, so I’m making sure to include horrible relationships in my plot as well.

Giving a Character Two Foils—

Another way to take this concept further is to give your character two foils and fit her in the middle of the two extremes. I can’t take the credit for this idea; I learned about it from my professor in my Shakespeare class, because Shakespeare used this method.

In Henry IV Part 1, Prince Hal is a character with two foils. On one side of him, there is Hotspur, who is obsessed with glory and honor, on the other side, there is Falstaff, who rationalizes that honor isn’t that important; after all, it doesn’t provide food or guarantee his life. Hal fits in the middle, and as such, the audience perceives him as “just right”–he is the perfect balance.

Like Hal, Frodo has two foils. While going to Mordor, he travels with Smeagol and Sam, who are opposites. Smeagol is obsessed, tormented, and consumed by the Ring. Sam, however, is free of the Ring’s power, having never held it. He sees the Ring for what it really is and regards Smeagol with disgust. Frodo fits in the middle. He relates to Smeagol, perceiving the creature as what he could become, and at times longs to keep the Ring. But Frodo is like Sam in his determination to destroy it. Sam and Smeagol help illustrate Frodo’s complexity.

(And as opposites, Hotspur and Falstaff, and Smeagol and Sam, foil each other as well.)

A Warning—

Be careful what direction you take your foils. For example, you wouldn’t want to make a woman look stronger by making all the men in the story complete idiots. So be smart about it.

So, I’m just wondering, what are everyone else’s favorite foiling characters? Any ideas on what else you can foil?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.