Saturday was a glorious day for a book launch party at the Hockessin Book Shelf in Hockessin, Delaware! I was thrilled to see so many friends, former teaching colleagues, fellow writers, and young readers come to celebrate the release of The Morrigan’s Curse. I even got to see a friend from high school who I haven’t seen (except on Facebook) since our 5th class reunion. (Which was only a few years ago — HAHAHAHA!)
Here are a few photos:
As I was getting ready to write this post, I remembered writing a similar one at the beginning of February 2015 for the launch of The Inquisitor’s Mark. Then I got a little curious about what I was blogging about in previous Februarys … and I took a little time machine tour, via the archives, to find out.
* Engage the machine that makes everything swirly*
2015 — Celebrating the release of The Inquisitor’s Mark.
2014 — Housebound by an ice storm. Using the opportunity to write 9000 words in The Morrigan’s Curse, specifically the first draft of the climax.
2013 — Finishing up the first draft of The Inquisitor’s Mark and getting ready for pre-release promotions of The Caged Graves.
2012 — Thinking about leaving my comfort zone to attempt an urban fantasy about a secret day of the week, even though I considered myself a historical fiction writer. Wasn’t sure I was going to do it. (!!!!)
2011 — Bemoaning the fact that I was feeling my way through the first draft of a WIP like I was playing Blind Man’s Bluff. (Interesting, since I’m doing that again this year …)
2010 — Alternately ranting about standardized testing and posting historical tidbits related to We Hear the Dead that nobody read because my blog was brand new and I didn’t have any followers.
*Let’s swirly ourselves back to the present*
An interesting trip! And a bit scary, since I’d forgotten how close I came to NOT writing The Eighth Day, which, as you can see, consumed my next three years.
Next August, I’ll be leading a week-long writers conference in Ireland as part of Fiona Claire’s Ireland Writer Tours. These conferences are unique in that they are part intensive writing classes and workshops – and part vacation. The itinerary includes private consultations with authors and/or editors and visits to:
The Island of Inis Mor
A Haunted Castle
The Cliffs of Moher
A 14th Century Abbey
… and many more stunning and inspirational locations!
There are four different conferences scheduled for the summer of 2016, which you can read about HERE. My conference, titled Secrets to Publishing Success, will take place August 21-28, and I’ll be co-teaching with historical romance author Janet Lane. Along with private consultation on the participants’ manuscripts, we will be conducting classes and workshop sessions on the craft of writing and the multiple paths to publication possible for today’s writers.
Coincidentally, back in the fall when Fiona first approached me about the Ireland Writers Tour, my blogging friend Julie Dao had just started posting her experience as a participant in the 2015 conference. You can see one of her posts HERE describing the classes, the food (!), and the accompanying tours.
If you – or anyone you know – might be interested in participating next year, check out all the information on the Ireland Writers Tour website. I’d love to see you there!
Last week I talked about suspension of disbelief – the reader’s willingness to enjoy a fictional story as if the events are really occurring. This month I’m going to focus on speculative fiction. How do you introduce your reader to the fantastic elements in your book while making them believable and a seamless part of your story?
You’ll want to immerse your reader in your setting as soon as you can – whether it’s an alien planet, a magical kingdom, or an alternate reality where ghosts are known to be real and everyone has one in their house. But I don’t think the way to do this is by pushing readers into the deep end of the pool without any warning! A first chapter filled with author-invented words, unpronounceable names, and characters doing inexplicable things is not going to draw a reader in. It’s more likely to slam down the barrier of disbelief and cause them to close the book.
It’s better to let readers walk into the pool, experiencing a gradually increasing immersion. Therefore, no matter what kind of world your story takes place in, make sure there’s something readers can relate to in the opening chapters. Readers might say, “Well this is a strange place. But I see that the MC is nervous about an upcoming challenge … jealous of his brother … learning a new skill from her father, etc.” There needs to be something recognizable about the situation so the reader can make a connection with your protagonist and take a few steps more into your world.
If your story starts out in our world, then takes an unexpected turn into the supernatural, the best way to encourage suspension of disbelief is by showing your reader what normal means before throwing in the abnormal. MG and YA writers are often encouraged to rush right to the inciting incident, but I don’t think this means dumping Godzilla on the first page. For instance, if a boy moves into a new house and it turns out to be haunted, I don’t think the ghost should appear on the first page. (Unless, as stated above, meeting ghosts in your house IS normal in the world of your story.)
Instead of having that ghost pop up too soon, use the early pages to set the mood. Have something strange happen, use foreshadowing, and bring in the ghost when the reader has already suspended disbelief and is expecting its arrival.
Finally, make sure your characters behave/react in ways that make sense, given the situation. In The Eighth Day, when Jax first experiences the secret day of the week, he panics, thinks it’s the zombie apocalypse (based on what he’s seen on TV) and breaks into a Walmart to steal survival supplies. He doesn’t think it’s “cool” or “neat” and go off to explore until the second time it happens, when he has reason to believe everything will be back to normal the next day. Likewise, at the end of the book when the world is at stake and a real apocalypse might be happening, Jax doesn’t suddenly develop fighting skills he never had before. His actions in the climactic scene are limited to what a 13-year-old boy might be able to do and skills Jax has already demonstrated.
Suspension of disbelief in speculative fiction for kids is a lot like coaxing a toddler into a new situation: Do it gradually. Appeal to the familiar. Establish normality before introducing the startling and strange. And always keep in mind how a real kid (living vicariously through your character) would react and behave.
Ahem. I’m cheating a little folks. This is a repeat of something I wrote for Project Mayhem, but since the audience for that blog and this one are *mostly* different, I thought it was worth posting here. My apologies to the few people who belong to the intersecting set of both blogs!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term “suspension of disbelief” in 1817, and it refers to a reader’s willingness to enjoy a fictional story as if the events are really occurring. It applies equally to realistic fiction and speculative fiction, although one might argue that introducing fantastic, magical, or science fiction elements in a believable way adds an extra challenge for the writer. (I’ll address that in Part 2 of this topic in a later post.)
In all works of fiction, maintaining point of view is essential for suppressing the “disbelief” that pulls a reader out of the story. For instance, first person narratives should not break into long expository paragraphs where the only purpose is to convey information to the reader that the narrator already knows – and therefore has no reason to explain. Almost as bad are “As you, know, Bob …” dialogues in which characters tell each other information they both already know.
Third person narratives should not contain info dumps from the author that hijack the story – unless that’s the intention, such as in The Series of Unfortunate Events, where the narrator “Lemony Snicket” is as much a character as any other in the book. His repeated interruptions to define a word for the reader or moralize about the behavior of a character are part of the charm and humor in these books. Likewise, in A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, Jules Feiffer writes as a self-aware story-teller, directly engages with the reader, and even complains about his characters not sticking to their planned roles. By contrast, unintentional info dumps and expository passages stand out to the reader as a clumsy means of conveying back story that should instead develop organically within the plot.
Intentional (and humorous) interruption of a story.
Head-hopping is another mistake that breaks suspension of disbelief and jars readers out of the book. An omniscient point of view should be carefully planned by an author, and the same goes for multiple points of view. When this is done correctly, the reader immediately picks up on the idea that we will know the thoughts of many characters – or that different passages will be seen through the eyes of various characters – and this becomes part of the suspension of disbelief. Head-hopping, on the other hand, is when we’ve been following Mary’s viewpoint for fifteen chapters and suddenly there’s a paragraph where we know what John is thinking about Mary. This never fails to derail me from my immersion in a story.
I was recently reading a YA science fiction book (which otherwise I enjoyed very much) when I was yanked out of my suspension of disbelief by a sentence revealing the inner thoughts of a new character when, up to this point — about 50% of the way into the book — we had only ever been given a close third person narration following the MC. There was just the one sentence, and then the narrative switched back to the MC and continued as before. Later in the book, a new chapter opened with POV narrative from this young man, and I realized the story was going to switch back and forth thereafter. O-kay … but I think there were better ways to prepare the reader for a new POV than plopping that lone sentence into a prior chapter.
To sum up, suspending the disbelief of the reader and providing immersion in the story requires a careful attention to point of view and presenting information through action, dialogue, and internal thoughts that always make sense in the context of the story and never in a way that calls the author out of hiding the way Toto pulled the curtain away from the Wizard.
By the way, we still have open spots for First Impressions in September. Any takers?
The historic City Tavern in Philadelphia, second stop on Philly’s Ghost Tour ~ photograph by Bob Salerni
It’s been three weeks since I added any new words to my WIP. This is due to a number of reasons: teaching a writing class at a college, the recent death of my grandfather and the subsequent need to help my mom clean out his house, an editorial deadline, and hosting our delightful French exchange student — which includes taking her to local tourist attractions we rarely visit ourselves. (Longwood Gardens, the Amish Village, a Philadelphia “Ghost Tour,” etc.)
Yesterday, I opened this manuscript with a little trepidation, considering how long it’s been, and used the Document Map to jump to where I’d left off: the end of Chapter 33.
To my relief, I discovered that the opening two paragraphs of the next chapter, Chapter 34, were already written. I thought I had done this, but with everything going on in my life lately, I hadn’t remembered for sure. However, as it turns out, before I closed this manuscript three weeks ago, I followed my usual procedure of writing the opening sentences of the next chapter.
The point was to make sure that whenever I opened the document again, I wasn’t facing a blank page.
Psychologically, this makes a big difference for me. Most of the time those few sentences are exactly what I need to get back to work – a jumping off point. I read my words and nodded. Yes, this is still how I need to start this chapter.
Although … one of the sentences was awkward. So I revised it.
Then I added one.
A little while later, I added a paragraph.
Then 950 more words …
Leaving myself something to start with has helped me on numerous occasions. What strategies do you have for getting back into a manuscript after time away from it – or even just facing the next chapter when you’re struggling and unsure about your story?
P.S. – The photo above has nothing to do with this post. I just thought it was really cool. Our visiting student has an interest in haunted places. Did she land with the right family or what? Later this week: The Psychic Theater at the Harry Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA!
I’m writing this blog post to comfort myself more than to inform you, although I hope you might find it informative anyway … or maybe comforting. I’ve come to see this blog as the closest thing I have to a diary, and I often look back through old posts for inspiration.
Right now, I’m leaning heavily on E.L. Doctorow’s famous quote: Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
It’s very dark and very foggy in my WIP right now, and I’m struggling. I keep inching forward, but it feels like my headlights are fading fast.
Here’s where my blog/diary comforts me. Looking back, I remember that:
Although I always knew who the villain was in The Caged Graves, I had no idea how to reveal this or what would happen in the climax. The answer came to me in the shower when I was ¾ of the way through the first draft – and it was nothing like I’d even imagined before. A complete change from where I thought I was going.
When I sent Jax and Evangeline to Mexico with the bad guys in The Eighth Day, I had no idea how to rescue them. None. The answer struck me while I was swimming laps in my pool, and it tied back to a little thing I’d put in the book for no good reason – except now it had a reason.
I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in the climax of The Morrigan’s Curse – for both POV characters – but I couldn’t figure out how to implement those climaxes without them getting in each other’s way and without interference from too many characters in one location. The answer presented itself during a long drive through the Pennsylvania mountains.
So what does this mean for my WIP? It means if I am patient, I’ll get there eventually. And maybe I should take a break from the computer. It’s raining right now – so the pool is out. I don’t have time to drive to the mountains, so I guess I’ll try a long, hot shower.