Posts Tagged ‘Artemis Fowl’

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” ~Charles Dickens’ opening for A Tale Of Two Cities.

This is one of the most repeated first sentences ever. And it is not even the whole sentence. In an epic run-on Dickens adds: “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

What Dickens wants us to see and feel and learn and anticipate, we see and feel and learn and anticipate. So profound is his first sentence that even those who have not read the book can quote you those first few words. We authors can learn much from Dickens. We can also take away a lesson from observing countless readers who remember only the first portion of his novel: brevity is a virtue.

As you struggle to write your own first sentence be aware that there are many ways to give the director’s call (mentioned in my last post) and capture the reader’s heart and soul. There is no one, better way.

The dramatic opening. This often utilizes nature to mimic the stormy or sweet or tense tone readers will uncover in the story.

“Thunder rippled across the frozen lake.” ~Jessie Mae Hodsdon’s opening for Issym.

The unassuming opening. It takes a soft approach, that makes the reader lean into the very ordinary nature of the words.

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” ~Charlotte Bronte’s opening for Jane Eyre. This mild opening for a very dramatic novel causes the reader to wonder, “What was there a possibility of?” And so the bond between author and reader is secured. Only the book can answer the question the reader has now latched onto.

“They moved with joint precision.” ~Jessie Mae Hodsdon’s opening for Asandra. Again, there is something quite ordinary about movement, but it also raises questions like “Why are they precise?” “What makes them move jointly?” “Where are they going?”

The evident opening. There are no hidden questions, no lost meaning, no parallel imagery. This opening, as its name suggests, is evident.

“The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.” ~Jane Austen’s opening for Sense and Sensibility.

“One strike of his sword after another, the youthful warrior barreled through his enemies.” ~Jessie Mae Hodsdon’s opening for Xsardis.

We know we are going to deal with the traditional Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility and that we shall see a medieval adventure take place in my own Xsardis. With unmistakable clarity, there is also a draw. We cut through all the fancy words and jump (in Austen’s work) to a traditional estate and (in my own novel) to a medieval battlefield. As a director’s call this leaves no room for losing a reader, as they are immediately forced onto stage. It might, however, jar them.

The location opening. It is possible to arouse the reader’s curiosity based on opening location alone. It is a risky move. If the reader finds the place uninteresting he will close the book, but, if he longs to know more or has a traveler’s heart, this opening can be highly persuasive. Most readers long to go somewhere. That is why they read.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien’s opening for The Hobbit.

“Ho Chi Minh City in the summer.” ~ Eoin Colfer’s opening for Artemis Fowl.

The image of a creature living in a hole is captivating. It begs questions like “What kind of hole?” “What’s a hobbit?” “What was it doing in a hole?” “Will it leave the hole?” And while I knew nothing about Ho Chi Minh City when I first read Artemis Fowl, I wanted to learn. The foreign sounding title awoke my sense of adventure.

The problem opening. This opening names a problem from the start. It may not be the problem, but it will point to the climax that will unfold.

“‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” Louisa May Alcott’s opening for Little Women.

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.” Anthony Horowitz’s opening for Alex Rider: Stormbreaker.

Financial woes for our young heroine in Little Women and the impending doom faced by Alex in Stormbreaker. Such problems arouse sympathy (even on the part of Jo’s drama, which doubles to show us a good deal of her character) and keep the reader browsing on.

The first-person opening. This is the last opening we will discuss today. Books told in first-person carry with them unique strengths and challenges. Their opening sentences should ignore all location, all weather, all danger, all other characters except the narrator. Unless you have a good reason to break this rule, the first sentence of this kind of book must give readers a glimpse at who they will be following through the entire novel.

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” ~Rick Riordan’s opening for The Lightning Thief.

Such a comment makes us 1) feel sympathy for his unhappiness, 2) wonder what a ‘half-blood’ is, and 3) want to learn what events led him to wish he was not a ‘half-blood’. This makes for a powerful combo.

Opening types abound. Most are short; some are not. Most beg a question; some don’t. But the good ones all draw the reader towards the content of the entire book–not just the next paragraph. The one rule you should follow is this: make your reader want to uncover the adventure.

(Written 6/27. Scheduled for you while I am away.)

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It is a concept easy to miss/ignore in writing–especially fantasy writing. We authors get so caught up in the extreme, the fantastical, the unique that we forget to make our novels, characters, and worlds relatable. It may sadden you to learn that most readers enjoy the fantastical, but that they connect with the relatable. And you must make your readers connect. So being retable is not something we can add a dash of or skip altogether. The entire novel must have a sense of being relatable.

Thankfully, a new style of novel is becoming increasingly popular. It leads the way in both the fantastical and the relatable–showing that you do not have to sacrifice one for the other. Take the young adult novels that set a fantasy story on Earth (like my own Mark of Orion coming out this Thanksgiving). Without endorsing any of these novels, other examples include the Artemis Fowl series, Fablehaven, and the Percy Jackson novels. In these worlds authors blend the immensely strange of fantasy/magic with the immensely normal of modern day life. They cling to both the best parts of exciting, breathtaking fantasy and the real parts of life that people struggle with or enjoy every day. These novels have proven to be wildly successful because their craftsmen know how to mingle the appropriate mixes of storytelling elements.

Whether or not you are writing a fantasy story, you can learn a lot from the talent of authors in this developing genre. Do not become so caught up in the mundane that you bore your readers. Neither become so swept up in the adventurous that you forget to make your characters and the experiences they undergo relatable. Adventure is where we capture readers’ attention; the relatable parts are where we teach them and make our impact.

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Creating unique characters is a really good thing for a writer to do. We all know that. Those characters are often what make us fall in love with a series. This is proven in books like Artemis Fowl (where a 12-year-old criminal mastermind was a character people loved to watch) and Percy Jackson (where a demi-god with some small disorders, a simple wit, and a devotion to doing right pulled readers in). But such characters generate their own problems.

I have this character in my new novel and she has a creative background that makes her a loner. Now, I love how distinctive she feels. But how do you write about a loner? How do you have her interact at all with your other characters? You have to create a believable reason that would draw her into the company of others (and keep it unique). You cannot place a loner in a group for no reason. Writers like designing ‘tough-guy’ characters, but we do not always follow through on logical reasons for them to utilize the help of others. Let’s talk about such contradictions for a moment, and how to do them right. Because contradictions can be very alluring in novels (take the above examples of Fowl and Jackson).

InXsardis my character Vaylynne was a rebel working with the royal family. A rebel working with royals? People could believe it because of how it happened. It was not an instantaneous decision. There was a dramatic enough event to pull her skills into service, but even then she secretly worked against the royals for most of the book. This gradual change could be followed and readers could route against her in the beginning and for her in the end without too much of a stretch in their reality-based minds. Let’s face it, writers rarely have reality-based minds. Our imaginations float to the clouds until anything seems possible. This is why we hire editors or assistants: to bring us back to planet Earth.

Here is the thing to remember. The more unique your character, the greater the challenges. Just be sure to generate a situation or a logical progression that allows readers to really buy the decisions your character makes. Otherwise, their uniqueness will fade away as disbelief fills the reader’s mind.

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I am convinced that I write better when I am tired. In the daytime, I can hardly get my brain to write a couple of paragraphs. But at night, I can see with outstanding vision all that needs to be done and how to do it. I can stay focused for hours, producing quality work.

In one of my favorite book series, Artemis Fowl, the twelve-year-old genius says that he is the perfect person to pull off a certain well… fairy kidnapping (but you have to read the series to understand) because he is young enough to believe in magic, but old enough to know how to use it. I think that I work better at night because I am tired enough that I can harness the dream-like energy and non-restrictive atmosphere, but awake enough to control it for a useful purpose. And it helps that sleeping isn’t pleasant, so I like to stay up.

I went to my doctor’s office this morning (I go every three weeks) and reported that instead of procrastinating and ignoring my ‘homework’ I had done it all. The stretching, the medicine to help me swallow, even contacting the specialist I was supposed to contact. During the school semester I got a pass from such ‘homework’ because she knew how busy I was. That pass has officially run out.

Instead of getting a ‘good job; now take it easy,’ I got a ‘let’s start you on special diets and have you sit on a funny ball when you write’. Yay. Not. Let’s just say I’m not thrilled at the prospect of becoming ‘the’ patient again. I was that patient in high school. Never missed a time I was supposed to be stretching. In PT three times a week. Eat what I’m supposed to. Take what I’m supposed to. Drive to Massachusetts to find help. Talk to the doctors. Explain again and again and again how my life was ripped apart and then find that the doctors couldn’t understand because I smiled too much. How can you smile too much???

Well I can do it. I can be the best patient ever. But honestly, I don’t want to be. I was hoping this summer to ignore doctors orders and travel when I wanted to, play music how I wanted to, go out to dinner with friends, have some semblance of the normality that I missed in high school.

And yet as I sit here lamenting a summer that will be dedicated to yet again searching for the mysterious answers to why I’m abnormal (my friends could offer a few guesses I’m sure), I can’t help but reflect on how some of the best parts of my life happened because I was abnormal. I have certain friends who I can only understand because I’ve done the doctor thing. Passions have developed that would have been (and were) overshadowed by my love of music. My choice of college; of friends; of career; of bed (temperpedic!); of car… its all been affected by the pain that I live in. At the moments that I lose things, I don’t like it. I can’t see how it can possibly be used for good. But I have seen in my life that when something I value perishes, God helps me find joy in something new. And the adventure that He has taken me on I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I don’t often do ‘the patient’ blogs, because I don’t want my character to be tied to that. I would much rather be known as the passionate follower of Jesus who writes books, encourages youth and runs a publishing company. But if I don’t get honest at some point and say, “I am weak; God is strong!” then how can God’s power be made perfect in my weakness (as 2nd Corinthians 12:9 says)?

So here’s me telling the world that my God rocks.

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