It's time for another one of my opinionated posts about writing. Half of the credit for this one goes to the inimitable and lovely Holly of my online writer's group, with whom I was recently grousing on this topic. Hi Holls! So, what were we grousing about? The fact that both of us reading on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean, no less had lately picked up stacks of books which had fantastic central premises, which were well paced, pretty well written, full of exciting incidents and maybe even had some initially interesting characters but which - despite all this!
Convinced, somehow, that the whole exercise of turning pages - despite the exciting incidents and great premises and decent writing - had been a waste of time. After we'd been talking in detail for a while about the various books which had disappointed us this way and trying to figure out just what was WRONG with them, one of us suddenly put our finger on it. The problem was character development. Or, rather, a strong lack of it. Now, you might think this would be an obvious problem for two writers to notice and figure out.
But what we realised was that the lack of character development in these books was masked by the fact that the main character's life was often left totally transformed by the end of the story. All kinds of seismic shifts in their abilities, their home environments, their romantic lives and their understanding of the world.
It seemed crazy to say that these characters weren't changing. But they weren't. In all these books, the hero or heroine saw massive changes in their situation by the end of the story, but they very rarely experienced any shift or development in their character. They were always essentially the same person by the finale of the story, no matter what they had been through.
And the finale normally consisted of this person getting what they had wanted all along - without ever having reassessed those desires, made a significant sacrifice to fulfil them, or even question why they desired what they did in the first place. In fact, it was like the authors had gotten confused on the difference between plot and character. In my head, I could just imagine these writers proudly saying: 'Look at my character's amazing arc!
She goes from a lonely teenager with no idea of her true heritage to a superpowered elf with a hot elvish boyfriend and lots of elvish friends! But those descriptions above do not touch on any character's arc at all. Nor do they count as character development. They describe plots. And when a plot is serving double duty - trying to be a character arc too - the events no matter how well paced, well written and exciting of a story will feel essentially empty.
It doesn't matter if the stakes are as small as a girl longing for a date to the prom, or as epic as The End of the World. These books would turn the POV character's whole world upside down. They might kill off a dear friend or family member right before their eyes, remove them from the only family or environment they'd ever known, or reveal that they had a secret heritage they never knew about.
They would pit the main character or characters against life-threatening danger, maybe force them to develop frightening new abilities, offer them the chance to fall passionately in love. I should have been gasping, crying, thrilling. Yet none of those events, no matter how outwardly shocking or traumatic or wonderful, ever really moved me. They were just that. Events happening to a person. The narrative skimmed over the surface, failing to explore or even acknowledge the profound emotional effects that should have been the point of those story events in the first place.
It was as if the writers thought that these Big Important Events by themselves were enough to involve my heart. In the best books, characterisation and plot are so entwined, so integral to each other and to the events of the book, that they do almost feel like the same thing. But they have fundamentally different functions within a narrative, and trying to create a decent story without one or the other is like trying to have spectacles without frames, frames without the lenses. Even if you do turn your plain, lonely teen into a superpowered elf and give her a hot boyfriend and an elvish family, you still need to make sure that her established traits, beliefs, insecurities and priorities are challenged, strengthened, destroyed or resolved by the end of the book.
We need to see that everything she has been through has affected her meaningfully. Remember that you're a writer, not the wish-granting fairy from Cinderella. Don't just look at your plot as a series of events that get your hero or heroine to their desired outcome. Not even a series of awesomecoolsauce events.
Look at them as ways to push and challenge your character, to expose her deepest traits and develop her personality. Readers long to see the main character become the person they could or should be, not just get the stuff they want. Your main character doesn't need to evolve into into an entirely new being by the end of the story. In fact, it's better if she doesn't. Changes that happen to the character throughout need to grow naturally from who they are at the start - their core qualities - and the particular pressures that the story and the plot events put on them.
The last thing you want is to have the character do a complete u-turn and become someone unrecognisable. That's not satisfying either.
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So maybe your elvish heroine started the story as a selfish and insecure girl who was callous to others because she was afraid people would see how vulnerable she was - and in order to get the family and the love she always wanted, she first had to realise that she must treat others well, and be willing to risk giving love, with no guarantee it would be returned?
Maybe she was frightened and timid, a girl who refused to take risks - and she had to find the seeds of courage inside herself, even risk losing the ones she hoped would love her, before she was worthy of them? Or maybe she was filled with self-loathing, yearning for affection but still convinced she didn't deserve it - and had to learn to value and care for herself first, before she could finally find a place among people who would value and care for her the same way?
See how they differ from the plot ones? They're about learning, changing, growing, not about getting stuff. You need to ensure you're putting time and thought into your character's development even if you're writing the first volume of a trilogy or series. In fact, it's even more vital, because if I think you're holding stuff back from me in book one I'm probably not going to bother to go and buy book two.
I need to feel that you've got a character arc in your mind as well as a plot one. An easy way to figure out if you've achieved worthwhile character development is to give your main character or characters a choice. A pivot-point, somewhere near the end of the story. Arrange events so that things could go either way - disaster or triumph - and make the whole thing hinge on a moment of choice for the character.
If they act the way they would have at the beginning of the story? Even if they act the way that they would have midway through the story. They need to have grown and developed enough that you feel they could reasonably go in the other direction. Then you and the reader will be able to see that they have become who they were meant to be, and that they deserve their happy ending if you've been nice enough to give them one! A great example of this is Katniss' decision at the end of The Hunger Games.
At the beginning of the book Katniss' one priority is to win, to survive the Games by any means necessary, because she believes that Prim needs her - and because she doesn't believe in anything other than that. By the end of the book, she is willing to swallow poisonous berries along with with Peeta rather than sacrifice her soul by trying to kill him, and let the Capitol win. She has changed significantly because of the events of the story - but we still see the qualities of bravery, strength and self-sacrifice that Katniss had at the beginning of the book, too.
Those traits have just been strengthened and honed by her ordeal. In Closing : plot is about going places, doing things and getting stuff - changes in situation. Characterisation is about changing, growing and learning stuff - changes in the character's core. Make sure you have both these things running side by side, and you will make Zolah a very happy reader.
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I hope this makes sense to you, my lovelies. Any questions? Pop them in the comments. Labels: Characters in Control , Inspiration , Writing , writing advice. Hello, Dear Readers - happy Tuesday to all. And the wind that sings In the dawn-grey bullrushes And the rising heron, Speak your name. Ophelia; He may forget, But you are shrouded By reflections of the sun. And Dragonflies soar, From the ivory cage Which imprisoned your faithful heart. Ophelia; As your face fades In his memory, Do not fear.
For the green river remembers The green girl.
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The water knows where you are. Read you later, lovelies! Labels: Inspiration , life the universe and everything , poetry , Writing. Hello, and happy Sunday, Dear Readers. So here it is, reproduced in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it. World Book Day: April Can you tell us a bit more about where the inspiration for it came from?
Thank you! I suddenly saw it as a song about the experience of a trans or non-binary person, and felt that Mulan was crying out for someone to see who they were inside — a person who did not identify with the narrow role given to them by society, or the gender label imposed on them at birth - and begging for the ability to let that identity breathe. But that never actually happens in the film, which left me unsatisfied and cross, and immediately made me want to write my own version.
At the same time, taking on such a legendary story seemed like a huge challenge, and I was a bit intimidated. I went onto social media and began asking if anyone else felt this was a story that needed to be written. The response was overwhelming. So then I had no choice but to roll up my sleeves and get started. Zhilan, the main character who has a gift for illusionary magic, is an incredibly courageous and determined person.
What are the three qualities that you most admire about them? Firstly, their moral courage. Zhi — which is the name the main character chooses — has an instinctive grasp of what is truly right, of the essence of good and evil, no matter how much the mores of their particular society may contradict them and tell them certain things are wrong or shameful or incorrect. Secondly, their kindness. Zhi lives in a harsh world where it is easier and safer to be distant, or callous, even cruel.
We have got cholesterol completely wrong
But Zhi is deeply kind, and helps others wherever they can, even when it causes them difficulty, pain or inconvenience. Zhi looks at what they have, what they need, and what they can do, and then makes things happen. How did you research this setting to ensure that your depiction was respectful and accomplished?
Lots and lots of reading. So I try to read everything I can get my hands on, cover to cover, to give myself a strong background, before I actually begin to pick and chose details to focus on. I watched lots of historical films from China and several TV serials recommended by a Chinese friend. I listened to a lot of music and read poetry.
I looked into multiple different versions of the Mulan story, from the original ballad to the Chinese opera to the recent feature film. Huge thanks to Arts Council England for their Grant for the Arts, which gave me the space and resources to do the kind of research the story needed. I also put out a call to readers who were Chinese or of Chinese heritage on my blog and social media to ask them what they would like to see in a book like this, what would bring them joy and what they would prefer not to see ever again.
I was lucky enough that several people were willing to offer me that kind of insight, and that had a strong impact on the book, too. Your book explores gender identity andhas characters with a variety of sexual orientations. Because diversity is reality. And this — the simple reality of the real world - makes these grown-ups so frightened and angry that they act as if people who are different to them merely existing is some kind of attack on them and their lives.
They need to learn that empathy is not only for people just like them, but for all humanity — that all perspectives have value, that all stories are valid and important. On a very personal note, growing up I read zero portrayals of people like me — asexual aromantics — in the books I loved. I had no idea that anyone else like me even existed. As a result, I struggled so hard to feel the things that other people seemed to feel, and make central to my life the things that the whole of society taught me were vital and important.
It caused me a great deal of unhappiness, and it was not until my late twenties that I had a label for myself and was able to begin the ongoing process of accepting who I am. As a writer, the only thing I can do to help is to try to write the most diverse books I can, and hope they find their way into the hands of the young people who desperately need to read them. Without giving any spoilers, in what ways is this a positive character-building experience for them? I think being thrown into a new world — even one that is so frightening and at times cruel and unfair — gives Zhi the chance to understand their own strength.
Their own potential, and their gifts, and how truly special they are when they stop holding back and simply do what feels right to them. A point that stood out for me is how fairy-tales can also be used to pigeon-hole people and take away their independence, such as Zhilan being compared to Dou Xianniang. Is the place of idealised stories in society something that you specifically wanted to explore? Very much so. Perhaps not so much with fairytales these days, since a lot of very talented writers have done a wonderful job of reclaiming those and putting diverse, Feminist spins on them. Care for animals and small children.
Take pride in looking a certain way so that others find pleasure in looking at you — but do not show off, or be bossy or attention-seeking. Give others a chance to talk before you. Make way. Make room. This is what it means to be A Good Woman now! But then there was a backlash against the Strong Female too. She was unrealistic, she was aggressive, she was a Mary-Sue. She was being sexist against men! It was that society was, and is, still telling people what to be. Trying to write the stories for them and force them to follow along. We need to empower people to inhabit their own stories, and give them the confidence to be unique, fully realised individuals, and not penalise them for failing to conform.
At the heart of your book is a warm message about being true to yourself and fighting for what you believe in. What do you hope readers take away from the book? I think Zhi says it right at the beginning of the story: no one is what they seem, not even ourselves. I want readers to learn to know themselves. To face who they are, honestly and with respect — to love themselves despite what they may see as weaknesses, and to embrace the best parts of who they are. We all have the capacity to be much stronger, braver, more beautiful and more compassionate than we can imagine.
But we also have the capacity to be selfish, cruel, oblivious and ungenerous. Life is a process of learning about the world, about ourselves and other people that we meet. We should all be prepared to undergo that journey of learning with joy, and an open heart. A nd finally, as part of our Share A Story campaign, we celebrate the magic of sharing stories.
I heartily recommend Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan — an extraordinary, beautifully written diverse fantasy set in an Asian-inspired world — although this is an adult novel and therefore has some warnings for sensitive content. This is set in a world inspired by ancient Greece and is tragic and hilarious and very much deals with the topic of multiple identities and ways of perceiving people. Updated to add: I'm also currently reading Descendent of the Crane by Joan He, and absolutely loving it.
Hello and happy Thursday, Dear Readers. I hope life is showing you all the joy and success that you deserve. Which - because nature just loves to keep on giving! In addition to this, my mum has recently been seriously ill again, something which we thought would no longer be an issue after she had her operation at the beginning of the year. So I'm But I want to say how much I appreciate every single message, comment, DM and email of love and support that I've received from readers and fellow writers. I've read all of them, some multiple times, even when I haven't managed to reply.
Your kindness has meant the world to me. If I ever win the lotto, I swear I will replace this author photo, which is approx yrs old Look at that. Renee Ahdieh! Kiran Millwood-Hargrave! And Sharon Dogar! I'm so excited and honoured to have been invited as part of this line-up. I'll try my very best to be cool ha ha ha ha ha. Please do come along and say hello if you can, my lovelies.
You could not be more important to me, so if you can make it? Rest assured that your presence will absolutely make my day. Sending love and gratitude to you all. Labels: book events , fangirly squee , Good News , yalc. Didn't it? These guys just don't seem to like us. But then, thinking about it, no one really seems to like us, do they? Pretty much every other day YA writers have to put up with another condescending article in which the entire field of young adult and children's writing is compressed down to the sparkly vampire elements so that the journalist can smirk.
Or a comment from some lauded adult literary writer who thinks anyone who bothers writing for people under the age of eighteen is mentally defective. Or an article like this one, that bemoans the debauched, depraved tone of YA literature and compares it unfavourably to the books of the writer's own childhood. The first thing most of these articles do is to point out how new YA is. And they're right. Young Adult only got its own shelf in the library or bookshop sometime in the late eighties or early nineties.
Before that, there was just children's and adult's. And not long before that, there was adult, all on its own, and children read the Bible and classics and that was it. A lot of people seem to wish for a return to this state of affairs - or, at least, that's how it seems to those of us who keep finding ourselves under attack for daring to see young adults as a worthy audience with high intelligence, enquiring minds, and their own particular experiences and concerns, who deserve books specifically written for them.
The YA haters, whatever their stated concerns, always seem to be looking back, longing for some past Golden Age of Innocence, when books for younger readers were bright and cheerful and happy and uncomplicated. A hazy, non-specific 's lite period, when kids were respectful to their elders, no one had to lock their doors, child abuse was unheard of. Home Contact us Help Free delivery worldwide. Free delivery worldwide. Bestselling Series. Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases.
Categories: Children's General Story Books. Saving Zoe. Description Meet fifteen-year-old Echo, a typical teen trying to survive high school without being totally traumatized by boy trouble, friend drama, and school issues. As if she didn't have enough on her plate, Echo is also still dealing with the murder of her sister Zoe. Although it's been over a year, Echo is still reeling from the tragedy that changed everything.
Beautiful and full of life, Zoe was the glue that held her family together, and although the two sisters were as different as night and day, they still had a bond that Echo can't let go of. When Zoe's old boyfriend Marc shows up one day with Zoe's diary, Echo doesn't think there's anything in there she doesn't already know. But as she gives in to curiosity and starts reading, she learns that her sister led a secret life that no one could have guessed - not even Echo.
Related Keeping Secrets: Two Books in One: Saving Zoe and Faking 19
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