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Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Message Trap

Image Description: Claire Youmans
Holding part I and II of
The Toki-Girl & The Sparrow Boy
An interesting thing about books for young people is the prevalence of “Message” books. “Susie Takes On A Bully”, "Jeff and Jennifer Make Lunch",  or “Ricky Makes A Friend.”  When I read these books — gotta keep current in my genre — I feel like the author had a Big Message about “Healthy Living” and “Appropriate Behavior”  to send and created a simplistic one-note plot to deliver said “Message” with heavy underlining, sparkles, and explosions of fireworks underlining it on every page.  I want to toss them out the window.  Boring?  Oh, so very boring.

Contrast that, if you will, with a Story. A Story is about events that affect people, and how those people respond to those events. What happens next depends on those responses and how those create new events. It’s a sequence of causes and effects. People don’t always respond in the Psychologically Appropriate way. However, the way in which they respond sets up the consequences they face and provides the all-important What Happens Next. How the protagonist reacts, how the antagonist reacts to THAT, and the mistakes characters make that result in their own crises, changes, climaxes and resolutions all make up a Story. A Story lets its message or messages develop through themes and through character arcs interacting to form the overriding dramatic arc of the Story. The message may be different for each character. The overall Theme or Message may be very subtle, almost unrecognized by the conscious mind. There might be hints, but the author won’t rub the reader’s nose in it. It shouldn’t be underlined. It shouldn’t need to be.

These “Message” books exist in adult literature, too, though many of them are confined to the “self-help” shelves. There’re out there, though. And they are still boring.

So many people have A Book Inside Them. It’s usually a Message Book, often Inspirational and based on Their Own Real Life Experiences. Those books rarely get beyond first draft and don’t often get published, much less sell. But they’re IMPORTANT, the struggling writer cries. Maybe they are, but you, writer, are going to have to make your book Not Boring, and that means escaping the Message Trap.

To get around the Message Trap, forget about your Message and start with a Story. Best if it’s a Story about someone who isn’t you, though the story and characters can be based on your experiences. Find a big event, or one that’s at least big to the characters. Stick some characters in it. How does the event change each character over time? How do the characters change the event? How do the characters change other characters? How do the changes in the characters recreate the situation as it was into the situation as it is? Is that generally good or bad? For the characters individually or the Story as a whole? A Story has a story of its own, into which the individual character’s stories fit. Don’t begin with a Message. Begin with a Story and let the characters reveal the Message to you, writer, as the story develops.

As the Story grows and builds, as the characters become real and experience changes in a real way, the themes will reveal themselves in a multitude of ways. This creates a Book that contains a Story that isn’t boring, yet does deliver a Message with no sparkly rainbow underlining required.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book 3: TOGETHER

The title is final.  Check it out.  http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy
A series of fantasy-adventure novels set in Meiji era Japan by Amazon Best-Selling author Claire Youmans.  For tweens through adults.
Hard and e-formats available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B010F01B52

Book 3 will be out towards the end of June, with soft launches through the summer as different venues make it available.  

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