Friday, July 30, 2004

Teen Romance?

I, for one, am not a fan of teen romance. I didn't like it as a teen, and the teen romances I've reviewed have only annoyed me. Especially when the heroine likes a different guy each book.

But teen girls do like an element of romance in their novels. So, how do you do this without building up fantasies in girls' minds that their current relationship will last forever, when in reality they'll most likely break up next week or month?

Give the heroine a romantic interest, but don't have the guy ask her out. Dating creates an artificial atmosphere in most teen relationships, and you can keep your characters acting more naturally by having them just stay friends. But keep a hint of a possible future romance in the writing to keep girls reading.

Catherine Farnes does an excellent job of this. All her main characters are female, and there is always a guy somewhere in the story, though the friendship between them ranges from close to barely more than acquaintances. It's effective.

Well, I did meet my deadlines for the end of July, but next month is promising to be just as full. Tomorrow my family is hosting a huge picnic for the high school and college age young people in our church, and next week I'm helping with VBS. I also have much writing I'd like to get done, plus more reviews.

I am starting to expand my author links section, though I am only including authors I've read (which should make the list quite long). If you know of any author sites I should include, post the URL in a comment. Thanks!

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Using "I"

One way Catherine Farnes reaches the heart of teens is by writing in first person.  Teens have a narrow focus.  They see what's right here and now, sometimes more clearly than other people.  The present and immediate future concern most teens more than what's happening ten years from now.  Their horizons constantly expand, keeping their minds busy with today - which leaves less time for considering the past and future.

That's not saying teens don't plan and reminisce.  They do.  But to reach them where they're most comfortable, keep your writing immediate.

Teens are also focused on themselves, and I don't mean that in a bad way.  They need to understand themselves before they can make important life decisions, and books for teens reflect that.  A greater percentage of 1st person, journal-like books exist in the teen market than juvenile or adult.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Catherine Farnes

She's not a bestselling author.  Most bookstores only hear of her with special orders.  But her lean, powerful writing style captures the heart of teens.

Catherine Farnes has published six books through BJU Press, and her first, The Rivers of Judah, is my favorite.  Church politics and light romance enhance a story of blame, responsibility, and forgiveness.  Judah, a pastor's son, is blamed for his best friend's death in Alaska, and the guilt follows him to Rebekah's church in Colorado.

More than that, you'll have to read for yourself.  I highly recommend it and the entire series (Snow, Out of Hiding, and The Way of Escape follow it).  They're aimed at high school girls, but offer much to writers of teen fiction.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Characters Live On

As I conclude our look at Lewis' characters, I want to discuss his end of the Narnia saga - The Last Battle.  In this book, Lewis kills off nearly every single character he wrote about, yet they live on in the minds of millions of Narnia fans.  Why?  I believe the key is their uniqueness.

The more you know about a character, the more unique you can make them.  I found a site with a neat character questionaire:, but there are many others available.

I have many deadlines next week, so my posting should be a bit spotty.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


It's one of my favorite names in the Chronicles.  Melodious but manly.  A strange flavor but taken straight from our world.  Regal but not unreachable.  No annoying nicknames or whiny way of saying it.  A perfect name.

And our tiny black ball of fluff with claws, whiskers, and a little pink tongue doesn't quite live up to the name, but I hope he'll grow into it.  Melchizedek certainly grew into his, but Butterscotch fit the kitten but not the cat.  So choose your names carefully.  End of cat infomerical

Caspian is unique among Narnians.  He's the only character with his first name in a book title (though Prince Caspian when he's fighting for his rightful throne seems a bit out of place, but King Caspian would never work).  He appears in four books and plays a major part in two, more than any Narnian except Aslan himself.  He is the only Narnian to enter our world (Jadis does before Narnia was created, but she's from Charn).  We know more about his family and personal history than any other Narnian (though Shasta/Cor comes close).  All of the children from our world meet him before The Last Battle, except for Polly and Digory.  And there's more but I must stop for the night.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Strange Made Familiar

All right, everyone.  It's okay to sign my guestbook.  Really.  It doesn't bite.

And feel free to leave comments.  No matter how old the post.

If you have a website or blog that could help Christian writers or readers, add a link to this site and I'll be glad to return the favor.

Back to the subject at hand:

I don't read mythology, so Narnia is my only connection with many of the strange creatures Lewis introduces.

Some are not so strange.  Father Christmas adds just the right blend of familiar legend and historical figure to keep Narnia real but magical.  And dwarves and giants exist, though Lewis develops them to an extreme not found in our world.

Somehow, Lewis gets all the strangeness and familiar to come together into a unified whole.  Dancing fauns, dryads and dragons fit in perfectly with living stars, turbaned Calormenes, and talking squirrels.  I believe this comes from Lewis allowing the creatures he wrote about to stay true to themselves - talking dogs are still quite doggy, unicorns are noble and graceful, dryads look and act like trees.

Although a feeling of strangeness is important in fantasy and science fiction (especially the latter), readers need words on a page to form pictures in their minds.  All a reader knows is what is this world.  To make them see another world, some connections need to be made.  The same is true with other fiction, though the connections can be more overt. 

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Beauty of the Beasts

I'm continuing Lewis this week, which is actually good for my schedule.  I have many reviews due at the end of the month.  I keep saying August will be better, but it's starting to fill up too.  Oh, well.  By September many of my friends will be back to college or whatnot, so I'll have lots of lonely hours to fill.  Not that I really have a social life anyway.
Talking animals have been around since Balaam's donkey, and they peopled Lewis' early stories as well.  Aslan is in a league by Himself.  Lewis does an excellent job of making Him truly a lion and truly God.
Reepicheep is one of my favorite animal characters.  His valor mixed with his tinyness make him humorous and unforgettable.  Jewel is also a favorite.
I love cats, so it was disappointing to have Ginger as one of the bad guys.  But with Lewis' love of mice, what can you expect?  At least Aslan as a cat comforts Shasta among the Tombs of the Ancient Kings.
Who is your favorite animal in the Chronicles?  Why?

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Guys

I was interrupted, so I didn't get a chance to comment on Narnian guys.
Peter is the oldest child, in charge, and someone you can depend on.  He seems a little distant, but I admire the way he sticks up for Lucy.
Edmund and Eustace both are "perfect beasts" until circumstances force them to grow.  I like the way Lewis lets them suffer the consequences of their actions before they meet Aslan - no rapid-fire conversions here.  Sin causes pain, and the price is high.
Digory is adventuresome, and the only character you get a close look at both as a child and an adult.  He is also the only child with deep sorrow in his life - a sorrow that mirrors Lewis' own.
Shasta has a rags-to-riches tale, but his character growth on the journey north removes the triteness of his story.
There's also Corin, Caspian, Rillian, and Tirian - perhaps I'll get to them later.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Man and Marshwiggles

Puddleglum is unique among a cast of humans, talking animals, and mythological characters. He is so pessimistic it's humorous, even to a pessimist like me (my family has called me a marshwiggle at times). But his gloomy outlook only partially masks his loyalty and bravery.

Ten children dominate the series. Out of the girls, I like Aravis the most. She's plucky, arrogant, and endearing all at once.

Lucy seems almost too perfect, and as an oldest child I identified freely with her siblings' disbelief. She's the one I strive to be like.

Polly is a bit of a coward, but mostly compared to Digory. She's also a writer (remember her story in the Smuggler's Cave?), witty, and a great companion.

Jill cries a lot in The Silver Chair, but I love her role in The Last Battle.

And my heart weeps over Susan. To be a queen of Narnia and forsake it in the end seems the ultimate tragedy. But "once a queen in Narnia, always a queen in Narnia." Maybe the loss of her entire family woke her up. And the rings might have been recovered from the wreckage.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Clive Staples and Characters

Since I've just finished listening to the audio dramatizations of The Silver Chair and The Last Battle, and I've recently read A Field Guide to Narnia, C.S. Lewis it is this week.

They've just announced the actors who are to play the four children in the upcoming movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. None of them looked like I expected them to, but I'm glad they finally got Susan's hair color right. And Lucy is as cute as can be.

One of Lewis' trademarks is his memorable characters. Who can forget Puddleglum? Or Reepicheep? Let me know your favorite Narnian characters. We'll be discussing them the rest of this week.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Here is Monday, and I haven't chosen the author for this week yet (I have plenty of excuses, though - company four days in a row, a picnic, reviews due, etc.). This a list of the novelists I'm considering for the weeks to come. Any preferences or ideas for writing topics to go with them?

Jack Cavanaugh
Ted Dekker (I want to wait until I read his trilogy first)
B.J. Hoff
Lawana Blackwell
Penelope J. Stokes
T. Davis Bunn
Michael Phillips
Judith Pella
Ray Blackston
Karen Hancock
Frank Peretti
Melody Carlson
Catherine Palmer

There are many more, I know, but I'm trying to choose authors that I've read a majority of their writings.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Intricate Settings

While details are good for portraying characters, they are even more important for settings. This is where authors need to do much of their research. What exactly does the interior of a Navy ship look like? A bank? An upscale office?

With smalltown stories you can guess or make up many details, but plots set in actual locations need meticulous research. You never know when someone who's been there will pick up your book. Dee Henderson experienced this - before one of her Uncommon Heroes titles was published, her editor allowed someone in the military to read it.

Historical fiction usually is difficult in this area. History books don't always tell you what you need to know, and then you're up for hours of internet searching for one little scrap of information. And sometimes you don't find it at all. I spent many evenings trying to find out which version of the Book of Common Prayer was used during the American Revolution, only to turn up nothing. I had hoped to quote from it in a Anglican church service, but I had to skip it. (If anyone possesses this bit of information, please let me know!)

Fantasy requires many details, though in this case you can make them up. But they cannot contradict each other. To keep everything in order, you almost need to write your own history and geography books for yourself. The main point is to create a feeling of "otherworldliness" without confusing the reader. Make sure you give the big picture along with your details.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Detailed Mystery

Details are important for novels with mysteries. They shroud clues like people hiding in a big city. Juvenile mysteries are easy to figure out simply because they're not long enough to include many details, so clues stick out like sore thumbs.

While Dee's novels are more suspense than mystery, she uses details to her advantage. The plot of The Truth Seeker is based on the little details Lisa figures out - from the number of threads in duct tape to the way someone's bones break.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Dee and Details

I'm back again after a long weekend of relatives, picnics, and berry picking. Picnic food is not my favorite. I don't eat condiments or any form of them (besides mayo in tuna fish salad), so that rules out macaroni salad, potato salad, baked beans (I know what my mother puts in them). I also am somewhat allergic to eggs (by themselves, not in baked goods), so no deviled eggs. I also don't eat potato chips (who needs the fat if you don't love them), and since I chipped a tooth on pretzel salt I've avoided pretzels, too. So basically my plate holds a plain hotdog (or hamburger if we're having them) on a bun, jello or fruit salad, and dry corn chips. If it wasn't for speedy cleanup due to disposable dishes, I'd mind a lot more.

The above paragraph illustrates one of Dee Henderson's trademarks - details. Every detail you bring into the story is an opportunity to connect with your readers. Mention a character is a lefty, and all lefthanded readers feel sympathy. (Any other lefties tired of the way all the writing on pens is upsidedown? Comment with your outrage below.) Show your character humming a popular song, and all those who love it will feel like humming along.

There are a few downsides to details. You may need to get permission to use trademark names or copyrighted songs. Details can date a contemporary novel, and it's hard to find them for many historicals. But they are worth the time and effort.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Villains and more

A few last character roles to be discussed:

The villains. The hero and heroine have an ample number of characters out to get them. First there's the younger "bad guy", a skilled fighter the hero's age, usually an assassin, who the hero has to fight somewhere near the end.

Then comes the power-hungry villain - cunning and twisted. Usually it's a man, but sometimes it's a woman such as Lady Irene in The Royal Pavilions series. They are often related to or in guardianship over the hero or heroine. They are also older, more along the age of the mentor.

Sometimes the luckless suitor is also a villain, like Philip in The Royal Pavilions series (can you tell which Linda Chaikin books I read this weekend?). A rare twist in the East of the Sun series is a suitor becoming a type of mentor.

A varied array of bad guys adds intrigue to the story, especially if they have different goals and double-cross each other. An extra villain is also a quick way to spice up an uninteresting section in the hero's or heroine's life. But be certain that it incorporates well into the plot.

There's also the heroine's rival, a woman who likes the hero and is inferior to heroine in many ways. The heroine's jealousy of the woman helps speed up the change from hatred to love.


I plan to use weekends to discuss off-topic subjects if I have time. I still haven't chosen the author for next week, but Dee Henderson is a possibility.