Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Are You a Fan?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

At my daughter’s first birthday party, she received a toy that had a lot of bells and whistles on it. It had a large button to push and then music started, while a fan blew colored balls out of the top and they wound their way back down a twisty slide while the music played. It is a very entertaining toy, but the fact is, it’s really just a medium sized fan dressed up in colors with toys and music added.

I think this can be like writing. Have you ever been so excited to read a book because the cover looked good or the backliner was intriguing? I recently read a book that had an exciting premise. I couldn’t wait to delve into it more, but as I did, the book lost its sizzle. There were bells and whistles, lots of action with bad guys vs. good guys, but there was no depth. Lots of chasing, a predictable romance, and some adventure, but really nothing much more. It became all too clear that it was like the toy---in reality, it was just a glorified fan dressed up to look like entertainment.

Writing has to have depth in order to engage the reader. Usually there is an outward conflict and an inner conflict. From my observation, beginning writers have no problem with the outward conflict, bad guys chasing good guys, or something like that. It’s the inner conflict that seems to be difficult. We want our characters to be root-worthy. We want to see their struggles to be better people so that we can identify with them in our struggles to be better people. It makes the characters come alive in our imaginations and it gives the story depth when the inner conflict is done well. However, when it is not done well, or not even attempted, the story seems flat and one-dimensional. Or, if characters don’t learn and change, the point of the story seems fluffy and the reader may feel like they’ve wasted their time.

As an example, I recently read Isabelle Webb—Legend of the Jewel by Nancy Campbell Allen and I could hardly put it down. There was a great outward conflict in tracking down a jewel in India before everyone gets murdered (and a great train scene. Don’t you love murder mysteries on trains?) But there was also very well-executed inner conflicts. Isabelle Webb is a spy and has done things as a spy that she’s not proud of and she’s trying hard to reconcile her life and her feelings. But if she decides not to be a spy anymore, what else can she do? And with all the lying she’s done as a spy, has she lost her true self? Could anyone know the real her and love her for it, including herself? Her inner conflicts make it easy to identify with and like her because she’s honest about it. It gives an added dimension to the book and layers that feel like the reader is peeling them back to get the full experience of the book. That’s what writers want to give their readers---an experience. To feel like they were there. To get inside of a character’s head and feel like you understand them even if you don’t agree. I think the mark of a good writer is one who can offer that. Nancy Campbell Allen does it in spades.

So when you are writing your book, be aware of a great outward conflict, but don’t neglect the inner. They both are necessary to provide depth and layers, and make your story one that people will rave over. If you neglect one or the other, it leaves the story flat and while you may dress it up, all the bells and whistles in the world can’t make it better. Be more than a fan dressed up as entertainment. Give your readers the experience of a lifetime!


At 8/27/2009 2:21 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Fantastic, Julie! You should do a class on this at the next Storymakers conference! I would love to attend it.

At 8/27/2009 3:33 PM, Blogger Janice said...

We have that toy. My kids discovered that they can launch the balls at each other if they tip it at an angle. There's conflict for you!

At 8/27/2009 4:30 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Couldn't agree more--I hadn't thought of Isabelle Webb that way, but you're right. And that's probably one of the reasons it was one of my favorite books from 08.

At 8/27/2009 4:55 PM, Blogger Tamara Hart Heiner said...

we lost all the balls, and then the fan broke. Not worth much anymore. You can probably relate that to writing somehow.

At 8/27/2009 4:59 PM, Blogger Anna Buttimore said...

I really want to read Nancy's book now. I'll put it on my list. Thanks for the masterclass!

At 8/27/2009 11:25 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Stephanie, you are sweet. I think you should teach the class!

Janice, I so know what you mean! Haha

Annette, I loved that book.

Tamara, how about you've lost the will to write and your muse is broken so your dressed up fan/manuscript is fed to the fireplace? Used for the bottom of the birdcage? No? I'll have to think about that one. :)

Anna, you shouldn't miss that book. I highly recommend it!


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