What are some last minute activities you are trying to get in before the summer is over?
In August, I will focus on plot in our writing. And my prompts will borrow from an activity we did at an ACFW chapter meeting. We each brought a food for lunch. The writing exercise after lunch was to work a randomly selected food and genre into a story. I had to write a thriller with a casserole being a major plot point.
So for the sparks this month, I’ll provide a photo and a genre, and you can provide the first few lines. Use the photo above in a thriller. Here’s my opening lines:
“As I hid the thumb drive in the hollow heel of my boot, I caught a flash of movement in the tail of my eye. Jerking out my gun, I crouched below the window and peered out.
A toddler? Yes, a toddler was tromping through the weeds in the backyard of the empty house.
I scanned the surrounding woods. No one else in sight. What was a toddler doing out here?”
Now it’s your turn? What’s the plot?
As summer enters its third month, August seemed like a good time to explore vacations as writing inspiration. Vacations are a gift to writers because the point of vacation is to experience something different from our ordinary routine and that opportunity gives writers a vast area to explore.
A main character (MC) taking a vacation can signal that he wants to make a dramatic change in his life, but for some reason, hasn’t done so. Perhaps he’s dissatisfied in his job and has been counting the minutes until he leaves on a vacation to a place he’s never been before. During the vacation, he comes to realize the permanent change he needs to make.
If you’ve ever planned a vacation for more people than just yourself, or have vacationed with family, you know how getting away can test everyone’s patience. So if you need a source of tension in your writing, throw your characters into a vacation. It works for both serious and humorous stories.
A bad vacation can either pull people together or shove them apart. Sometimes both. When in my twenties, I drove back from a family vacation in the Smokies with No.3 sister, her husband, and No.4 sister. It took hours longer then it was supposed to. No. 3 sister bought a ceramic Christmas tree at stop. It was so huge that she had to prop her feet on it in the back seat. I drove too far off the highway, looking for a restroom. Our supper on the road was awful and too expensive. The directions that the boyfriend of No.4 sister gave us so we could drop her off at his parents’ home took us the long way around Cincinnati. When we finally found the parents’ home, I handed No. 4 sister her clothes, which were packed in a brown paper bag, saw that some underwear had fallen out, and handed those to her. In front of her future in-laws.
We were sick of each other by the time we got home. But it’s one of the most memorable trips we took, and we still talk about it.
Setting for Mysteries, Thriller, and Suspense
A vacation gives writers in these genres the perfect reason for the MC to get into trouble. With the ubiquitous use of cell phones, writers constantly face the dilemma of how to get their characters into jeopardy in a believable manner that doesn’t rely on the MC being just plain stupid.
Stupid MC’s aggravate me.
So on vacation, the MC, hiking in the mountains, may not know how drastically the weather can change. Or that local people avoid this part of the mountains. The MC could rent a house from someone with a criminal past and not know it.
How can you use vacations as writing inspiration?
Since I started the month writing about why I write YA fiction, I’m ending it with cliches I hate in YA fiction.
All the adults are mean, stupid, or unrealistic.
All the characters in a book should have an understandable motive for how they act. In YA fiction, the adult characters should be as well developed as the teen ones. If the father of the main character is cruel to him, the author must provide a reason other than it’s convenient for the plot. If the parents don’t know what their teens are up to, it shouldn’t be because they are too stupid to realize their kids are into trouble.
This kind of character motivation was brought home to me by my friend, author Cindy Thomson. I wrote about this in my post “Digging Deeper into Characters”. With both your major or minor character, you need to ask why characters act the way they do. I think this is especially important when developing a villain. She does things because she’s bad isn’t a good reason.
In my novel The Truth and Other Strangers, Sheriff Acker hates the family my main character belongs to and goes outside of the law to deal with them. Why? Because some members of the Lody family are con artists, and the sheriff assumes all Lodys are bad. But why does he go outside the law? Because he thinks like a Pharisee. He believes he acts so perfectly in both his personal and professional life that he can accurately judge when to use extra-legal methods to protect law-abiding citizens from anyone he labels a criminal.
When any of my characters isn’t behaving correctly or won’t behave at all, I need to ask why. Over and over until I come up with a realistic answer.
In YA book after YA book, the main setting is a private school. In Christian fiction, it’s often a private Christian high school. A variation is for a kid in a private school to lose her money and be forced to attend a public school. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think most American teens never attend a private school, certainly very few attend a private high school. My kids don’t. The teens in my church don’t.
I see some advantages for this setting. The teens have less oversight if they board at a private school, giving the author more room to get them into trouble. It’s also an easy way to employ the fish-out-of-water plot: poor, deserving teen wins a scholarship to snooty private school and is set upon by rich brats. (By the way, why do so many YA books deal with rich brats? Do publishers or authors thinks poor kids don’t have interesting problems?)
Although authors can use this setting well, new authors should find other ways to get their characters into trouble or throw them into uncomfortable situations. The private school is growing old. And I think readers would appreciate seeing characters in a setting more familiar to them.
Your turn. What cliches do you hate in YA fiction?
Last Monday I said that prompt was the last for my month focusing on YA fiction. I forgot that July had five Mondays this year. So you get a bonus YA prompt!
I chose this picture because it’s a group and the expressions and body language sparked ideas for character building. And for some reason, when I invent characters, I often develop them in groups of four, whether they are siblings or friends. Perhaps it’s because I’m one of four sisters and understand how that kind of group dynamics works.
Who are these characters? Are these girls starting out on an adventure? Or wrapping one up? They are obviously having a good time. The one on the far left is smiling but not laughing like the two girls holding hands on the right. She could be the group introvert. The girl in the background holds her head at a sassy tilt. Maybe she’s the one who has a comeback for everyone and everything.
Who do you think these characters are?