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Monday, August 4, 2008

What J. Scott Savage Did Right: "Farworld"

Among all the writing rules and guidelines a writer, especially a children’s book writer, must keep in mind while she’s crafting her story is “Don’t Be Boring!” J. Scott Savage, author of the soon to be released, children’s fantasy, Farworld, has mastered this skill to a tee. Or a wand. Or in Farworld’s case, a wheelchair.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Young Writer’s Contest, one of Farworld’s main characters is uniquely disabled, a characteristic I’ve rarely seen in such a demanding role. I believe this is due, in part, because readers not only need to relate to the lead, but more often than not, they also want to be like him. Yet WHO would want to be like a disabled boy? No one, I’d guess, unless that boy was also a magically talented, hero-in-the-making boy from another world.

Unique characters are only some of the tools Savage uses to keep young readers turning his pages. Others are distinctive plots and twisted surprises. Which is why I’ve “twisted” my blog today by inviting all of you to climb aboard one of my talking, white horses




and follow me into Oz

There we will meet the Great Wizard of Farworld
and learn a little bit about how he keeps his readers reading.


Why Oz, you ask? Let’s just say, as you’ll soon find out, it has something to do with . . . . . . .
So, let's get started.

Thank you for visiting with us today, Mr. Savage. It's not often that we "Ozzies" get the chance to meet someone who's so magical with his pen.
Glad to be here.
In a past blog, I discussed your talent for “twisting” plots, and when I asked my teenaged daughter what one thing she really liked about Farworld, she indicated it was your unique plot and the interconnection between two worlds. With those ideas in mind, can you tell us how you come up with your plots, and how, specifically, you “twist” them?

I’m currently rereading a series I first read back in high school, (You know when covered wagons used to pick us up.) In it, there is a girl who collects rocks and makes art out of them. The protagonist assumes she thinks of a form then looks for rocks to make that form. But she tells him that the rocks dictate what the form will be. A lot of times we decide as writers what the form will be instead of looking to see what the story wants. For me, the best way to see what the story wants is to take the basic plot I started with and ask what if questions. What if this isn’t what it seems? What if his motive was not the obvious? The more what if questions you ask, especially of what you consider to be the supporting beams of your story, the easier it becomes to take different paths than the reader might expect. Often the first plot you come up with is the one the reader will come up with as well, so give yourself some time to discover the true nature of your story.
I attended one of your classes at an LDStorymakers conference a couple of years ago. There, you said when you ask people to read your manuscripts, you also ask them to mark the page in red whenever they get bored. When you get that manuscript back, what, specifically, do you do to make the scene/page more exciting?
Cry a lot and stamp my feet.

Then, when I’m ready to look at the problem objectively, I ask myself a couple of questions.

1) Is this scene really necessary? Often I find that boring sections shouldn’t even be there in the first place. We put them in as filler, connections, set-ups, whatever. The easiest fix is to just take it out if you can.
2) If the information is important enough that you can’t remove it, consider adding a conflict that may not be key to the story, but which will add excitement to the scene. Let’s take an example right from Farworld. I need to have Marcus and Kyja get money for the bus. I know the trill stones will turn to gem stones, but I have to sell them. I could skip the scene entirely and just tell the reader they sold the stones at a pawn shop. But that’s a copout. The reader will ask how a couple of young kids manage to sell a gem without raising suspicion. But by adding the conflict of the corrupt pawn shop owner, I make the scene not only accurate, but even exciting. I also give Kyja another chance to show what she is made of.
3) If I can’t do 1 or 2, can I integrate it into another more interesting scene? Maybe move it up or back a chapter. Or throw in something funny. Exciting doesn’t have to be tense, it can be a spot of relief. Or change things up. Instead of a wise old, male, tree, make Olden a crabby little old woman that is not much more than a bush—but still very wise.
4) If you get to this point, go back to 1. Suck up you pride of ownership and cut, cut, cut. You’ll feel better afterward.

As I’ve said, creative plots are definitely your forte, and after reading this book, I see you also have a talent with unique characters. For instance, I’ve seen very few books which include a disabled, main character. Why, then, did you choose to include some well-known characters—especially to those of us here in Oz—like a wizard and feisty, talking apple trees?
First let me just say that Master Therapass is not all what he seems on first glance. At the same time, there are a lot of well known characters in the story: the wise wizard, the funny sidekick, the dark wizards. I think you can go one of three directions in fantasy. You can go straight classical fantasy (elves, dwarves, dragons) and just rely on a great twist in the plot. Hard core fantasy buffs will love you, but you’ll get a lot of the “Tolkien rip-off” comments too. Brooks is a great example of a writer who has succeeded at this. You can completely turn everything topsy turvy and create a world where nothing is familiar. This is a lot of fun too. I love discovering everything from scratch. Or you can combine the two. Give enough classical elements (quest, outcast, obstacles, magic) that the reader is able to find place in your story fairly quickly. But then throw in creatures, places, and magical aspects that don’t fit the norm. The reader still may think, “Hmmm this is starting of very much like other stories.” But by the time they get past that, the path diverges enough that they get lost in the story.

It’s not going to work for everyone. You’ll have people that don’t like your spin on magic for example. Or are put off by a hero with disabilities. Or you’ll have people that say, “Boy with a strange mark, magical world, wizard. Must be a Harry Potter remake.” But if the story is good enough, most people will forget about comparisons and get lost in the magic or your world.

Wow. It's been so great to have you here today. Thank you for your insight.

Okay, kids, it's the last day for the Young Writer's Contest. If you haven't yet submitted your entry, now's your chance. Now that you've heard from the author, I can't wait to see what you can do with his oh-so-twisted world!

1 comment:

Cathy Witbeck said...

Thanks for the great interview. It was almost like taking a class. The book sounds great too. I'll bet kids will eat it up.