The Eyre Affair

I recently read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. (My book group discussed it yesterday. Discussable it definitely is.) Some spoilers to follow, I suppose, though nothing too dramatic.

What struck me was a bit that probably piques the interest of most writers who read the book: Mr. Rochester’s description of what it’s like to be a character in a novel.

Mr. Rochester and the others do not lead a linear existence, but live the story in an infinite loop. Their lives aren’t linear even within the loop: they experience their part in the whole story simultaneously all the time, but each character can choose where to locate the majority of her/his consciousness at any given time. Naturally, Mr. Rochester spends most of his time hanging out at the parts of the book when he’s happy with Jane.

As far as free will, the characters seem able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t contradict what’s written. They have to do and say what it’s written that they do and say, but they can do anything else when they’re offstage, especially when the book’s narration is limited (e.g. when the narrator of a first-person story can’t see them). This becomes especially interesting when combined with the fact that the whole simultaneous-experience-infinite-loop thing means that they know exactly what’s going to happen all the time. They have to make the same mistakes every time, no matter how they seethe about it inside. They’re much like actors.

My reaction to this was almost exactly the same as my nine-year-old self’s reaction to seeing Toy Story. “Hey, that’s cool!” segued immediately into, “Hey, I wonder what mine would be like if they were alive like that!”

Naturally, one doesn’t write books picturing the characters this way, unless maybe one is writing highly experimental meta-type fiction. Even in The Eyre Affair, which kind of IS exactly that, the characters aren’t written this way. But if the characters in your novel did live, and lived like this, what would it do to their psyches? If they knew everything that was coming, which parts would they relish, and which would they dread? How would their feelings during different scenes change if they knew everything that was going to happen? (I see some villains feeling very bitter as they deliver their triumphant speeches, and a lot of characters mentally rolling their eyes as they muddle through romantic misunderstandings that they actually understand completely.) What might they do differently during their off-page time? Perhaps most interestingly, where in the book would different characters focus their consciousness?

A lot of questions about characters’ lives aren’t answered in The Eyre Affair. What’s it like to have backstory that you never technically experienced, because the whole of your existence takes place over the course of the book? When you’re offstage, can you do all kinds of death-defying things because you know you can’t die given that you appear later in the novel, or are you simply blocked by the fourth wall from trying such things? When the POV is close enough to include thoughts and feelings of one or more characters, are those characters constrained mentally and emotionally as well as physically to the plot, and how does that work? I may actually read the sequels just to see whether more of this comes out.

The Truth About Lying

You know what bothersome thing I’ve frequently seen in fiction? Characters who apparently have unnoted psychic lie-detecting abilities.

Looking into his eyes, she knew he spoke the truth.


“She’s lying,” I said with certainty.


He clearly believed what he was saying.

Righty-ho. Maybe our hero saw the suspect leaving the scene, so he knows for a fact that she’s lying when she says she was never there. Perhaps our hero is the suspect’s lifelong bestest best friend, and feels able based on that to judge whether she’s telling the truth. Possibly our hero is actually psychic. In these cases, the reader is usually made aware of the relevant facts.

Or, ooh! Maybe the author wants to stop that line of questioning and proceed in another direction, so we need to believe this loose end is tied up, which doesn’t work if the person in question might be lying. Or perhaps our heroine is about to rough the suspect up, and would seem like a jerk for doing that if she wasn’t sure he was lying.

This is especially common with characters who are trained as psychologists, or are cops, or grew up on the streets and had to learn to read people, or are just “very intuitive.” There are any number of qualifications that render a character able to act as a lie detector. Only, you know, reliable. Unlike actual lie detectors.

I personally can’t claim any degree of this ability. It sometimes takes me a moment to realize people are even being sarcastic. If someone were actually trying to deceive me, I fear the chances of my recognizing that fact would be perilously slim.

But I’m not alone! I recently read the excellent – if eerie – article “On the Psychology of Confessions: Does Innocence Put Innocents at Risk?” by Saul Kassin. This paper, which spans many experiments and case studies, explores the question of how good people actually are at telling whether or not other people are lying. Not good, as it turns out. Furthermore, training – such as that given to police interrogators – did not statistically increase their accuracy, but did increase their confidence in their accuracy. (How’s that for scary?)

While the whole article is a fascinating read, the fact that grabbed me most comes from a footnote. “After testing more than 13,000 people from all walks of life, O’Sullivan and Ekman (2004) have thus far identified only 15 ‘wizards’ of lie detection who can consistently achieve at least an 80% level of accuracy in their judgments” (Kassin 2005). (I would cite the original work, The Wizards of Deception Detection by O’Sullivan and Ekman, rather than citing a citation, but the original is a book rather than an article I can just read online and link to.)

That’s about 0.001% of people who are consistently correct in distinguishing between truth and lies . . . at least four times out of five.

So even the 0.001% of humans who are the absolute best at telling truth from lies might still be wrong as much as 20% of the time.

I’m sure there are rogue super-wizards who are correct so consistently that they are, for all practical purposes, accurate lie detectors. Still, it would be nice for writers to keep in mind that this is extremely, extremely rare. Just being a cop or psychologist or a streetwise con artist does not qualify a person to sniff out falsehoods.

Naturally, this doesn’t preempt a character’s believing that s/he is super-accurate, or that someone else is. But if a character actually is reliably accurate, the writer should perhaps be aware that that character has been endowed with an incredibly rare ability. (Or possibly absurdly good luck.)

Besides all of this hard-facts stuff, I typically find characters more relatable when they’re unsure about who to believe in these situations. It also gives a scene more depth and tension when the character and the reader aren’t sure what’s true and who to trust.

Happy Birthday, DWJ!

Diana Wynne Jones is seventy-six today! Huzzah!

In honor of the occasion, and because at any rate People Should Know, I thought I’d point out that there is a YA Fantasy Showdown going on. DWJ is the only author who had two characters in the first round; they’re on the second round now, and one character (see my LJ icon) is still in the running. Go Howl!

I’m also pretty pleased with how most of the other fights are going, though – despite my love for Hermione – Christopher Chant should totally have won there.+ It is, as some have said, a bit of a popularity contest.

Of the first round of sixteen matches, only two were between characters of whose books I had read both. The other one – Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) versus Tally Youngblood (Uglies) – brought to mind an interesting point about how most books work.

*Mild spoilers of the Uglies trilogy*

I like Katniss as a character more than I like Tally, and, while I rather enjoyed the Uglies trilogy, I like The Hunger Games much more. Thus, I wanted to vote for Katniss.

On the other hand, the match specified that it was using the Tally of Specials (the last book of the trilogy) – a Tally who has been genetically modified with reinforced bones and muscles, ludicrously enhanced senses, and a body full of self-repair nanos. She’s basically Wolverine. And Katniss is a sixteen-year-old with a bow.

I was torn. But then I asked myself: what do protagonists – especially YA protagonists – do? Do they wipe the floor with far weaker teenaged opponents? Or do they beat seemingly insurmountable odds?

The person who wrote the battle between the two may have had similar thoughts, because Katniss won the “possible outcome” battle. She also won my vote and, eventually, that round’s fight.

Of course, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to be said about crossover battles and what has to be true in whose world.

+Unless possibly Hermione found out beforehand about his weakness to silver. But that would involve, you know, research. What are the odds of that?

A Curious Case

I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that people are annoyed when protagonists, despite having the same information, fail to understand things that are obvious to readers. However, there’s a seeming exception to this that I’ve encountered frequently.

Protagonist: Gosh, Doc, I feel like I’m going crazy here. There’s this nice, attractive person with whom I’ve spent a lot of time lately, and now everybody is giving us knowing looks and making veiled comments and stuff. What could possibly cause them to do this?

Fictional Psychologist: Do you think they assume you and that nice, attractive person are romantically –


Fictional Psychologist: Do you see the two of you as –

Protagonist: Absolutely not. There is no way that could possibly be the case. Maybe you should see a Fictional Psychologist, you crazy person.

Fictional Psychologist: Is there a reason you feel so –


Fictional Psychologist: You don’t think that’s a little –

Protagonist: I’M LEAVING NOW.

I feel like I see this all the time, sometimes in awesome books, sometimes . . . less awesome.

Done carelessly, it can be ridiculous, but there are actual reasons to make your protagonist a little dense about these things. Many people can identify (up to a point) with someone who feels lost and confused when it comes to love, especially if the character is inexperienced with romance. You can also risk making your protagonist seem big-headed if s/he guesses too easily that s/he might be the object of someone’s affections. Then, there’s the fact that many stories require the protagonist and her/his romantic interest to hold off on their *gasp* WE ARE IN LOVE moment until the end.

When this doesn’t work, it’s often because the author seems not to have considered the protagonist’s personality when inserting this little blind spot. If a person has no serious self-esteem issues, and particularly if s/he has been in a romantic relationship before, the idea that another person finds her/him attractive should not be a huge shocker. Indeed, it may be that s/he should really catch on earlier rather than later, and that if you want to avert this, you’ll have to find another way to do it.

Be especially careful with excess modesty in more general areas. If a character believes s/he is not good-looking/smart/talented/capable, but actually distinctly is good-looking/smart/talented/capable/ESPECIALLY GOOD-LOOKING, proceed with caution. Yes, lots of people are modest. On some level, though, if they don’t have self-esteem problems, smart people know they are smart, and pretty people know they are pretty. There are exceptions, but think about it: if you’re truly beautiful, life tells you that. Same with intelligence. Refusing to believe it without good reason makes a character sound less modest and more like that skinny friend who whines about being so fat, or that straight-As top-of-the-class friend who is always sure that this test will come back with an F. You probably don’t want your protagonist to seem to be fishing for compliments.

It all comes down to that oh-so-common dilemna of how to do the things that you need for the plot in a way that works for the story.

And now, for something completely different: stop words!

On the Varied Applications of Other Peoples’ Relationships

The other day, my brother was trying to summarize for me a TV show he’d started watching. In describing characters, he noted that two of them were, “the Attractive Normal Couple.”

This got me thinking about couples in fiction. Supporting characters can fill all kinds of functions with their romantic relationships. (If the main character is in a relationship, it tends to be more complex and central to the plot, not as able to be summarized in a hopefully-snappy category label like the ones I’m about to start making up.) Like the “useful rich characters” I posted about earlier, the characters should of course be developed and interesting in their own rights, but they can also be very handy for plot and thematic purposes.

I’d like to talk about those purposes a little, but mostly I’d like to write a safari-style guide to relationships in fiction. Well, let’s see what happens.

They’re So Money

(This title is meta-relevant because I just won a contest at the lovely Reading in Color blog, and the prize is the YA novel She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva. The contest was a random drawing, so not a demonstration of any Mad Skillz on my part, but woo free book!)

Now, on to the non-meta relevance! Discovering the highly silly Forbes Fictional 15 list (check out the slideshow, too) got me thinking about wealthy characters. There’s a surprising amount of stuff you can do with ridiculously rich characters in writing, especially fantasy.

  1. “You think I can tie my own cravat? I have people for that!” You can show readers a lot about the society in which your characters live. Where do the super-rich get their money – land, trade, crime? What does a wealthy person in this society own – a big house, lots of livestock, extravagant clothes, oodles of servants, titles? Do they get out of normal societal responsibilities (say, the draft)? Do they have extra responsibilities? What do they do day-to-day? How do the rich relate to those with less, and vice versa?

    If the wealthy characters you’re writing about are exceptions to some rule of their society, you can use other people’s reactions to show this.

  2. “The best doctors and mages in the country couldn’t save Mummy’s arm, but they did make her a new one that throws lightning.” Super-rich characters give you the opportunity to outline the limits of your world. If it would interest or aid them, they’re likely to have access to the absolute cutting edge in your world’s technology (unless there’s a reason they can’t – perhaps the technology is secret or is too dangerous for the characters to want anything to do with it) and to the most powerful magic (again, unless something prevents it – some magic systems, for example, might have an ethical iffiness that could put off some characters). Basically, if it can be done in your world, the wealthiest people will probably be able to do it.
  3. “I’m expected at the palace tomorrow anyway. You can come if you wear a maid’s uniform and keep quiet.” If motivated, rich characters may provide a means that moves the plot. They can be a poorer character’s ticket into social circles or events, pull some strings to get the character options, or simply offer a horse or magic item that the character needs.
  4. “We’ll take the lot.” Remember this line from the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone movie? (I don’t remember his exact line in the book, and sadly my copies aren’t here.) Wish fulfillment: fun to read, fun to write. It can be neat to think for any character, “What would s/he do if s/he could afford to do anything?” A rich character can then actually do it.

I personally prefer to have wealthy characters in the supporting cast to using them as protagonists, although three of the POV characters of Lord of the Dark Downs come from an extremely rich family. But I do love my gazillionaire supporting characters. Unbelievably, I’d never realized this, but every one of my novels has at least one person or family who’s rolling in money. I blame my love of rambling mansions as settings, and of fops. Besides the POV characters in Lord of the Dark Downs, none of my protagonists are rich – indeed, several of them have virtually nothing. (Because nothing is more fun than kids who wind up exploring someone else’s big crazy mansion, isn’t that right, DWJ?)

Anyway! While the Forbes Fictional 15 list is awesome, it only seems to include characters from a world that’s assumed to be the same as our own. (Well, except for maybe Scrooge McDuck.) I’m sure it was hard enough to estimate characters’ wealth without having to translate currencies between universes, but since I read (and write) a lot of alternate-world fantasy, I find it fun to think about. Who would you nominate for an inter-universal list? (Let’s avoid deity-type characters who, within their own continuities, own all of existence. Because that’s, you know, cheating.)

My nominations would include:

  • Amy Wong of Futurama
  • Tamaki Suoh of Ouran High School Host Club
  • Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet of The Scarlet Pimpernel

Who . . . wow . . . actually all come from what’s supposed to be some version of our own world. I was initially thinking Christopher Chant as Chrestomanci, but I don’t actually think he’s all that rich. After all, he’s an honest government employee. He just has a big house. And I realize that a lot of alternate-world fantasy has royalty and nobility who are assumed to be rich, but a big enough deal isn’t specifically made of it for me to want to include them here.

Still, I’m probably forgetting tons of people. Who would you pick?

Who Said That?

I’m now editing (in a rewritey sort of way) Lord of the Dark Downs. This is interesting because, along with similar tension problems to the ones that I think my last edit fixed in Rabbit and Cougar, Lord of the Dark Downs has a lot of viewpoint switching. No, really, a lot. There are seven major characters, all of whom have POV sections of their own.

David Robbins told our writing class that when you switch POV, you jar the reader, so you’d better provide them a good payoff – a reward for sticking with you through the jolt and readjustment of getting into a different character’s head. So, since I’ve been thinking about this a lot, Reasons to Switch Viewpoints!

  1. The current POV character (often the protagonist) cannot be in the right place at the right time for some important event or information. Assuming this isn’t simply an instance of having chosen the wrong character for the protagonist, it may be a good time to throw in a section from someone else’s viewpoint. You can do this just once at the beginning of the book for setup (think of the Half-Blood Prince chapter that follows the Prime Minister), or pop over to alternate POV a couple of times (think the Voldemort sections in Deathly Hallows – although this is a little different, because it’s still sorta-kinda Harry’s POV). Some people are critical of the cut-to-what-the-villain’s-doing route, but it can be done well, and is certainly better than finding a really contrived way for the protagonist to find out.
  2. Expanding on this, sometimes you have multiple subplots happening in different places. Brian Jacques’ Redwall books do this all the time – the third-person POV is a little distant, so it’s not too jarring to have the camera swing over from the Defenders of Redwall to the Traveling Quest Party to the Villain’s Camp. David L. Robbins’ War of the Rats (which, um, I just realized really sounds like a Redwall book, but I promise it’s not) has four firmly-established viewpoints on two sides of the battle of Stalingrad.
  3. Subplots are collocated, but have seriously different goals or viewpoints. War of the Rats does this, too. The POV characters are two Russians and two Germans. They spend most of the book in the same city, and toward the end the snipers’ duel brings them into direct opposition so that switching viewpoints offers intense, and intensely different, takes on the situation.

    Furthermore – though this goes without saying when you have well-developed characters – the two Russians’ views differ even when they’re in the same room, as do those of the two Germans. Seeing the same events unfold through two wildly different filters of values and feelings can be at least as interesting as following characters in different places. (I don’t mean you have to go nonlinear in order to literally show the same events – having characters in the same place while the events are happening is enough.) On some level, every character has her own subplot. If Alex and Ben are in one place, even with one presumably shared goal, maybe Alex disagrees with Ben about how to accomplish it. Maybe Alex honestly doesn’t care about the goal as much as Ben does. Maybe Alex is secretly in love with Ben. Maybe Alex is planning to poison Ben.

  4. One character would have the greatest emotional reaction to the events of this scene. This is sort of the psychological version of, “Who’s in the right place at the right time?”

Wow, I accidentally covered oodles of stuff in Reason Three. This is the iffiest reason to switch POV, because every single character should be the center of her own subplot, however small or tame, and you simply can’t show all of their viewpoints. (Nor would you want to.)

So when do you switch? Well, it’s natural to do it when one of the other reasons also applies. What’s sometimes tougher, though, is how to do it.

You want to minimize confusion for the reader. Sometimes, this is easy. In Rabbit and Cougar, the chapters alternated POV. (This was basically for Reason Three. The two main characters are two different species from different cultures, and they have different reasons for traveling together and different abilities and opinions – Rabbit doesn’t know how to fight, for example, while Cougar can’t speak Elven. Toward the end, though, the characters do get separated, so Reason Two comes into it as well.) In Lord of the Dark Downs, though – for the purposes of this edit at least – I don’t want to throw in a chapter break for every POV switch. I do use line breaks, which is probably the very minimum heads-up you should give your reader when the POV is changing.

One hopes that every character’s voice is distinct enough for readers to know whose head they’re in, but realistically, it’s not always immediately obvious. I admit, a part of me thought, wouldn’t it be cool if they could print these in different colors? Which an e-version could totally do? But of course, the writing should stand alone better than that.

My solution is generally to include a grounding piece in the first paragraph after the line break that makes it obvious whose POV we’re in – a sentence that absolutely has to come from that character. Usually, this includes the character’s name. It might be, “Cedric found himself, again, the tallest person in the room,” or, “Katrina wondered when they would stop for lunch.” Later, once the viewpoint is established, I might be more likely to express this sort of sentiment with, “It had to be time for lunch. Wasn’t anyone else hungry?”

I’m up for the challenge of rewritey-editing (rewritediting?) Lord of the Dark Downs, but I don’t see me writing another seven-viewpoint story. Besides Rabbit and Cougar, all my other long works have one POV each – two in third-person and one in first-person.

Thoughts on point of view? What kind and how many have you used?

Smart like Smart? Or Smart like “ARRRGH”?

I’ve always liked intelligent characters. Since most of the books I love are YA or middle-grade, this often means characters who are smart teens or children. In popular fiction, we have Hermione Granger, Library Ranger; Artemis Fowl, preteen evil supergenius; and Matilda Wormwood, she of the mighty brain that gets so bored of reading complete libraries and doing instantaneous long division that it turns to telekinesis. I love them all. It certainly doesn’t bother me to read about child characters with intellects more powerful than mine. Smart children are great. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that I detest wise children.

Kids have lots of great qualities. Energy, creativity, candor, and – overdone as it sometimes is in fiction – innocence and openness. Like all people, they vary, so even these traits don’t apply to all children, but one thing that just plain doesn’t belong with children? Wisdom.

Wisdom – the kind that can make a person empathetic, patient, a good judge of character, and knowledgeable about life, truth, and relationships – comes with experience. Once again, this isn’t cut-and-dried; an older person may not be more patient or empathetic than a younger one. But think about it: it takes a couple of years before a child is even capable of empathizing, of realizing that other people even have minds, internal lives, wants, needs. In general, children and teens have shorter attention spans, are less thoughtful, and have shakier, more selfish, or more myopic judgment than older people of similar backgrounds.

None of this means that I think people aren’t writing child characters impatient and selfish enough. (Although recognition of these flaws can be a powerful tool for getting reader sympathy. I love that Diana Wynne Jones’ characters often have selfish wants, even if they are too ashamed to express them.)

No. What it means is that (human) child characters need not to smile knowingly and state simplified universal truths, leaving the other characters in awe. They need not to instantly recognize relationships between other characters, and especially not to smirk and tell the protagonist how obvious it is that s/he likes the romantic interest, well before anyone else catches on. They need not to immediately recognize dishonesty or untrustworthy persons. I don’t care if they are streetsmart young members of the thieves’ guild or classically educated princesses in courts full of intrigue or blind kids who are super-duper practiced with using their other senses. They must not be Wise in the Ways of the World.

Ideally, you also want to be careful with younger child characters who open their eyes really wide and say, “Mommy, why do people hurt each other?”

Kids can certainly be know-it-alls. Hermione is a great example of this, and one of my favorite fictional brainiacs. Her know-it-all-ism is much like mine was in school: a lot of book-smarts plus a desire to prove herself plus some social awkwardness. She is, in that way, quite a realistic character, as well as sympathetic and entertaining.

Of course, kids and teens may think that they are wise when they aren’t – as may anyone. And like anyone, they can have moments of insight or brilliant realizations. Just don’t make them frequent, and don’t make them enough of a distinguishing characteristic of a child character that one could call the character “wise.”

In part, this just comes down to the fact that it’s okay for a child character to have more knowledge and/or technical skill than I do, just like it’s okay if a child character can use magic when I can’t. When a child character has more wisdom than I do, it sets off both my BS-detector and my growly face. I resent being told how life works by people who have experienced very little of it.

I’m sure that, like any rule, this has exceptions, and I welcome hearing about them!


On an unrelated note, I’m not sure whether any of you are doing NaNo this year – if so, good luck, and do tell! – but here is a most entertaining little explanation and endorsement of the phenomenon.

Title That Isn’t “Bringing Dexy Back”

. . . I couldn’t help it. In my editing of Rabbit and Cougar, I’ve just reached the part introducing Dexy, who is one of my favorite characters of all time. He’s just so much fun to write.

My recent editing has brought to my attention one writing technique to explore here and one pitfall to avoid.

Pitfall first: This is, first and foremost, a matter of point-of-view consistency, but it’s a sneaky one. You might think of it as making your POV character slightly prescient. See the following example:

“I’m not sure that was a good idea,” said Bridget. Actually, she suspected it was illegal.
Aaron slid off the bed to look for his glasses. “I haven’t much choice, have I?” He shuffled through some papers on his desk, then opened the refrigerator. “Ha, got you!” He pulled out his glasses and put them on.

Don’t be distracted by the fact that Aaron has put his glasses in the refrigerator and possibly also broken the law: Bridget is the problem. Apparently, she is psychic. She knew immediately that Aaron was looking for his glasses. This is an issue both because it is unrealistic, if in a minor way, and because it removes the reader from the character. It’s nice to have the reader discover things at the same time as the POV character, to have the two on the same (forgive me) page. Basically, the story has slipped briefly into an omniscient POV. Try it again without that bit:

“I’m not sure that was a good idea,” said Bridget. Actually, she suspected it was illegal.
Aaron slid off the bed. “I haven’t much choice, have I?” He shuffled through some papers on his desk, then opened the refrigerator. “Ha, got you!” He pulled out his glasses and put them on.

I acknowledge that it sounds better partly because the word “glasses” isn’t repeated, but a legitimate issue has been eliminated. The prescience problem sometimes follows the word “to.” Make sure that when another character is going to do something, your POV character doesn’t know the intention or the next action before someone in her position would. Sometimes, the “to” phrase indicates that the character is already doing the next action: She opened her laptop to search for bank robberies in their area. “There haven’t been any in thirty years.” Note how “to search” could have been replaced by “and searched,” indicating an actual action rather than an intention. Alternatively, the intention could be obvious: “He climbed onto a chair to reach the top shelf.” The word “to” doesn’t always appear, though; in the original example, one could have said “Aaron slid off the bed and went looking for his glasses.” The problem remains.

Now, for the technique: working the story-within-a-story. I discovered, while editing Rabbit and Cougar, that Cougar tells some rambling stories. While storytelling is part of his character, some of these stories seemed pointless. I don’t beat myself up too much over these things: that’s what editing is for. When I’m writing the first draft, sometimes I don’t know what will come up again and what won’t. Dealing with one particularly pointless story was easy: I replaced it with another story that included important backstory (and actually made more sense for Cougar to tell at that point).

The second story posed a problem. Its primary significance was to explain the history of a town Rabbit and Cougar were about to visit, but that town (not to mention its history) is hardly a blip on the plot horizon of the overall novel. I didn’t want to cut the entire story, because it accomplished one other point: establishing the existence of hobgoblins as a dangerous force in the fantasy world. The story read like one of those instances when the writer wants to tell you something that you may not need to know. I actually did need to show that hobgoblins existed (they appear later), and it made sense to use a story because of Cougar’s upbringing and predilection toward storytelling. Unfortunately, the length and detail of the story seemed to imply that the upcoming town would be important. It was the town equivalent of giving a tavern wench a first and last name, full physical description, and family history, then having the protagonists walk out of the bar and never see her again. What to do?

I got someone else to look at the story and help me streamline it. Then, and most importantly, I changed what the characters got out of it. In my earlier draft, when the story ended, Rabbit commented on a character and asked a question about the town. In my edited version, Rabbit asks a question about hobgoblins and whether they might encounter any. (Foreshadowing much?) This changes the focus and direction of Cougar’s story. To continue the “tavern wench” metaphor, let’s say our protagonist spots a nasty scar on the tavern wench serving ale. Knowing a plothook when she sees one, Pattie Protagonist asks about the scar. The tavern wench replies that she got it in a hobgoblin raid when she was a child; her father lost his leg in the same raid. If Pattie now asks what it was like growing up with a disabled father, then she had better be prepared to have Wendy Wench become a prominent character in her story. If, on the other hand, Pattie expresses sympathy and comments on how nasty hobgoblins are, then she’s just set herself up to meet hobgoblins later. If your story requires the former, by all means, go for it; mine needed the latter.

On a note related only to this journal itself, it’s very odd to write original examples for these points. Obviously with the second one, I was being somewhat silly. I’ve read journals and articles like this blog, and I rarely see original examples in them; I think it’s because of how self-conscious one gets about them. Honestly, even choosing names suddenly seems like inviting people to judge you. But, of course, no one ever got anywhere in writing by not letting their work be read, and sometimes examples make these things much easier to understand! I hope they’ve been helpful.

Now, off to pack. Very soon, I will be leaving for England!