Fun With Literary Allusions

Mona LisaLet’s talk about literary allusion. For some of you, it may be a literary device you haven’t thought much about since tenth grade English, but it is a technique that I love as a reader and turn to often in my own writing to inform a character, to enrich a scene, or to evoke emotion.

First. A refresher. Literary allusion is a quick reference to something or someone of historical significance–whether real or fictional. “A little bit of one story joins onto an idea from another, and hey presto, . . . not old tales but new ones.” (Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990))  But the success of an allusion in enhancing the new tale depends on how well-seated the old tale is in the intended audience’s collective psyche. For example, a writer would have greater success with an allusion if it were made to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” than if it were made to Leonardo’s “Ginevra de Benci.” Most, if not all of us can immediately call to mind Mona Lisa’s secretive smile, but what of poor Ginevra? Hers is a face that has been lost to the centuries.

Most, if not all of us can immediately call to mind Mona Lisa’s secretive smile, but what of poor Ginevra? Hers is a face that has been lost to the centuries.

Consider this excerpt from Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep (2013): “Danny strolled to the town common, sat on one of the benches in Teenytown and took one of the bottles out of the bag, looking down on it like Hamlet with Yorick’s skull.” It is a successful allusion because it adds meaning to the scene (the bottle is a symbol of the shortness of life, just like the skull) and because it informs the reader about the character of Danny (the bottle has been his longtime acquaintance, just as “Poor Yorick” was to Hamlet).

So it is good to remember the general rule: that allusions should recall something commonly accessible. But like most rules, don’t be afraid to break this one because allusions can also be

just about having fun.

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About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.

Collaboration

Socks by lindseyy
Photo by lindseyy

In April of this year, I got a call from my agent that went something like this:

She:“I’ve been hearing from several editors that they’re looking for a book like X. They were wondering if I had anything to submit that would fit the bill. I don’t, but I do have an author who could write a book like that.”

Me:“You do?”

She:“Yeah. You. Can you get it done in twelve weeks?”

Which is about when a few annoying character traits of mine kicked in: (1) I find it impossible to say no; (2) I think I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it; and (3) I hate to let people down. The trouble is, I work full-time (and not at writing), plus I’ve got three kids who like to be occasionally fed.

As much as I put my mind to bending time and squeezing forty hours into twenty-four, I have not yet been able to pull that off. So here I was. I’d said yes to my agent, and now I was going to let her down. I wrote a synopsis, then sat down to cry when I realized how much work lay in front of me.

A few days later, a woman in my critique group mentioned how she thought it would be fun to co-write a book with me. The heavens parted.

So, we wrote that book, which was told from four points of view (2 major; 2 minor). We each took a major and minor character; thus, we each committed to writing 50% of the book. By the end, this equated to approximately 36,000 words each. Totally doable. We finished the project in not twelve weeks, but seven, and it is now edited and ready for submission.

As quickly as the process went for us, it wasn’t always easy and I learned some lessons along the way. If you’ve ever considered co-writing a book, these tips are for you.

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About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.

Plotting, Pacing, and Crossing Over

Crossing OverAwhile back, I attended the three-day Story Masters Workshop, given by James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, and Christopher Vogler. I highly recommend it, and you can check out more information about their workshops here. Vogler’s expertise is movie scripts. One of the things that I found most interesting about his presentation was his 12-stage hero’s journey, which suggested that every well-plotted and well-paced story had a “crossing over” at approximately the 25% mark, and a “near-death” at the 50% mark. His case in point: Star Wars. At the 25% point, Luke “crosses over” by leaving his Aunt and Uncle’s farm, and at the 50% mark suffers a “near death” when he’s caught in an intergalactic trash compactor.

If you have read my posts before, you know how fond I am of mathematical approaches to plotting. You can check out my mathematical formula for kicking out a fast first draft here. Clearly I was intrigued by Vogler’s premise, but I wasn’t able to tap into the high-testosterone crime/thriller movie examples he was using: Casablanca, The Godfather, etc. Believe it or not, with the exception of Star Wars, I hadn’t seen a single one of the movies he cited. It made me wonder if the formulas he was promoting were as applicable to the Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction my kidlit colleagues and I were writing, as they were to the thrillers and crime movies he used as his examples. As a result, I took it upon myself to put his formula to the test.

I picked random books off my bookshelf, checked how many pages were in the novel, divided by four, then opened the book to the 25% and 50% mark to see if there was, in fact, a crossing over scene and a near death scene. In my not-so-scientific study, I looked at approximately twenty novels and, for the most part, Vogler’s markers held true. The following three novels were typical of the results.

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About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.

Practical Tips for Writing a Series

photo by Calsidyrose

There is no one way to write a series. There are, however, some practical considerations that will save you time and frustration as you take off on your journey, particularly if you intend to pursue a traditional publisher. Some of these tips I learned from agents and editors; others I learned myself (the hard way) and offer them up to save you some of my own frustration.

Series Potential.  Let’s assume you have written a book and now you’re wondering if your book has series potential. One obvious consideration would be if you have a main character who can go on more adventures or solve more mysteries. Or perhaps there are minor characters or story threads left hanging that deserve their own development.

Another clue might be your word count. For example, the average YA novel is about 80k, though the range is probably more like 60-120k, depending on the sub-genre. If you have written a 300,000 word YA novel, you may have really written three books in one. I say may because 300k words is indicative of one of two things: either you have a multi-storied story, or you have a lot of “fat” that needs to get cut. Don’t mistake one for the other. If you do truly have several arcs going on, consider breaking each arc into its own novel.

Staying Consistent.  After you finish Book 1, create a series “Bible” (3-Ring Notebook) where you can keep a list of story details for easy reference.

For characters, keep track of their birthdays and ages. Note their speech tics, nervous habits, eye color, and clothing styles. If a character has scars, record where they are located because you don’t want them to move around over the course of the series. Also, write a paragraph on each of their back stories

For each building, draw a floor plan, indicating the decor, flooring, furniture, kitchen, and the location of windows and what direction they face (you want to make sure a character doesn’t watch the sunrise and sunset from the same window). Know if the kitchen counters are marble, tile, etc. If they are tile in Book 1 and marble in Book 2, your readers will notice.

For cities and towns, create a map with distances between places noted in miles/kilometers because you need to know how long it should take a character to get to each place by car and by foot. Again, know where north is so you know where the sun rises and sets.

Time Lines are important too, particularly if the story stretches over many years. You need to track how someone ages through the book, how the seasons are changing, and how long someone’s hair should be in Book 2 if she cuts it two-thirds of the way through Book 1.

Cart Before the Horse.  After making Book 1 the very best it can be, write the synopsis for Books 2 and 3, then most agents recommend that you move on to something new and unrelated. In other words, don’t go on immediately to write the subsequent books.

Why? [Read more…]

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About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.

The Shy Writer’s Cocktail Party Survival Guide

Shy-Girl-300x400Confession: For me, the scariest part of a writer’s conference is the cocktail party. There’s no structure. No speaker. No handouts. Instead, hundreds of people who are used to spending long hours at a keyboard in coffee-stained jammies are let loose into a hotel ball room and left to fend for themselves. There are a few, you can spot them right away, who relish these things. But for many of us, it’s a struggle. Here are some practical tips for tackling those introverted road blocks.

Step 1: Prepare in Advance

  • Google the keynote speakers, the VIP attendees, or anyone in particular you would like to meet at the event. It is amazing what you can learn. Perhaps someone shares your passion for rescue dogs and roller derby;
  • Ask friends who know people you’d like to meet if they’d be willing to set up a pre-event introduction, either online or off;
  • Send an Email to three people you’d like to get to know better, saying “I heard from [mutual friend] that you’re going to be at the SCBWI Summer Conference. I’ve heard so much about you, and I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person. Hope to see you there!”;
  • Enlist a Friend to Go with You;
  • Volunteer to Help with the Event;
  • Go with a Specific Goal in Mind: e.g., I will find a critique partner.

 Step 2: Practice Your Small Talk [Read more…]

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About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.