Tips for Bringing your Setting to Life

 David Farland often teaches writing workshops, and has trained a number of people who went on to become international bestselling authors—people like Brandon Sanderson in fantasy, Brandon Mull in middle-grade fiction, and Stephenie Meyer in young adult fiction.  He’s also the lead judge for one of the world’s most prestigious writing competitions for science fiction and fantasy.

Here’s a lesson on setting.

Years ago, I was reading a book on writing by a teacher from the American Film Institute.  She said near her opening something to the effect of, “Here is a list of the top 50 bestselling movies of all time.  Look it over, and see what elements they have in common.”

I quickly scanned the list, and in a matter of moments found three similarities, but to my astonishment the author followed her list by saying, “See?  They have nothing in common.”  She had failed to observe what was instantly obvious.  The first thing that these films had in common was that they were all set in another time or another place.  By that I mean, whether they were science fiction, fantasy, or historical, they all worked hard to transport their audience out of their chairs.

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Fantasy and Reality

Tracy Hickman, a writer I greatly admire, wrote an interesting blog the other day about the new TV series Once Upon a Time. He gave a brief synopsis of the story that went like this: “It is about an Evil Queen in a fantasy world filled with fairytale characters all of whom she curses with the most terrible of magical spells … condemning them to live their lives in our reality and not remembering their true, better selves.”

That resonated with me because what are we if not magical creatures living in this reality and unaware of, and not remembering our true, better selves?

Tracy Hickman related it to writing and how some people want to write the ideal, and some people want to write the reality. I tend to dabble a little in both–taking a character through the reality so they can reach the destination of the ideal.

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Back to Books!

Oh, summer’s over. Is it bad if I respond with a hallejuhah? As much as I love the summer season, it goes by in a blur. While many people have a chance to catch up on their to-read lists, it just never seems to work out that way for me. So, it is with much anticipation that I look forward to the falling leaves, the falling temperatures, and most of all, the great books that are dropping in the next few months. There are some highly anticipated titles that are scheduled to be released in the coming weeks, and here are a few that I’m especially looking forward to. Continue Reading →

YA Corner: A thank you to writers

Let me start with a disclaimer–I haven’t read a lot of YA this summer, Mormon or otherwise. I’m sad about that, but it couldn’t be avoided. Summer’s kind of a crazy time for me, and I haven’t had much time to read at all. What time I have had has been spent in reading for a project that has both a deadline and a public “performance” attached, so not much extra-curricular reading for me. But, last week, a book came on hold for me at the library, and since the reviews sounded interesting,  it was from an established YA author that I hadn’t yet read, and it had been getting some buzz, I made time (read: sacrificed precious sleep) to give it a go. Continue Reading →

YA Corner: Religion and YA Lit

One of my favorite reads in the two  years is a gem called Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork.  It’s about a teenage boy who exhibits autism-spectrum traits.  Marcelo’s father wants him to break out of the comfortable, sheltered world Marcelo inhabits, so he arranges for his son to take a summer internship at his law firm instead of caring for the horses at Marcelo’s school.    It’s a beautiful book, and notable for a number of reasons, one of which I’d like to talk about in this post. Continue Reading →

Summer Reading

I’m sure for you, that phrase has lovely connotations of lazy days under a shady tree, escaping into a world of fascinating characters living exciting lives. For me at this phase of my life, it means hundreds of kids at the library every Tuesday afternoon. I start feeling a little stressed this time of year, and for a number of reasons, all of my non-job-related reading pretty much grinds to a halt.  While everyone else pulls out their “reading for fun” stack, I just keep adding to my “read someday when everything slows down a bit” stack, without making the smallest dent in it. So, today, I thought I’d just share some of the books that will find their way onto that ever-expanding list this season. Continue Reading →

YA Corner: Enduring to the End, book-style

I’ve been reading the Bronte sisters lately, rereading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and tackling Villette, perhaps followed by the The Tenanant of Wildfell Hall.  That means not a lot of time for other reading, but luckily I generally find the classics worthwhile, and I sincerely enjoy these particular classics.  It’s got me thinking about staying power, school, and the future of our current YA favorites. Continue Reading →

YA Corner: Something to read during Spring Break

Ah, Spring Break.  I miss it.  I really do.  I no longer go to school, or teach, and therefore I get no scheduled week off.  Sad, I know, but reality for most of us.  Still, some of you (or more likely, some of your children) do get this delightful break from routine.  I remember always having grand illusions about keeping up or catching up on schoolwork, which never actually happened.  Spring break calls for a brain break–you need to read something fluffy and funny, some kind of summer reading preview.  If I were spring breaking this week, I’d be reading Janette Rallison. Continue Reading →

YA Corner: Because Wrong is Interesting

Recently, one of our librarians recounted a conversation he had overheard in the teen stacks.  A teenager and her mother were looking for books for the girl when they came across a popular vampire series.   The young woman pleaded with her mother to check the books out, to which her mom replied, “Now remember, we’re looking for books that are virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy.”

“But Mom,” the teen cried, “they are so good!”

As readers, and especially as parents, teachers, and advisers to teen readers, how do we balance the command to seek after anything virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy with the desire to read meaningful, honest, interesting stories? Continue Reading →

YA Corner: The new girl

When I was recently invited to become a contributor to this discussion, my first reaction was “why me?”  Sure, I’m a librarian working with children and teens, a former high school English teacher, a lover of books.  But here’s my dirty little secret.  Young adult fiction is probably not my favorite.  I like it and I read a lot of it, but my own reading tastes are wide and varied, and I’m as likely to have a non-fiction title catch a ride home with me after slaving at the library as the latest teen-centric paranormal romance or dystopian adventure.  Furthermore, beside the way my faith informs my life on a cellular level—how I live and breathe with the daily struggle of spirituality—it’s not the first thing I think about when I pick up a new book.  Continue Reading →