Monday, May 19, 2008

School Visits and Another Question Bites the Dust

Okay. One school presentation down. Hopefully, many, many more to go. (I actually have a tentative tour schedule for the first two weeks after my book comes out, but can’t post anything until it’s firm.)

So how did it go? Great!

The presentation was at American Leadership Academy, a local charter school. It was a ball. I was presenting to all ages—from grandparents to little babies—but mostly focused on the K-8 graders. I took part with three other authors. Jessica Day George, KL Fogg, and Mathew Buckley. All three of them were great. I had a few minor mishaps in my presentation (the projector remote that they couldn’t get to work and the magicians top hat that only wanted to pop up on one side.) But all in all I thought it came off pretty well. Here are a couple of pics. Looking forward to doing a lot more of these.

This is one of my two assistants "breaking" my good wand. Now I have to go all the way back to Diagon Alley to get a new one.

This is me offering him an alternative. What you don't think a rubber chicken the shrieks wildly when you squeeze it would make a good wand?

On another note, Deren asked me the following question “. . . . to be thrilling, the reader needs to know what's at stake (otherwise the action is meaningless). But in order to know what's at stake the reader needs to understand the fantasy world (which interferes with the action). The problem of finding the right mix of action and information isn't unique to fantasy, but it seems that a fantasy author walks a finer line because of the additional burden of revealing information about a new world.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about striking that balance in general and some of the specific things you did in Farworld (insofar as you can do so without giving away too much.)”

Good question, Deren. And especially applicable to YA and MG fantasy. In adult fantasy (No adult fantasy cracks here. I’m referring to series like Stephen R. Donaldson’s and Robert Jordan’s.) you can spend more time on describing the world and building up to the action. In fact, the reader expects you to give them detailed descriptions of the world they are entering.

YA and MG novels don’t give you that luxury as an author. In fact, I think that’s why so many adults enjoy YA novels even more than novels supposedly written for “adults.” They know a good YA novel will get them into the action quickly and keep the story moving and entertaining all the way through. The most common complaints I hear about YA novels is when they don’t get moving fast enough.

So how do you get around the problem of describing a new world without slowing down the story? First, you try to describe on the fly. For example I have Kyja approaching a tower in the center of town. I could take the time to describe everything she sees, or I could put the description into the context of action. For example:

Kyja raced onto a footbridge and over a burbling creek, ignoring the tiny golden
fish that leaped from the water and buzzed about her head before splashing back

Past the bridge, the flagstone path wound in a spiral up a steep
hill to the base of the tower. Every hundred yards or so, a golden fountain
sprayed colorful patterns of water—one in the shape of a fish, another, a giant
eye that stared balefully at anyone who passed. Between the fountains, statues
of Westland’s most famous wizards and warriors guarded the grounds with stern

Visitors to the tower were to stop at each fountain and
wash their hands—purifying themselves before meeting with a member of the
council or the High Lord himself. But Kyja had no time for such niceties. She
cut directly up the side of the hill, ignoring the blades of royal grass that
shouted, “Keep off! Keep Off!” and “No trespassing!” in their tiny high-pitched

From their spots along the path, the statues turned and gave her
dark scowls. But she ignored them too. As frightening as the statues looked,
they couldn’t actually tattle on her. And by the time the groundskeepers got up
in another hour, the grass would have forgotten all about her transgression.

At the top of the hill, she leaned against the cold, smooth wall of the
tower, panting. After catching her breath, she hurried up the white marble steps
and through the entryway, while Riph Raph broke off and soared up into the sky.
Just inside the massive gate, she stopped and curtsied to a stern looking guard.
“Eggs for the kitchen.”

Look at how much information I present here, without stopping the action. Kyja races across the bridge, cuts up the hill, and rests against the wall. Yet, hopefully, I’ve created a somewhat vivid picture in your head of what things look like. By using a little internal monologue, I can also pass on some other interesting points. The paragraph that starts “Visitors to the tower,” uses a technique called implied history. The reader imagines years and years of visitors passing the fountains and statues, which makes it seem more real.

The problem is, that only works for so long. I’m actually walking a fine line here. These are things Kyja sees all the time. The longer she is in a land she’s familiar with, the more difficult it is to describe things which would be new to the reader, but old news to her. Of course, that’s why we put characters into a world they are unfamiliar with. If I bring someone to Farworld who has never been there before, I can have him discover new things along with the reader. Likewise if Kyja were to end up on Earth. Lots of room for fun discoveries.

As much as I’d like to never pass on information though, there is almost always going to come a time when the source of wisdom must tell the protagonists what’s going on. Think of the scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo wakes up in the Elven city and Gandalf tells him about the rings. Or even earlier when he sends him on the quest. The key here is to make the story interesting and to keep it from being an infodump.

Your comment about striking a balance is really what it’s all about. Show me cool new things, let me discover the world along with the protagonist, but do it while keeping the action moving forward. The best way I’ve heard of doing this is to give your readers a red pen and ask them to mark any sections of your manuscript where their minds start to wander. I know you will put down my book at some point to eat or sleep. But I want to make sure you don’t put it down to watch I Love Lucy reruns.

Make sense?


Anna said...

I love watching I Love Lucy reruns!

If I put down a book, it is usually because I have something else I want or need to do. If I put down a Ted Dekker book to watch something, it would probably mean I wanted to read the book, but also wanted to watch whatever was coming on. So, even if I put down a book to watch I Love Lucy reruns, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm tired of the book. :D

Don't cry...

I'm just giving you a hard time. It's something my family is famous least among our family. =D

J Scott Savage said...


Of course you love Lucy. That's why they call it, "I Love Lucy." Otherwise they might have called it something like, "I'm not so fond of Lucy. But hey it was that or an infomercial. And I couldn't get to sleep at 2:00 in the morning." And that would be a royal pain to put in the TV guide, so they'd just call it, "INSFOLBHIWTOAIAICGTSA2ITM." Which would be just be confusing.

Never the less, should I find out you put down Water Keep to watch Lucy reruns, I'm taking you out of my will. Or at least my ARC list.

And I'm not crying, sniff. It's just, sniff, alergies.

Anna said...


There wasn't a pun intended there about loving I Luv Lucy reruns.....but oh well. =D

Do the ARC's go out in May? It seems like I read that...