Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Juxtaposition--or in other words, making your book contrary

I've been reading a lot lately.  I'm calling it market research, but everybody really knows it's my way of distracting my subconscious from querying so it can produce ideas for my next book.  I have to dangle the shiny stories in front of it so it doesn't notice the big scary hairy monster of rejection looming.  But, that's another story!

What I've noticed as I've read is how much I love books with inherent tension.  Books that take a preposterous premise, abounding with contradiction, and make it work.  A tiny tot of a baby taking out a dark lord.  The smallest and most unheroic of middle earth's races carrying out the terrible task that no one else could do.  A spider weaving words into webs to save the life of her pig friend.  Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Charlotte's Web.

The books I'm reading lately abound in these apparent contradictions.

In The Six Crowns--Trundle's Quest, there's a small and insignificant hedgehog thrust into a heroic adventure to save their world, which happens to be six seperate islands of rock spinning gently in space after the world was blown to bits.



In Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos a young girl is ignored and overlooked by even her father, the curator of the museum, while she stands firm against the bad guys and attempts to cleanse the museum's artifacts of evil magic.

And in the Roman Mysteries series...well, the truth is, at first I had a harder time finding my contradiction or inherent tension.  This puzzled me, 'cause I've really enjoyed this series and have read through book 7, with the next few on my shelf.  Maybe I was just enjoying the delightful inisights into Roman history?  Maybe historicals, or mysteries, don't need the same contradiction?  With a mystery there's already danger and possibly murder on the line.  Then I realized that a big draw of these books has been the evolving young characters overcoming the life challenges they face.  A beggar boy who's tongue was cut out learning to forgive and choose joy over bitterness.  A young jewish lad who barely escaped the sacking of Jereusalem making peace with the Emperor who destroyed his homeland.  A newly-freed slave finding her way in a strange country and thriving where she's been planted.  And a Roman girl-child of middling birth who faces down each new mystery and solves them while navigating natural disasters and devastating loss.  The contradictions are there, in the character's lives, and perhaps resonate that much more because they're personal in nature.

In NinChicks I stumbled on my contradiction--ninja chickens--but I'm thinking for the next book I'll keep prodding the subconscious til it spits out something really preposterious.  Themes of the underdog, the little guy going up against a Goliath foe, those are fairly easy to come up with.  Making it personal and an apparent impossibility that still perfectly fits the character--that's going to take a bit more thinking and a lot more reading.  Lucky for me, the library's not going anywhere!


  1. I think that's very true. The more of an underdog the main character is, the easier it is to create tension and make the reader feel the sense of triumph at the end.

    (However, personally, I think Theodosia is a mighty un-underdog little girl--she's got it all going for her. Everyone just doesn't know it :) )

  2. That's true about Theodosia! I guess I just think her dad's a bit stinky for never seeing how helpful she is, and of course the evil she's up against makes me feel small on her behalf!

  3. These look like good books. I love your first paragraph!

  4. I love your insights. And I think we see the classic underdog take center stage in children's lit because children are small, often overlooked and sadly undervalued, and yet manage to hang in there in this crazy world. They relate. Don't we all? Of course, I'm glad I haven't had my tongue cut out. Yet.