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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

YA Mini Festival: Lili Wilkinson - Putting characters in trees and throwing rocks at them

Lili Wilkinson talks Book Structure

Stuck in trees

At the beginning of your book, you should stick your character (let's call him Harry Potter. What, you're saying there's ALREADY a character called Harry Potter? Well THAT'S a coincidence.) up in a tree, and remove the ladder.
This is a problem. Then you, the writer, the bastard that you are, should throw some gravel at him because it's fun. The gravel might take the shape of, oh, I don't know, a troll in the girls bathroom. This is kind of dangerous, but more it's gross because your wand has the potential to get stuck up his nose.

Since gravel was fun for you, evil writer, you might try throwing something bigger - what have you got there? Oh, stones? Yeah, throw some stones at Harry Potter!
Those stones look a bit like dementors to me. They're pretty freaky and more dangerous than that stupid snotty troll was. And they're kind of kissy but in a bad way.

Oh! That WWF wrestler that's in town is walking by, hey wrestler guy, heave those boulders at Harry Potter up in that tree. That will be SOOO funny!
Wow. Those boulders look like Lord Voldemort who is so strong now he just might be able to kill Harry.

But what's Harry doing? Hey, Harry! You can't just 'Accio Firebolt' and get yourself down out of the tree to safety! Oh, wait. You can? Okay. That's cool I guess.

So that is the Sticking your character in a tree and throwing rocks at him method of plot structure. Does it need some more explanation?

Well in a nutshell, it's about making life harder and harder for your character in the book. That gravel-troll at the start, that was a pretty big deal, he was going to be hard to beat, but Harry learned how to beat him which gave him the skills to beat the BIGGER threat, the stone-dementors later. And by working out how to defeat them, Harry gained more skills and more confidence and could beat the super-massive-oh-my-god-how's-he-getting-out-of-this boulder-Lord Voldemort. And in the end, you writer, did not help him down out of the tree, Harry got himself down, thank you very much.

Lili also talks Three Act Structure

This is what the Three Act Structure looks like. Usually a filmic convention, it's now being used more and more in novels too.

The Inciting Incident

Think: Harry Potter (oh, him again?) receives a letter from Hogwarts telling him he's a wizard.
Star Wars: Luke Skywalker's aunt and uncle are killed
Lord of the Rings: Frodo gets the ring

This is the beginning of a change to the normal routine for these characters. It's out of the ordinary, and the beginning of something, it incites the action to begin.

Plot Point One

This is the action! Movement toward the goal! Your character wants to do something so he/she makes a choice to do it!
Shrek wants his swamp back. How's he going to do that? He has to save the princess.
Star Wars: Luke sees the hologram from Leia about needing rescue and decides to rescue the hottie.


Lili says this is the point where you need to raise the stakes. Your character will get a much more specific idea of what it is he must do. She says it's a good place to introduce a new character that can shake shake shake things up. I mean you don't want to let your characters coast through the story!

Plot Point Two

This is where you can add a ticking clock, heading toward the climax. Oh, your character needs to paint a portrait in order to enter the contest next month and win the prize and save the town? Well turns out they got the entry details wrong and they need to pain the portrait by TOMORROW. Can they do it? I can tell you're biting your fingernails in anticipation, aren't you? Okay well even if you're not, that ticking clock sure makes for a more interesting story than simply having a month to paint it!


The final battle! Your hero will win or lose!
Phew, it's over! You can tie up loose ends - but not all of them. Let's not go overboard. Nothing gets wrapped up THAT easily.

Okay, now let's talk Three Act Structure: Cinderella Style.

This is not a graph of the Cinderella story, but it's a good visual aide for what I'm talking about.

On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being the worst thing to happen ever and 10 being head-exploding happiness, what does Cinderella look like?

Let's begin.

2 - Once Upon a Time...Yes Cindy's dad is dead and she's living with the evil step mother and those feral step sisters, but she has a roof over her head and food so things could be worse.

6 - Oh my God, she was invited to the ball! This is AWESOME!

3 - The Step monster laughed in her face and said she couldn't go.

7 - the Fairy God Mother shows up with all the mice and kittens and twittery birds and help her go to the ball anyway!

8 - She's at the ball and even gets to dance with the hunky hunky prince. Cindy is totes in love, ya'll.

1 - It's Midnight! She has to leave her love forever before her dress falls off and whoa that could be embarrassing hey what happened to her shoe?

10 - The dreamy prince finds her! They're in lovey love love and he sweeps her away to live happily ever after.

2, 6, 3, 7, 8, 1, 10 on the emotion scale. Phew. That was a rollercoaster, right?


Next up, Penni Russon speaks of voice and character!



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