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A Character Story

Some readers of The Green Ember, my first fantasy adventure novel for kids, found the ending to be a cliff-hanger. Some kids even shouted at their parents in frustration, “That is a horrible ending!” and “There has to be another book!” Hey, I’ll take any kind of enthusiastic, emotional response. It means they cared. So, I’ve gotten a few emails along those lines. It hasn’t been the majority. Most don’t even mention it, but there’s a few who are fired up about my “cliff-hanger.”

I didn’t mean to make a cliff-hanger. Sure, like all such books, there’s a big part of the story that remains unresolved, remains “out there” for future adventures. What I meant to do was give a mostly-satisfying resolution to the main promises I made in the “contract” with the reader–implicitly agreed at the beginning of the story.11GEFWolfInvaders_zps2eb1f0c3

I wanted to have significant resolution to two problems. The, “What’s wrong with the world?” problem, and the, “What’s wrong with our main characters?” problem. I hoped that when the end of this story came, the reader would feel like a big dent in the World problem happened, and that the characters would have grown to the point that the reader felt satisfied. (Of course they are both mingled.) Is Picket the same sort of rabbit when the story begins as when it ends? What about Heather? I hope not. 

That’s what I was aiming for. I don’t know how well I succeeded. The majority response from parents and kids has been very encouraging, but I know I have a lot of room to grow.

I think one problem might be that, for some readers, I failed to deliver enough of a Character story to make up for what is unresolved in the Event story.

Orson Scott Card talks about the main kinds of stories in his book Character and Viewpoint. In a minefield of material designed to keep writers from writing and perpetuate the Writer’s Self-help Creed of Tell, Don’t Show, or perhaps more likely, Sell, Don’t Show, Character and Viewpoint is practical, insightful, and generally helpful. Card writes about the different types of stories thus.

The M.I.C.E. Quotient

Milieu

The Milieu is the world–the planet, the society, the weather, the family–all the elements that went into creating that special world.

Idea

Idea stories are about the process of finding information. Think of Nolan’s Inception.

Character

The Character story is about the transformation of a character’s role in the communities that matter most to him or her. 

Event

Event stories focus on events which rip the fabric of the universe or disrupt the natural order and cause the world to be in a state of flux. Or, “What’s wrong with the world?”

So all stories fit into these basic types and every story I can think of emphasizes one or two and contains all. Most stories deal significantly in Character and Event.

This example might help you understand what he’s talking about.

One of my favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings is The Scouring of the Shire. When this was cut from Jackson’s film trilogy, I was sad. Why? Because Jackson gives us the Event story, but robs us of a huge part of the Character story. The Event is the destruction of the ring and fixing the “What’s wrong with the world?” problem as Aragorn is married to Arwen and enthroned in Gondor.

But what of the hobbits? What of these characters through whose eyes we have seen the Event story? What of the Character story? For me, their return to the shire and its liberation from statist bureaucrats in league with Sharky, is crucial. How many character stories are resolved in those chapters cut from Jackson’s film? So many. Sharky himself, and Wormtongue. Merry and Pippen, both now literally taller and spiritually greater, in profound ways. But also Sam and Frodo. It’s heartbreaking and glorious. It’s smaller than what happened across the wide miles in Mordor and Gondor, but it’s huge for our characters. The story isn’t over until they liberate the Shire. The Character story isn’t over until we are satisfied. And Tolkien delivers an ending to the Character story that is glorious and truthful. Jackson, as with so many other details (cough, Bombadil), misses something good and, I would argue, essential.

I’m sure my efforts in The Green Ember came up short in many ways. I’m sure those few furious kids are going to be unhappy that the next book I release will be a shorter prequel and not the sequel they are demanding. I’m working on the sequel, but it will be a little while. And part of what I’m doing with the prequel, The Black Star of Kingston, is to fill out the world. I’m delivering on some promises and making new ones. It’s a relationship I’m forming with readers. I hope that, in the end, they will be pleased with the journey we went on together.

After all, in and among a thousand motivations I have as an author, the deepest and truest one is love for those readers and a sincere effort to delight them. And what am I? Only another character in a story, not yet what I will be.

But I am going somewhere. I am growing.

You are too.

3 Comments

  1. One of my sisters listened to what she thought was a partial version of the audio book, and then asked to borrow my hard cover (she’s since purchased her own) because she wanted to read the end of the story. She was surprised to realize she had heard the end of the story 🙂 or at least the end of what’s been written. So she will be one of the rabid, avid fans waiting for the sequel.
    Thanks for the reminder that we’re all in process. Thankful for your gifts and Phil. 1:6.

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