Friday, February 28, 2014

That part with all the dramatic music and amazing scenery ...

 ... and the main character comes to a realization of what he/she must do to move forward. It's called the epiphany. In movies we have all the special effects and scenery in the world to keep them interesting. The main character might be on a mountaintop thinking. Or off in a canoe. Or swinging on a porch swing. Or walking through the desert with a droid. And then there's the amazing John Williams score in the background. You know what I'm talking about.

But we don't have that luxury in books. We have to fill in that time. Nor can we simply allude to it. We have to deliberate and reach a verdict. And for middle grade readers, we can't afford too much navel gazing. We don't want to to lose them.

Darcy Pattison has this helpful post on epiphanies:

But ...

I'm working on the epiphany of a character-driven middle grade novel right now. And I've got three chapters of self-talk, dialog, rumination - some different settings, but talk nonetheless.


How do I let the reader know what my MC has learned?

So how do you do it? How do you gussy up a character-driven, middle grade epiphany? Even THAT sounds boring. What do you do to keep it interesting?
  • Make it funny?
  • Intersperse action?
  • Use the "Pope in the pool" technique from Save the Cat?
  • Keep the tension high? If so, how?
I don't want to water it down or make it longer. So, maybe it needs less gussying and more trimming.
  • Maybe there's more I can do with inference. 
  • Maybe I'm explicitly stating too much.
What are the best character-driven middle grade epiphanies you've read? How were they achieved?

Middle grade writers, HELP!


elly swartz said...

My advice is that less is more. Tighten and trim. Really focus on the epiphany moment and work backwards. What do I really need to get there? Take out the rest. Then tighten with specifics (think sensory).I put my discarded text in a doc called "killed characters and tossed prose" just in case I ever want to resurrect. Good luck, I know it will be great!

Jean Reidy said...

Thanks, Elly. Great advice. Yes, I agree, less is more, for sure. I guess the section I'm struggling with is the "right after" when he realizes he's realizing. When I want him to tell the reader what he realizes - what he's learned.

Jean Reidy said...

Okay, I just found this in Lee Wyndham's WRITING FOR CHILDREN & TEENAGERS

"The best method for resolving this kind of ending is to have something happen to your main character to make him or her 'come to realize.' It should be some powerful personal experience that shocks, rocks, even floors him or her."

Check! I've got that scene!
But then she goes on to say:

"Then you should have a quiet scene, for the change in the main character must in no way resemble instant magic. The hero should think over what has happened and realize the impact and implications, and resolve to change course or mend his or her ways."

Check! I've got this too. But it feels long and boring. This is the part I need help with. Maybe I just need to trim - have my MC say only what's necessary.

Finally Wyndham says,

"Next comes the clincher for this kind of ending: you must devise a scene in which the hero or heroine can prove that he or she has indeed changed."

Bingo. So I think if I tighten my thinking scenes, then I should ramp up this clincher scene.Yes, I do have that clincher seen, but I think I can beef it up, for sure.

Anonymous said...

I've never really thought of the epiphany moment as one that required a lot of thought and talk. An epiphany is just that--a bright flash that suddenly opens everything up, casts bright light on the situation, brings everything into a sharp clear focus, where the thing to do becomes obvious. So I've always thought of the epiphany moment as a few paragraphs, a cliff hanger end of the chapter, and then bam! you're off and running again ito the climax that comes about as a result of the epiphany. So if you have chapters of thought and talk at the epiphany, you might consider what you haven't done in much earlier chapters. What you can do to set up the situation so that only one solution is going to win; set up the characters so that all the evidence has been there for a long time--all the pieces of the puzzle are already in place and have been falling into place since page 10. Then, the epiphany moment is an exciting chapter in which all the character has to do is SEE it, and the reader sees it too, cheers, and is ready to go! At least that's how I think of it.
Jeannie Mobley

Jean Reidy said...

Jeannie -
That's really wise advice. Because as I continue to study those chapters laden with internal monologue, I'm realizing I probably don't need much of it. That I have set up the dramatic climax well enough, and that I need to trust the reader to infer much of what my MC is stating in his thoughts. And then I can play out the rest in follow-up action. So I'm getting the big scissors out for a lot of cutting.
Thanks for chiming in.

Cynthia Levinson said...

These are great questions. If I had any idea how to write fiction, I'd be glad to try to help. Meantime, I look forward to everyone else's answers!

Claudine G. said...

I love the Lee Wyndham advice you've included in the comments, Jean. Trimmed, quiet scenes always strike the loudest and most powerful punch (with a warm aftermath).

Janet Fox said...

All such excellent answers - and I agree with all.

Something that I heard recently - I think it was from James Scott Bell - is to use a secondary character as a foil. The secondary character does or says something unrelated to the main plot but reflects that theme and that sparks the epiphany, like a fun-house mirror reflection. That way the character is in scene with either action or dialogue to keep the story moving. said...

Sounds like you're on your way with such great advice. I agree about letting the reader see the change along with the character rather than too much explaining.

Jenni Enzor said...

Thanks for a great post! I've enjoyed reading all the comments too. This is something I'm working on, too, and not sure if I've mastered yet.

I believe I once read advice from Carrie Ryan to have your MC "fail" a test at the beginning of the novel, but then pass a similar test at the end--to show he/she changed.

Jean Reidy said...

Here's a link which I find helpful!

"What Happens after the Crisis and Before the Protagonist Ends the True End of the Story?"

Susan L Meyer said...

Hi Jean. I too agree with the "less is more" approach. I haven't really thought about what I do exactly, but I think I use just two or three sentences of the character thinking, here and there, interspersed with events. And a character might also engage in a small but symbolic action. So my main character in Black Radishes gives away his toy monkey, realizing he doesn't need it anymore and that people, not toys, are what matter to him. Definitely it is a time for a light touch, I'd say. In the novel I'm working on writing now, he just thinks two sentences at a key point. But a fair amount of revelation has already happened--in two or three sentence moments and significant choices earlier. I'm not sure what my editor will think, but I think it works.