Monday, April 21, 2014

Planting Seeds—Story Architecture

Good afternoon from England! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

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I was planning to share a Part 2 on the subject of “Realism vs. Rebellion: How Should We Handle Flawed Characters?”, but as I was writing the post, I found myself thinking a lot about a different subject, opened a fresh document, and decided write about that instead. (Besides, the mental image of planting seeds ties in quite nicely with spring in the Northern Hemisphere.)

Before I continue, I want to emphasize that I'm still in this learning process myself. But the thoughts I am about to share made me so excited that I thought you may catch the enthusiasm and enjoy pondering them too. :)


Planting Seeds

I recently read the sample chapters for a very popular, “secular” series. What I read was extremely well-written, with “showing, not telling” descriptions of characters' emotions that left me out of breath, or hungry, or apprehensive. (And I figured: writing well seems to have a lot to do with manipulating the reader to feel what the character feels. Moving on.)

On the surface, it was the kind of introduction to the series that made the pages turn themselves. I already knew the storyline—but that's what piqued my interest and made me want to know more. The sample chapters confirmed that my curiosity wasn't erroneously placed. The series was going to be a compelling one.

The more I thought about it afterward, the more I realized that the writer was far more clever than I assumed. Why was I thirsty for more of the story? Was it down to the descriptions, the characters, or the “what-if” scenario? It wasn't that alone. Within the first few chapters, this author had laid down the presupposition for the book and the rules of her country. She had planted the seeds for the coming conflict that made you vaguely guess what happened next—but left you wondering how that would play out.

And the more I thought, the more it hit me. I could see what the author had subtly done.

 There—right within the first chapter—she had hinted at the conclusion of the whole series! I was half startled when this idea crossed my mind. Could the exchange of a few words at the beginning really be way the whole situation resolves? Does it quietly plant an expectation in the reader's mind that he doesn't consciously realize is there? And will that provide the sense of satisfaction and closure at the end, when after all is said and done, that expectation is finally fulfilled? I tend to think, Yes.

(Now, I still don't know if that's the way the series ends. But I have a strong feeling that it's the way it should end. And as a reader, that's the way I expect it to end.)

You may be wondering if letting the reader know this much will mean boredom—which in turn means putting down the book—which is the death of a story. I think that's where balance comes in, along with an evaluation of the complexity of the plot. Maybe this won't work in your case; maybe it will. But remember, readers are smart. They usually don't need huge arrows pointing to a hint, and will probably pick it up themselves. And if it's subtle enough, they might not even realize they have.

Seeds give a story direction.

I realize that a lot of classic literature winds along without much foreshadowing at all. But reading didn't have as much competition from other forms of entertainment in the past as it does today. With all the options out there, readers have less time on their hands than perhaps ever before. We have to grab them before they resort to films or TV or games. And we can do this by letting them know that the story they are investing their time in has direction, an end goal, a resolution that will teach them something and give them a sense of satisfaction.

Planting seeds at the beginning of where the story is heading in its climax, and even of how the impossible situation will resolve at the end, can help readers know that you respect their time and that your story is worth it!

Seeds give YOU direction.

Ultimately, all this presupposes that you know where your story is heading. If you are going to try to foreshadow, and give readers a tinge of excitement at unfolding events, you are forced to think hard about what happens next. I doubt this is ever a bad thing. :)

So what do you think? Do you disagree? Have you come across a story that led you on a thrilling journey from one breadcrumb of a clue to another? Or do you prefer the gentle winding of the classics? I'd love to know!


C. R. Hedgcock


Caitlin R. Hedgcock is a Christian author who aspires to use storytelling for God’s glory. She lives with her family in England's picturesque county of Hertfordshire, and spends spare time reading, walking forest trails, and practicing violin for the next orchestra concert. Visit her blog to find out more.


8 comments:

  1. I have often thought about this! I have heard it from both perspectives - authors get criticized if the story is predictable in any form and they also get criticized if it is not predictable! And, again, one can deliberately manipulate the reader into believing something that is really not going to happen or vice versus. One can gain or lose readers either way. So I guess it will have to do with an author's personal preference, don't you think?

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    1. Certainly! Also, every story is different in terms of length, pacing, genre, and audience, so there are a lot of factors to consider.

      I find that feedback can be one very helpful way to judge whether this could help or not. Thinking of my own stories, younger readers didn't seem to mind, but adults tended to say they wanted to be "gripped" earlier on. Foreshadowing (subtly!) is a device I want to use more of to achieve this. :)

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. Great post, Caitlin, thank you for sharing with us! I recently finished your book series and thought it was amazing! My sister is reading "The Treacherous Trail" now and we're enjoying talking about it together; (with me trying my best not to give anything away. :-) )

    I think you were very clever with your stories. They had a delightful beginning and slowly eased into the danger and mystery and come to a nice conclusion. Well done, Miss Hedgcock! I really do admire your writing talent and how you use it to glorify our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

    His Princess,
    Bekah

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  3. Wow! Thank you for your kind comments, Bekah! I am really thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the stories and found them to be glorifying God (which was my daily prayer in writing them).

    If I may ask, which was your favourite of the four? I'm always interested in hearing this to gain a better sense of audience enjoyment and improve my aim in reaching it. :)

    Blessings,
    ~ Caitlin

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    1. Hey Caitlin,

      I contacted you from your website at the "contact me" page. :-)

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    1. Well done Caitie! I guess I've unconsciously observed that, like when a story turns out totally different from the hints, but never actually seen it to notice.

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  5. Isn't it so exciting that people are reading and enjoying your books, Caitie?! I am so happy for you. :)

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