The Stanton Effect: Invoking Wonder

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiThank you to L. Marie for asking me to be a part of this guest post series. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz. I run the Legends of Windemere blog and publish books under the same title. I think that covers the “My Name is” requirement.

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This is about one of the points on Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk. I chose to write about invoking wonder in the reader. As a fantasy author, this is a very important goal whether I focus on it or not. I have to draw readers into a world that doesn’t exist outside of the page, so there is more that I have to say. For example, I can say, “They drive to New York City,” and people will immediately visualize the city with familiar landmarks. You may have to describe some of the area, but people have a pre-existing notion of what you’re talking about. If I say, “They rode into the city of Rodillen,” then nothing very cohesive comes about. This requires that I describe the buildings, people, weather, culture, and whatever else I can slip in without doing a full info dump. This is really just to set the stage too, but it is a piece of invoking wonder since you want to draw readers into your world.

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Maybe it’s because I have to tug harder at a person’s mind to get them to step further out of reality than Earth-based genres, but this is something that I feel should be done with every aspect of a story. The plot must be riveting at most points, the characters should be interesting, and the world has be both unique and recognizable. All of this is a challenge because one never knows the balance, which is where editing and beta readers can be helpful.

A difficulty that I always have is that I visualize a lot of what I’m doing, so I’m in a permanent state of wonder when it comes to my stories. An outside opinion is what helps me find out if that comes across in the finished book. Well not so much the finished book, but the first draft. My point here is that authors do have blinders on whether they realize it or not because they’re more attached to the story. This makes the invocation a little unclear to our own minds. (Note: I have Supernatural on while typing this, so invocation and similar words might be turning up a lot.)

-Supernatural-supernatural-32710241-1024-768Bobby Singer

Touching on a riveting plot, I always think it needs a good amount of both action and character developing downtime. This will prevent things from growing dull while maintaining growth for the characters.

In regards to wonder, you can aim for two things here. The first is making the reader excited that an action scene can happen at any moment, which helps them read through parts that might be slow. By action, I mean everything from car chases to a detailed shopping spree that ends with a canceled credit card. Basically, things that aren’t dialogue and exposition, but still carry the story ahead.

The other thing is that the reader starts to wonder how the characters will change. This might be the strongest area of wonder invocation that I can think of since we’re talking about the vessels that a reader will attach to. Consider several of the questions that go through your mind as you read a story. Will THEY survive their quest? How will THEY change over the course of the story? Can HE/SHE handle being rejected by someone they love? All of these involve wondering about the characters and not the main story. We get curious about these fictional people and think about how they’re going to come out of their adventure. It’s another connection that makes a person mentally plunge into the story.

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Now, everyone will have their own methods and foci when it comes to invoking wonder. I’m only going to list my personal ideas here:
1. Detailed world that touches on as many senses as possible. What does the reader see, hear, and smell? Taste and touch are more situational.
2. Give the characters personality, subplots, and growth that isn’t so straightforward as “hero get stronger.” Knock them down from time to time and show what they’re like when they stand back up. The reader will be curious to see if they can keep going.
3. If your story has magic and monsters, then go wild with the descriptions. Yet always remain consistent. Try not to have a troll look different in every encounter or switch your spell system in every book. Consistency helps create a solid foundation that a reader can work off of to explore your world.

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4. Foreshadowing. Hints can get a reader to keep going beyond their bedtime and return for a second read through.

To sum up here, I think invoking wonder differs from author to author. This is only what my opinion is and that’s influenced by my genre, reading history, and the specific stories that I want to tell. I’ve had people get absorbed by my books while others give up in the first 10 pages. It’s all personal preference when it comes to this arena.

One thing I do think is necessary for everyone is to go into a story with a clear and positive mind. If you read something with the expectation that you will hate it, then you’ll probably hate it. That wonder will be missing because part of you never wanted to wonder about the story. I’ve done it with books that I was made to read in high school and I still can’t bring myself to read them. This whole thing should be fun and sinking into the story with a sense of wonder is a big part of that.

Thanks, Charles, for such a great post in this series! Other posts can be found here and here.

Want to purchase Curse of the Dark Wind? Click here.

Supernatural photo from fanpop.com. Troll from mata.hari09.free.fr. Jim Beaver as Bobby Singer from pt-br.supernaturalbrasil.wikia.com. Wizard from wallpapersa.blogspot.com. Fantasy book from abstract.desktopnexus.com.

The Stanton Effect: Building to the Punch Line

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiToday, I’d like to welcome to the blog Nancy Hatch, who is here to bring you the second in a series of posts on The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. (See the first post here.) You know her, you love her from her blog, Spirit Lights The Way. Take it away, Nancy!

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Andrew Stanton begins his TED talk with a joke about three men in a bar in the Scottish Highlands—a backpacking tourist, a bartender, and an old man.

He uses the joke as a tool to convey compelling storytelling:

* The old man engages the audience, drawing us into his world and revealing his character as he shares his tale with a strong Scottish brogue.

* He makes us care as he explains how he built the bar, constructed the stone wall out front, and installed planks on the pier . . . “with me bare hands.”

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* The old man claims center stage with the sole speaking role, yet all three characters are necessary. None is extraneous. The tourist provides the reason for the telling of the tale. The bartender’s presence establishes that the old man is not exaggerating.

* In the same way he crafted the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, the old man builds his story on a firm foundation, one piece at a time. He keeps the finish line in mind. He never veers off course. He steers the story to its predetermined end.

* He creates drama (“anticipation mingled with uncertainty”) as he decries the fact that he’s not called “MacGregor the Bar Builder” or “MacGregor the Stone Wall Builder” or ”MacGregor the Pier Builder.”

Now he’s got us!

We’re curious. We want to hear the end of the story. We want to learn what he IS called. We are ready for the reveal. . . .

* When he delivers the punch line, he doesn’t complete the sentence. He allows the thought to hang mid-air. He doesn’t spell it out. He doesn’t beat us over the head. He doesn’t insult our intelligence. He doesn’t reveal his actual nickname.

He allows us to follow the breadcrumbs and connect the dots.

He’s given us 2 + 2 and leaves it to the born problem solver in each of us to fill in the blanks and come up with the solution.

And we do.

Since he constructed his tale with the same precision he used when building the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, we lay the last piece with confidence.

There’s no wiggle room. We cannot misplace his meaning.

“Och, mon . . . ye must be MacGregor the Story Teller!”

Thanks, Nancy, for being part of this series! On Wednesday, Charles Yallowitz will be on the blog with part three of The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. Hope to see you here, too.

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Jordie would like to believe that he’s as good at telling a story as MacGregor or Nancy Hatch. But when one of his stories bores Kitty into a stupor, he has to rethink that supposition.

And the Winners Are . . .

Just a quick post to announce some prize winners. (Isn’t it nice to have some good news?)

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The winner of a preorder of Torn by Kate Sparkes is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Sue Archer!

The winner of the $25 (or some equivalent atAmazon.uk) is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes!

Congratulations, winners! Please email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to confirm. Once again, thanks for commenting. Have a great weekend!

The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk

Just to give you a head’s up: I’m postponing my third giveaway until next week. (Sorry. I won’t tell you ahead of time what this giveaway involves. Mwwwhahaha!) Since this post is already long, I’ll post again this weekend to let you know who won the gift card and a preorder of Kate Sparkes’s book, Torn. Now, on with our regularly scheduled broadcast. . . .

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The other day, my friend Sharon told me about a TED Talk by writer/director Andrew Stanton. Since I was familiar with his Pixar movies (Toy Story 1, 2, 3; A Bug’s Life; Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and others), I was eager to hear what tips he had for telling great stories. (I didn’t see John Carter, the sci-fi film he co-wrote and directed [2012], though I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

The TED Talk in question is below. There is, however, a small amount of graphic language early on. Just want to warn anyone who might be offended.

Because of its rich tapestry of information, this is one of my favorite talks. Here are some of the storytelling tips Stanton mentioned that really resonated with me:

• Make me care.
• Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile.
• Invoke wonder.
• Capture a truth from your experience.

There were many other points. Because of that inspiring talk, I have decided to host a series of guest posts on the points Stanton discussed. I’m calling this series the Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. I’m excited to have such a stellar line up of bloggers and authors coming to the blog in the next few weeks to share their thoughts. From time to time, however, I will break away from the series with a post or two about a giveaway. But don’t worry. I’ll get right back to the series.

Today, I’m leading off with Stanton’s first point—make me care. It captured my attention, because it is the number one reason why I usually stop reading a book or watching a film—I simply didn’t care enough.

Make me care. In grad school, my advisors told me the same thing over and over and over again: “You have to make me care about this story.” Yet forging a heart connection with a reader is tricky to do. Tricky, but not impossible. Think of the last story you really connected with. We connect when we can relate to a character’s struggles or hopes.

If you watched Stanton’s TED Talk, you saw a scene from Finding Nemo that absolutely tugs at the heartstrings. The scene below is the beginning of that scene.

We connect as we think about the losses in our own lives. Though Stanton made a different point when showing the scene, I can’t help thinking of how the filmmakers caused me to care without making me feel manipulated.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverI also think of a book I’ve read twice now: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. In the opener, Black describes a glass coffin that is pivotal to the main character’s story. (You learn that fact on the book jacket.)

It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.

As far as Hazel Evans knew, from what her parents said to her and from what their parents said to them, he’d always been there. And no matter what anyone did, he never, ever woke up. (1)

Black made me care, because the unusual image of a boy in a glass coffin stirred my curiosity and reminded me of fairy tales I love. But most of all, I cared because Black showed me what Hazel was interested in right off the bat. I cared, because Hazel cared.

Another way Black made me care is through her obvious concern for her characters—good, bad, or in between. She cared enough to show them at their strongest or most vulnerable without making a judgment call either way. I can’t help contrasting her efforts to the number of times I’ve heard an author admit to disliking a certain character in his/her own book—usually the antagonist. An author’s dislike of his/her character is always a red flag for me. I need to care even about the most morally repugnant individual in a story. If I don’t, I’ll head for the exit quickly.

If you saw the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, on Nickelodeon, you’re familiar with this dude:

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Prince Zuko

Avatar-Episodes-Book-1-Water-300x300Slight spoilers in this paragraph to follow. (Be warned.) Throughout the first book of the series—Water—Zuko is clearly working against the heroes. Though he has his own agenda, I couldn’t help caring about him, because the writers (including series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) made him a well-rounded character. They showed the physical and emotional wounds motivating his actions. They also gave him an antagonist. I cared, because they cared.

If we want to make readers care about our work, we need to love our characters. We don’t have to approve of their actions, particularly the bone-headed ones. But we definitely need to understand why they do what they do. Caring about them is what makes a story great.

Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Print.

Andrew Stanton from zimbio. Zuko from earnthis.net. Avatar book 1 DVD cover from avatarthelastairbenderonline.com.

Cover Reveal: Torn

It is my pleasure to participate in the cover reveal for Torn, book 2 of the Bound trilogy by the delightful Kate Sparkes. You know her, you love her from her blog, Disregard the Prologue, and from Bound, book 1 of her trilogy. Now, gaze in wonder, people:

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Gorgeous isn’t he? Er . . . the cover, I mean. Yeah. It was designed by the amazing Ravven.

Here’s a synopsis of Torn:

Aren Tiernal knows that safety is an illusion, that his cruel and powerful brother will never forgive his betrayal. Still, returning to Tyrea to challenge Severn for the throne would be suicide. It’s not until Severn himself comes to collect what’s owed to him that Aren decides to risk everything in an attempt to bring down the most powerful Sorcerer Tyrea has ever known. The mission seems doomed to fail, but it’s Aren’s only chance to save himself, his country, and the woman who thawed his heart.

Rowan Greenwood has troubles of her own. Though she should be a great Sorceress, years of being closed off from her magic have left her unable to control her incredible power. When a pair of ominous letters arrive from her home country, Rowan has to choose between her new life and a chance at saving her family—and just maybe changing an entire country’s beliefs about the evils of magic.

Torn apart by separate quests, Rowan and Aren will have to discover untapped strengths and confront their darkest fears in order to overthrow a ruler determined to destroy them both.

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON.COM.

Release date: March 31, 2015. Limited time launch price: $2.99.

I’ll be giving away a copy of Torn to one commenter. The winner will be announced later this week. When you comment, tell what you would do if you suddenly learned that you had magical powers. Oh and be sure to tell Kate happy birthday.

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Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, ON. She abandoned the mainland to live in Newfoundland, where she spends way too much time looking for merfolk among the ocean waves. She lives with her wonderful husband, two children, and far too many pets.

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Happy birthday, Kate!

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Birthday cake from glutenfreeluv.com.

Two Years, One Post, and One Ring to Rule Them All

67524Today is my two-year blogoversary. If only print could convey my amazement. Two years. When I began posting exactly two years to the day, I wasn’t sure I’d last two months, let alone two years. But here I am!

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My amazement is sorta like this.

I won’t take up too much of your time today, however. Anniversaries are all about celebrating and giving presents. So this post is to announce a blogoversary giveaway: a $25 Amazon card (or some equivalent at Amazon.uk) to one reader. Woot! A winner will be announced sometime next week. (I have another giveaway to coordinate first.)

This giveaway is my way of saying thanks to all who welcomed me as a new blogger or to those who continue reading my posts even when I talk about books or magazines I read in the bathroom. Please comment below to be entered in the drawing. If you feel like mentioning what you’d get at Amazon, that would be lovely. Don’t feel obligated though. You could instead tell me about the weather in your neck of the woods (it’s freeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzing here), your favorite movie, or about an epiphany you had recently. Two years ago, I talked about a movie I enjoyed, so sharing your favorite movie would be very fitting. :-)

While I wait for you to respond, I’ll continue mainlining Skinny Pop Popcorn and Reese’s. (Does one cancel out the other?)

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By the way, thanks for all of the memories we’ve shared over the years. (I can say that now. Years.) There have been many that still make me smile, especially as I think about your comments—the best part of having a blog. But reminiscing would only make me cry, and I’ve had enough of that recently, thanks to The Legend of Korra, Book Three: Change. (That’s not a spoiler by the way. I cry easily, at happy or sad moments.) So while you think of how you want to spend that gift card, I’ll go back to my popcorn and the series finale of The Legend of Korra, Book Four: Balance. (I’m bingeing on both seasons.)

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Thanks again for visiting my little space.

P. S. If you’re wondering where the “one ring to rule them all” fits in, you can stop wondering. It doesn’t. I just threw that in.

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Jordie and Kitty have put aside their differences to celebrate this blogoversary. Each, however, has decided to look for the one ring to rule the other.

Skinny Pop from the Skinny Pop website. Legend of Korra, Book Three from animationmagazine.net. Legend of Korra, Book Four from ign.com. Cupcake with candle from go4costumes.com. Macaulay Culkin from musiceyz.co.uk.

Unconventional Love

Hope you had a pleasant Valentine’s Day. Now, don’t groan at me for mentioning the day. I spent part of it not in the conventional, eating-in-a-restaurant-while-gazing-into-my-date’s-eyes way, but eating chocolate and watching Justice League Unlimited episodes from 2004–2005. (It’s okay if you run away in horror. There will be slight spoilers soon, so go if you must.)

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Since it was Valentine’s Day, an episode called “Double Date” (written by Gail Simone) seemed very appropriate and helped me realize something else later. The episode involved these members of the Justice League:

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Huntress and the Question

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Black Canary and Green Arrow

It’s okay. You don’t have to care who they are. (Click here if you want to find out more about the members of the Justice League.) The episode wasn’t a conventional double date, since Huntress and the Question weren’t a couple (at least not right away) and all four were on a stakeout for various reasons. Black Canary and Green Arrow, however, were a couple. I grew up reading comic books in which their relationship was mentioned. Though they’re superheroes, they’re more conventional. I mean look at them. Both are pretty. And we like looking at pretty people, don’t we? Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Better still, I’ll let these images speak for me.

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Prince Zuko from Avatar and Stephen Bishop from Being Mary Jane

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Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers and Chris Evans as Captain America

Getting back to the Justice League, I have to admit that the Huntress and the Question were more interesting to me than Black Canary and Green Arrow, because H and Q were labeled as “unstable” by their colleagues. Toward the end of the episode, Huntress asked the Question why he agreed to help her in her vendetta against the man who killed her father. When he finally gave his reason—“I like you” (as in “I like like you”)—I melted faster than chocolate in a microwave. And though the action in the picture below (top right) caused Black Canary to say, “I’m sorry, but ewww,” I was totally down for it. They were broken people who found a connection.

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So, what did I learn? (See the first paragraph, where I mentioned that I learned something.) I learned that I love characters with baggage. Not the psychotic serial killer baggage, but emotional scars nonetheless. I can relate to them because of my own issues. A character can be as pretty as a picture. But to really get my attention, that character has to have a wound of some kind.

28da5770f2c53556e75b4356fde68ebaThat’s why I still love Moonstruck, a 1987 movie written by John Patrick Shanley and starring Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri (photo at right). Everyone in the movie has baggage. One of my favorite quotes related to baggage was spoken by Ronny. I’m sure I’ve used it before in a post. Here it is again:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

“Love the wrong people”? Been there, done that! “The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us!” Truer words were never spoken.

Which character(s), if any, really resonated with you recently? Why?

Huntress and the Question from pinterest.com. Black Canary and Green Arrow from caballerodecastilla.blogs. Prince Zuko from twitter. Stephen Bishop from cocoafab.com. Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier from movie.anonforge.com. Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers from pinterest.com. Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri from pinterest.com. Valentine from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com.