Friday, August 15, 2014

Books Done Write: Plot AND Character featuring The Ever Afters by Shelby Bach

Hey, guys! I originally posted this 'Books Done Write!' piece as a YouTube video on my channel. It's sitting right below for your convenience, or if you prefer the text, just keep scrolling! (but in Dory's sing-song)

There are two general types of books –the character-driven ones, and those that are plot-driven.

Plot-driven stories tend to be more genre novels and there can be a great absence of character development, while 'literary' novels fall into the character-driven category and overflow with character depth, but sometimes fall short in the plot department. For an ideal story, you don't want just one or the other, but instead a balanced combination of both. To date The Ever Afters by Shelby Bach is the greatest example of this technique I've ever seen.

I'm going to try and keep this as unspoilery as possible, and I promise I won't give away any big dramatic plot twists, but for this reason we are just going to stick with the first book as an example.

Let's get started.

First, let us define each of these story modules:

  • Character-driven: A character makes decisions of their own volition that drive the story forward.
  • Plot-driven: Things happen to a character, to which they react.

'Plot-driven' essentially denotes exterior forces, while 'character-driven' comes down to depth and development.

Of Giants and Ice does not sacrifice plot for character, but neither does it sacrifice character depth and development for action.

A good example is Rory's sword fighting. She is thrown suddenly into the realization that dragons and giants are real.

Her REACTION to the dangers of this new world -like coming face-to-face with a dragon- is to grab a sword and slash its eye.
Her DECISION about these dangers is to practice long and hard with her sword. This is not purely reactionary, because she's already learning sword fighting in training. This decision to train harder on her own stems directly from Rory's insecurity about being helpless in any situation -magnified by the fact that she is unable to stop her divorced parents from fighting all the time or having no way to make things easier for her mother. Rory realizes that she's terrible in sparring class and decides she won't stand for it. Some things she can't change, but becoming a better fighter with hard work isn't one of them. This decision has a direct impact on her character development in the book, and in this way the character and plot of the book are inextricably linked.

This is how the entire story is, even for the two supporting characters.

With every event in the storyline, Shelby Bach does not just provide us with the REACTION. She also focuses on the emotional repercussions of this reaction in the character and follows it up with how the character is changed by it and the CONSCIOUS DECISIONS they later make because of it.

In real life, a person's reaction to a situation will affect their decisions, and vice versa. There is no line or separation between them, so why should there be in books?

Everything that happens to Rory has an emotional impact on her. In a lot of books, character's experience such defining moments to help the plot, but the impact of events on Rory isn't only limited to the really significant ones. A great thing about Shelby's writing is that she understands how kids are impressionable, and how they will react to anything that happens to them. She doesn't simply concentrate on the emotional impact of the major events that further the plot. She concentrates on every emotional impact because it develops Rory's character.

This is, I think, the defining characteristic of The Ever Afters. Not only is the plot and character development administered in equal parts, but they're inseparable. It's written in such a way that, without the thickening of the plot or external forces, Rory would not develop, and if Rory did not develop, the plot would not be as interesting.

That's about it from me. I'm not sure I've done this series justice, but I hope I've said enough to get you writers to check this it out, for a good read and a good example.

Learn more about Shelby Bach and The Ever After series on her blog!
Not convinced? I've reviewed books one, two, and three. I seriously can't shut up about this amazing series. But don't just take my word for it; try them yourself!

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