Category: Plottinig

5 Tips for Using Literal and Metaphorical Language, Part V (conclusion): Always Remember Context

  TIP #5 Use context to recognize, understand, and interpret literal and metaphorical language.

Historical, social, cultural, and biblical contexts are essential for understanding literal and metaphorical elements in speech and writing. Accurate understanding should come before interpretation!

A cropped photo automatically demands interpretation, zeroing in on details the user wants to emphasize while excluding others. In a close-up of young children searching the ground, viewers might wonder what they’re doing, Is someone making them work? Have they lost something?

contrast to cropped image

The full view shows a pumpkin patch, revealing that what could have been a scene for concern is actually a fun seasonal activity as they retrieve their rings for the Bottle Toss.

Interpretation occurs everywhere humans communicate, with family and friends, social media, neighborhood, church, or workplace.

Language and human experience are inextricably connected. Within a culture, people share many common reference points: history, background, arts, stories, symbols, celebrations, beliefs, and values. Yet misunderstandings or differences of opinion occur frequently. Some produce laughter, others confusion, hurt feelings, angry outbursts or even violence. The more important a subject, the more problematic differences of interpretation become.

EXAMPLES from children’s stories

You Are Special (Max Lucado) presents a message popular in many children’s books today, with one critical difference. Secular authors tell children their self-worth is based on themselves: “I’m enough as I am,” says Charlie Mackesy in The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. While this sounds comforting, the claim has no underlying foundation. Lucado’s message based on Christian context adds the missing element: “You are special because I [God] made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

In Ramona the Pest, Ramona’s mention of “The Dawnzer Lee Light” song seems ridiculous to her fifth-grade sister. But in kindergarten context, misunderstanding the words of the national anthem is perfectly understandable.

Connections to children’s real lives

Stories describing war offend some adults. Some reject historical acts or attitudes that don’t fit their 21st-century ideas. We may want to shelter children from harsh realities. The truth is that many children today face dysfunction, even violence. Stories about love, safety, and God’s provision are important. We also want to bring children the message that God is real, good, and loving even if their environment lacks love, safety, or basic needs.

Context is essential. Stories about ideal families, neighborhoods, or schools may not seem genuine to kids who experience conflicts in those settings. What is our audience for the specific message of a book or article? Real readers meet our characters and situations, hear their voices, and imagine themselves in these worlds. Our own imagination unconnected to real problems in kids’ worlds may offer escapism – but not the gospel truth calling us to be “in the world but not of the world.”

Writing, reading, and interpreting stories

Some teach that “art” has no right or wrong meaning – a song, poem, story, or picture means whatever the audience thinks or feels. In matters of personal taste, we may agree that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Leaving a work’s main theme open to any interpretation is another matter.

A story portraying sibling rivalry(or differences) may include unkind comments, plots to undermine one another, jealousy, adults’ favoritism, and trivial or tragic consequences. It might encourage readers to change their own attitudes and behavior even if an offending person does not. Missing context, however, might lead readers to negative interpretations:

  • leave the story believing only their sibling needs to change
  • side with one character against the other, wishing the story ended with revenge
  • miss applications to their own relationships from the culture or time period described
  • fail to empathize with characters, their motivations and feelings
  • miss hints that characters aware of problems, but not directly involved, may need to help
  • internalize and magnify pain portrayed in the story, to the point of harming themselves

[For stories with contrasting depictions of a brother’s attitude and actions toward an older or younger brother, see Much Bigger Than Martin, by Steven Kellogg and There’s Nothing to Do, by James Stevenson.]

Building context clues

We can’t control what readers take away from our stories. However, without preaching or too much “telling,” authors have tools for providing important context.

  • Characters (fictional or historical) may discover more about their own situation, finding old photos, records, previously unknown facts. Encourage readers to look beneath the surface.
  • Figurative language – narrative patterns, rhythms, sound devices, and tone — show connections between situations and characters’ feelings.
  • Symbols, analogies, and sensory description — promote awareness and empathy.
  • Irony, pathos, or humor — illustrate problems, encourage critical thinking, or help relieve tension
  • Literary, biblical, or cultural allusions — show constructive comparisons.
  • When misinterpretations or lies bring negative consequences, people and events let characters recognize their mistakes. Help readers examine their own interpretations.
  • Characters struggle with conscience as they say, do, or plot wrong responses. Help kids reconsider their own thoughts and actions.
  • Characters find “kindred spirits” who turn out to be false friends. Show the need to test before trusting.
  • Feelings of hopelessness (no choices or power) change as characters find resources like supportive people, faith in God, or hear another person’s story of escape.
  • Situations where restitution and reconciliation can begin may help readers consider these steps.
  • Characters who accept or reject good advice can remind kids to consider opinions besides their own.
  • Real or fictional stories featuring “lemons to lemonade” approaches can help kids look for options.

Series takeaway

Interpretation occurs in all forms of communication. To avoid misinterpreting (and responding wrongly), we should check our first assumptions about what another person has written or said. Do we understand correctly, or are we interpreting through a flawed lens of our own experiences without recognizing theirs? How can we improve our own interpretive skills as well as help young audiences we write for develop theirs? Writing and reading thrive as we become good communicators and audiences of literal and figurative language. We’d love to hear your stories of context and interpretation in comments below or on our social media: Facebook Write2Ignite Conference page, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

ON WRITING PLOT: What’s the Problem? by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

One of the most boring books I ever read was about Jesus.  Okay – to be honest, I mostly said that to get your attention – please don’t get mad and click over to Facebook!

But, the truth is, I never actually finished reading Joshua by Joseph Girzone because this modern-day portrayal of Jesus did not contain a page-turning plot. Joshua, who represents Jesus, was just a little too perfect for my reading tastes. As I remember it, (And it has been a long time!) problems arose, Joshua responded, and the problems fell by the wayside. But of course!  Jesus was perfect. He could defeat his antagonists with a searching gaze or a searing question. Anyone rewriting His story has the daunting challenge of presenting Him with all His deity and His humanity at the same time.

I suspect that the Bible is the only book capable of doing this. And the Bible? Well, it’s filled with conflict. Do I need to mention the sexual immorality of King David, the rebellion of the Prodigal Son, and the betrayal by Judas Iscariot? Then there’s the ultimate conflict – government-sanctioned murder by crucifixion!

I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I want his character to be perfected in me. But I am a long way from arriving at that goal. So, along the way, I manage to create a ton of conflict. When I write, I have to sometimes let my characters behave as badly as I do. Or worse. Or maybe they struggle in different areas than I do or make adolescent mistakes that I have hopefully outgrown. I have to put obstacles in their paths, give them problematic relationships, and allow them to make some wrong choices.

The thing is – without conflict we don’t have a plot. Or, at least, not an interesting one. So how does one write an interesting plot? I confess, this is an ongoing challenge for me. But I’ve learned some things about plotting while writing BAKERS MOUNTAIN STORIES—my series of historical novels. This summer I’ve moved away from those stories. I’m all set to revise a novel set in western North Carolina during World War I. But first, I’m reading up on some popular plot structures in hopes of applying their methods to my story.

On September 19, I’ll share what I’m learning at Write 2 Ignite’s Fiction Writing Master Class.  We’ll explore some of the challenges and pitfalls of plotting, discover tips for finding plot ideas, and discuss using the power of three. Of course, we’ll take a look at some of those popular plot structures!  I hope to see you there!

*****

Our teen reviewer, Kathryn Dover, has been reviewing the Bakers Mountain series, written by Joyce. If you missed the reviews, here they are Aim and Blue. Watch for Kathryn’s review and our giveaway of Comfort next week!

Because of Covid, Joyce’s Master Fiction Writing Class will be virtual. But one fortunate attendee will still receive ALL FOUR books! Click HERE to register.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren. Before she wrote historical novels, Joyce taught special education, worked in a camp for at-risk children and directed a preschool program. She also wrote Christian curricula, magazine articles, and a newspaper column & feature stories. Her novels have won an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, Parents’ Choice Honor Awards, and a North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Her books include Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story about a teen boy’s survival in Hawaii’s leprosy settlement and the Bakers Mountain Stories series: AimBlueComfort, and Drive. Equal, the fifth book in the series will be released in Spring, 2021.

 

9 Tips for Writing Unforgettable Characters

According to Elaine Marie Alphin (Creating Characters Kids Will Love p. 2)

“Kids read because a magical closeness springs up between them and the characters in books and stories—the same magical closeness I felt as a child. They read because a writer has brought a character to life on the page for them.”

Every great children’s story pivots around a character who has a problem, a desire or a need. Through the events and conflicts of the story this character, by personal investment and volition, solves that problem, gains that desire (or loses it) or meets that need. In doing so, that character changes, grows or learns something.
So, how DO we create memorable characters?

For me, every story begins with the main character. I’ll be thinking “what ifs” and a character will parachute into my head. This usually gets me pretty excited! I get a rough idea of what’s going to happen to this character and how they are going to react.

Next, I get to know that character really well. Some writers do this on paper or screen. I do it mentally for picture books. I can actually “see” the character. That picture is sometimes sketchy. I learn more and more about that character as I write the story.

I try to keep the following in mind with my characters.

 

1. Is this person acting and reacting in realistic ways?
Is this really how a kid this age would think? Talk? Act? React to this situation? If not, ask kids that age how they would act or react. Or watch popular kid’s shows on TV. Or observe kids at a park, library, mall. (Careful! No stalking!)

2. Does this character have flaws?
If so, GOOD! Nobody is perfect. Do these flaws affect how they will react further down the story line? Readers can’t relate to a character who never gets in trouble, never has a mean thought, never acts sneaky, never laughs at someone else’s mistakes. If a character or their life is all good, there’s no story for me to write. My character must have room to grow in the story. Also, does my bad guy have at least one redeeming trait? One tiny grain of goodness in their soul?

3. Have I created enough CONFLICT in this kid’s life or situation?
Here is my personal nemesis. I hate conflict! But NO CONFLICT means NO STORY. Remember the elements of story? Conflicts, problems, issues, sticky situations are the blood and bone of story. No problems to face, to overcome??? YAWN!

4. Is this character someone my readers will love, or maybe hate? Can they feel for them?
If readers don’t identify with or connect with a character either positively or negatively they won’t keep reading the story.

5. Is this character bigger-than-life? Sometimes my characters start with someone I know personally, or someone I see out in public. Are they cute? Make them cuter. Funny? Make them funnier. Sneaky? Make them sneakier. EXAGGERATION, ABSURDITY, PREPOSTEROUSNESS (Yes, that is a real word.) make readers laugh and cry, tremble and shriek with your characters. And it makes them identify with your characters because they know that they themselves are not perfect either.

6. Is this character well-rounded in the story, or one dimensional? Do I SHOW (not tell) how they think? How they act? How they feel? How they speak? Do they always say the same thing? Act exactly the same way? A character who doesn’t fluctuate or change isn’t acting human, and adds nothing to the story.

7. Are each of my characters distinctive? Does the way each of them speaks and acts instantly show my reader which character is in the scene? Can I write dialogue without tags so that readers can identify who is saying each line?

8. Does my main character have one primary trait that the story focuses on? Is their story about their courage? Their fear? Their loneliness? Their optimism? Deciding this gives me a good clue as to the theme of my story. Isolating the way my main character changes identifies the theme of the story.

9. Have I built motivation into this character? Is their need, desire or problem big enough to motivate them to do the things they must do to make the story great? If not, I need to change their personality or situation enough to drive them to go after their goal.

A great story filled with action is fun to read. But if we want readers to ask for more, to keep reading the things we write, we must tell that story through amazing and unforgettable characters.

 

Now plop down in that desk chair and create someone who is unforgettable!

 

 

NEED MORE HELP?

Joyce Hostetter will be presenting on Creating Memorable Characters at our Master Class on September 19. You can find more information here. We hope to see you there!

 

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