So you can read my books

Sunday, February 10, 2013



Your reader may think she knows what the problem is.

If you've done your work right, they are wrong.

The problem is really a McGuffin
(a term coined by Hitchcock):

The McGuffin itself was not important to Hitchcock,
he only was concerned that "˜it be, or appear to be,
of vital importance to the characters.

In North by Northwest (1959) Hitchcock blatantly places the McGuffin
 in front of the viewer
and yet he himself acknowledges that what you see is "˜his emptiest, most nonexistent McGuffin.

  The plot of the film concerns espionage and a man's (Cary Grant) mistaken identity as a spy. Halfway through the film,
Grant is at an airport and finally has the opportunity
to question a Central Intelligence Agent about what is happening to him:
Grant: "˜What does he (the lead villain) do?"
Agent: "˜ Let's just say he's an importer and exporter."
Grant: "˜But what does he sell?"
Agent: "˜Oh, just government secrets."



Freedom from the mundane world that encloses them.

Create a story that an enthusiastic reader can talk about quickly.
Can the story be summed up in a few sentences? 

How do you fire that enthusiasm in a reader?

Fire their imagination.
Make them want to live the adventure with the MC:

A unique setting.

Stellar writing.

An ending that rewards the journey.


Anyone who likes a good story will tell you
that what drives them to read on
is wanting to know what happens to that central character.
They want to follow this person’s journey from
the first page until its final conclusion.

And in order to make the reader want to remain loyal to this person,
they need someone who is compelling, who is charismatic and more importantly,
they want someone who is filled with intrigue and personality.
Not just a plain persona made out of the heroic mold.

They want someone who they can relate to, someone perhaps they can see themselves as being:

Odysseus, who longs to return to his family and kingdom;

Frodo Baggins, who desires to spare his homelands from the ravages of war;

Harry Potter, who must face a destiny that is beyond his control;

or even Henry V from the William Shakespeare play,
who must prove his maturity and ability to lead a nation in the fires of war and death.


No one wants to read about someone perfect.

Flaws make a hero. Character is destiny.

Perhaps your heroine believes a lie that colors her whole life
until she discovers the truth about herself.


Usually it helps with the story, and with the character’s drawing power,
if the back-story is influential in what their personality is during the story.

Learning what happens to a man’s family is important to
why they are on a journey of vengeance, for example.

A man searching for redemption to a past sin is another good one.

To give your character reason for doing what they are doing.

For urban fantasy plots,
the more realistic and heartfelt the backstory,
the easier the reader will accept the fantastic elements.


While a physical obstacle is usually required for the MC to have to face in the novel,
I always like it when the worst enemy that MC has to face… is themselves.

For a reader to read about someone who must face themselves
as well as a ‘traditional’ antagonist can strike a very personal chord within the reader.

Captain Jack is certain he knows women
and couldn't be further from the truth!

Humor in books– especially children and teen books– is crucial.
 It is the most important thing you could ever have–
barring a plot, literacy, a minimum of one character and possibly a functioning mind.

 But you can get by without most of those– you cannot get by without humor.

The kid in all of us sees things as funny.
It sees the world as funny.
 It has a knack for pointing out the ridiculous and the silly.

 There is no greater comedian than the child in all of us.

It doesn't understand why something should be structured–

so it does whatever, whenever.
 It doesn't understand what exactly the point of a conversation on one particular topic is–
so it spouts out whatever pops into its head.
This is the basis of randomness.

Barry Cunningham, editor for Cornelia Funke, Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, former editor of JK Rowling, and founder of the Chicken House publishing company, put it the best way in an interview:
“I think humour is so important in children’s books  
and you find children laughing
 when they are scared and crying when they are happy.

And I cannot think that there is anything in life which is not essentially humorous.

Life and death and everything else.

That is the central portion of the child in me.

I absolutely believe everything comes as part of something else.

Like everything serious is funny as well, everything sad is funny as well,
everything scary is funny as well.”

Did you know that The Hobbit is better liked than the Lord of the Rings trilogy?

You probably did.

Do you know why it’s liked better? If you have a modicum of Jack Sparrow in you,
you can probably deduce the answer from the context: humor.

 I remember laughing my head off at Tolkien’s explanation of how golf came to be.

The three trolls Bilbo Baggins burgles
 have a hilarious conversation about how to eat the hobbit and dwarves.
Gandalf cracks a joke or two occasionally.

 And all of this makes The Hobbit that much better than the Trilogy,
even though the Trilogy has so much more appeal fantasy-wise.

Victor Standish quips during the darkest times.
He is the clown prince of Snark.

I use humor to relieve tension,

To connect with the reader.

To lighten the mood of the preceding scene.

To hopefully have the reader tell a friend of one of
Victor's one-liners,
increasing word of mouth.

Do you feel comfortable with writing humor into your stories,
or do you tend to shy away from it?

What do you think is most difficult about writing humor?
{Jack Sparrow is a copyrighted Disney character. I just bribed him with rum.}


  1. You used Jack Sparrow wisdom to catch our attention. Humor is subjective, some like it subtle, some like it brash.

    I don't have a lot of humor in what I write. The subject matter negates the use of it. I'm not good at funny. Some people can do this well - you with Victor, and Alice; Milo with Coyote Cal.

    Interesting post. Liked the Depp/Jack Sparrow images.

  2. Hmm, wonder if you've hit on why I adore The Hobbit but have always been lukewarm on LOTR?

    I've always written dark, and now that I no longer feel the pressure to conform to genre, the darkness has increased five-fold. Humor is essential to break the tension. Because I deal with very serious themes, the hardest part of wrangling humor is getting it into a scene at the point where it's most needed. I have to be very careful not to trivialize my subject matter.

    ~VR Barkowski

  3. D.G.:
    Captain Jack is always good for a chuckle -- if you keep your valuables locked up tight!

    Since it is humor that brings me back to re-read a book and to recommend it, I try to give my books the spice of laughter ... especially in the dialogue. But you are right -- it is hard! :-)

    I stayed with Robert B. Parker's often dark Spencer series because of the laugh-out-loud dialogue between Hawk and Spencer.

    THE HOBBIT was written for the child in us all, so it has the glow of faery that renders it endearing. LOTR is epic, dark, and unrelieved with humor.

    I always think of humor as the exhilation after the inhaling of tension and suspense in a tale.

    There is so much gallows humor in the aftermath of a crime scene or an ER trauma to radiate the tension. That helps me in pacing my tales with humor.

    Also Victor defuses his own fear and terror by snarking at his enemies which irritates them so that they do not think things through in their battles with him. When you are outnumbered and overwhelmed, any edge helps! :-)

    I cannot visualize you trivializing any grim subject. You write with wisdom and precision.

  4. I think that's why I totally adore Terry Pratchett's books. He mixes humour with pathos and a big dollop of big heartedness in all his novels like no other. Well for me anyway!

    As for Captain Jack Sparrow...I am now stocking up with rum....!! :-)

    It's weird but I loved reading LOTR more than The Hobbit but the films... my goodness! The Hobbit film so far trumps LOTR for me! Take care

  5. My main character is definitely his own worst enemy.

  6. I love the way you used Jack Sparrow to impart a lot of really good advice. This was a great post.

  7. Kitty:
    I have always enjoyed Terry Prachett for the same reasons. I'll let Captain Jack know about your supply of rum!

    For me, the LOTR films, especially the first, have my loyalty due to the friendships in them.

    The same is true for most of the great stories.

    Jack swags about now with an "Of Course, it was a great post, mate. I was in it!" :-)

    Thanks for visiting and taking time to comment. It means a lot.

  8. Hi Roland .. I'd read about Johnny Depp reading at Great Ormonde Street ... it was one of the things my mother loved, when the actors came by and read short stories to her - when she was in the Neurological Unit behind Gt Orm Street ...

    Your posts are always so full of information .. I have to see Hitchcock soon too ..

    Cheers Hilary