Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Conveying a Character's Journey on the First Page of a Novel

Notes on Good Grief, a novel by Lolly Winston

by Bill Johnson

I teach that a story creates movement and the movement transports an audience. In many of the unpublished novels I read, I'm often 40 pages into a manuscript before I have any idea of a main character's journey. In some cases, I have to read to the end of a novel to understand that journey. This puts me (and readers) in the unfortunate position of needing to keep track of all the details about a character while I wait for some sense of purpose to become apparent. This makes reading a novel work.

Lolly Winston's novel Good Grief has a structure that clearly conveys the stages of grief that a young woman goes through when her husband dies and leaves her a widow. This external framework communicates that the novel has a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. From its opening lines, the story has a destination.

Each stage of the main character's journey is divided into sections. The chapters in Part One are about denial, oreoes, anger, depression, escrow, and ashes. Each chapter that follows is about the main character's journey in dealing with her grief over her husband's death. The title, Good Grief, speaks to the narrator learning that there can be good grief (which revolves around passing through the stages of grief) and bad grief (getting stuck on the journey).

A review of the opening of Good Grief conveys how a main character's journey is set out.

The opening line:

How can I be a Widow?

The answer to this question comes in the opening paragraphs as the narrator sits in a grief support group. In a few paragraphs, the narrator explains why she's in the group.

My name is Sophie and I've joined the grief group because...well, because I sort of did a crazy thing. I drove my Honda through our garage door.

What's important about these lines is they show the narrator is not only in grief, she's being overwhelmed by grief. What set up the garage accident was an irrational thought that she needed to get into the house quickly to tell her husband something. Except he's deceased. She's in denial.

Continuing in a few paragraphs:

Maybe later I'll tell the group how I dream about Ethan every night. That he's still alive in the eastern standard time zone and if I fly to New York, I can see him for another three hours.

The narrator tries to deal with her grief by going back to work, but she quickly finds herself overwhelmed. In the past, when she felt overwhelmed, she called her husband. The chapter ends with these lines.

The cursor on my computer screen pulses impatiently, and the red voice mail light on my phone flashes. My stomach growls and my head throbs. But I can't call my husband. Because, here's the thing: I am a widow.

She has started to come out of her denial about her husband's death. The first chapter is a clearly defined step on her journey through grief.

Each chapter continues that journey until the narrator has passed through good grief to being whole again.

Highly recommended for writers who want to learn about structure from reading a well-written novel.


Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling. Promise is about the mechanics of telling a story, Deep Characterization (a section of the book) is about how the mechanics break down when people write stories to process their personal issues in life). The Spirit of Storytelling is about how great storytelling relates to the conscious, subconscious, and superconscious minds. Available at Amazon  and Smashwords.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nancy Hill's The Dolltender Available on Kindle

When Natalie’s parents disappear into a mirror, she hides in a trunk that is soon purchased by an antique dealer and shipped to an antique store. She befriends the dolls living inside the shop who covet a chance to find a real family and home of their own. Together, Natalie and the dolls discover that home may be closer than they imagine.

The Dolltender is written by Nancy Hill, and all the photos that accompany the text are also shot by Nancy.

The book can be downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/The-Dolltender-Series-ebook/dp/B007TZ15M6/

To see more of Nancy's work, visit her photography website at http://www.nancyhillphotography.com

Nancy is a wonderful writer and photographer.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jim Fergus Interview on Author's Road

Despite the successful sales of his book and novels, and his widespread fame in France, this is Jim Fergus’ first American interview – and we are so proud to share it with you.

It is also one of the most fun interviews we’ve conducted. Jim was spending the month in Southern Arizona, living in his Airstream trailer tucked in a horse pasture high up a desert mountain. He was using the time and quiet to work on the film script adaptation of his award winning, bestselling novel, One Thousand White Women, when we caught up with him. As we interviewed him, two horses moseyed over curious about what we were doing, and willing to offer their opinions. We won’t share with you their whinnies, neighs and stubborn head nods in the hope that you’ll allow your own tastes to judge the value of this insightful interview.

Jim tells of his upbringing and long desire and effort to become a novelist, a process that took much longer than he expected. For years he supported himself as a tennis pro and freelance journalist, and finally managed the time and focus to write his first book, a nonfiction work called, A Hunters Road. He also shares stories about how he has been treated as a writer in France, the increasing difficulties of publishing, and insights on the writing of his last American novel, The Wild Girl, as well as his latest novel, Marie Blanche, so far published only in France.

We are certain you’ll enjoy his candor and insights shared with us on a lovely day in the high Sonoran desert.

The Authors Road

George & Salli