Monthly Archives: January 2014

Bonus: On Evil Robot Monkey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Responding to1111

*Spoiler Free(Visit Spoiler Ratings and Guidelines for ThinkyRead’s spoiler policy).

Before reading this post, I suggest you read Evil Robot Monkey on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. It’s only about 5 minutes long!

I’ve decided to add in a bonus short story discussion at the end of every month. Why? Because short stories are often neglected in the literary world, making way for Best Selling Novels. Short stories are great! Quick and smart, they’re the perfect way to fit reading into an uber busy lifestyle. But enough about short stories, let’s talk about Evil Robot Monkey!

I’ve not yet read a short story that I’ve engaged with as much as I have with Mary Robinette Kowal’s Evil Robot Monkey. Of course, I should know better than to doubt a Hugo-award winning author when she says “I will write a story called Evil Robot Monkey and it will make you weep.”

What is YA?

What is YA

Young Adult fiction is written for kids anywhere from the ages of 13 and 17. However, that doesn’t mean it’s restricted to just those ages. The later Harry Potter books, for example, were anxiously awaited by people of all ages. This 38 year old even wrote a song about it!

Though a 40 year-old can enjoy YA as much as his 13 year-old daughter, when approaching a YA book one must take into account some the subtle differences between YA and Adult, else he might find himself wanting to crash his head against the wall.

Age

The kids in YA are young. 14-18. Anything less quickly falls into middle grade. Anything more and it’s probably adult. Also, the protagonist of a YA story is almost always 1-2 years older than the age it’s marketed for. Yeah, it’s kind of weird, but let me explain…

On Chasing the Skip by Janci Patterson

Chasing

*Heavy Spoilers (Visit Spoiler Ratings and Guidelines for ThinkyRead’s spoiler policy).

I can’t make up my mind with this book. I picked it up from Amazon after listening to Janci’s guest appearance on my favorite Podcast, Writing Excuses. The plot sounded interesting and I do like YA, so I gave it a try. However, as I said… I still don’t know how I feel about it.

Unlike a lot of YA I read, this one sounded really… young. I enjoyed Ricki’s voice and found her to be an interesting character. Her obsession with lists is fun and the way she reports on the world as though she’s writing an unbiased report introduced some really interesting and creative ways to tell the story. Ironically this was my favorite way to experience Ricki’s emotions.

What bothers me is this: As we will discuss on Wednesday, the protagonist in young adult fiction is often a couple years older than the target audience and either acts a little younger than they are or a little older. Ricki managed to act both.

Finding Time to Read

Finding time to read

We’re all busy people. But whether you’re a business man, home school mom, or college student starting a brand new job (*raises hand*), finding time to read isn’t as terrible as everyone makes it out to be. It can actually liven up your day making you more productive! Here are 5 easy ways to make reading a regular part of your life.

When Heroes Fall

When Heroes fall

People like heroes. But people love broken heroes.

Often our favorite fictional characters are the ones who act out rebelliously, fall to temptation, or turn out to be just plain evil. Even with their flaws, we love them all the same, if not more. But that begs the question, why do the characters we love act that way?

To Mirror Reality

A story is not a record of cause and event. It’s a snapshot of someone’s life. You’re not just reading about something that happened to someone somewhere. You’re living it.

Real lives aren’t lived out in neat little lines, chugging along like an uninterrupted choo-choo, and they certainly don’t make sense all the time. Real lives more closely resemble a painter’s palette–sometimes so messy you’re not even sure what color you’re looking at.

People can be stupid. We do dumb things all the time, often for no better reason than “I wanted to.” Why would literature, created by messy, crazy, lopsided people be anything besides messy, crazy, and lopsided?

To Teach a Lesson

Historically, stories have been an effective tool for conveying very specific and important information in a way that can be easily remembered. Like parables, parents would whisper terrible tragedies to their young ones to illustrate the importance of their warnings.

After all, originally Little Red Riding Hood got eaten by the wolf. Takeaway? Don’t talk to strangers, don’t tell them where you’re going. While you’re at it, don’t walk in the woods by yourself. That’s just stupid.

To Increase Interest

Reading about a perfect person who always makes the right choice would be like watching Superman go up against Lex Luthor, unaffected by Kryptonite. Dull and predictable. Failure is what makes a story interesting. It’s that ability to witness someone fail miserably, picking themselves up again, trying to make it right, that keeps our eyes glued to the page. It’s that not knowing what will happen–whether our hero will succeed or not–that keeps us on the edge of our seats.

When Failure is a Bad Thing

Sometimes the characters we like do dumb things that just don’t sit right with us. If this balance between believable failure and character stupidity is tipped to the wrong side, we, the audience, often disengage, not knowing exactly what threw us out of the story. All we know is we don’t like this character and are ready for something new.

Usually this scale tips because what the character did was unmotivated. Instead of acting according to their specific worldview, they did something that was completely opposite for no apparent reason.

For example, if the character you’re reading about is a sheltered Christian girl and at some point in the book she decides to give in to her persistent boyfriend, this action, according to her worldview, would be considered wrong, immoral, and damaging. A true Bible-believing Christian would do her best to remove herself from the temptation of sex before marriage. Seeing a strong Christian decide to sleep with her boyfriend for no good reason tells is that something about the development of this character is broken.

Though a failure such as this could still go over well with readers if, say, our heroine had been struggling with the temptation for a while. Or perhaps she’s under the pressure of her parents’ oncoming divorce, stressed out, and decides to act out irrationally in response to that. To put a cherry on top, our heroine should also suffer some kind of consequence due to her infidelity, more specifically, due to acting against her worldview.

A lack of proper character motivation will kick readers out of a story. WIthout proper motivation for her actions, readers will dislike our fictional heroine without even knowing why. Especially if her actions directly contrast with her own belief system. With no consequences, readers will catch on to the fact that something isn’t lining up, and because of this disconnect they themselves will disconnect with the character and the story.

In Conclusion

Characters do bad things all the time. Heroes fall and suffer the consequences. That’s what fiction is made of. When you’re favorite character does something stupid, it isn’t always a bad thing for the story as a whole. It all depends on their motivations.

Next time your favorite character does something dumb, take a good hard look into why. This may open your eyes to a much deeper, more enriching understanding of the book.

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