From Dr. Watson to Samwise Gamgee to Jane Bennet, no beloved classic would be as engaging without side characters. They’re the protagonists of untold stories that thrive between the lines. But have beta readers ever confessed that they kept reading your manuscript only to see what happened to a side character? Although the protagonist was present, she fell flat beside her quirkier companion.
Imagine that, for twenty-four hours, you’re limited to the use of half your vocabulary, your awareness of interpersonal subtext dims, and all your skills and strengths revert back to level one. On top of that, you shrink to the height of a hobbit. Carrying out your normal routine would be frustrating, wouldn’t it? But you would still have nearly the same internal experience. Your needs and desires wouldn’t disappear, only your ability to express and achieve those goals.
Who is the best literary villain of all time? Various people would argue that Dracula, Shakespeare’s Richard III, Voldemort, and Sherlock’s rival, Professor Moriarty, are top contenders. But, for me, the answer is clearly Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events.
When you’re crafting a story, believability is paramount. The quality of your prose, the relatability of your characters, and the intensity of your conflicts won’t hold readers’ attention if they can’t accept the sequence of events as representing their own reality. Can you identify the supervillain who’s notorious for thwarting that goal? Her name is Mary Sue.
Although Christian readers enjoy consuming material from authors who share their faith, some of it can be difficult to digest. Maybe a turning point in the protagonist’s arc fails to evoke any emotion, or the attraction between two characters involves awkward prolonged glances and tingles. How can people who understand God’s design for life and the sin that tainted it botch those portrayals so badly?
In the past, Christian publishers shied away from the topic of mental illness. And when a book did broach it, sometimes the advice dismissed the condition as unreal, perpetrated myths, or failed to provide the needed support and encouragement. Thankfully, Christian publishers have become more open to addressing gritty issues, and several releases over the last couple decades have touched on mental illness—including Sara Ella’s Coral, the center of our 2022 summer book study.
Writing is hard. Life is harder. It’s full of tragedies, grueling work, annoyances, setbacks, frustrations, and disappointments. Nothing at all like a fairy tale. Yet fairy tale retellings have become increasingly popular over the last several years—from Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder to Kara Swanson’s Dust. But what is the value of this subgenre besides marketability, and how does it relate to real-world issues?
Prose is the undertow that immerses readers, and the deeper they sink, the more truth and beauty they can explore. The transformative power of storytelling resides in the author’s ability to pull readers into an unfamiliar sea and convince them they can taste the salt. Until they believe the waves lapping at their imaginations are real, they won’t set sail—or ever reach the shore of a new perspective.
When you think about the process of worldbuilding, what images form in your mind? Maybe you see a forest of exotic plants and mystical creatures. Or architecture that splices the sky and advanced technology that allows users to perform hundreds of tasks without lifting a finger. Or even a totalitarian regime that controls every citizen, from the rich to the poor. But have you focused on your characters yet?
Horror of horrors, beta readers keep telling you that your villain isn’t scary. You’ve given him a tragic past, control issues, and bloodlust. He even has an impeccable sense of style and color coordinates his weapons and outfits. Why isn’t he memorable?