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The Promise of Jesse Woods Week #1

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  • #109929
    Daeus Lamb
    @daeus-lamb

    Hello friends!

    I’m excited to begin our book club about The Promise of Jesse Woods. There’s so much we can learn from this book and I look forward to seeing what everyone has to contribute.

    By now, hopefully you’ve read through chapter 5. Chris Fabry did a great job getting straight to the point. This week, let’s focus on studying that. Right from the start we get an idea of what I’ll call Matt’s “obsession” — it’s what he’s looking for in life. We know what makes him feel insecure and what motivates him.

    To spill the beans, Matt wants to make things right for other people so he can feel sufficient, worthy, and not have to carry the burden of their emotional pain on his shoulders.

    • How does Chris Fabry show what the story is about so thoroughly right from the start? How can we learn from this?
    • Is Chris Fabry showing or telling? How explicit should authors be in indicating the psychological makeup of their characters and what drives, consumes, and motivates them? Do suffer more from being “on the nose” or leaving readers in the dark as to what core obsession drives your characters and the logic behind their actions and emotions?
    • Do you do a good job at getting right to the point of what your story is about, or does it take you several chapters to flesh out what’s at stake in the character’s soul?

    These are my questions for this week, but please share any observations you have (even unrelated to this topic)! It’s all open game.

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    #109932
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    A great place to start! Thanks, Daeus.

    “How does Chris Fabry show what the story is about so thoroughly right from the start? How can we learn from this?”

    Fabry implements a lot of the story’s themes and motifs from chapter one: Baseball, his relationship with his parents, Jesse’s various promises, sentimental nostalgia, and even the way of mothers keeping their sons up to date on the various happenings of their hometown. Not to mention we’re told what Matt’s character arc will be—Kristin rejects Matt because she doesn’t like how he tries to save people on his own power apart from God.

    Not to mention this brings up another motif with the unnamed problems at Cabrini, that things don’t get better, people just learn to deal with them with God’s help. As for what we can learn from this? This is a good balance between starting in the middle of a tense scene of conflict and getting to know characters before seeing their world change. This chapter might be on the nose, but it seems to acknowledge it knows what I’m here for and is willing to just cough up the relevant information without it feeling like exposition.

    Is Chris Fabry showing or telling?”

    In the first chapter, very much telling. The conversations and internal thought serve as a functional introduction to what comes later, like a thesis paragraph in an essay. The side effect is they do very little else, hiding little under the surface, only giving the reader information and feeding Matt his motivation. As a first chapter involving characters who aren’t players in the coming story, the first chapter doesn’t need to do anything else.

    From chapter two onward? There’s a decent mix of showing and telling, usually on the side of telling. For example, when Matt’s family first comes to Dogwood, he describes the place in terms of it being his grandfather’s town and property. The end of the paragraphs recount his grandfather’s death:

    “My grandfather had died three years earlier, a few days before Christmas. The phone rang late one night and my father answered, his voice low and rumbling. I was reading The Swiss Family Robinson in bed and heard him speak a few words and then gently weep. My older brother, Ben, home from college, leaned into the room, his hair hanging. There was contention about the length of it.

    ‘Pawpaw died,’ he whispered.

    I nodded. ‘That’s what I figured.’

    ‘You okay?’ he said.

    I nodded and kept reading.” (Fabry, 14)

    The narration tells us why the previous context changed, and that there’s some conflict between his brother and parents in a hippie way, and the dialogue tells us Matt’s a sociopath. The language isn’t serving any dual purpose that shows us anything other than the practical purpose of the text, and I don’t think it needs to.

    And this gives us a picture of Fabry’s prose style. He’s frank about what he wants you to believe, and achieves it with strongly characterized narration and dialogue, willing to reinforce showing with telling (he doesn’t just show us “his hair hanging,” he tells us “there was contention about the length” right after).

    This continues throughout the first chapters. His mom’s depressed, so she bakes, so Matt eats it all, so he gets fat, and because his dad’s this kind of person, he reacts in this way, and this is what Matt thinks of it. It seats us in Matt’s PoV, giving us a front seat to his narcissism and sociopathy but personalizing it to the point we understand why he makes his decisions and that he believes he does the right thing by them.

    I don’t think we should apply this style to all sorts of writing, though. The very close nature of Matt’s first-person, retrospective PoV creates an environment that suits it well. It reminds me a bit of To Kill a Mockingbird’s likewise close, first-person, retrospective PoV. We’re not just seeing a kid in the moment. We’re hearing the way an adult thinks back on a foundational event in their life. In both books, hiding behind the main internal conflict is a second one—how did this story turn the person we see on the page into the person writing the page itself?

    The PoV switch back and forth between 1972 and 1984, and the thread of the clouded relationship between Matt and his parents we see in ‘84 but not in ‘72, reminds us of that second conflict. If the story was more showy, I doubt the intended audience would have been able to understand it. Had it been more telly, we wouldn’t any room for the mystery element that keeps us going through the ‘84 chapters.

    “Do you do a good job at getting right to the point of what your story is about?”

    I don’t think I do. I don’t have an issue starting close to the moment of change for a character, but readers tell me my characters are unlikable and they don’t care about them when the conflict grows, so I need to work on that early investment. It’s something I don’t connect to as a reader, so it’s hard. I believe getting into a book is far more about the reader willing to cooperate than expecting the writer to grab them and not let them go. I didn’t like the first few chapters of this book, but grew to like it more as time went on, and none of my favorite books have first chapters I like either. In every case, I kept reading for an extrinsic reason, and was rewarded for my investment.

    I need to get over the assumption that other people will do the same. Maybe an opening like this one is a decent compromise.

    One last thing.

    “Dantrelle nodded and I pulled out my biggest pot and heated the oil. The smell of the popcorn and drizzled butter triggered a memory…” (Fabry, 2)

    How did this causality-ignoring time skip in the middle of an otherwise tight opening scene make it through editing? How did it make it onto the second page?

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #109939
    Caseybold
    @caseybold

    How does Chris Fabry show what the story is about so thoroughly right from the start? How can we learn from this?

    The tone from the start was one of remembering, living in the past, and a quiet dissatisfaction. Because it was so retrospective I actually had a little trouble figuring out what was going on at first, but as the story went on that seemed intentional. Like the main character thinks about his present life that way too.

    It’s a great example of letting the main character tell the story as they would, based on where they’re coming from, rather than the author sticking too much of his personal narration in.

    Is Chris Fabry showing or telling? How explicit should authors be in indicating the psychological makeup of their characters and what drives, consumes, and motivates them? Do you suffer more from being “on the nose” or leaving readers in the dark as to what core obsession drives your characters and the logic behind their actions and emotions?

    There’s a lot of telling. For the most part, it seems to be the right choice for this story, as it helps create the main character’s mood. There were a few parts where it seemed too rambling, or passive, or told-not-shown, but overall I was still able to get into it with a clear understanding of the characters’ motives.

    I definitely suffer from telling too much. I’m trying to be more aware of that, so maybe that’s why I saw a lot of it pretty glaringly when it came up in this story.

    Do you do a good job at getting right to the point of what your story is about, or does it take you several chapters to flesh out what’s at stake in the character’s soul?

    Usually I have an opposite problem. I get to the point so quickly that it’s unclear why it matters yet, and the pacing of the story is thrown off by my putting too much up front. I’m working on balancing my plot and drawing things out, using themes, and building a deeper story.

     

    Thanks so much @daeus-lamb! This is such a great idea 😀

    I'm nobody, Who are you? -Emily Dickinson 뜻이 있는 곳에 길이 있다.

    #109940
    JennytheFaun
    @jennythefaun

    How does Chris Fabry show what the story is about so thoroughly right from the start? How can we learn from this?

    I second what Taylor and Caseybold have already said about this, but in addition, what I guess is the inciting event–Dickie’s phonecall and Matt’s decision to return to Dogwood–comes, what, about halfway through Chapter 1? And through that we get truckloads of info about Matt, Jesse, Dickie, and their past. The phone call sets up the antagonism between Matt and his parents and between Matt and Earl Turley, and Matt’s goal of convincing Jesse not to marry Earl. Basically, all the core story elements are out in the open by the end of Chapter 1. I haven’t read many stories that take that approach. Personally, I’m liking knowing the main spine of the story from the first pages. It makes me feel like all the following events are purposeful and will come together to drive home a strong climax. But I can also see why some writers wait longer for their inciting events. For one thing, Matt basically tells us that this story is going to end with him stopping Jesse’s wedding and the two of them ending up together. There might be a major twist, but if not…talk about seeing the ending from a mile off. That would be seeing the ending from about 30 miles off. Starting the book about two steps away from the climax (at least that’s how it felt to me) also makes it challenging to keep subsequent events interesting and tense enough…we’ve got a main villain. We’ve got a main goal. So how long do we have to wait for the final battle? I think this kind of opening can be really powerful as long as we keep the cons in mind.

    Is Chris Fabry showing or telling? How explicit should authors be in indicating the psychological makeup of their characters and what drives, consumes, and motivates them? Do suffer more from being “on the nose” or leaving readers in the dark as to what core obsession drives your characters and the logic behind their actions and emotions?

    Again I agree with Taylor and Caseybold that there’s a lot of telling. But that serves to create a unique and consistent character voice, and Chris Fabry also uses a lot of sensory details or really specific observations (Dickie wasn’t just singing a song, he was singing Jackson 5’s ABC, for example.) For me, those things kept the telling from feeling flat or detached. Reading still felt like an experience, and if an author can create that by telling, I’m ok with it. When it comes to deeper levels of telling/showing, I think understanding the character’s motivations and personality is so important that readers shouldn’t be left wondering about them. I’d rather read a book with clear, compelling character motivations that were a little too obvious than a book with fuzzy character motivations but great showing technique. Obviously, a good balance between the two would be ideal. Personally? I’m much more likely to leave readers in the dark. XD I tend to focus too much on external actions and not clarify the internal reasons for those actions.

    Do you do a good job at getting right to the point of what your story is about, or does it take you several chapters to flesh out what’s at stake in the character’s soul?

    Like I alluded to above, I tend to focus on external actions at the internal world’s expense. I tend to get right to the point in terms of starting the plot, but as far as exposing the character’s soul goes, I might not get very deep until the midpoint or the third plot point. I think that’s a weakness I need to work on. I liked how Chris Fabry opened up Matt’s inner world BY changing his external world rather than bogging down several introductory chapters with Matt’s psychology before bringing in conflict and action.

    "...by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

    #109954
    Isaiah
    @allertingthbs

    “How does Chris Fabry show what the story is about so thoroughly right from the start? How can we learn from this?”

    All the things that begin to affect Matt in the first chapter are elements of what the story is about. It references his brother through his baseball glove, introduces his childhood friends by way of Dickie’s phone call, and even hints at some not so great things that happened in his past. It seems as though just about every element that may have been a part of Matt’s character is present in this opening chapter. Often we see the people in stories begin as strangers to the reader and slowly become familiar, while here we observe the building blocks of Matt’s person from the start and can piece them together as we work through the book.

    “Is Chris Fabry showing or telling? How explicit should authors be in indicating the psychological makeup of their characters and what drives, consumes, and motivates them? Do you suffer more from being “on the nose” or leaving readers in the dark as to what core obsession drives your characters and the logic behind their actions and emotions?”

    The author is very strongly telling, at least in the first chapter or two. I think that while it is quite important to know the basics of why a character does what he does and thinks the way he does, we as readers should be left eager to learn more motivations. Being thrown back into Matt’s childhood is a good opportunity for us to start with a “final product” of his motivation and see how he comes to be this way. I personally like characters to start as nearly strangers and have a long development and journey that readers take with them.

    “Do you do a good job at getting right to the point of what your story is about, or does it take you several chapters to flesh out what’s at stake in the character’s soul?”

    Unfortunately I haven’t written much, but when I am either reading or envisioning how I’d like to tell a story I tend to gravitate toward spending quite a bit of time with characters prior to seeing the event that begins the primary motion of the story. I think that it helps to solidify who they are as a “person” before the events start to push and shove them around. Bringing us back to Matt’s youth gives us a chance to see him shape into the person he becomes, which can help with the speed at which we are introduced to him.

     

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 8 months ago by Isaiah.

    "Only a Sith deals in absolutes"
    -Quipmaster 2005

    #109963
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @caseybold “rather than the author sticking too much of his personal narration in.”

    What did you mean by this?


    @jennythefaun
    “Starting the book about two steps away from the climax (at least that’s how it felt to me) also makes it challenging to keep subsequent events interesting and tense enough…we’ve got a main villain. We’ve got a main goal. So how long do we have to wait for the final battle?”

    Interesting point. How much of the rest of the book do you think will be in 1984? (also, I just realized how many books I’ve read that take place in that year. I’m imagining a giant postmodern literary epic with a hundred different PoVs all taking place in 1984 in the same world across Earth and the local galaxy) Since we’re so close to what’s clearly the climax in chapter one, do you think we’ll spend most of the rest of the book in ’72? And if that’s the case, do you think that’s a good technique or a lazy one?

    “I liked how Chris Fabry opened up Matt’s inner world BY changing his external world”

    I hadn’t thought of it like that, but it makes sense.


    @allertingthbs
    “Bringing us back to Matt’s youth gives us a chance to see him shape into the person he becomes,”

    That’s a good point. We can kind of subtract past Matt from present Matt to see the ways he’s going to change over the story.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #109964
    Zachary Holbrook
    @toklaham-veruzia

     I liked how Chris Fabry opened up Matt’s inner world BY changing his external world rather than bogging down several introductory chapters with Matt’s psychology before bringing in conflict and action.

    Wow, that is a good observation. Something important to keep in mind going forward in my writing journey.


    @taylorclogston
    The majority of the book will take place in ’72. Not sure I would call it lazy, but it is a little bit jarring since present Matt is your entry point into the story, yet the real emotional attachment happens through past Matt. It does all come together very nicely in the end, though. *has already read the whole book and has to force himself to wait until later to talk about the ending*

    おはいよう. 日本語は好きです .

    #109968
    Caseybold
    @caseybold

    @taylorclogston Only that it’s written  from Matt’s view, knowing what he knows, and not from a more omniscient author perspective.

    I'm nobody, Who are you? -Emily Dickinson 뜻이 있는 곳에 길이 있다.

    #109969
    Daeus Lamb
    @daeus-lamb

    @caseybold @taylorclogston @toklaham-veruzia @allertingthbs @jennythefaun

    I’ve honestly never thought about the pros and cons of revealing or hiding aspects of a character early on in a story. As I’m thinking about it, it seems the one thing I’d avoid is the completely mysterious character.

    In Six of Crows, all the character are introduced with something they’re obsessed with, hints of things that haunt them or motivate them, and a strong aura of who they are. The characterization starts only one level deep, but it is a very thorough first level. For at least the first, scene, I’m totally commited to following each character and the mysteries around their deeper personalities keeps me in suspense. I really like that strategy.

    I also really like Fabry’s approach. It’s less intense/suspenseful, but it tells me what I should be looking for. It’s like, here’s the themes, don’t miss them. I think that’s probably a perfect fit for a first person story about the past. I love those types of stories because they’re just so…marinated. They’re rich in perspective, and I think Fabry laying out the stakes all at once emphasizes the story’s perspective.

    It’s funny. When I asked the question about showing vs telling, I was thinking Fabry showed a lot. Well, he did, but you’re all totally right he told a lot too. I guess you have to when it’s first person about the past. You can’t escape the narrator voice. 😉 So I had to ask, why didn’t it feel like telling? I think you nailed it, @jennythefaun. It’s the highly detailed, sensory, concrete language. Also, there’s telling, and then there’s being on the nose. Fabry had little to know on the nose prose from what I recall.

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    #109989
    JennytheFaun
    @jennythefaun

    @taylorclogston I would have expected most of the book to take place in ’72, which @toklaham-veruzia confirmed. I think I’ll have to watch the rest of the story play out before I can say for sure whether I’m a fan of that technique (starting the book on the edge of the climax) or not. Like Daeus said, it did get me involved right away. The question is whether it’ll keep me involved until the climax really does happen.

    "...by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

    #110053
    Befuddled_Bookwyrm
    @befuddled_bookwyrm

    I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never right? 😛

    Looking forward to participating more in the forums!

    How does Chris Fabry show what the story is about so thoroughly right from the start? How can we learn from this?

    Maybe I’m slow, or out of practice reading this genre, but I wasn’t entirely certain what the story was about until the second chapter. I had a vague idea of some components after Chapter 1 (old girlfriend/almost-was-something more-than-friend wants to marry another guy, Matt’s struggles with his faith, family trouble), but it wasn’t until I read the last couple of sentences of Chapter 2 that something clicked:

    “I paused at the end of the driveway and looked left and right, the road stretching out in both directions. I turned left, making the choice that would forever change me.” (Faby, 21)

    I gotta say, I’m loving the last sentences of all the chapters thus far. They’re great clinchers, and build suspense.

    Is Chris Fabry showing or telling? How explicit should authors be in indicating the psychological makeup of their characters and what drives, consumes, and motivates them?

    I found it was more showing than telling, especially in the first chapter or so; there were lots of character-quirk actions with no immediate explanations, and hints about the past through familiar dialogue and partial remembrance rather than outright explanation.

    The memories of the past were a mix of showing and telling, with others’ actions/suspicions being shown first, then the MC explaining them (perhaps erroneously. Not sure why, but I don’t trust Matt to be a faithful narrator.)

    Do you suffer more from being “on the nose” or leaving readers in the dark as to what core obsession drives your characters and the logic behind their actions and emotions?

    It depends on the story, and the role of the character. If they’re meant to be mysterious/have something to hide, I try to hide it/not show what they’re thinking. I’ve been told this is annoying, because I tend to favor writing in close third, and a handful of beta-readers I’ve had could tell when info was purposely being held back.

    I’m getting better at being “on the nose” about the motives of the MC in my short stories, though anything longer than that needs several drafts before I get it right. With the SCs, obscuring their motives or having the MC misinterpret SCs’ actions seems to be the best way to go.

    Do you do a good job at getting right to the point of what your story is about, or does it take you several chapters to flesh out what’s at stake in the character’s soul?

    This depends on what draft I’m on. 😛

    Getting right to the point is what I favor, usually to the detrimental point of having convenient domino events befall the MC, with a moralizing speech by a mentor character. But, again, this depends on  what kind of story I’m writing. If it’s meant to be MG/light YA, convenient domino events that keep the character on-plot are the best way for me to avoid way-siding the MC with Disney-esque parental loss. (‘^.^)

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