Sometimes, it’s really brought home to me how much writing relies on perspective. That’s an obvious truth, but look at the following scenarios:
1. Girl falls in love with Boy. She’s a senior; he’s a junior. But they have a real connection, and their friends support them, and more importantly, his friends make her feel like she’s really a part of their group. The year ends; Girl goes off to college. She attends a local college, and Boy agrees (happily) to visit her on the weekends. She feels like they’re growing closer than ever…until the winter holidays. All of a sudden, Boy begins pulling away a bit. He no longer wants to have sex, although he still holds and kisses her. When she asks him what’s wrong, he assures her that it’s just family stuff. He’s fine. They’re fine. This continues, and although he still visits and talks to her, she can tell he’s holding back. But he won’t talk to her. One day, in the late spring, he shows up unexpectedly and breaks up with her. He tells her he’s fallen for someone else, and when she pushes, he admits it’s been a while. Girl is devastated. How could she have trusted Boy so much? She feels betrayed and unloveable.
2. Girl falls in love with Boy. She’s new to the school, and Boy has many friends. He’s open about his girlfriend, and Girl tries to distance herself. But Boy seems to flirt with her, and after a while, it seems like there’s something behind the flirting. Girl doesn’t know what to do. As the winter holidays approach, Boy seems torn. Girl wishes he’d break up with his girlfriend and just be with her. It really looks like he wants to. Throughout the spring, Boy is withdrawn, and Girl learns that he has family issues. She tries to be a friend without putting pressure on him. Finally, near the end of the school year, Boy admits that he’s fallen for her — that he’s been in love with her for months. He breaks up with his girlfriend and —
You might recognize the second scenario. The author was very smart to tell this story from that perspective. In the first, the Boy looks manipulative and thoughtless. He comes across as a typical jerk who uses women for his own selfishness. In the second, Boy comes across as confused, torn, struggling. The funny thing is, for a few of us, the perspective didn’t matter that much, and Boy came across as selfish and thoughtless — as well as confused and struggling. It’s realistic (from both perspectives), and I bet many of us have been in this type of situation before. But when told from the first perspective, a completely different ‘lesson’ is shared.
So I picked up a werewolf book at the library recently, and although there were aspects of it which were entertaining, it sounded almost exactly like at least two other werewolf books I’ve read in the past year…and I have to wonder how these trends work.
I imagine vampires went through similar stages, but since I don’t like vampire books (generally speaking — I have read and really liked most of Jeannine Frost’s books), I don’t have firsthand knowledge.
With these books, girls were intrigued by nearby forests in their small town. The MC ends up meeting a gorgeous, new-to-town boy — and lo-and-behond, he ends up being a werewolf. The MC falls for him anyway, and now she must decide between keeping the town safe and going with him. I can think of five books off the top of my head which have this basic premise. Two of them are so similar that I really don’t understand how they could both be published when we know there are so many great manuscripts out there — unique, great manuscripts — which don’t ever find a home.
Okay, that’s probably another story. Anyway, how have some authors made these unique?
I thought Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer was pretty good because the girl was an alpha of her pack and would be marrying to build treaties with another pack (I think I’m remembering this right). I have the second book as an ARC, and I’m looking forward to finding out how it works out.
Low Red Moon, by Ivy Devlin was different because the MC was the new person (she’d been homeschooled until her parents were killed) — and the mystery wasn’t what I’d expected when I first started reading.
Raised by Wolves, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (one of my favorite reads last year, I might add), took the uniqueness to a whole new level because the MC has grown up with werewolves, even though she is not one herself.
13 to Life, by Shannon Delany threw in the whole Russian mafia/werewolf angle.
The Dark Divine, by Bree Despain had the whole religious aspect added.
And of course, Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater has the weather element (which, in many ways, adds a whole new and mysterious character).
Man, I’ve read even more than I realized 🙂 This list doesn’t include the few which seemed interchangeable, I might add. Nor does it include those which have werewolves (or were-somethings) as only one element of the story (like Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments or Karen Kincy’s Other). I think when you’ve got the were aspect as only one part, your story immediately is set apart from the pack
As anyone who reads (or writes) much knows, tension drives a story. I remember attending a seminar at a writing conference where the entire focus was conflict — because conflict creates tension (at least, it should).
In high school, we studied the different types of conflict (person-to-person, person-to-self, person-to-environment). In the seminar, the speaker suggested that the most potent conflict was person-to-self. As a reader, that is sometimes true for me. However, my personal favorite is person-to-person conflict — when the longings and desires of characters meet head to head. So I guess it’s a combination of person-to-person and person-to-self.
I think love triangles came to be because of this combination. So many writers (too many, imho) seem to find a love triangle as the quickest way to boost tension. However, if it’s not done well, all it does is weaken the MC (again, jmo). The speaker in this seminar gave a wonderful reason for that — she said that a true love triangle needs to have conflict between all three characters. So, for example, the situation in Anna and the French Kiss, where Etienne has a girlfriend who’s off-stage for pretty much the entire book, isn’t a true triangle — because there’s no interaction between Anna and the other girl.
I find that an interesting idea. The speaker clarified that it didn’t have to be romantic tension between all three — but she said that if tension only existed along two of the three sides, it wasn’t a true conflict. I think this is an important point — too often, triangle tension (for lack of a better term) seems to focus around romance, when sometimes it would be better without that element. And writing that kind of love triangle is truly challenging (and when done poorly, it can bomb dramatically). Also, when I look at some of the books where I’ve liked the relational dynamics, I’ve noticed that, to a certain extent, there’s tension between all three characters (whether romantic, or not).
An example (without spoilers, btw): In Divergent, the MC has tension with two of her leaders — Four and Eric. The two leaders also clearly have conflict with one another (though we don’t know why until the end). It’s a very good use of triangle conflict, imo, and it adds a great deal of tension to the story. There are other pairs of tension, as well — and at least one other triangle.
Another example (also without spoilers): In Matched, the MC has tension with Ky and with Xander — and there is some tension between Ky and Xander, as well. It’s not as obvious as the triangle in Divergent, but I think it’s there (at least a hint of it). The conflict in this story came more from individual-society, I think, and it’s an interesting study in how tension builds and what makes for the strongest tension.