Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fun things

I was reading Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich, and I realized that one reason she's so popular with her readers is that she knows what's fun and spins it out to an enjoyable length. She doesn't just allude to it-- she exploits it.

She has a recurrent "stoner" character who is kind of fun himself, and so when the protagonist hires him to do security on the boyfriend's house, she doesn't expect much real security. She just really wants to keep him occupied so that he doesn't get into trouble. But he takes this security job seriously, which is funny in itself (camo uniforms, etc). And he invents a special cannon to protect the house, a potato gun. PVC pipes that shoot potatoes.

Okay, so that's fun, this stoner and his young sidekick inventing this gun. But Evanovich doesn't stop there. She spins it out-- the protagonist comes home to be almost bombarded with vegetables. And the vegetables are funny too-- not just potatoes. They also hurl a cantalope (she goes for the funny names). And there are little dropped-in lines, like the stoner shooting a "twice-baked".

There's a full scene built around this. BUT that's not all. In the end of the book, when the protagonist is under siege by the bad guys, the stoner arrives like the cavalry and shoots potatoes at them and wins and is interviewed by the local media.

Two thoughts here--

1) Figure out what will be fun for the reader and go with it-- really play it out, exploit it. If you go too far, you can always cut it back later. But have fun with the fun.

2) The climax should be unique to your story. How your protagonist conquers the bad guy or accomplishes the goal should bring in elements you've set up in your story. In this book, Stephanie has been kind of a house mother, gathering these little orphans (the stoner, the boy whose mother was kidnapped, the homeless stalker) around her and feeding and housing them. So her reward for this is that they are there to help her in the climax. What has your story set up for in the end? What is the unique way your protagonist can use what he/she has learned or gained during all that rising conflict? What allies has he gathered? What skills has she acquired? IN THE STORY... use what he/she has gained in the story, not just what he/she came into the story already having.

Oh, another--
3) The climax should echo the type and tone of the book. That is, a comedy should have a comic climax (like the potato gun rescue). A romance should have a climax that has a romantic element (like one of the couple rescuing the other, or their new trust letting them overcome some obstacle). Don't settle just for a generic thrilling climax-- bring in the extra element that is unique to this book.

So let's talk about what is "fun" in stories. It's easy to see in a comedy, but what's fun in other types of books? Look at your own story, and tell us what type it is, and what you think the reader will find to be a lot of fun and you should expand?

Like the book I was talking about in the last post, with the hero who sings her swoony songs. Well, at least I and Murph think that's fun. So I might have him sing a song later too. I have no idea how to pull that into the plot, but what the heck. Also it's a big pain that most songs from the 20th and 21st Century can't be quoted (copyright). Fortunately he's Irish, so I can use Irish folk songs, but not the Pogues, alas. I mean, "Love You to the End" would SO fit their romance.

But anyway, I suspect the "fun" part for the readers might be his songs. As long as I don't have to write them myself, I think I can spin that out. Not sure how his singing can help save the day in the climax. Hmm. Maybe the villain is going to be on American Idol.



Laura K. Curtis said...

In my current WIP, which is not humorous at all, my hero (who is a cop) hums show tunes that reflect what he's thinking. It's just kind of quirky, but I think it will play a part in how he and the heroine defeat the villain.

em said...

My WIP is a historical romance. I'd like to put some fun stuff in it. Not a lot. Just a little here and there in different scenes. Even if it isn't my main characters who are funny. It;s nearly impossible to do when you aren't funny.:( Which really isn't fair. I suspect funny people can write serious. Murphy? Do you write serious to? I already know the answer to that. I've seen your comments. It's no fair I tell you!;)

Edittorrent said...

I was reading a fantasy recently, one of those that take place on another world but very like our own.

I rapidly became bored with the world-building, especially the naming. You know, a horse was a rani (yeah, it was purple, but it was a horse). I was grousing about this when I thought that maybe this is what the readers enjoyed-- this other world and the distinctions made between it and our world. That is, I did realize finally I might not be the target reader, because I didn't think that was fun, and they would.


Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

I read a lot of fantasy, and I get bored with the rani-types. If it's a horse, just say so. If it's a horse with fangs that likes to eat humans, then call it a rani. :-)

Fun in fantasy is the world building that fits with the story, and makes life difficult for the characters.

Jordan said...

Oh, I love these! I actually used music in two of my last books, and in the first, the hero (spy undercover as a priest) uses a specific song to secretly-publicly confess his love to the heroine at a talent show. (The secret part comes in because it's actually an Irish folk song that he uses ["Moll Dubh"], and she is Irish [Irish Irish, not Irish American], so she's the only one there who knows what he's saying.) Up to that point, we've established his love of all things Irish, his time in Ireland (though he doesn't speak Irish, or as Americans call it, Gaelic), and his musical talents, as well as the fact that she does speak Irish.

In the sequel, the H/H aren't together anymore but have to work together, and I use the same song as a turning point, too. A middle-y one, though.

I love doing this. My betas refer back to a recurring joke in my story whenever we talk about it. I love the running/building gag—it's like building an inside joke with the reader, you know?

Jordan said...

I should probably add, too, that the confession of love (though "in code") leads directly to the climax/confrontation with the bad guy.

Dave Shaw said...

My WIP is military SF, so it opens with a simulation of a space battle, describes or mentions other simulations, includes a near battle and a battle that goes pretty well, and of course climaxes with a desperate fight against impossible odds. Fun!

I must have done too many crossword puzzles - a rani is an Indian (South Asian) princess, not a purple horse. I enjoy fantasy, but that stuff gets on my nerves.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Sort of off-topic, but part of the fun of the potato launcher is knowing there are laws prohibiting their use in many states. And you can buy books on how to build them.

Not that I have one of those books. Or know what the laws around here are...

Wes said...

I'm a fan of the Stephanie Plum series. As you say the author takes a humorous situation and carries it to the nth degree. I can always count on Stephanie trashing 3 or 4 cars and blundering into other types of mayhem. One of my favorite scenes was when her grandmother burned down the funeral home in an effort to pry open a coffin to get a close look at the deceased.

As for potato guns, I have a spudzooka, a PVC pipe gun that will launch a half pound potato 400 yards with an explosion of hair spray. This seems quite funny to my friends because I'm a competitive shooter, and the handgun and rifle matches I'm in are quite serious. I dont' see the humor in it. I'm trying to hit a target. It doesn't matter if it's with a .45 or a russet potato.

Wes said...

Gun control on potato guns?????? Now I've heard everything. Whatever happened to our right to arm bears....er.....bear arms?

Edittorrent said...

Okay, now, you're saying potato guns are against the law, but bullet guns aren't?

I remember when they outlawed switchblades. At least you have to risk getting close to use them (or be really good at throwing). That seems like the sort of weapon that would require some courage and skill.

Not as much as a potato launcher, of course!

Can you imagine the sort of damage a potato would do to your car window?


Jami Gold said...


Sorry, my WIP is big on the drama and suspense, not so much the fun. :) However, I really like your point #2 above in that the solution needs to come from some growth/changes/skills acquired during the story. Without this, it lessons the character arc, I think.

Jami G.

Amanda said...

You mentioned that using song lyrics is a copyright violation, but what about mentioning the title of a song?

Edittorrent said...

Titles aren't copyrighted, Amanda, so that's okay. But more than a line or two of a song (because it's so short) can be a copyright violation. And songsters, in contrast to poets, have a rather militant union protecting their rights. (ASCAP, I mean. I think it's ASCAP.)

But don't worry about a title. In fact, some book titles are song titles ("Ain't She Sweet," etc.)


Riley Murphy said...

You say: Maybe the villain is going to be on American Idol.

No can do. They already have Simon.

Alicia, I think I have a great idea to make the song thing work for the ending. I'll get back to you on it tomorrow.


em said...

Murphy, Simon's not a villian! He's my hero!:)

Wes said...

"Can you imagine the sort of damage a potato would do to your car window?"

The first time I shot my spudzooka was at the wooden fence in my back yard. I blew a hole in a board. Guess I used too much hair spray.........

Edittorrent said...

Is hairspray the fuel? I didn't know that. Hmm. "Honey, have you seen my Final Net can? What do you mean, you used it to break the fence???"

Amanda said...

Thanks Alicia!

Eva Gale said...

"spudzooka" LOl! I think I need to buy a few of my family members some of them for Christmas.

This post is perfect for the contemp romance I'm wiritng. I'm more of an irony person, but this is going to give me the tools to draw those really good situations out.

Michelle Gregory said...

i'll keep this in mind while i revise my contemp. romance that's lurking in the hard drive of my laptop, calling me to finish it.