Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Fiction King

I recently read Scott Westerfeld's novel Afterworlds, which is actually two novels in one. Go Scott Westerfeld!

It is about a young girl, Darcy Patel, who at the age of 18 wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo, sent it out to an agent/publisher, and had it immediately picked for a huge advance. An advance so huge that she is able to move to New York and live in an expensive appartment all by herself. She then enters a world that Westerfeld calls YA heaven.

Oh, my goodness. I sooo want to go there. You have to help me get there people. I am thinking positive thoughts. One day I will live in YA heaven.

Ok, moving on. The other novel, as you might have guessed, is the edited version of the story that young Darcy wrote. It starts with a terrorist attack and a heroine that can enter the world of the dead. There are some creepy parts thanks to a couple of truly disturbing antagonists, but the story is great.

There is one part, it takes place in the narrative about Darcy's life as a new writer, that I wanted to share with you. It appears about half way through the book when Darcy is at a school visit with two other authors, published authors. She is still editing her novel and is considered a debutante in the world of YA heaven.

At this author panel a student asks a question that I suspect every author is asked as some point during their career. "Which of the five elements of a story do you think is the most important? Plot, setting, character, conflict, or theme?"

What follows is a wonderful competition between the authors as they try to one up each other with the best answer. I won't quote the section here, it is several pages, but you can find it at the end of chapter 27 if you want to read it. And you should.

I'm not sure what my own answer would be to that question.

The project I am currently editing is a young adult dystopic novel. It is set in a world that is similiar to ours but that has some very specific differences without which the entire novel wouldn't make sense. Setting, therefore, has a significant influence on the story.

But so does plot. The very first event of the novel forces my main character, Zander, to question the world in which he lives. One of the next plot points clarifies the conflict that drives the rest of the story. But which is more important, plot or conflict?

Then there is the fact that all of it hinges on who Zander is, on his character, and on what he is willing to learn, the theme.

As a former English teacher, I spent years showing students how to analyze the fiction elements, how to break apart a text and identify concrete evidence for a five paragraph literary response essay.

As an author I look at things differently. When I am asked such questions, or I read about them in a book like Afterworlds, I can't help feeling like I'm falling into a debate that will never be won.

Can one element of fiction rule over the others? Is there a Fiction King?

What do you think?

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