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Disney Princess Lineup

Disney Princess Lineup

I had a revelation tonight. I was thinking about the structure of my WIP and my thoughts drifted to my previous efforts at adapting the story of Esther. You see, Esther is a queen. My daughters love princess stories and Disney in particular has made billions on such stories.

So why hasn’t Disney released a princess movie about Esther? Ignoring the fact that she is a queen and not a princess, couldn’t the story be adapted to make it work?

And the answer…is no.

No. NO! It cannot be adapted! Neither Disney nor any other company will ever be able to use the story of Esther for their own purposes. It has always been and will remain a bible story.

But the intriguing part is why. And don’t be fooled. Disney has certainly tried. They were seeking adaptations for Rapunzel a decade or more before Tangled ever came out. And they finally did come out with a version of Rapunzel but Esther continues to elude them.

And here is the revelation. Esther can’t be adapted because the foundations of the story are built on Jewish culture and devotion to God. Neither component of the story can be removed or replaced without the whole story becoming a crashing house of cards.

This revelation in turn lead to a new understanding of what it means for a story to be labeled as ‘Christian’. I’ve blogged on this topic before but I’m not completely satisfied with my conclusions. Indeed, I never really came to any until tonight: If a story can have it’s Christian message removed or replaced then it isn’t really a Christian story. At least, not a strong one. We should all be writing strong Christian stories. We should all be crafting our stories in such a way as to make the biblical principles foundational, required for the story to be told.

And Esther is a fascinating story. Commentators have attempted to plumb the depths or the story for ages. But have any studied Esther as a model story? It’s plot-perfect in my opinion and has all the components to make it irresistible to readers: Kings, Queens, politics, opposing factions, dinner parties, deception, revenge, the threat of genocide, reversals, and even an Act III twist when the evil Haman is hung on his own gallows. The characters show a full range of emotions, gather information, and make life-altering decisions in an effort to escape the trap. Try reading it yourself for analysis and see if you don’t get sucked in.

The final point is that we should study Esther as a model for great biblical stories.

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It’s an age-old problem: How to share information in a novel without readers picking up on your clues until the reveal at the end. Here are some strategies I’ve picked up on:

  1. Hide clues in plain sight.
    • Duh. Most people are not that observant and rarely see what is right in front of their face.
    • If you include information in the form of a list, always bury the most important part in the middle. People notice the last thing in a list best, the first next-best, and the middle last.
  2. Share clues out of order.
    • If you know that John has access to Love Potion #9 (A), Love Potion #9 actually causes explosions (B), and an explosion destroyed the rebel headquarters (C),  then it’s reasonable to conclude that John is responsible for blowing up the HQ (A -> B -> C). Many crimes in detective novels are constructed by the writer this way whereas the hero often learns A, B, and C in REVERSE order. The crime (C) comes first, then the method (B), with the connection to the culprit (A) arriving only at the end.
    • The drawback of this method is that it excludes any kind of surprise ending. Avoid this by changing the order: Share (C) and (A) with your reader while withholding the crucial (B) that links the two to stretch out the suspense or setup a twist.
    • For longer chains of clues (A -> B -> C -> D -> E) you can get very, very creative. Just don’t get so complicated that readers can’t follow the chain.
  3. Establish a secondary purpose for something already included.
    • In the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the mind game program that Ender periodically interacts with is used to explain how the buggers communicate with Ender at the end of the book. However in the sequel, it must ALSO be the source for a sentient computer program.
    • We humans like our loose ends packaged up into nice, neat little containers. Card surprises us by killing two birds with one stone. It’s efficient and it’s always unexpected when done right.
  4. Share something trivial or common or innocuous that has important consequences when taken to its logical conclusion.
    • In Agatha Christie‘s murder mystery play The Mousetrap, a couple is having an anniversary at the beginning. Taken at face value, it tells the viewer about their relationship. At the end of the play it is revealed that they were hiding anniversary presents from one another which led to an explanation of the bigger mystery. Christie was a master of this technique.
  5. Add in misdirection.
    • The most famous form of misdirection has to be the Red Herring – a false clue mixed in with the correct ones to lead its interpreter to the wrong conclusion. Red herrings can be left accidentally or purposely by actual culprits or sympathizers.
  6. “Make the reader think they know what’s going on, even though it isn’t.” – Adam Heine on Holding Back Surprises – Author’s Echo
    • “Scooby-Doo was a master of this … for 7-year-olds. If your audience is any older, you’ll have to get more creative. The trick, I think, is to believe your own lie as you write it.” – Adam Heine on Holding Back Surprises – Author’s Echo
    • This form of “[m]isdirection has a lot of flavors, but I like putting the knowledge out there only to have the MC [Main Character] interpret it for the reader … wrongly. If your reader is bonding well with your MC, this can work well (as long as your MC isn’t being stupid – which is a very relative term!).” – Susan Kaye Quinn on Holding Back Surprises – Author’s Echo
  7. Have an expert argue against the correct interpretation.
    • Humans tend to focus on experts in novels as in real life. When a character takes a stand against something, the burden of proof is on them as a person. Thus the focus moves away from evaluating the evidence to evaluating the expert. Make the expert believable and you will have deceived the reader.

Note that you can also combine these techniques for even better results. For example, place a shotgun on the back wall in your opening scene (hidden in plain sight). Readers won’t be looking for a gun (shared out of order) until someone gets shot in chapter 4, but you can bet they’ll remember it’s there in the last chapter if you’ll only remind them where it was the whole time.

Get creative!

Image Source: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/artsandentertainment/cyrils-magical-mystery-tour/338627

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[Author’s Note: This post is now outdated. Read the expanded and updated version.]

It’s an age-old problem: How to share information in a novel without readers picking up on your clues until the reveal at the end. Here are some strategies I’ve picked up on:

  1. Hide clues in plain sight.
    • Duh. Most people are not that observant and rarely see what is right in front of their face.
    • If you can include information in the form of a list, always bury the most important part in the middle. People remember the last thing in a list best, the first next-best, and the middle last.
  2. Share clues out of order.
    • If you know that John has access to Love Potion #9 (A), Love Potion #9 actually causes explosions (B), and an explosion destroyed headquarters (C),  then it’s reasonable to conclude that John is responsible for blowing up HQ (A -> B -> C). Many crimes in detective novels are constructed by the writer this way whereas the hero often learns A, B, and C in REVERSE order. The crime (C) comes first, then the method (B), and is only connected with the culprit (A) at the end.
    • The drawback of this method is that it excludes any kind of surprise ending! The solution is to mix up the order. Share (C) and (A) with your reader but withhold the crucial (B) that links the two until the end to stretch out suspense or setup a twist ending.
    • For longer chains of clues (A -> B -> C -> D -> E, for example) you can get very, very creative. Just don’t get so complicated that readers can’t follow the chain.
  3. Establish a secondary purpose for something already explained.
    • In the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the mind game program that Ender periodically interacts with is used to explain how the buggers communicate with Ender at the end of the book. However in the sequel, it must ALSO be the source for a sentient computer program.
    • We humans like our loose ends packaged up into nice, neat little containers. Card surprises us by killing two birds with one stone. It’s efficient and it’s always unexpected when done right.
  4. Share something innocuous that has important consequences when taken to its logical conclusion.
    • In Agatha Christie‘s murder mystery play The Mousetrap, information is shared with the audience at the beginning. Taken at face value, it tells the viewer nothing but at the end of the novel it is used to explain everything.

Note that you can also combine these techniques for even better results. For example, place a shotgun on the back wall in your opening scene (hidden in plain sight). Readers won’t be looking for a gun (shared out of order) until someone gets shot in chapter 4, but you can bet they’ll remember it’s there in the last chapter if you’ll only remind them where it was the whole time.

Get creative!

Image Source: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/artsandentertainment/cyrils-magical-mystery-tour/338627

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Source: How-to Author, Randy Ingermanson – Margie Lawson.

The only teacher whom I’ve seen mention this is Robert McKee in his book STORY, but he doesn’t explain how it’s useful to the novelist, because he’s interested in teaching screenwriters.

This critical layer [of plotting] is the “sequence of scenes.”  McKee explains in his book that the tension builds in intensity through a sequence of scenes–usually 3 to 5 of them. Then something important happens and the tension goes down.  It begins building again in the next sequence of scenes.

When I read McKee, I realized that this is the golden key for writing the synopsis.  The synopsis is easily the most hated piece of writing that any novelist ever does.  But you have to write a synopsis.

Here’s the secret:  When you write a synopsis, each paragraph should summarize a sequence of scenes.  If you try to summarize each scene, that’s too much detail. Summarize several scenes together as a single unit.  If you do that, your synposis will come out to about 2 single-spaced pages which is just about right.  If you don’t do that, you’re going to hate your synopsis.  (Okay, you’re going to hate your synopsis no matter what you do, but if you do it this way, you’ll get a good result, which is all that matters.)

You gotta love Randy’s humor – and his attention to detail with the craft of writing.

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