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Setting

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You’re writing a novel and putting a lot of images, events, characters, settings, and objects into it. Grand! A lot of manuscripts don’t take the necessary step after this, however, and connect the dots. If you introduce a character early on, they should work their way deeper and deeper into the fabric of your plot. Images should reappear and gain significance each time. A bird in chapter one will ideally have new shades of meaning halfway through the book, and then even more in the final chapter. Settings should change as the plot unfolds, meaning that the quarry your protagonist runs away to on a carefree summer day might change drastically when she takes a boyfriend there at night. Not only might your character experience these images, events, places, and people, you should keep in mind how your protagonist reacts to them.

Imagine a photograph of two people you’ve never seen before, young girls playing table tennis. To a random stranger, this elicits little or no reaction. But imagine if you were the girls’ mother, looking at the photograph? Or one of the girls, but maybe thirty years down the line? That object has now become imbued with some very personal emotions. Give the important secondary elements of your manuscript significance by building a relationship between them and your main character. These relationships can change and evolve over time.

Mimic the human brain and don’t let your characters think linearly. This means that you shouldn’t just bring an important secondary element to the page when it’s convenient or right when it’s needed. In between encounters with that bird that keeps reappearing or a character who is crucial to the plot, let your main character remember them or wonder about them. That’s too convenient, and it plays on the surface. Free yourself from only referencing one of your carefully chosen story points when it’s needed and let them form a richer tapestry using your character’s inner life.

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by Carol Lynch Williams
Young Adult, 224 pages.
St. Martin’s Griffin (2009)
ISBN: 978-0312555115

Kyra Leigh might be Chosen to wed her uncle, Hyrum, an Apostle in their fundamentalist religious sect, but his Choice is only the beginning of the toughest one she will ever make. A thirteen year old girl raised by three mothers among a brood of brothers and sisters, Kyra knows she has to obey Prophet Childs, whose messages come to their Compound directly from God.

But she knows a few other things, too. She knows that Joshua, a neighbor boy, has feelings for her which are deeper than those she sees in most plural marriages. She knows that the books Patrick brings by every Wednesday in his Mobile Library on Wheels do not contain the word of Satan like everyone says they do. She knows that just because Prophet Childs decrees something, it isn’t always right.

Kyra and her vulnerable, extremely human family are pitted against the cold and effective machine of Prophet Childs’s zealous hold on the community. Her uncle’s desire to take her as his seventh wife puts her in the eye of a controversy that results in death threats, beatings and near-constant surveillance. She must choose between giving in to his Choice and abandoning her home and family for the terrifying freedom of the real world.

When Kyra finally chooses, the reader can intimately feel the entire weight of the world on her shoulders. And there is no happy ending. There is only hope and, for what it’s worth, the noble knowledge that truth and faith don’t have to be contradictory, violent things. THE CHOSEN ONE is a poignant, gut-wrenching story of destiny, family and the search for self in the face of great obstacles. In these brief pages, Kyra takes the stand of her life, loses everything and I will never forget it. This book is one I highly, highly recommend.

THE CHOSEN ONE comes out May 12th, 2009. Pre-order your copy today or pick it up at your favorite indie store. Here are links: THE CHOSEN ONE (Amazon), THE CHOSEN ONE (Indiebound).

For Readers: Kyra is a character who will remain with you. Invisible walls that feel stronger than any brick and mortar surround areas in everybody’s life. Williams’s honesty in writing this and Kyra’s great courage alone are worth the read. While there are a few violent or upsetting scenes, they’re crucial to the richness of the climax. One big issue here is women’s rights and gender roles. Under Prophet Childs’s watchful eye, women are second class citizens who are not allowed to act or think or speak for themselves. The brutal lessons here make this book even more unforgettable.

My galley came with a preview of the audiobook, which will be released on May 12th by Macmillan Young Listeners. Actress Jenna Lamia, from what I’ve heard so far, does a pitch-perfect version of Kyra. If you prefer listening to books, pick up a copy.

For Writers: An environment must be a character in your story. If it isn’t, you’re missing opportunities to bring out themes or manipulate the emotional impact of the work. Williams’s emotionally-charged settings are a masterpiece. From the real world, where Kyra and her family are ridiculed, to the Prophet’s office in the Temple, where danger crackles in the air, any writer can pick up the subtle yet unmistakable mood Williams sets. If your settings aren’t doing any thematic or emotional work for you, pick up THE CHOSEN ONE and see how it’s done.

I don’t think I can say this enough, but a writer can’t be afraid of consequences. Some writers tend toward unrealistic happy endings and neat topped-with-a-bow conclusions. In a lot of cases, that’s not lifelike. There are consequences for every action, good and bad, and, if you’ve done your job, your novel will have a lot of action. Don’t be afraid of putting your character in a difficult situation, it will make them more real to your readers. For one of the most emotionally raw, unsettling endings I’ve read lately — and one that hits all the right emotional buttons — read this book and see how oddly satisfying it manages to feel.

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