Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Treading Carefully and Raising Stakes

So one of the things I was struggling with over the last couple of weeks was unicorns. The fourth Nathaniel Fludd book centers around unicorns, and as I began to collect my unicorn lore for the the Fludd Book of Beasts, I became aware of just how tricky a thing it was that I was dealing with.

When dealing with something like unicorns, there are a number of people who adore them and their mythology (a large portion of them in the 6-10 year old girl population who will be reading the book.) Then there are others who find unicorns tedious or ho-hum or too rainbowey for their taste. However was I to accommodate both camps?

What I ended up doing was going back to all sorts of early accounts and mentions of unicorns in early literature, from the 4th century BC to the early 1700s. I combed through all of those readings, looking for common threads and strains and studied the data as if I were a beastologist. Then I took all that data and classified it as if I were a scientist. (For example, I determined that when broken down, it appears as if there are eight distinct species of unicorns.)

Then I had a little fun playing with some of the unicorn conventions and turning them a bit on their head.

The other thing was, no matter how I dealt with the unicorns, they simply weren't as threatening as basilisks or wyverns. They lacked a certain inherent danger and dramatic stake that those other beasts brought with them to their respective books.

This is where the notion of raising the personal stakes as a way to bring drama to a story became infinitely helpful.

For this book, it wasn't so much the beast that was fueling the dramatic tension, but rather Nate and the choices and actions he was forced to deal with. I hadn't consciously planned it this way, to have one of the less ferocious beasts be paired with one of the more highly emotional and dramatic phases of Nate's journey, but I'm guessing my subconscious did because it sure made for a nice balance. Or that's what I think today. I might have a totally different opinion once I reread the thing. :-)


Sherrie Petersen said...

What an awesome bit of research you got yourself into! I love getting a peek inside your process. And the whole concept of rising stakes is a good one to remember (says the girl who needs to be writing instead of blogging!).