Tag Archives | Stephanie Burgis

Friday 5 – Tricks to employ outside of story structure.

I’m going to use KAT INCORRIGIBLE as an example.

1. Let’s talk humor.

The kind of humor that pulls you from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, the kind that makes you fall in love with a character and the writing, the kind that make you want to read the book again in the same week.

For me, the best kind of humor is when the main character doesn’t know or think she’s being hilarious. For the character, the story is quite serious.

Here are only a few of the funnies from this story:

  • The play on the tried and true plot of a girl dressing like a boy and running away – except it failed for Kat.
  • The running gag of Kat always receiving long lectures.
  • Kat’s willingness to speak her mind without being obnoxious.
  • The scene where Kat turns herself into an older woman with a heaving bosom.
  • The running gag of her constantly trying to arch one eyebrow like her older sisters.

(In your work if it’s not humor, it could be excellent description or well-chosen words to reflect voice or tension that leads your reader from page to page.)

2. Terrific ending chapter hooks.

Each chapter ending made me keep reading. Here are a few of them:

  • I had the perfect opportunity for blackmail.
  • Angeline opened her eyes and looked straight at me. “He murdered her.”
  • “Miss Angeline,” he said. “Thank God I’ve found you. Your house has been burgled!”
  • But what about the highwayman?” I said.
  • The highwayman had arrived after all.
  • The shot went off as the world turned inside out around me.

The others are great too but you wouldn’t understand the significance without reading the story.

3. Using specific body language that reflects the character.

How a writer uses body language can elevate a story from amateur to professional. In my unprofessional opinion that is. Here are a few:

  • “Now,” Stepmama said, and ushered us, smiling as fiercely as a general, into the crowded Long Gallery.
  • “Ladies!” The gentleman’s cough this time sounded like a crack of thunder.
  • “None, obviously, that you are fit to learn.” She stalked pointedly away from both of us, her slim back vibrating with outrage.

There were plenty of shrugs, arched eyebrows, saids, – but when it counted, when the emotion was important to show, the body language was extended to show the character without telling and to reveal the emotion. In other words, it wasn’t overdone.

4. Historical fiction with a contemporary feel.

  • Kat felt like a contemporary girl fighting for her family.
  • She felt emotion like her readers would.
  • She had relationships with her step mama and sisters that felt current.
  • The only details from the period mentioned were the ones important to the story and it was never obvious. (Keep in mind that it was for middle graders.)
  • The language used and behavior just made the book better and it upped the reading level, which to me is always a good thing.
  • The historical part of the time period was used humorously, for examples, the long lectures for behavior that really wasn’t that bad.

(Even if you’re not writing historical fiction, you can work on creating emotions your reader can understand and connect with.)

5. The mix of external and internal conflict.

I would not have loved this story as much as I did without the balance of Kat’s internal conflict. She struggles with following her mama’s legacy and worries that the only reason her papa married her mama was due to a love spell.

Was this a literary novel with heavy theme and internals? No. But it had just the right balance of emotion and excellent writing.

What genre or kind of story are you writing? And what do you use on the page-to-page level to keep readers reading?

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Plot Busters – Kat Incorrigible 2 – The Perfect Set-up

You might ask why I decided not to continue breaking down the entire story act by act. Or maybe not, but I’ll tell you anyway. Not all stories have exemplary structure. But most of them capture a certain element of structure and do it well enough to spotlight and learn from.

And this week we’re looking at KAT INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis.

By the end of Act I, we know everything we need to know. The set up is perfect.

We know her goals. Kat starts in the first line by trying to run away. Basically, she fails in her plan to save her family from financial and social ruin.

But will she try again? That’s the debate.

We know the antagonist. Clearly, if Elissa’s soon-to-be husband is a possible murderer, there will be problems.

We see her flaws in action. She’s stubborn. She refuses to listen, regardless of long lectures. And she misses her mother.

We get a terrific feel for the family dynamics. Kat’s relationship with her sisters and how they are portrayed is extremely realistic – fighting and competitive but loyal and loving. Wonderful characters. I fell in love with Kat and would’ve followed her anywhere.

But if the story had stayed in that place for too long, I might have lost interest. After the set up, the story must move forward!

And that’s what happens. After Kat learns she is part of a secret order of guardians, her family packs their bags and heads off to the Abby for Elissa to meet Sir Neville. And that’s where the rest of the story takes place.

But the Break into Two was so effective. Kat had made the definite decision to help her family even if she’s not sure how to do it. The stakes have become more serious (you’ll have to read it to find out how). And they are off for the main part of the story with a different setting and new characters.

We’re ready for the Fun and Games to start!

How does your set-up and transition into Act II hold up?

Tips outside of story structure based on Kat Incorrigible.

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