Monday, April 14, 2008

The Anti-Message

Tip of the Day: We have great blog readers! Thanks for entering our Take a Break Book giveway and congrats to the winners.

On Saturday, April 5th, I checked out the third annual Rochester Teen Book Festival. There were lots of well-known writers there giving presentations to very crowded rooms of teenagers and other fans (like me). I didn't have time to see everyone, but I saw Libba Bray (!!) and Todd Strasser, who both gave excellent talks. Libba Bray answered lots of fangirl questions from her readers. She was high energy and a lot of fun.

Todd Strasser talked about developing his stories, and although the talk involved the teens (a lot; it wasn't a lecture), I took something away from it that fascinated me so much, I want to share it with you! It's what I'm calling the Anti-Message.

Todd Strasser started with the message of his example story. The message isn't a moral. It's what your main character has to learn to change and grow within the story. Can you sum up in one sentence what your main character learns by the last page?

With my work in progress, it took me a while. I was like, well, she has a power that she can use to hurt people, but she doesn't want to. She wants to manage it. And the other characters in the book use their powers in different ways, some good, some bad. Eventually I got there: she has to learn to use her power over other people wisely. Which I think is a great theme for a tween novel, because when you're feeling insecure and powerless, it's easy to forget that you have a tremendous power to affect other people.

According to Todd Strasser, once you have the message, introduce the opposite of the message. The climax of the book is where it looks like the opposite of the message will win.

So in my case, the opposite of the message would be that people who abuse their power over others are rewarded. Which is unfortunately often the case in life, and especially in middle school. And it has the added bonus of being fun to write. I was working towards it anyway, but I feel so energized by having the climax of the arc of the novel articulated. Don't you love all those fiction writer terms I'm throwing out there?

What's your MC's message? Would you like to leave us the Anti-Message in the comments? I'd love to see your Anti-Messages. Like the Anti-Message of the Princess Bride is that the practical obstacles in the way of true love can overwhelm it. We can share our Anti-Messages and have a total goth day.

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer


Emily Marshall said...

This is really good Kate. Character growth is one of my weakest areas of writing. And the anti-message does make tons of sense. Okay, I'm going to have to think about it for awhile before I can formulate my own anti-message. I will wait for others in the mean time.

amuse me said...

So, if I'm understanding this right, in the story I am working on the guy will still get the girl even though it appears he has barged through life taking whatever he wants, instead of sacrificing something. You've got me thinking hard about this.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Kate, I love this discussion. You're basically tipping the scales and threatening to have it all fall to the wrong side, which is exciting. And isn't it true in life that good just sometimes gets screwed! (sorry if that's too crass). And in middle school and high school, it often seems even worse. But if you let it go long enough, if you stick to your guns, you often find that things come back around. It's the persistence and the waiting that sucks.

And sacrifice is a big point. A character has to have something real on the line. We have to care about what he willing to sacrifice for the right thing. In my case, its the MC's life. But there are lots of truly valuable things that could be sacrificed.

Emily said...


Are you from the Rochester NY area? I grew up in Brockport (spent my entire life there until 10 years ago!)


Kate Fall said...

Hi Em:

Yes, Deena (Miss Recently Repped) and I are both in Rochester! It's a writing town!


DeenaML said...

Emily, I lived in Brockport for 2 yrs and went to school there for 4. I still love Liftbridge Bookstore!

Kate, thanks for posting this and getting me thinking about this again. My anti-message in LN I think is that:

You don't need anybody to get through tough times; keeping to yourself and keeping your mouth shut will have the best results.

OK, now that I've written this, I need to have Pam's talking lead to some love trouble....

Emily Marshall said...

Okay, my anti-message would probably be something like: pretending to be someone you're not is the best way to get through life, because then no one can meet you and not-like the real you.

Wow, this is a tough exercise and very good to think about.