Monday, August 24, 2009

My Penpal, Sharon Shinn

Here's another installment of "My Penpal," this time featuring Sharon Shinn, author of Mystic and Rider:

My email to her:

Dear Ms. Shinn,

I was first introduced to your work when I stumbled across your Samaria series last year--I was interested because I was working on a story about angels and was curious about how you would handle the mythos which is so inherent in such a subject. I have recently read your Twelve Houses series as well and was surprised by how different the two series were: while I felt that the Samaria stories have an almost folktale-type quality (I'm guessing due in part to the length of time which the stories stretch over), the Twelve Houses stories are much more intimate in their characterization.

My question is this: as a writer, did you choose these different styles deliberately, or do you feel it was essentially an organice change? (I ask because I have been working on a fantasy novel for the past year, and one of the aspects I have found to be most difficult is the tone. My first instinct is a fairly intimate view of the characters and their world, but the scope of the story requires some occasional zooming-out which can be awkward to accomplish. In addition, too intimate of a tone
can undercut the message of the story, as well.) I know this is a broad question, but any advice you could give would be very much appreciated.


Her (or her publicist's) response:

Hi, Lindsay:

Thanks for the note. You pose an interesting question, but I'm not sure how to answer it.

I do spend some time thinking about tone and voice. To a large extent, I think the tone comes from the personality of the main character(s) who are telling the story through their point of view. So, Gabriel is somewhat remote and controlled; Kirra is impetuous and emotional. Tamar is angry; Cammon is limitlessly curious. Tone and voice are even more critical when I'm telling a story in first person (which I don't do in any of the Samaria or Twelve Houses books, but I have done in other stories). At that point, unless the narrator has a distinctive personality, the first-person voice tends to fall rather flat.

These days I see most people advising aspiring authors to stick to one or two point of view narrators in a book... not to "head-hop," as I heard someone call it! If you DO have multiple narrators in a book (as I often do) separate them out by chapter, or at least have a line break to signal that you're going to switch to a different POV. This DOES create more intimate and character-driven story, as you say, which might make it harder for you to tell the "grand scope" part of your story. On the other hand, in my experience, what really sells readers on any book is the characters and how human beings react to their own individual situations, no matter how broad and sweeping the events going on around them. (Like, for instance, you could write a broad and sweeping story about the recent financial crisis and give statistics on how many people have lost their homes. But the story would be far more poignant if you followed one family's desperate attempt to keep their house. And from THAT story, readers could extrapolate the big events occurring.)

I'm not sure if this answer helps you at all! But my primary advice would be to develop compelling characters that seem REAL, even to you, and tell your story through them. If you have to create secondary or tertiary characters -- even the villains! -- to look at other parts of the story, do that, and give them their own chapters. And then have friends (who are also readers) read the pages and have them tell you where you think you've hit the mark and where you might need to do more work. If it helps at all, I ALWAYS have to do more work. :-)

I love how easy the internet makes communicating with people I don't actually know!


Chatty Cathy said...

Congrats again on another wonderful pen pal letter!

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Thanks! I've (again) decided that I'm the biggest dork I know.

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