Thursday, October 11, 2007

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman:
From Warm to Hot to Downright Scalding

They say if your main character is having a good time, your reader isn’t. In other words, no one wants to read about happy people. You have to throw your character into hot water and keep her there.

For someone whose real-life conflict-avoidance meter seems stuck on “High,” this is not always easy. I like my main character. I don’t want her to get in trouble.

Folks like me can learn a lot from Adrienne Kress and her amazing adventure story, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman.

Alex (short for Alexandra) gets into one sticky situation after another in her quest to find a hidden treasure. And those sticky situations tend to turn into major misfortunes, which somehow morph into catastrophic calamities. And this happens over and over and over throughout the book.

Two examples:

(1) After being captured and abused by the sadistic Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society, Alex makes an escape attempt. The reader is so relieved. Enough of those old biddies and their cruelty! Alex has found an opportunity to make her getaway and has seized it!

Sometimes our bodies do things without our instructing them to. So it was that, in this case, Alex found her body running toward the door to the room, flinging it open, and racing down the hall to the grand stairwell.

Wonderful! Except...

Only when her body reached the front entrance did it decide to relinquish control over Alex and wait patiently for her to tell it what to do next. This was an unfortunate turn of events because, in this brief transition of power, Alex found herself rooted to the spot, giving Poppy and Rose ample time to catch up to her.

Poppy sneered at her as she grabbed Alex by the shoulder. Then Rose pinned Alex’s arms roughly behind her, and the two of them dragged Alex back to the staff room.

Turns out the torturous captivity has just begun for our poor heroine. The water is about to go from hot to scalding for her.

(2) Many calamities later in the story, we find Alex trying to reason with an angry and violent Extremely Ginormous Octopus on behalf of a movie director named Steve. (If you’re wondering what the heck octopi and movies have to do with finding hidden treasure, well, you’ll have to read the book.) Anyway, after much flailing of tentacles and breaking of windows, followed by some brilliant negotiations on Alex’s part, we are rewarded with a scene of calm and victory … a welcome respite for the conflict avoiders among us:

Steve nodded and smiled. It was only when he did that that Alex realized she had never seen him do it before. He suddenly seemed like a normal person. And she smiled back. And then the Exremely Ginormous Octopus smiled too.

But by now, we should know better ...

And then the door of the pub exploded off its hinges in the most violent and destructive way possible.

… so we’re off to the next sticky situation, which of course will deteriorate into a major misfortune, only to collapse into a catastrophic calamity.

Yes, when it comes to getting a character into hot water – and keeping her there – few can rise to the challenge as skillfully as Adrienne Kress. Nicely done!


J said...

Sounds like a really good read.

One of my first attempts at writing a children's novel, my main character had the terrible misfortune of being 'wonderful' and never doing anything that would cause anyone dismay. Talk about a real snooze.

Somehow I thought that she would cause the readers to feel safe. She probably did since they were all sound asleep.

Sionce then I have learned to allow 'bad' thing to happen to them. And some of them even do 'bad' things.

Thanks for the wonderful reminder.

Mindyalyse said...

Hi Linda,

You're so right about happy characters. I love them, but it doesn't make for interesting reading. Even harder than torturing my characters throughout a novel, was writing the ending of my first YA. I wanted everything tied up with a pretty pink bow, and all is not lost in the end, but it isn't the kind of ending I would have chosen. My characters demanded it...and I listened.

Welcome to LJ! I'm glad you posted a link to your regular blog. Is there any way you can double post, so we can reply on LJ, too?

LindaBudz said...

J, DOING bad things? What? My "child" would never do anything like that! Hmmm. You've given me something to think about there.

Mindy, That's a great idea! Will definitely look into it. Though sometimes it's all I can do to single post. :)