I posted this as a comment a few days ago, about a poetry-writing contest for high-school-age people: Here’s the link to Narrative High High School Writing Contest: https://www.narrativemagazine.com/narrative-in-the-schools-program/seventh-annual-contest. You’ll read there about the rules and awards. I wrote to the contest to see if home-schooled kids can participate, and the answer is yes. The contest folks wrote back with these criteria for home-schoolers:
1. Be within our age bracket stipulation (grades 9-12 in the U.S. or internationally)
2. List as their school the name of the accredited home-schooling curriculum they follow
3. Have a “teacher” representative—whether that’s a parent or other tutor
Please say if you enter, and definitely if you win.
On December 17, 2020, Lysander Grey wrote, Does anyone have advice on writing “slice of life” stories? One of my current WIPs is a long-term story following the growth of the MC. That’s fine, and I do have it fairly planned, but I’m running into trouble with showing her changing and not bogging down the plot too much. I suppose it’s the doldrums in a sense, but rather necessary doldrums because the reader needs proof that she’s changing before she becomes someone different.
Right now I’m stuck in an area that needs multiple (mostly) happy scenes in a row before more Drama (TM) can get introduced, and… the only time I’m very good at happy scenes, unfortunately, is as setup for something to go Terribly Wrong. Happy scenes with no immediately linked tragic payoff are proving to be troublesome.
Erica wrote back, Could you try writing comedy? Not necessarily comedic scenes in your WIP, but a story whose entire purpose is to be funny. That way, you can experiment with having tension without drama, if that makes sense. And letting your characters play off each other can help show how your MC is changing, especially if she responds in an unexpected way.
I’m with Erica about small, unexpected changes in an MC that form a dotted line that the reader follows and thus understands her transformation.
It’s hard to write back-to-back happy scenes. Readers need something to worry about, although the worry can be mild, like an itch in the middle of your back. It’s not going to kill you, but it’s there, out of reach, and you have to keep reading to discover when and how it gets scratched.
(Clinically, there is such an itch, notalgia paresthetica, benign, long lasting, going away eventually, between your shoulder blades, perpetually an inch beyond your finger, invented by a minor demon in a mean universe. Mine did finally vanish.)
Lysander Grey’s question called to mind the novels of Kevin Henkes, especially The Birthday Room, which I remember as gentle and tender and full of slice-of-life. At the heart of the story is family conflict, but the conflict plays out among people who love each other. No one is tossed out or runs away. There’s no violence. I don’t think there’s even much anger. Yet my eyes were glued to the page. Kevin Henkes, in my opinion, is a master of slice-of-life and always worth reading.
I’m also thinking about Anne of Green Gables, which is a coming-of-age story, not dark, also full of slice-of-life moments (like dying her hair green, falling off a roof, breaking a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head) that nudge Anne toward character change. Author L. M. Montgomery sets up Anne’s personality in technicolor detail: she has a temper and an imagination. She’s over-the-top dramatic, emotional, loving and lovable, and given to getting into funny and disastrous scrapes. Also, she’s capable of learning from the messes she gets into.
We can adapt Montgomery’s method. We think first about the transformation our plot calls for. Then we plan our MC. How can we make her different from what she needs to become? What traits will have to change? What will remain? She has to start out as someone we can imagine turning into the personality we need.
Next step takes us to the slice-of-life scenes. What can we cause to happen as a result of the person she is? For example, Anne hates her red hair, and she’s impulsive, which leads to an attempt to dye her hair the color she wants, resulting in green hair. This disaster plants a seed of a lesson that she shouldn’t instantly act on her impulses in the future. Erica’s idea comes in here; there’s a lot of humor in Anne’s scrapes.
For Anne, growth comes slowly and therefore believably. Montgomery sticks mostly to showing, but late in the book she does this little bit of showing: There were other changes in Anne no less real than the physical change. For one thing, she became much quieter. Perhaps she thought all the more and dreamed as much as ever, but she certainly talked less. We too can drop in a tiny bit of this, though most of the change should be shown in action, thoughts, and dialogue.
My novel that most features character transformation is The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre. My MC Perry is born into the underclass Bamarre but is raised as an overlord Lakti, and she’s ignorant of her birth. Lakti tend to be rigid, not highly emotional, restrained, direct, not literary. Bamarre are polite, accommodating, emotional, poets, and admirers of poetry.
Except for her love for poetry, Perry exemplifies the Lakti personality. When her origins are discovered, she has to live with her Bamarre family. A fairy tasks her with lifting her people out of servitude, but first she has to become more like them.
Though this is a fantasy, Perry doesn’t drink a potion. She has to work at changing herself, and she blunders in several slice-of-life scenes. The reader sees Bamarre life at the ground level, how they behave among themselves, how they act with Lakti, what their customs and habits are.
So what do we have?
- A plot reason for a transformation.
- A character designed to have difficulty making the change.
- A character for whom success will be hard but believable when achieved.
- Slice-of-life scenes through which we show our MC mess up on her way to change, whether she wants the change or not.
Here are three prompts:
- The tortoise and the hare are about to race. Neither knows that the other is a shapeshifter. Both think they’re certain to win. Write the race.
- The chicken’s wings have been clipped, yet she has to cross the road, a busy interstate, to save her chicks. Traffic is constant. She will have to become Super Chicken to do it. Don’t let her fail. Write the story.
- The evil fairy has managed, fifty years ahead of time, to end the slumber of Sleeping Beauty and everyone in the castle. Her prince won’t be born for another thirty or so years. More important, though, the hedge is still intact and still impregnable. SB and everyone else will starve if they can’t get to the outside world. And if they do get out, chaos reigns in the kingdom after decades of misrule. Write the story of the transformation of SB from pampered royal to capable leader.
Have fun, and save what you write!