Sunday, November 13, 2011

I Promise I Shall Never Break Keep This Promise

Today, I'm going to tell you the story of a small being with furry feet who journeyed to a volcano, lost some friends and a finger, and, most terrifying of all, faced a giant spider (and lost.)

Once upon a time, there was a young boy named Frollo Satchelouts (who wasn't that young in the book. What book? Not important). His parents died when he was very young, and he was taken in by his uncle, who was actually very mean. But luckily when he was eleven, he received an email inviting him to a magical school where he made lots of friends and almost died lots of times but really loved it anyway. And he fell in love, and he got attacked by giant spiders, and he beat the bad guy(s). The end!

What do you mean that wasn't the right story? WHO IS THE AUTHOR HERE?? How would YOU know what the right story is????

. . . What do you mean I promised something different? Oh, the thing about the lava rock and the spilled innards and the spider? Well, it didn't work out; I like this story better. And there were still spiders, so QUIT WHINING.

Have you guys had that silent conversation with an author before? How about in your own manuscripts if you're a writer? Yeah-huh, I thought so. There is a silent contract in the world of literature called "promises to the reader," which is signed by the author the moment they put pen to paper. It goes something like:

I, Author, do solemnly swear that--in addition to being up to no good--I shall keep the promises I make in my writing.

And that's it. The reader doesn't have to sign--this is one-sided. (Yeah, well, life's not fair, so don't complain.) Yes, you're the author, and it's your world, and you can do whatever you want. No, the reader won't automatically like your book just because you keep all your promises.

Do it anyway.

Did anyone notice it's not Thursday? It's Sunday! Lovely day outside (actually, I don't know, because I'm writing this Friday night, which is also not Thursday). Great day of the week--the day of rest, the day of peace, the day of rejuvination. Now, I know that a few posts ago, I promised that I would blog a Monday Message every Monday, and a Thursday Thought, every Tuesday, but . . . you know . . . I wanted Thursday Thoughts on Sunday instead. Because I'm the blogger, and I can do that, no matter what I said back there in chapter one that karate-chop post. I know I did a few like I was supposed to, and it really looked like I was going to follow through on it, but . . . Sunday is the new Thursday. Also, I had the blog hop going, so I didn't want to override it. That's a legitimate excuse, right??

Good excuse--yeah, no, doesn't matter. It's a broken promise. Today is not Thursday, and I promised Thursday Thoughts on Thursday. Even though Sunday might work just as well (which it doesn't, haha), I promised Thursday.

I started out with a thinly-veiled (okay, non-veiled) reference to Lord of the Rings, and I'll tell you why. Because I just watched the first movie? Yes! No! Because Lord of the Rings shows this perfectly many times. Let's focus on the council at Rivendell just because.


Elrond: "[The ring] must be cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came." (Awesome, so we now know that if the good guys are going to win in this story, the ring has to be tossed into a specific volcano. Sweet!)

Frodo: "I will take the ring to Mordor." (Double awesome with a cherry on top! Frodo is going to make it to Mordor, giant troll or no giant troll, split-personalitied creature or no split-personalitied creature, hot stud from Gondor or no hot stud from Gondor, giant spider or no giant spider (and the list goes on!))


Gollum: "PRECIOUS!!!!" (Just kidding--for once he's silent. But you can picture him hugging the ring and falling from the high dive into the volcano, right?)

Frodo: "I'm here, Sam." (That's it! This one epic line where we see Frodo standing dead-fish-eyed on this ledge over the toxic fumes of lava, while he says, "Here it is. Remember that lovely city by the waterfall with the leaves changing color in the fall, where I made a promise before I had dead-fish eyes? I made it. I'm here.")

When promises are kept, it just makes your heart soar, doesn't it? Because it means we took that journey and we reached the end. I CANNOT EXPRESS HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS AND SO I SHALL PUT IT IN ALL CAPS AND MAKE IT VERY LONG SO YOUR EYES ARE DRAWN TO IT--STORIES ARE ALL ABOUT JOURNIES. That Frodo right there on your right is not the same one that set out from Rivendell, and we got to make that journey with him, because the author promised we could. If Frodo got kidnapped by Faramir and then heroically died at the hands of a Nazgul and Sam had to heroically carry the ring the rest of the way in honor of his dead friend IT WOULDN'T WORK. Not after the promise of Frodo has already been set.

Keep your promises. You can't trick your readers. They aren't going to settle for the excuse of, "I'm the author, and this worked better." If it worked better, then go back and make it work from the beginning.

Now, you might not even realize you made a promise you have to keep! J.R.R.Tolkien could have just been turning out dialogue and not thought twice about Frodo's statement. If so, he might have had Boromir kill him to take the ring, then had Aragorn overcome Boromir and have to deal with the fact that he feels he will give in to weakness before he can destroy the ring. Sounds like it could work, right? No! Because the reader will say, "Wait, but you had Frodo carry the ring. You said Frodo would take it to Mordor. If it wasn't going to happen, why did you tell me it would?"

So read through your manuscript and look for promises. What do you intend to keep and what did you not mean to make? Not just in dialogue either, but in prose. Do the details your characters notice come into play later on? Because if you focus on it, you're making the promise that it will.

I heard an author once phrase this perfectly (I believe it was either Karen Hoover or Sarah M. Eden, but don't quote me on that). She said, "If your character walks into a room and notices a gun on the mantelpiece, there had better be some shooting coming up."

So shoot someone. Get the jewelry to the volcano. Give the boy dead eyes and shoo him on his way to the barren wasteland.

Or, if you can't, then don't have them notice the gun.

~ Lizzy
Current word count today: 1,926
Current song: Broken Vow by Josh Groban
Current quote: "I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise! 'Don't you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.' And I don't mean to. I don't mean to." ~ Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

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