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Up Your (Story) Game: Seven Tips

Cheryl's Musings: Up Your (Story) Game: Seven Tips

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Monday

Up Your (Story) Game: Seven Tips

I wrote last week about games in middle grade fiction—especially in books that appeal to boy readers. Great, you may be thinking, but how do I do that?

If you’re like me, maybe you weren’t the most athletic kid in the PE class…maybe you were more likely to spend your spare time with your nose in a book than kicking around a soccer ball...

bookworm*Photo courtesy of kainr on Flickr Creative Commons 

But if you write for young readers, you don’t want to limit yourself to fellow geeks and bookworms (much as we love them). And that means that many of the kids in your intended audience will love games: sports, contests, puzzles, challenges, games of all forms and shapes and sizes. Actually, even geeks and bookworms love games—different ones, maybe, but still games. So why not consider whether a game might play a role in your next project? For instance, a game can…

  1. Illustrate a character’s strength or weakness. Without Quidditch, Harry wouldn’t have nearly as many opportunities to to shine. Quidditch is also where Harry gets to show off his abilities on a broomstick—an essential skill later in the book. Sometimes a game can be the perfect place for your character to excel when he’s failing everywhere else.
  2. Advance your plot. J. K. Rowling also uses Quidditch as the backdrop for multiple major plot points. In the first book, Quidditch is the setting for one of the first attacks on Harry—revealing both that someone is out to get him and throwing out Snape as the red herring. Later, Quidditch is the vehicle that brings the entire wizarding community together in one place. You can also use an ongoing challenge to unfold a secondary plot that mirrors your main story.
  3. Provide a familiar forum in which to endanger your character. Your readers understand the idea of games and competition. They also understand that a “game” can provide opportunity for physical intimidation; actions that wouldn’t be tolerated on the playground are easily dismissed on the playing field. 
  4. Subject your hero to public humiliation. When a game is public—and especially when others are counting on the character to help them reach victory—the opportunities for failure and humiliation multiply. You can up the stakes by making your character’s challenge public—and a game is one vehicle with which to do so.
  5. Depict unique features of your world. When your story takes place in unfamiliar territory—whether that means 18th century England, a fantasy setting with werewolves, or modern day Peru—you need to take every opportunity for world-building. Games can reflect a culture’s wealth, beliefs, and priorities. For instance, in Epic, an action-packed novel by Conor Kostick, members of a peace-loving society use a massively multiplayer online computer game for conflict resolution.
  6. Create character depth. When you think of your main character’s interests and abilities, is there an area where he can excel? An area where he might, willingly or unwillingly, compete? Just as you might give your character a hobby, you can give him a competitive arena that he cares about.
  7. Create puzzles for your character to solve. In Chasing Vermeer, author Blue Balliett presents her characters with puzzles and pentominos (mathematical puzzle pieces) on their quest to recover a missing painting. And, of course, Harry, Ron, and Hermione each have to overcome a challenge during the climax of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Ron triumphs in the chess game; Hermione solves a logic puzzle; and Harry races his broomstick to capture the needed key. Games and related challenges can add creative plot twists and turns to your story.

If you have more ideas about how to use a game to further story, additional examples, or inspiration to share, I’d love to hear from you!

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6 Comments:

At May 2, 2011 at 8:52 AM , Blogger Julie Musil said...

I love these ideas! I've never thought of games this way, but you're so right. It's a great way to pack a lot of story in.

 
At May 2, 2011 at 3:34 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Julie--thank you! I guess this is what comes of writing for middle school boys. I have games on the brain!

 
At May 3, 2011 at 7:18 AM , Blogger PW.Creighton said...

Excellent post. It's always about the details. Details like games, beliefs, culture in general are responsible for building believable worlds. Details like games can be utilized in many ways but overall a story would be weaker without these strong details.

 
At May 3, 2011 at 8:38 AM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi PW--and thanks! Yep, details are key. Finding which details to include--that's the trick :)

 
At May 15, 2011 at 8:48 AM , Blogger Girl Friday said...

Hi, just found your blog through Andrea Mack, great to find more people writing about MG! I think games are great for exploring character, but personally I love puzzles or riddles in books even more.

I thought The City of Ember was clever, giving readers a half-destroyed letter to decode. I think young readers love to try to figure things out like that as they read a book - in fact, adults do too, I'm sure it's why crime novels are so popular.

 
At May 16, 2011 at 12:54 AM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Ooh, City of Ember is a terrific example! I love puzzles and riddles, too. They're tremendous fun because the reader gets to figure them out alongside the characters, but I find them challenging to create!

Thanks for stopping by--very nice to meet you :)

 

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