Thoughts & Sayings (December 2012)


Here are some thoughts and sayings I posted on Twitter and/or Facebook in November. To my knowledge, I made these up (for better or for worse). Sit back, relax, and enjoy the write!

Encouraging Words

1. The same inputs can yield different results if you simply force them.

inputs

2. A fish needs a bicycle to get from one place to another faster than on foot.

fish bicycle

3. I can’t think of anything to say. I guess I’ll use hand gestures.

gestures

Twisted Words

4. My sayings are so corny that I know one day I will reap what I sow.

corny

Holidays & Events

5. Spotted at a protest following the 2004 U.S. Election.

kanada

6. I quit cold turkey for Thanksgiving.

coldturkey

7. This Thanksgiving, be thankful you’re not a turkey. Oh, never mind.

thankful

8. China announces its new leaders. Snow White is not among them.

9. Happy Election Day! If you’re not American, just tell a pollster how you’d vote if you could.

election

10. In a goofy, Mickey Mouse deal, Disney buys LucasFilm. Coming soon: “Star Wars – The Musical,” “Star Wars on Ice,” and “Star Wars Episodes VII – to Infinity and Beyond.”

Random Musings

11. Hasbro should make a Clue board game featuring blockbuster movies, people, places and things, where Harry Potter did it on Tatooine with a phaser or Spock did it at Hogwarts with a light saber.

12. Get hundreds of new Twitter followers every day. Tweet good content.

13. Omy – the symbol for methane on the Periodic Table.

methane

14. This morning my child went from tired to wired in 15 minutes.

15. Why is a car a lemon and not a carrot?

lemon

Click here to visit the Thoughts & Sayings page, or click here to read the previous batch of Thoughts & Sayings.

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

buythumb[3]M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories calledReal Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Storiesand Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. All characters and events appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons or events is purely coincidental. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Elements of a Book Phenomenon (Part Two)


bookphenomIn part one of a two-part series examining what transforms a book series into a cultural phenomenon, I identified three such series: Harry Potter, Twilight, and with its March 23, 2012, debut as a major motion picture, The Hunger Games. Each one contains common story elements that transformed them into literary sensations.

If you aspire to write the next book phenomenon, you should consider adding the following elements to your story.

Warning — this post includes a few plot spoilers.

Genres: The series should be in the Young Adult genre with crossover appeal to an adult audience. It should attract readers from both genders. It should have elements of Speculative Fiction (Fantasy or Science Fiction) with Romance between the lead character and one or more supporting characters. Love triangles work.

  • Harry Potter: Young Adult and Fantasy with Romance in the later books.
  • Twilight: Young Adult, Fantasy, and Romance.
  • Hunger Games: Young Adult, Fantasy, and Romance in the first two books.

Setting: The setting should involve contemporary society with elements of fantasy. If the story is set in the future, it should be realistic enough to appeal to a large audience.

  • Harry Potter: A magical world co-exists with the muggle (human) world of Great Britain.
  • Twilight: Vampires and werewolves co-exist with humans on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
  • Hunger Games: Post-apocalyptic world set in the former United States with remnants of American culture.

Protagonists: The lead character must be young with a strong personality and power(s) that makes them special, yet human with vulnerabilities that make them unforgettably unique. Readers should be able to identify personally with the protagonist.

  • Harry Potter: Harry Potter, the boy wizard.
  • Twilight: Bella Swan, a girl with a unique connection to vampires and werewolves.
  • Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen, a girl who possesses extraordinary survival skills that help her thrive in a post-apocalyptic world.

Supporting characters/sidekicks: The protagonist should have close, loyal friends who will help him or her achieve an epic goal and defeat a formidable foe. They may be romantically involved with the lead character. A trio usually works, and both genders should be represented. The three should have distinct personalities but be compatible.

  • Harry Potter: Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.
  • Twilight: Edward Cullen and Jacob Black.
  • Hunger Games: Peeta Mellack and Gale Hawthorne.

Sage: The series should include a sage who helps guide the protagonist and their friends on a quest. The sage need not be old, wise, or male; they simply have to be the primary source the protagonist turns to for guidance.

  • Harry Potter: Albus Dumbledore.
  • Twilight: Carlyle Cullen.
  • Hunger Games: Haymitch Abernathy.

Family tragedy: The protagonist should experience a major family tragedy, perhaps losing a parent or both parents, which forces them to seek revenge, retribution, or reconciliation. Although the tragedy should be dramatic enough to build sympathy for the character, the emotional scars should not be too great for the character to overcome.

  • Harry Potter: Harry lost both parents.
  • Twilight: Bella’s parents divorced; she moved in with her father who had little experience caring for children.
  • Hunger Games: Katniss’ father died in a mine blast, leaving her to care for her mother and sister.

Strong villain: The antagonist should be a strong and memorable personality at the center of the protagonist’s struggle. There may be more than one antagonist in the series, but one should be the principle villain. They should have at least one redeeming trait or quirky behavior that makes them appealing to readers.

  • Harry Potter: Voldemort / Tom Riddle.
  • Twilight: Aro the Volturi.
  • Hunger Games: President Coriolanus Snow.

Coming of age: The protagonist needs to grow up and mature as the series progresses in a literary rite of passage. It’s better to start the story when the character is younger so that by the end of the series they have reached adulthood.

  • Harry Potter: Seven books; each one representing an academic year at Hogwarts School.
  • Twilight: In the first book, Bella is a 17-year-old high school student. In the final book, she is an adult and married with child.
  • Hunger Games: Katniss is 16 in the first book and 18 by the end of the series. Each book shows her rite of passage from innocence to fighting in the Hunger Games and leading a rebellion.

Epic tension: The story should include an epic quest, conflict, struggle, or tension that drives the story. Good versus evil is an old standby that works, but the story can also involve shades of gray that address contemporary moral and ethical issues. The story should have a decisive goal that, if met, will resolve the conflict.

  • Harry Potter: A good versus evil struggle between Harry Potter and Voldemort that turned gray when they learned that they shared a magical bond.
  • Twilight: A human entering the world of vampires and werewolves disturbed their fragile truce and violated accepted laws and customs. The imbalance led to an epic struggle to find a new equilibrium.
  • Hunger Games: A good versus evil struggle between Katniss Everdeen and President Snow. Growing up in a violent, oppressive world, Katniss was thrust into a struggle against the existing world order that culminated in an epic battle between the Capitol and the rebels.

Action and emotion: The story should balance action and emotion. It’s no coincidence that Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games were written by women who excelled at bringing out the emotion and affection in their characters and as well as delivering action and adventure needed to move the plot. Each deals with difficult topics such as death; at least one major character dies or is near death in all three.

  • Harry Potter: Dating and the deaths of several major characters.
  • Twilight: Dating, marriage, child-birth, and some deaths.
  • Hunger Games: Dating and the deaths of several major characters.

Original reinterpretation of popular themes: The series should exploit a theme in popular culture that appeals to readers. All three reinterpret familiar stories in an original way that attracts a large audience. Many of the authors’ ideas are not new, but the way they package them is new and exciting to readers.

  • Harry Potter: British history, magic, myths and legends.
  • Twilight: Myths and legends, particularly about vampires and werewolves.
  • Hunger Games: A post-apocalyptic world, war, and reality TV.

These are a few of the story elements common to the Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. Adding them to your own story won’t guarantee that it will be the next major book phenomenon, but they will improve your odds. If you plan to write an epic series, make sure that you’ve included all of them in your story. Rather than mimicking their elements, try something new, and you might just find yourself on the cusp of the next big literary sensation.

This is part two of a two-part series examining what transforms a book series into a cultural phenomenon. Click here to read part one.

bookphenom2

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He recently published a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an ebook and in print on Amazon.com. His upcoming book, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be released on March 31, 2012. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Elements of a Book Phenomenon (Part One)


I recently read Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The trilogy is the latest book sensation to follow on the heels of two other blockbuster series, The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I read all three series in order to understand why they became runaway hits—and for fun, of course. As anyone not named Rip Van Winkle knows, Harry Potter became a cultural phenomenon with books, movies, and a litany of tie-ins. Twilight is well on its way to doing the same, although its popularity may wind down after part two of the movie Breaking Dawn hits theaters in November 2012.

The newest book sensation to take hold in popular culture seems to be The Hunger Games. With the first movie adaptation set to release in March 2012, the trilogy may catch fire like its protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, did in the Hunger Games. Some believe that The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson featuring Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was the next mega-series to follow Twilight. It has a large international following and not one, but two, movie adaptations. I would argue, however, that although it has elements of a book phenomenon, The Millennium Trilogy has not quite crossed over to literary immortality (except in Sweden, perhaps). That the movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara was a disappointment at the box office supports my assumption.

Why do some book series, like The Millennium Trilogy, become bestsellers, while a few, like The Twilight Saga, become phenomena? What sets Harry Potter, a book series that Wikipedia estimated earned more than $450 million and counting (excluding the films), apart from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels that have grossed more than $350 million to date? Or The Hunger Games from another series some have compared to it, Gone by Michael Grant? Some books become bestsellers, even blockbusters, but never cross the nebulous line to cultural sensation. Movie adaptations play a role in whether a book series becomes a phenomenon, although many bestsellers are made into film but do not redefine popular culture. Having a large publishing company willing to sell licensing rights to hype a series helps, but it does not explain how some books catch fire while others fizzle. For those who are skeptical that a series like Twilight should be considered a phenomenon, keep in mind that a book does not have to be critically acclaimed to be a phenomenon; it has to influence popular culture. Based on this standard, Twilight certainly has.

If you are an author planning to write the Next Great Novel, how do you write a series that will become a book phenomenon? I have not written one and cannot draw from my own experience to tell you how to do it, but I have read and studied many series that became book sensations. Here’s an obvious trajectory for bestselling book series. The first novel must become a bestseller with each successive novel building a larger audience. Once the books become a commercial success, movie adaptations attract a wider following and reinforce the books’ messages. What transforms these series into phenomena, however, is the final phase in their evolution—they build a reciprocal relationship with popular culture, become synonymous with it, and redefine it. Consider the words “Hogwarts,” “muggles,” “Voltari,” and “imprint.” Each has made its way from the pages of Harry Potter or Twilight into the popular lexicon. A book series becomes a phenomenon when other books and media copy its formula, echoing the same themes as the original. Most copycats, however, never replicate the success of the original. The proliferation of paranormal romances, from vampires to fairy tales, is a result of Twilight’s impact on culture. None are as successful.

In addition to the series I mentioned above, others as diverse as The Godfather, Gone With The Wind, and Lord of the Rings have become book phenomena. Each draws heavily on cultural themes that capture readers’ imaginations and renders images into a strong story that, in turn, shapes popular culture. The Godfather by Mario Puzo drew from images of mafia families in New York and Italy and distilled them into a masterpiece that redefined in our minds what it meant to be a mobster. Gone With The Wind captured the imaginations of Depression-era audiences that recalled the American Civil War in the years before World War II. Many saw the idyllic world of southern plantations as a way to escape their own; the triumphs and tragedies of the protagonists, Scarlett and Rhett, mirrored readers own lives. Loosely based on geopolitics during the era of fascism and World War II, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings defined the fantasy genre for generations to come. Virtually every fantasy written since then has at least some elements of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Now, it’s time for The Hunger Games. This intriguing series touches on contemporary themes of modern warfare, the media, and reality television, and combines them with society’s infatuation with post-apocalyptic worlds. Few aspects of Collins’ books are original, but the way in which she turns popular images and ideas into a compelling story reverberates in a way that may transform it into the next book phenomenon. Whether The Hunger Games crosses over to literary immortality depends on how its movie adaptation performs at the box office. If ticket sales are disappointing, as is highly unlikely, it could go the way of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, a book series whose upward trajectory was cut short by a poorly made film.

I have identified some key elements a book series should have in order to become a book phenomenon. Stay tuned for part two, where I discuss these elements in detail.

This is part one of a two-part series examining what transforms a book series into a phenomenon. Click here for part two of the series.

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He recently published a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an ebook and in print on Amazon.com. His upcoming book, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be released on March 31, 2012. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.