How do you ensure that you keep the ‘reality’ of your fictional world intact? Here are the pitfalls to avoid:
Something unusual happening in your fictional world that you haven’t prepared your reader for
A character that notices something they wouldn’t notice in real life, says something they wouldn’t say, or does something they wouldn’t do
In fantasy, a character not using a skill that you have given them when they should do so
Unrealistic dialogue that is used to convey information
In historical fiction particularly, an object, custom, behaviour that didn’t exist or wouldn’t have happened in the time in which your novel is set
Continuity. This is as important in fiction as it is in films. For example, if your character has his hands handcuffed behind his back, don’t have them in front of him two minutes later (as in Reservoir Dogs).
Much of writing is about building believable and compelling worlds, but those worlds must follow a logic that the reader can relate to, understand, and around which you can create interesting and dynamic stories.
You need to ‘show’ your reader information, not simply ‘tell’ them. This way you ‘expose’ the back story without being boring. And some of the best ways to do this are through dialogue, conflict, revealing a character’s thoughts and using physical props such as newspapers, letters and emails.
For example, have your characters talk to each other about events that have happened, what those events meant to them, how they felt and reacted to those events. But a word of warning. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know.
Make sure a flashback follows a strong scene. Flashbacks can be problematic in that they remove your character and therefore your reader from the action in your narrative. A strong preceding scene can ensure that the narrative is sustained.
Ensure your reader knows exactly where and when he is. Make the transition into the past clear.
Use the correct verb tense. If your main narrative is written in past tense, then the first sentences of the flashback should be in past perfect. You can then continue in simple past.
When the flashback is over, make sure the transition to the ‘present’ of the narrative is smooth and clear, so that your reader isn’t confused or disorientated.
Acknowledge the flashback. It should have an effect on the character who experienced it and on the narrative.
Grace Park and Shawn Mathews share a city, but seemingly little else. Coming from different generations and very different communities, their paths wouldn’t normally cross at all. As Grace battles confusion over her elder sister’s estrangement from their Korean-immigrant parents, Shawn tries to help his cousin Ray readjust to life on the outside after years spent in prison.
But something in their past links these two families. As the city around them threatens to spark into violence, echoing events from their past, the lives of Grace and Shawn are set to collide in ways which will change them all forever.
Beautifully written, and marked by its aching humanity as much as its growing sense of dread, Your House Will Pay is a powerful and moving family story, perfect for readers of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.
‘Your House Will Pay’ is inspired by the true story of the 1991 shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by a Korean convenience store owner. Set in 1991, a week after the beating of Rodney King, and against the backdrop of the LA riots, the novel explores the consequences of a similar incident – 15-year-old Ava Matthews, buying milk, is accused of stealing by the Korean store owner and shot dead. The shooting is witnessed by Ava’s little brother, Shawn
We catch up with Shawn in 2019, his older cousin Ray about to be released form prison. Things haven’t changed that much since 1991, and Grace and Miriam Park are attending a memorial for another black teenager, shot by the LAPD. Ava and Shawn’s Aunt Shelia is one of the speakers.
But there is more that connects these families. Another shooting brings the past out into the open for Grace, and she has to question everything – her parents, her upbringing, her place in the world.
One of the most interesting aspects of this novel for me was the way in which it explored how the past continually reaches into the future, and the way other people’s actions can have far‑reaching and sometimes tragic consequences for those who are blameless.
Shawn was the stand out character for me, written with such empathy. He has been through so much in his life and is trying his best to make a future for his family. But the one thing he can’t control is other people.
Timely, well-written, relevant, the sharp writing pulling no punches, this is a thought-provoking and important novel, that lays bare the injustices, the prejudices, the hate, discrimination, and the violence that many still endure every single day.
I must admit to having reservations when I was asked if I’d like to read ‘Speyside Memories: Boyhood and Beyond on River and Hill’ and ‘A Speyside Odyssey: A Natural History of The Atlantic Salmon’ but I was most pleasantly surprised and found both books very engaging. Many thanks to Alison Williams for the review copies. They are both beautifully presented.
‘Speyside Memories’ is filled with wonderful watercolours and cartoons by the author, along with descriptions of colourful, quirky local characters whose idiosyncrasies provided much fun for the youngsters—gamekeeper Eck Elder was one such.
The kenspeckle Eck Elder, an archetypal Scottish gamekeeper who might be spied covering ground on East Cromdale shortly after first light, was another source of mild ridicule. Eck was from the borders and retained the strong accent of his youth. His complaint, ‘flaks as big as pat lids’ (flakes as big as pot lids) in deploring…
A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.
The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface.
Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:
The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.
(That’s still too much).
And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence. ‘Beautiful’ like ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc. is a broad term – it’s subjective and means different things to different people. It adds nothing so is best avoided, except in dialogue. Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. You don’t want to sound like Joey from Friends!