Book Mash-Up Fun

You know how on Glee, they would mash-up songs to create a new song. Well, I was thinking about my books and wondered if they were a mash-up of books, what would their mash-up be?

Here are my book mash ups . . .

Swimming Sideways would be:

Have you read any of these books?

The first is Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride (2009). It’s about a girl who’s struggling with perfectionism and the divorce of her parents. A good read for anyone interested . . .And Dessen is coming out with a new book this year, I think.

The second is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book is about Melinda who starts her freshman year an outcast because of calling the cops at the end of summer party. There’s more than meets the eye, however. THIS is one of my FAVORITE YA novels of all time. And Laurie Halse Andrerson just published a book TODAY called SHOUT.

Whalerider by Witi Ihimaera is a beautiful story that explores a Maori girl facing the struggle between the patriarchal stance of the old world tradition her grandfather holds and the ushering in of a new era of cultural strength with the beauty of the youth. It is so beautifully written and grapples with themes of culture, gender and identity.

John Green’s Looking for Alaska (which is being adapted into a Hulu show) is a book that explores not only personal identity but what it truly means to live which I also explored recently on my IG for my review on Five Feet Apart.


The Ugly Truth would be

Gayle Foreman’s If I Stay forces a young woman caught in between life and death to examine her reasons for living as she determines if she should live or not after a fatal car accident carrying her and her family through the Oregon countryside.

The Lovely Bones of Alice Sebold is the unflinching revelation of a teen girl’s murder, and its aftermath on the family left behind told through the lenses of the murdered girl.

It might be a bit obvious that I am an admirer of Laurie Halse Anderson’s work. Twisted is her novel about a young man struggling not only with his own identity as a young man, but with his father ideas (and struggles) related to manhood.

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelson is the story of a young man named Cole who’s dealing with a lot of anger. After perpetrating a horrific crime against another young man - nearly killing him - Cole is offered the opportunity to face his punishment through Native American Circle Justice. What he doesn’t realize, however when he accepts this challenge instead of prison, is just how much it will change him.

What do you think? What would your mash-up for Swimming Sideways and/or The Ugly Truth be? Comment below.

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Character and Conflict Part2: Motivation

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Having read - a lot - a definite way for me to want to throw a book at the wall is when the narrative either loses sight of the conflict or an author struggles to develop one. As a reader, a lack of or an unclear conflict can feel like sitting in a staff meeting without a purpose. Whether you’re a writer who wants to write a more cohesive story, or a reader who’s developing their critique technique, one thing to look for in respect to believable and developed conflict is the main character’s motivation.

Characters - if developed as a round, dynamic, fleshed out character - are motivated to act. Their movements don’t just spontaneously combust into forward movement for the sake of moving plot. If they do, there is a problem with author insertion and adding to a reader’s awareness of a plot feeling contrived. If you aren’t sure why a character makes a choice in the action or dialogue, or feel confused by it, chances are the character’s motivation isn’t clearly defined or the author is intruding.

With respect to characterization and conflict: do you ask your protagonist, antagonist these questions?

With respect to characterization and conflict: do you ask your protagonist, antagonist these questions?

Motivation for a character, just like in our own lives outside of the pages, can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the internal means of propelling a character based on internal desires. Harry Potter, for example, in The Sorcerer and the Stone (J.K. Rowling) was motivated to understand who he was outside the Dursleys. He wanted to know more about his past which propelled him on a journey toward personal enlightenment. Intrinsic motivation. Frodo Baggins, in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (JRR Tolkien), however, was motivated to get the one ring out of the Shire in order to keep his home safe from an external danger. Extrinsic motivation. While the stories begin with a specific sort of motivation - internal or external - this doesn’t mean the motivation won’t change. We see both Harry and Frodo undergo changes along the journey to change what motivates their choices, just as that occurs in our own lives.

I took a wonderful class many years ago that helped me as a creative writer. The class was called The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. Character motivation was one idea which really stuck with me. A simple tool Mr. Watt presented which I have used over and over in my own writing is the following sentence:


If (Main Character) can (fill in the blank) then s/he can (fill in the blank).

Here’s an example from Star Wars: A New Hope:


If Luke Skywalker can get off Tatooine then he can be happy.


This is Luke’s reality in the opening of the movie. A clear motivation which propels his curiosity. The longer we follow his journey, however, his initial motivation shifts as the he moves forward in the hero’s journey. When his family is murdered, his motivation shifts. This is a mirror to reality; our motivation is constantly shifting based on attained goals, redefined wants, and personal desires.

So to mirror Luke’s shift in motivation:

If Luke Skywalker can help the rebellion he can avenge his family’s death.

It is important to follow the motivation to the root, however. As the above example shows there are still questions: Why does Luke want to avenge his family?

If Luke can avenge his family then he can clear his conscious for leaving them.

A round and dynamic character’s motivation will always modify and shift as the journey shapes her; that is what makes her more relatable to readers. These changes in motivation whether intrinsic or extrinsic are often rooted in the journey (which if you aren’t familiar with Chris Vogler’s work on the Joseph Campbell monomyth be sure to look it up). As the story moves forward, the motivation serves as a guide for interaction with other characters, propels the main character’s choices, and determines forward action which is believable rather than contrived.

Think about your favorite novel or your current work in progress. Can you create an If/can, then/can statement?

Up Next: Pacing your story . . .





Character and Conflict, part one: Types of Conflict

As a reader, a teacher of literature, and a writer, next to character, conflict is the most critical element of literature. Conflict, the problem which the main character must overcome, is what drives the story from beginning to end. The conflict is that which makes the audience cheer or jeer. It is what keep us opening the book and reading into the wee hours of the morning. Conflict is what builds tension and explores the very essence of our own psyche. Haven’t you ever thought: what would I do in that situation?

A good book has a clear, relatable and exciting conflict. It’s what keeps us reading.

A good book has a clear, relatable and exciting conflict. It’s what keeps us reading.

Without conflict, the plot line flattens out. In a previous blog, I explored the difference between a character-driven story and a plot-driven one, and would say that regardless of how the story is driven, conflict is still present and necessary. A plot line in either case is still essential to move narrative from beginning to end, and is only able to occur because conflict is present.

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The types of conflict we find in stories are categorized as follows:

  • Character (protagonist) versus Character (antagonist)

Character versus Character is the tried and true conflict of one person against another (or a few others). Think:  Harry versus Voldemort, Luke versus Darth Vader, Katniss Everdeen against President Snow.

The typical conflict: one character versus another.

The typical conflict: one character versus another.

  • Character versus Society

Character versus society is the exploration of a character’s conflict with the ideals or constructs of the society in which their journey takes place.  For example, while Katniss Everdeen is pitted against the power struggle with President Snow (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins), the conflict also delves into what President Snow and District One represent (opulence and classism, abuse of power, etc). Or in Harry Potter’s journey in the The Order of The Phoenix, the character versus character is maintained with his conflict with Voldemort, but there is added complexity in the struggle against the Ministry of Magic which include fascism, racism, and abuse of power. A favorite example, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nick’s descent in the high society of 1920’s New York. These society constructs force the character to take a stand or change perspective which stretch the tension and develop the conflict.

  • Character versus Nature

Character versus nature is the survival story. This is the main character facing the destruction of a natural disaster,  hunger in a famine, or being lost in the woods and finding a way to survive the long winter. Think: Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet or The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin.

Elements of nature provide conflict.

Elements of nature provide conflict.

  • Character versus Self

Character versus self is the tried and true struggle to overcome personal attitudes and perceptions. In Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, for example, Junior must face his perceptions about himself as a Native American to determine his worth.

Though this isn’t strictly character versus self, I would argue that many novels don’t adhere to only one conflict which is a mirror to the reality of our own human experience. We struggle with ourselves, but simultaneously we struggle with our boss, or our spouse, or our parents, or our children, and at the same time with what we hear is happening on the news. Conflict in our lives doesn’t happen in isolation and often doesn’t for our characters either. In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Scout struggles with societal perceptions about race and gender (character versus society) while at the same time learning about her own understanding of those things (character versus self). In a recent story I read called I am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall, the main character faces her inner conflict coping with a new disability after an accident while trying to survive alone in the wild, AND eventually facing off with her father’s murderers. Three conflicts layered into the hero’s journey of this character (believe it or not, it worked!)

The internal struggle is the epitome of character versus self.

The internal struggle is the epitome of character versus self.

If you examine your current Work In Progress or the novel you’re currently reading, can you identify the conflict? I’m reading Cassandra Clare’s Queen of Air and Darkness and I’m not sure I can at 200 pages of 800 . . . there’s a lot going on (and I might want to throw the book at the wall) but more on that later..

Next up: I’ll explore the idea of character motivation and the tried and true magic statement I learned that has helped me stay on point.




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