Smart People Talking: Lynette Noni

Lynette Noni at Brisbane Supanova 2015
Lynette Noni at Brisbane Supanova 2015

Lynette Noni is a YA fantasy author, starting her series The Medoran Chronicles with the first exciting installment, Akarnae.

Lynette was one of the writers that attended Supanova in Brisbane this year, and had audiences incredibly impressed with her natural charm and passion for reading and writing.

During her Impossible Quests panel, with Isobelle Carmody and Juliet Marillier, she joined in the conversations around character death, epic questing, and writing  great stories.

Impossible Quests Panel

Quests are what we want to achieve.

We all dream of being better than we currently are, of changing the world or making an important impact. Epic quests, especially, give us a chance to see people taking those stands, and changing their worlds.

I completely suck at plotting! I tend to have a start and finish if I’m lucky. As long as you have an idea of the whole arc, it’s fine.

What was great about this panel was the different ways each author approached their writing. If Isobelle is driving at night, guided by headlights and a hope for the best, and Juliet has a full map at her side, and has studied it closely so she knows what to expect, Lynette’s approach is more a spontaneous road trip. It’s not about making the quickest time or finding the short cuts (which Juliet has quite possibly found). It’s about going from A to B and letting the journey be the point.

Sometimes it’s good to leave some strands open for people to wonder about.

Readers add their own experiences and understandings of the world to every story they read. It’s why so many of us see the same characters in vastly different ways. I’ve spoken in the past about the way we relate to the characters that somehow reflect either our ideal self, or some element of the life journey we’ve been on. We also tend to dislike the characters that remind us of people we’re currently annoyed at (looking at you, Tony Stark in the ‘Civil War’ trailer).

One of the reasons people get so frustrated with film adaptations is that it’s impossible for the characters to meet everyone’s expectations of how a character should look and sound. Those are the things we fill in without giving it a moments thought. We have preconceived ideas of what heroes and villains sound like (have a look at how many British actors play villains, and how many heroes have American accents), but especially if we’re white, we’re also more likely to assume the hero is generally like us (which is one of the reasons why people get upset when the hero doesn’t meet the general norms of storytelling, and isn’t a straight white guy).

In the same way that readers love imagining a character, we are more than happy to fill in minor gaps with our own experience or understanding.

Judging by the poor reception to the Deathly Hallows epilogue, sometimes less is more when it comes to tying up the loose ends at the end of a story. Yet, judging by fan reactions from Sleep No More (Season 9, episode 9 of Doctor Who), we’re also not really fond of not having the big questions answered by the end of the story. There’s a line between leaving some strands open and readers feeling like there’s a gaping plot hole there- the problem is that the line’s width varies with the reader. Some people like more strands to explore, some like everything neatly packaged. It’s one of those things that you’ll never please everyone with.

The beauty of the story is in the challenges that arise when you don’t take the easy route.

There are two conversations here: Deus ex machina, and the heroes journey.

Deus ex machina is cheating. Don’t do it. Easy fixes to problems aren’t the answer, because they’re never satisfying. In the last post, I mentioned Juliet talking about the limitations of magic being important. Without them, everyone has infinite power and they can solve problems nearly effortlessly.

Which is boring. Really, really, boring.

But those restrictions need to make sense, the same way that a character choosing the harder route has to make sense. If only girls under the age of 16 can do something, I’ll want to know why, because that’s quite a specific age range, and besides, what happens when they have their sweet 16th?

If a character has a choice of two paths, I’ll want to know why they chose the path they did, and I’ll want it to make sense in the context of the story. A convenient ‘meh, let’s see what happens’ won’t always be enough to justify that choice, especially if it’s an area they know well, they’ve been warned away from, or if there are cartoonishly clear signs that it’s a really bad idea.

Juliet also talked about characters learning something by the end of the novel, and that’s important here, too. A quick, easy journey doesn’t create opportunities for emotional growth. There are no real lessons in getting what you want effortlessly (and it’s not really a quest, is it?)

The challenges you throw at your character test them, train them, and shape them into someone new. They teach that character how to transcend their limitations, and to believe in themselves more and more. Perhaps its a baptism of fire, and it’s nothing we’d ever wish on actual human beings, but those challenges, and those difficult journeys, make the potential victory so much sweeter.

Don’t go easy on them, because easy victories aren’t as memorable, and characters breezing through life aren’t, either.

When I know I’m gonna kill characters x, y, and z, I distance myself from them. Writers surprised by their character’s deaths equals reader surprise.

In a way, this goes in opposition to Juliet’s idea that loving the character makes it more likely that the reader loves them, too. But it’s incredibly telling about Lynette’s writing style. For her, knowing a character is going to die means the very real risk of signposting it, and not having the death have such an impact on readers. It’s probably a good idea to go back and check to see if you’ve inadvertently distanced yourself from the characters you knew were going to die in the story.

The quest isn’t just about defeating the bad guy.

As soon as your quest is only about defeating someone, it loses some of it’s potential power and impact. There needs to be more than a hero/villain smack down, because really, what’s the hero going to learn other than how to duck or throw a better punch?

We want to see the characters grow and change. We want to see them learn something, and become something greater than they were at the start of the story. Seeing them win Ultimate Smack Down might be satisfying for a moment, but is it really worth hundreds of pages of reading?

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