The following is a commentary post about my young-adult fantasy novel, Wishes. It may contain spoilers and I don’t want to ruin the book for you if you haven’t had a chance to read it. Please visit this page to go to the beginning and read all about Wishes.
So first off we need to realize there is a fourteen year gap between chapter 1 and chapter 2. This of course is to give Jill, and Jack, a chance to grow up.
Jill comes home from school and we start to learn a little about her life as we hear her thoughts and watch her meet her grandmother for the first time.
I know what you’re thinking, “Wait, she meets her grandmother for the first time?”
Something happened in those fourteen years that isn’t completely clear to the reader, and that’s because it isn’t completely clear to Jill either. Jill doesn’t find out about her true past until chapter 4, and then she doesn’t believe it until about chapter 11. And now I have a soap box.
How many books have you read where miraculous things start to occur, YA fiction or adult fiction, and everyone just buys into it. They’re like, oh, yeah, magic, I believe it. In my mind that makes characters unrealistic. Honestly, if I saw someone using magic, real magic, with wands and staffs and glowing purple flaming balls and a magical duel type setting, I would do a double take.
Jill is like that, a normal skeptical human being. And for some reason over the past few years she hasn’t had any contact with her fairy godmother grandmother. As far as she knows she’s a typical fourteen-year-old girl. That’s why she’s confused when her grandmother tells her she should answer the phone before it even rings.
So in my first draft this chapter, and this conversation didn’t exist. I had squeezed a lot of the concepts from the next few chapters into one really big slow and boring chapter full of “telling.” I’ve learned a little since then. I wanted to make this chapter have more action, and so instead of me telling you how Jill thinks about and remembers the phone call with her dad, I decided to just show you the phone call with her dad.
Why doesn’t her dad play a bigger role in the story? Well, it’s typical in many YA fiction books for the parents to be on the fringes of the story so that the kids have plenty of room to grow and develop. For Harry Potter it was easy cause he didn’t have parents. And they were essentially at a boarding school with no parents around.
For Jill she gets to have plenty of room to grow because, as you’ll see over the next few chapters, the hope of the world is placed squarely on her shoulders. Here in the beginning we explain why her dad isn’t around. In a few chapters we’ll explain how we get Grandma Ruth out of the story so that everything is up to Jill.
So after Jill gets to Grandma Ruth’s house she’s attracted to a dimly pulsing light in the room at the end of the hallway. And then she’s told she can’t go into the room.
I don’t know if someone has written this rule down anywhere, but you’ll notice in stories across all genres and mediums that if you tell the protagonist early enough not to do something, that something will inevitably happen. It should come as no surprise to readers that Jill does get to see what’s in the room eventually.
But every chapter needs a hook to the next chapter to build momentum and keep us reading. My hope is that readers will want to keep reading into the next chapter because they also are wondering what’s behind that door. Does it work here? What do you think?