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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pieces of Me (2): The Bonus Round!

Last week I talked about Sweet Spot Maps and including pieces of yourself in the book you write. The idea that you include a little element of yourself in your characters is not new. Every writer leaves echoes of their fears, hopes, and dreams in their work. Tolkein left spiders, McCaffery left the gift of flight, Dawn Cook left her spirit of adventure and a hoped for unlimited expense account.

Now I want to talk about another layer of story writing, the Bonus Round!

Do you know what the Bonus Round is?

It's the author's signature. The little inflections in voice and character that say, "I was here!" It's the little additions to the story line that give another layer of meaning and joy to the reader.

A tangible example of this is the picture above. A little girl pouting in the blue bonnets. It's really not the most amazing picture ever, though it's cute. But if you know the story behind it, the picture is fantastic! It has meaning. The little girl is pouting because she can't run with her friend. She's wearing black and hot pink cowboy boots. And the field of blue bonnets was actually a patch between the hospital and the highway.

Suddenly the story behind the picture has more meaning. The picture has a life of it's own and you get more from the image.

Another example I love is Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. It's a beautiful play, much debated and with deep meaning. But it makes so much more sense when you understand why it was written (for a wedding), where it was preformed (at someone's house), who the first actors were (the family's children), and what the weather was like that year (stormy). When Titania talks about the streams and rivers overbearing the continents she isn't talking about a light rainfall. The year the play was written and performed the weather was notably rainy, there was flooding, and it was getting a lot of comments.

The original people who saw the play understood all of that, they connected better with the writing and characters. They appreciated the storyline more than a high schooler struggling to understand Shakespeare's syntax.

That's the Bonus Round. When you add little details of interest that speak only to people in the know, you've added a Bonus Round. You've added a way for the reader to know a little bit more about you.

Some people will slip in a favorite quote, a reference to their religion, an inside joke with their writing group, or a running gag from high school or college. Sometimes it's even another pop culture reference, if you have ever played Space Invaders or Atari Terry Pratchett's "Only You Can Save Mankind" suddenly has a whole new level of fun.

The Bonus Round applies to mythology and other literature as well. One friend loves to slip references to classical literature into her books. If you've read the book in question, the scene makes you giggle, you have the inside joke, there's a hidden layer of texture that other people miss and never know they are missing.

For me, I love to slip things into the names. In one urban fantasy piece all the teacher's names at a school make reference to ravens. If you know your Latin and Gaelic, scientific names, and Norse and Prussian mythology you'll catch the names. Otherwise you'll only see a long list of funny named people parading through the book.

One beta-reader called me on the name of my shape-shifters that turn into sharks. They're called Finns.... it took her six chapters to make the connection between Finn and fin. I was amused. I think the word she used in her critique was "gobsmacked", but I'd have to go look it up.

I also try to slip a reference to Shakespeare into every book I write, with one exception. One book has a character named Kit Marlowe, an actress turned SF pilot. The only reference to Shakespeare I could slip in is when someone asks Kit if she'll fake her death and try to start her career over... And if you don't get the reference you need to go read up on Shakespeare and Marlowe!

The Bonus Round is a little piece of you that hints at your thoughts, likes, and dislikes as an author. It's the part of the writer in the story that isn't the Character, but Creator.

So, I'm curious, do you have a Bonus Round in your books? Have you ever found the Bonus Round in another author's work?


  1. Wow :0 Great post, L.!

    I don't know if I've put something "me" in every story. Hmm. My screenplay has characters with quirks of people I know (exagerated, of course.) Other than that...

    I really want to think on this.

    Thanks for writing :D

  2. I LOVE coming across Bonus Rounds in other people's writing. It gives the writing so much depth and extra- and inter- texual fun :)

    As for myself - I tend to go in for the name thing, to some degree. One character in particular has a name which ends up being crucial to the plot because of its meaning %-)

    I also love including nods to my friends, in various incantations. Their names or nicknames, personality quirks, hobbies, passions... that sort of thing. I'd really like to be able to do more inter-textual stuff to classic literature - but that's something that I generally need to add in in edits, since I don't tend to think of it during drafting.


  3. I'm an English major. I LIVE for the bonus rounds. I studied 4 years on how to find them - in the classical literature, at least. ;)

    And I pack my novels with bonus rounds. If you can't find them, oh well. Breakaway revolves around The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In fact, the entire novel is one huge dedication to Kate Chopin. But if you don't love Kate Chopin like a I do, and you haven't studied The Awakening inside and out, most of it would be lost on you.

    I'm always willing to reveal my little bonus rounds because it makes me feel clever and smart.

    Most of the time.

    I thought I recognized the name Kit Marlowe....duh!!!!

  4. Glam you make me laugh!

    I loved the name Kit, and I could perfectly picture this wiry, energetic, brown haired girl who is just a magnet for attention. And I knew she needed to be leading a double life of some form.

    And then, looking for poetry, I stumbled across Marlowe's translation of Ovid's Amores. Several lines form Marlowe's works were perfect for chapter headers for the story and Christopher Marlowe has this fabulous conspiracy theory surrounding his death and double life.

    It was a perfect match :)

  5. I guess you could call it my bonus round. I always add in something one of my kids or their friends has done.

  6. I always put in a hobby of mine :)

    Plus, in Termion, look at the names very carefully. They are anagrams of which animal the people had injected into their genes :)