Monday, November 26, 2012

Disclaimer: I'm not the great American novelist, and I'm not the world champion Super Mario Bros Wii player. So feel free to take my tips with a grain of salt and a bit of ketchup, or whatever else you'd like to add!

While I'm not either of those things, I am a novelist (unpublished, yes, but writing novels nevertheless!) and I do play Super Mario Bros Wii. And from playing Super Mario Bros Wii a bit obsessively with my mom, I think I'm familiar enough with the game to have picked up on a few things that might help us in our novel-writing...

1. Change of Scenery - There are so many different backgrounds and worlds in Super Mario Bros! There's the tropical island...the volcanic wasteland...the clouds...the winter wonderland...and so on. In my limited experience with novel writing, I've included physical journeys in the plot, taking the characters from one place to another. But even when a book is set completely in one small town (etc.), there's no need to keep it all in one boring room of one boring house. Let your characters explore! Enchant the reader with new "worlds," from hidden alleys and unique stores to dark forests and wherever else you can test the characters while drawing in the reader.

2. Constant Challenges - Poor Mario! It seems like those crazy turtles are everywhere. Just when you beat one boss, you have to beat it again! And when you beat it again, you then are taken to another place to beat another boss! In the same way, we have to keep challenging our characters. Writers hear it all the time: conflict, conflict, conflict! The types of conflicts and challenges can be important, too... In my first manuscript I had some emotional conflict at the beginning, but I really didn't include much action through which to engage the reader and raise the stakes for my characters. Each genre is different, so the types of challenges one includes will be different, but no matter what genre you're writing in, you want to hold the reader's attention and keep the reader engaged. If the reader never is invested in the story and never finishes because they weren't interested, then the story can't really fulfill much purpose, right?

3. Clear Goals - Mario is on his long quest in order to save Princess Peach. End of story. It's a video game with mini challenges to complete and bosses to beat, so a simple goal is totally fine. In our stories, things might not be so simple. The focus might be on the characters' career goals or family goals. Or perhaps the direction of the story comes from the author's goal of conveying a certain message or theme. It's good for the reader to know, or at least eventually see, what the characters want and what the story's purpose is. This is definitely something I need to be thinking about! If things get too convoluted and go in too many directions without coming back together, then the reader is left confused and without something to hope for/feel for/relate to/take away/etc.

4. Clever Surprises -  The worlds Mario goes through are full of secret passages and hidden items - not to mention the huge surprise that comes when you beat the final boss! You can engage the reader by surprising him/her with unexpected events, well-timed (or perhaps ill-timed in order to add conflict?) revelations about the characters, unanticipated challenges, sweet or awe-inspiring moments the characters hadn't thought to hope for, etc. This could tie in with "rewarding" the reader (like earning those sparkly stars pictured above!), which Vince Mooney breaks down so well in this past article on the Seekerville blog.

5. Keeping it Fun - The point of a video game is entertainment. It's a fun distraction and a fun way to challenge oneself. This Mario game is full of fun elements, from swimming among fish to wearing a penguin suit and sliding down snow-covered hills, from riding a dinosaur-bones roller coaster above hot lava to swinging from vine to vine above Mario-eating flowers. Now, I don't believe that novels are all about entertainment. I believe they can inspire and encourage and challenge a reader to think deeply and critically, as well as to feel more deeply and more compassionately. A story can be very meaningful. But I think books are also a form of entertainment. Not all genres lend themselves to "fun," but a writer can include fun elements throughout a story. Add humor, add excitement, add suspense! As a quote from author Toni Morrison goes: "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." What sorts of stories do you enjoy the most? What elements do your favorite books include that you might include in your own novel?

Considering video games - what is it that draws you into a video game? Beyond the repetitive, mindless entertainment-type games, what do your favorite games include that might be important to consider in coming up with your own story?

(Speaking of video games and stories, I recently saw Wreck-It Ralph in theaters, and I LOVED it!)


  1. Gosh but I am mad at myself for having wasted the time I took "off" from writing for the small webzine I do in order to focus on my "story." Ah, well! Someday I'll finish the darn thing. :)

    At first, my style is going to be very clean and simple because I am not a very "detailed" person. With time, that may change but not now.

    Best of luck with your ambitions!!!

  2. Rissi,

    I totally know what you mean - it's hard to use our time wisely and efficiently, isn't it? I could probably be getting so much more writing done if I would just sit down and focus!

    I think that's awesome, though, that you have a story you've started! Would love to hear more about it someday! :)

    And clean and simple can be good, too. Everyone has their own voice. :) A dear friend of mine was telling me the other day about The Hobbit (the book), saying that it's written simply, but still meaningfully (or something to that extent).

    Best wishes to you with your writing and other ambitions, as well! :) Thanks for checking in!



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