Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

R. L. (ROBIN) LA FEVERS has taught plotting workshops for the SB/Ventura SCBWI Region and is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. Her current book, THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS, was published by Houghton Mifflin in April of 2007 and was a Junior Library Guild selection, Summer Booksense Pick, and has been nominated for an Agatha Award. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris will be out in November of 2008.

Last year I had the pleasure of attending one of Robin’s plot workshops—her insight and writing advice was tremendously helpful. While she is probably too modest to mention all of her many credentials, I must add that Robin is also a contributor to one of my favorite blogs, Shrinking Violets Promotions.

With the immense popularity of fantasy in recent years (resulting in so many published fantasy titles), how do you make your story unique enough to stand out amongst the rest?
I think there are a couple of answers to this first question. The first is to create vivid characters the reader can’t help but bond with and care for. This is one critical element that can be easily overlooked in fantasy because writers get so involved in constructing their world and the bells and whistles of their magic systems that the characters can get lost. So first, create vivid empathetic characters.

The second thing would be to utilize an under-explored mythos as the basis for your fantasy. The thing is, there are so many fascinating jumping off points for fantasy worlds, and they don’t all have to be wizards or witches or vampires or fairies. However, if you simply have to use one of those, consider completely re-inventing or re-imagining it or adding something new and fresh that help make your version of that fantasy world stand out.

What would you say is the most important aspect of developing a plot?
Hm. I’m going to cheat a little and say there are two critically important aspects of developing a plot. One, it has to be developed organically from your unique character—meaning, it has to grow out of that character’s own unique quirks and weaknesses and strengths. I firmly believe that character IS plot, so how you develop that character will determine that plot. An example would be a kid who chose to retaliate against a bully in a passive aggressive way versus an out and out confrontation. Two very different approaches from two very different types of people, each would lead to a distinctly different plot.
The second, and I would say equally important aspect of developing a plot, is to make sure the conflict is big enough to sustain a novel (or whatever length project you’re writing.) It can be a more subtle, internal-type conflict or a big external conflict (although ideally books should have a little of both) but it needs to matter enough to the characters that it’s able to drive the narrative to its climax and resolution. Many of my early (deservedly unpublished!) books—and so many manuscripts I read for critique—peter out about one third of the way through because the conflict doesn’t truly test the very core of the main character. So really examine the main conflict of the book and make sure it’s compelling and enough of a driving force to keep the reader turning the page until the very end.

What is your favorite children’s joke?
This is so embarrassing because I’ve never been much of a joke teller and my absolutely favorite joke when I was a kid was: What’s black and white and red all over? Of course, the answer was a newspaper, but as we got a little older and a little sillier, we had obnoxious fun with made up variations—a bloody zebra!—and worse, but I’ll spare you those.

Thanks so much, Robin!