Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blending Two Stories – Lessons for Writers (Skin Hunger & Incarceron)

SKIN HUNGER and INCARCERON were at the top of my personal “favorites” list among the 10 CYBILS fantasy/sci-fi short-listed books this year. Skin Hunger is a fantasy. Incarceron has a lot of technology in it and is considered by some to be a sci-fi. But it has the depth and breadth of a fantasy when you read it. Excellent! Both are YA’s written with a rather dark bent.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll want to go jump off a bridge after reading them, or be so depressed that you can’t get out of bed for a week. But it does mean that a number of the main characters are rather jaded, and the evil guys are truly, humanly, evil. These characters are dealing with very difficult life (and death) situations. And though I tend to enjoy happy endings, I was enthralled by these two books.

I am linking them together here because they both use two of the same techniques.

1.) Neither author was afraid to make the reader nervous, or to kill off or terrify truly important characters in the book. That is something that a lot of authors hate to do (because we love our characters, darn it! And we just don’t want to hurt them!) These books aren't scary thrillers, mind you, but they are good examples of taking that risk and having it work.

2.) Secondly, and most notably, both authors have written two stories that blend together into one story within one book.


In Incarceron (published by Hodder Children’s Books of the UK), author Catherine Fisher weaves together the life and death tales of two people seeking an escape.
Finn is a teen with no memory, stuck in an enormous prison called Incarceron that is run by a giant computer which is alive, thinking, and malicious toward those, like Finn, within its grasp. And Claudia is a rich teenaged girl; the daughter of the only man who can control Incarceron – but won’t. She is living in a fake 18th century world when it’s really the future, and is being forced to marry a prince who she has no respect for, following the murder of the prince who would have been heir to the throne ahead of him, who she did like. And in this book, both characters risk their lives and their reputations to get out of their respective prisons and to try to put the world back right again.

INCARCERON is an excellent example of a very complex plot that falls together well and makes logical sense. The characters are complicated and sneaky. And the author, Catherine Fisher, weaves the two stories together – moving Claudia forward in one chapter, and Finn and his side of the story forward in the next. An excellent read. And an excellent example of a book that melds two stories into one.


In Skin Hunger, (published by Atheneum under Simon and Schuster) – a book that is going straight onto my bookshelf and onto my “top 20 list of Great YA books” – Author Kathleen Duey brings “dark” fantasy to a whole new level. This is not your grandmother’s fairy tale.

The author weaves together two stories that are 400 years apart. But they’re so inter-related that the one story – told in every other chapter – clearly gives the background for the other tale. And as the chapters build, the old story mixing with the new helps the reader realize what an awful situation the characters 400 years later are really in.

This is a life and death story in which the teen characters make wise and unwise decisions while learning about magic and hunger and how to truly “cheat” death simply to stay alive. The characters are real and believable. Each is motivated by their own personality to such an extent that some put their lives on the line for others daily while others seek to take over the world, and the weaker ones, just try to survive. Skin Hunger (though being a first book in a series that doesn’t yet have an ending) is an excellent example of great characterization, great interweaving of two stories, painfully clear and palpable descriptive sentences, and a complex, heart-wrenching plot. If you're looking for a sample of great writing. Don't be afraid. Just read it.


Sheila said...

Great post, Janelle! I found Skin Hunger to be a very compelling book, but I think that Fisher did a little better job of seamlessly blending the two stories in Incarceron. The two stories in Skin Hunger do mesh, but you don't find out how until well into the book, and the point of view shifts are jarring. Each time it shifted, I got annoyed because I wanted to find out more about the story I was in. Of course, one of the cool things about Skin Hunger is that you do find out more - each story reveals some things about the other story - but it's more subtle and it takes a while before you start to see it. Both were outstanding books, though, and deserved to be on the shortlist!

C.R. Evers said...

I'm intrigued!

I can't wait to read them!

kathleen said...


Thanks for the kind words about Skin Hunger and the intro to Incarceraon. I can't wait to read it! I am working on the second book in the trilogy now--Sacred Scars. The conjoined storylines continue to shape each other. Writing these has made me realize what a pivotal and pervasive tool structure is. I love writing. It never gets easy.

Thanks for the great blog. Writers need each other. May your own writing fly.
kathleen duey

Janelle said...


Thanks for the update on Sacred Scars. I'm definitely looking forward to reading it!

And thanks too, for your encouraging words to those of us who are newer to this profession. As we struggle along trying to write `the next great novel' it's comforting to know that even those who've had great success in this field continue to be challenged and grow in their writing. That truly, being a writer is a journey. Thanks!

Janelle said...

LOL. Wow - excuse my typos. You know one frustrating thing about blogger is that when you post something with a typo or grammatical mistake in it there seems to be no way to undo it. Oh well. : )

Thanks to all of you for your posts! I'm glad to have more and more people reading and interacting on writermorphosis.