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April 8, 2015

Guest Post by Fiona McIntosh --- THE WHISPERER

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Every single story is original, fresh and new --- there are distinct characters who get into crazy adventures, twists and turns, strange unexplored lands and the author’s unique take on language. However, that doesn’t mean that the overall idea for the story --- the inspiration --- has to come from thin air.

As author Fiona McIntosh explains, lots of books are born from a trope, or “a recurring idea in fiction.” In fact, her new middle grade novel, THE WHISPERER, came from the same trope as Mark Twain’s THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER --- two twins are separated at birth but maintain an unbreakable bond.

Read Fiona’s blog post, below, to learn more about how an author can take a tried-and-true idea and make it their very own, as well as to get some inside info on THE WHISPERER!


In storytelling it can be fun to take what we call a trope --- a recurring “idea” in fiction --- and use it as the basis for a new story.  An example might be the rags to riches storyline that most of you would know from Cinderella and similar tales.  In THE WHISPERER, although I didn’t actively think upon it, I used the trope that Mark Twain used in the late 1800s for his first novel, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER. 

And so, with only the idea that twin boys are going to be separated at birth and grow up in entirely different families but still have an unbreakable bond, I set off to write my novel THE WHISPERER.  Your teachers will advise you to plan your storytelling, and there is so much good that can come out of plotting out your beginning, middle and end for any piece of creative work.  However, there are no rules in storytelling, and I’m living proof that not planning too much can work just as well. 

THE WHISPERER wrote itself.  Once I had Lute and Griff in my mind, I turned the characters loose and allowed every childhood pleasure of reading to take over.  By letting go and allowing Lute and Griff to decide their actions and pathways, the story took on a fun unpredictability with a big cast of interesting characters.

My greatest delight was meeting Bitter Olof.  I didn’t know he was in my story until suddenly he was there. My favourite surprise was meeting Calico Grace, who treats Bitter Olof with disdain, but we can still see how much they like one another. Between them, they add wonderful comedy to the story, which really does take quite dark turns --- especially when you consider that the Duke is prepared to kill for power, the circus master essentially imprisons the children to make money from their skills and the Inquisitors are a particularly vicious brand of law enforcement.

The magical creatures were very important to me because I am a known animal lover --- I always have been --- and the animals in THE WHISPERER are vulnerable just as they are in our world. They need to rely on the people of the world to protect and respect them.  Without Erin, they would be lost.  The circus exploits them, and so it felt exciting to let Erin and her friends escape and go on the run --- I am particularly thrilled with the climax, when one of the magical animals who is so loyal to Erin is part of the fight against the villains. 

I think my favourite magical element in the story is Ellin’s Whistle.  Gosh, how marvellous to own such a thing!

The trick to using a trope is simply to take the basic idea and then make it your own by adding new concepts, creating lively engaging characters and bending the storyline into a new shape to feel fresh and addictive to read.

Try it next time you have to write a piece of creative storytelling.  Think of one of your favourite fairytales, for example, and then make it your own with wildly different new characters who go on fresh adventures.   Have a go --- have fun with your storytelling!