Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Anatomy of a Novel: The Greatest Blogger in the World

Anatomy of a Novel: The Greatest Blogger in the World
Guest post by Andrew McDonald

1.     Chris Ware’s big bold designs

There is something incredibly grandiose about all of Ware’s work, including his graphic novel masterpiece Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, which is admittedly similarly titled to The Greatest Blogger in the World. But the influence Ware’s work had on my novel goes far beyond that. When one is writing about a character pretentious enough to think they could possibly be the best blogger on the globe, Ware’s designs are especially relevant.

Artworks like the one above (done for The Escapist – a comic series spin-off from Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) seem to say ‘I’m the greatest and most important font and text design in the world so look at me now!’ Ware’s designs and illustrations seemed to go hand-in-hand with the kind of book and character I was trying to write. I studied them for the research and for the blissy feelings my eyes felt upon seeing them.

2.    30 Rock, Season 2

During its second season 30 Rock walked that old tightrope of hilarity and believable storylines. The show has since lost its balance and has trouble creating engaging story arcs, but back in the second (and first) season I was totally invested in the characters and the universe of 30 Rock. I marvelled at the way satire, slapstick and character development was being weaved together.  It was a perfect example of how to do ‘ridiculous humour’ that wasn’t so ridiculous because it was offset by a totally believable world. The show still does punchlines like nothing else, but its plots have become far too silly. Season 2 taught me that ridiculous jokes can and should be made. The seasons beyond that have taught me that ridiculous jokes can be made but must presented in a disciplined story context. On both counts, thanks 30 Rock.

3.    Ursula Dubosarsky

Pretty much everything this woman does is pure gold. From her pictures books like The Terrible Plop to her thriller/YA novels like Abyssinia. She is truly one of the great Australian writers for children of all ages. Some of her best work can be found in her books My Father is Not a Comedian! and its sequel How to be a Great Detective. They’re both chapter books for younger readers and they feature the enigmatic and straight-talking protagonist Claudia.
Line for line these books are hilarious. Not the kind of hilarious that warrants a laugh track but more the kind that is delivered completely deadpan – without a murmur from any fake audience – making it all the more hilarious. For me she’s a true role model and if she wrote menus for pizza restaurants I’d probably be writing ‘Anatomy of a Pizza Menu’ right now.

4.    Reading about the internet

There are, quite simply, not enough books for children out there that feature characters using the internet. We (and by ‘we’ I mean adults and children) live a good deal of life online these days. The internet is not a medium for playing music – it won’t be outdated in five years time. It’s going to be around for a long time.
We should be talking about blogs and Facebook and Wikipedia and Google with kids whether they’re family or students or from somewhere else entirely. So writing a book about a kid who is a blogger was a no brainer for me. Lots of kids’ and teenagers’ lives revolve around the web. It makes sense to me to have books that do too.

5.    Lil Wayne

It’s probably not the anatomy of a kids’ novel to be expected, but I was listening to US rapper Lil Wayne’s album Tha Carter III a lot during the writing of Greatest Blogger. The content of the album’s lyrics are definitely not kid-friendly but as a result of listening to it a lot whilst writing, the rhyme ‘I’m ill, not sick’ from the song A Milli inspired the name of a character in the book – a blogger whose online name is ill_not_sick.

So whilst Lil Wayne didn’t have a big impact on the book I wrote, he did have a trivial impact.  And sometimes the trivial tidbits can be illuminating in ways proper bits cannot. For example, you know now I’m a sucker for mainstream American hip-hop. (PS. Anyone heard the new Kanye album? Pretty good, huh!)

Anatomy of a novel is an occasional series where authors dissect their books for your delight. Pass it on! 

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