It Happened One Doomsday: How to Read Like a Writer
Often when people think of emotion, they think of dramatic displays of negative feelings like a damsel weeping or a hotheaded thug lashing out in anger, but emotion can also be positive. Laurence MacNaughton’s It Happened One Doomsday is thrilling, funny, and a bit romantic as well as suspenseful and terrifying. MacNaughton accomplishes this by having a magical system with constraints, a wonderfully flawed protagonist, and using tone.
The Arrival of the Four Horsemen: Terrifying and Fun
One of my favorite parts of It Happened One Doomsday is the fun, humorous tone MacNaughton maintains throughout the novel and how it contrasts the dark subject matter of the beginning of the apocalypse. One of the ways he manages the light tone is his characters’ responses to their situation. They acknowledge the danger, but dive in anyway. Here’s the exchange when the main character calls for help:
(Dru) “I need your help.”
“Demon ass kicking? Count me in,” Rane said. “You’re like ten minutes from me. I’ll be there in five.”
Dru could hear Rane breathing even harder. “In the meantime, stall him. But don’t get, you know, killed.”
“How am I supposed to stall him?” Dru said.
“Right.” Dru shook her head. “Wait, what does that even mean?” But Rane had already hung up (70).
Rane doesn’t just agree to help; she is enthusiastic and ready, even if she isn’t the best communicator. The humor comes from Rane's confidence and bravado and Dru wondering what the heck cowgirl up means in this situation.
If you want to make a dark situation – like being attacked by a demon – funny or light, make sure your characters respond to the situation accordingly. Terror at the sight of a monster isn’t funny unless the character does something unexpected and humorous in response to their terror. Leaping into battle isn’t light and humorous, unless the characters are optimistic and able to joke with one another. Think about how humor can also be a defense or coping mechanism. Law enforcement officers and emergency responders often joke about death, brutality, and injuries as a way of lightening the mood and distancing themselves from the horrors they face during their jobs. Why might your character approach a dark situation with a light tone?
It Happened One Doomsday isn’t a silly story even though the overall tone is fun and humorous. MacNaughton keeps readers engaged and entertained by making the monsters in his book a true threat. His demons are strong, smart, quick healers, and way out of the main character’s league. The stakes of the story are death. Readers worry about each of the characters survival. Just because a book is funny, doesn’t mean it lacks the elements of a good story. It Happened One Doomsday is a tension-packed page turner that makes readers wonder if the Bible’s apocalypse will actually come to pass.
If you’re going for a lighter tone, remember you still need tension. Tension makes readers want to turn the page. One way of doing this is to raise the stakes to a form of death. This could be literal physical death or the death of a relationship, career, spirit, or belief. Either way, make sure you have tension and stakes.
Competent and Bright Beats All Powerful
One way to ensure your characters interact with their environment, so setting becomes more than a backdrop is to avoid Mary Sues. These are all powerful characters who can easily overcome any obstacle. Because they can’t lose, they’re boring. In order for a story to be truly tension-packed and thrilling, readers need to believe your protagonist could lose.
MacNaughton’s protagonist is a barely competent crystal sorceress. Dru has just enough magical ability to find a place in the magic underworld and run a shop. She is not powerful enough to battle monsters, so when she finds herself face-to-face with a demon, she has to use her wits and her surroundings to survive instead of relying solely on her magical abilities. Here’s an example of Dru using her environment, not her powers.
On the underside of the hood glowed a pair of stylized scales. Just like the symbols on the demon’s hands. This was the connection, she realized with a surge of terrified triumph. This was the mark of evil, as rough as it was. It looked like someone had spary-painted it right onto the metal. If only she could find a way to break it. Spray paint. The thought hit her with a jolt of adrenaline (90).
Dru then uses the spray paint already mentioned in the setting to disrupt the demon symbol. In this moment, she knows her magical abilities aren’t enough, so she looks for another solution. This shows she’s clever, which makes her more interesting, and demonstrates how she isn’t all powerful. It also forces her to interact with her environment.
Settings become interesting when the story wouldn’t work if the scene took place somewhere else. This scene had to take place somewhere with spray paint and that’s big enough to fit a car. The scene also involves a character going through a rough transformation, so he would feel more comfortable somewhere familiar. When you mix all these needs together, this scene could only take place in the character’s garage. What are the key ingredients to your current scene? Use them to choose your setting.
Why an Editor Recommends It Happened One Doomsday
In previous blog posts, I discussed mood and tone and how they impact the reader experience. MacNaughton’s novel is an excellent example of how the overall emotion, the tone of a story, can be one feeling, in this case fun and humorous, while the emotion of the individual scenes, the mood, can vary. Some scenes are pure fun and joy and characters developing relationships, but many scenes are filled with anxiety, drive, terror, and anger. If you’re wondering how to vary the emotional impact of your scenes, pay attention to how MacNaughton’s story’s mood changes from scene-to-scene. Read It Happened One Doomsday to learn how to create humor in a dark situation, use setting to advance your story and deepen your characters, and utilize mood and tone to Ignite Your Ink.
What other writing techniques did you notice in It Happened One Doomsday? Share your thoughts in the comments below. For more articles on writing and a free guide to building your setting, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.