Fiction Writing Made Easy

#116: First Chapter Analysis: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

November 14, 2023 Savannah Gilbo Episode 116
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#116: First Chapter Analysis: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

“In every story, you want to have that internal change because, without internal change, there is no character change.” - Savannah Gilbo


In today’s episode, both Abigail K. Perry and I talk about the intriguing world of "Anxious People" by Frederick Backman. Buckle up, because this first chapter exploration is different from any other you've encountered before. Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[05:08] Chapter summary: an unnamed narrator describes a plot involving idiots, bad decisions, and a hostage drama. The narrator outlines key events and this summary stands out because it reveals what appears to be the story's conclusion, offering a unique approach.


[16:14] Macro analysis: the challenge of categorizing this book within a specific content genre due to its unique blend of elements and how labeling it solely as a crime story might not align with the reader's expectations. 


[41:30] Micro analysis: highlighting the importance of identifying character motivations and understanding the events that propel the story forward, even in the absence of a traditional scene. 


[47:37] Final thoughts: the concept of turning points within the narrative structure and dissecting the crucial moments that force characters into dilemmas. 


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Abigail K. Perry:

So I say that this is a little different than a lot of first chapters that we've seen before, because what this does is basically tells you what you think is the conclusion of the story. We don't know the details, but in a nutshell, this is saying hey, this is exactly what this book is about. This is how the book starts. This is how the book ends.

Savannah Gilbo:

Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilboe and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So, whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started.

Savannah Gilbo:

In today's episode, we're diving deep into the opening pages of Anxious People by Frederick Backman, and I'm so excited to share this episode with you today because we're doing things a little bit different with our analysis this time. So we're still going to look at the first chapter to see how and why it works. We want to find out, you know, how does it hook our attention and pull us into the story, how does it set up the global stakes and things like that. So we're going to look at the big picture, like we normally do. But this time I'm coming to the analysis from not having read the entire book, so I only read the first couple chapters, and Abigail has read the entire story, but we thought it would be fun to see how our analysis might change if we came into the conversation with different amounts of context about the overall story. So that's what you're going to hear today.

Savannah Gilbo:

And, speaking of Abigail, if you've been listening to this podcast for a while now, you know who Abigail is, but just in case you're brand new here, abigail K Perry is a developmental editor and the host of an amazing podcast called Lit Match, where she helps writers find the best literary agent for their writing and publishing careers. I'm going to link to her podcast in the show notes, as well as where you can find Abigail around the internet if you would like to say hello to her Now. That's a very, very quick overview of what we're going to dig into today. As usual, you will hear more explanation for everything once we get into the episode. So, with that being said, let's go ahead and dive right into the conversation.

Abigail K. Perry:

Hi, savannah, thanks for joining me again. Here we are for another first chapter, deep Dive. As always, I love doing these with you, and today we are swishing it up a bit and we're looking at more of an upmarket fiction book. That I love, that I have read all the way through, but you have not read all the way through, so you only have read the first chapter. So that will make for some fun turning conversations based on some other stories that we've done, where you have read the whole book and I have Right.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and this will be fun. We like doing it with this kind of mix up where one of us has or has not read the book, because it can show what different perspectives we can analyze a story through. And the reason I think this is important is because sometimes writers will say I'm trying to analyze this book, I'm currently reading with those five commandments or those seven questions that you guys use on the podcast, and I just don't get how you do it. And then I'm always like, well, did you read through the whole book?

Savannah Gilbo:

And they say no, and I'm like well, that's why you're having a problem because we don't have that context. So the last time we did this, I think we did it for a fairly straightforward chapter. This one is, I would say, not straightforward in terms of scene structure, which we'll get into, so it'll just be fun to see what happens. Yes, and.

Abigail K. Perry:

I recently had used this as an example for a download I made, and I think that I the reason why I chose this one is exactly for that reason Savannah, because it is not easily picked apart on the scene level and I think that I have at least I have a lot of writers, especially who come to me in this upmarket realm that it's like you know we have plot, we're focusing on pacing, but character is really at the center of it as well, as we're leaning more towards that literary feel on the line level.

Savannah Gilbo:

And.

Abigail K. Perry:

I've had a lot of writers who just are confused sometimes when they look at examples because they're like, wait a second, where is this? It's just not as easy, I think, to pick apart. So it's a good one for that, to kind of talk about that and it comes from the bestselling author, frederick Backman. So I love Frederick Backman. This is his book, anxious People, that we're going to study, and Anxious People, I would say, is one of his most popular books he wrote. He wrote on his debut as a man called Uva, and he has the Bear Town series.

Abigail K. Perry:

If you haven't read Frederick Backman, those might be some other titles that stick out to you, but we picked Anxious People. This also is a Netflix series, so if you wanted to go check out Netflix, it's pretty true to the story. There's some differentiations but it sticks pretty much to it. And this first chapter is interesting because it kind of sets the stage for everything. So we are going to go to our seven key first chapter questions and we're going to do our deep dive there to look at a big picture and how this first chapter opens that up, and then we'll move into the scene structure. Before any of that, let me go ahead and read the summary of the scene and you'll notice that it's a little bit different than maybe some other summaries that we've talked about.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, to say the least, yes.

Abigail K. Perry:

Okay. So the summary of the scene is an unnamed narrator explains what the story is about Idiots, bad decisions and a hostage drama. The narrator then gives a general overview of the big events of the hostage drama, from the bank robbery that turned into an accidental hostage drama to the bank robber's acceptance of their inevitable defeat. After the hostages leave the building, the police search for the apartment, but the bank robber is gone. So I say that this is a little different than a lot of first chapters that we've seen before, because what this does is basically tells you what you think is the conclusion of the story. Right, we don't know the details, but in a nutshell, this is saying hey, this is exactly what this book is about, this is how the book starts, this is how the book ends.

Abigail K. Perry:

Right, but also kind of leads you right, but also leaves you on hanging because you do have the question of what happened to the robber. So we are having a question that pulls us forward, but structurally it's kind of like wait, you gave me the whole story but I don't know the details. So the question is more about how do we get to that, how do we get from A to Z, more than what's going to happen next?

Savannah Gilbo:

Right, and if I were a reader reading this I might think you know, because we're always looking at examples of what's showing, what's telling. Would we say that this first chapter is like a lot of telling.

Abigail K. Perry:

I think that this is a lot of telling but still shows, in a way, of emotion. So this is something that we need to think about when we talk. But another reason why I like this one is an example, because it is different on what it leans on for strength of the story and it's not necessarily one of the questions we talk about. But one of Frederick Bachman's trademark abilities as an author is his unique voice, and this is a very voicy book. He's a very voicy author and I think that when you're, especially with sample pages, opening pages, writers it's important for them to understand what their strength is and what they, and then they can lean into that a bit. And Frederick Bachman, one of his strengths is voice. So I think that he's engaging us with his voice and his style, first and foremost, and while he's telling, he also has, on the line level, really emotional sentences that set really, really emotional sentences that set up expectations to receive more of those big feelings as you navigate through the story.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, so his voice is giving us those feelings, and then we're going to get more of that as we go through which I think you're right. I think that's A his strength, and then B exactly what he's doing in this opening chapter.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, yeah, and your voice and style. That can be something that can be frustrating for authors or writers, because it's the thing that can make or break a book. But it's also very difficult to teach, and what I say to writers that I work with is just, it comes with practice and a lot of it comes through character. So we'll get to that, maybe more when we go into the POV and the character question and these first chapter questions, but it's just. It's interesting to think about that and if you feel like your voice isn't quite at the level that you want it to be, don't be discouraged. Just keep writing. I think it will come through the better that you know your characters and the more time you spend putting words in the paper.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right, and one thing I wanted to ask you is, when we look at this chapter, so if I'm just a writer and I'm like I want to write, like this author there's we're going to talk about this throughout the episode, but there's kind of a lot of ways that he breaks and bends the rules or the guidelines. Right, yeah, definitely.

Savannah Gilbo:

So, I think at some point unless you want to talk about this now we should talk about like what. If I want to write like him, a, it's going to be really hard, right? Because we have to first understand all the rules and guidelines of what we should be doing, and then we have to know when and where we can bend and break certain things Exactly and this is not his first book, right? This?

Abigail K. Perry:

is not his first book. No I think that's another really important thing to remember, and I remind a lot of people of that, because a lot of the times, maybe the book that you want to emulate or the book that you love the most is the author's fifth, sixth, seventh, 20th book.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right.

Abigail K. Perry:

And as a debut author you have to remember number one it's hard to sell a debut story right. So you might be able to get away with some things as a traditionally published author if you've proven your track record on sales that you wouldn't be able to get away with as a debut.

Abigail K. Perry:

Right and so I think it's really important to think about that. It doesn't mean necessarily don't do them, but you do. It's what you said you have to know the rules before you can break the rules, because then you're breaking them with intention versus just breaking them just because.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right, and something that you just said made me think of something else is that so we feel differently about this book. Like, I think it's the line by line writing is beautiful. I like when I can watch a show or a movie that's written by this author. I would say that for me his style is not my personal favorite, which is fine, and then you like love it, right, and I think that's really interesting because sometimes we overlap on the books we love, sometimes we don't, and it's fun to see why or why not. But also I think where I was going with that is that for me as a reader, certain things pull me in and it maybe it is the stakes and the structure and things like that Voice is not always going to be one of those things for me. Personally, however, I appreciate it and you're on the flip side where you're like, oh, I love a good voice.

Abigail K. Perry:

Right, yeah Well, and I think that's why you tend to lean to more commercial books. Yeah, and I like the upmarket and I enjoy literary as long as I still like literary with a plot, though, but yeah, but you know, it's that the mind level. When it can stir my emotions, I'm looking for the books that can make me cry.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah.

Abigail K. Perry:

And when they can do that, when they can make me feel like something, you might hear my baby sneezing in the background Totally, and then you might be able to just kind of see that I can feel it like it's something in me that I feel.

Savannah Gilbo:

And that's how.

Abigail K. Perry:

I that's how I feel when I read this one. I think like I can pull out lines to describe, but it's a very personal place that you are brought to the story in that level, and he's just one of those authors that does it for me.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I think the reason sorry I brought this up because if I'm thinking about writing a book like this, what I don't want or what I see people out there do sometimes, is like they'll write an opening with like just a bunch of words and they think that's voice and they think it's style and it's like kind of rambly and I would describe this opening as rambly, but it's rambly on purpose and it's rambly to serve his voice.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yes, and it's.

Savannah Gilbo:

It's done like the word I picked up on earlier you said is intentionally. So I just kind of want to make it clear that there's a difference between throwing a bunch of words and style and like whatever on the page just because and hoping it works, or doing it really, really intentionally to serve a bigger purpose Exactly, and I think that is the biggest thing.

Abigail K. Perry:

That's the difference with voice is when it can be something that feels natural versus forced just to be fancy, right.

Savannah Gilbo:

Or to be like what's that word?

Abigail K. Perry:

What's the word when you try to be too fancy with your words starts with an L Pretentious. Yes, yeah Right.

Savannah Gilbo:

Starts with an L pretentious.

Abigail K. Perry:

No, not really. Wait, I'll think of it later maybe, but maybe it's pretentious. Yeah, we'll go with that. Equacious, equacious, yes, there you go.

Savannah Gilbo:

See, I'm blanking on it, but you got it.

Abigail K. Perry:

But I think that's the thing, is that when you're trying to be too fancy. So I'm just going to pull up a line real quick, to kind of pull this out, about what I'm thinking about, and it's in the opening pages, okay, so I have this pulled out as a line that I highlighted. It says our hearts are bars of soap that we keep losing hold of. The moment we relax, they drift off and fall in love and get broken all in the wink of an eye. We're not in control, so we learn to pretend all the time about our jobs and our marriages and our children and everything else. We pretend we're normal, that we're reasonably well educated, that we understand and I'm going to pronounce this wrong, and I'm going to pronounce this wrong amortization levels and inflation rates, that we know how sex works and truth, we know as much about sex as we do about the USB leads. And it always takes us four tries to get those little buggers in. Wrong way round. Way wrong way round, wrong way round. They're in.

Abigail K. Perry:

We pretend to be good parents when all we really do is provide our kids with food and clothing and tell them off when they put chewing gum they find on the ground in their mouths. We tried keeping tropical fish once and they all did, and we really don't know more about children than tropical fish. So the responsibility frightens the life out of us each morning. We don't have a plan, we just do our best to get through the day because there'll be another one coming along tomorrow. So that's kind of my example.

Abigail K. Perry:

It's like, yes, like we're using a lot of words here and we are telling right, because we're kind of going on like a stream of consciousness in a way. But the goal here is to connect to the greater struggles, the inner struggles of people, and this is an ensemble cast that we're going to be looking at. The intention here is that we are feeling what these kids, like he's he is setting up with this, with this omniscient area Exactly what each of the individuals that we're going to zero in on might feel at some level and someday, but particularly the bank robber, and I think that that's the thing is like he's connecting us to the inward struggles of his cast, to what the reader might also experience.

Savannah Gilbo:

So it's a very like visceral connection in that way, right, well, and I haven't intention, I haven't even read the whole book, but I know the back cover and kind of some things you've told me about it and it's. It's funny that you pulled those lines because, like I said, I didn't quite connect with the opening, but those were my favorite lines.

Abigail K. Perry:

Oh, there you go, it's funny.

Savannah Gilbo:

We both love that. But it's also kind of level leveling the playing field, because what we're going to talk about later is we are supposed to care about a bank robber. So I think what's important about that line specifically and I know we're in the weeds now, but it's like not everyone has everything figured out, no one's perfect, it's not black and white Right, so it's. It's serving multiple purposes. Even though it could be taken as a little rambly, a little stream of consciously, there's a reason, multiple reasons, why it's like that.

Abigail K. Perry:

On those words, notice that when they're delivered they are very specific. So it's not these generalized explanations of how like someone feels physically. You know, which I think I get a lot is when, when people try too hard about every like fine-tuned detail going on around the character. This is, this is strictly a motion coming through with specific examples, so it helps us visualize, as well as internally feel what's going on.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right, that makes sense. Yeah, and again, it's just done purposefully, right. So those specifics are chosen for a reason, and we'll see why throughout the book.

Abigail K. Perry:

No, um, but okay With that, let's go into the questions. Yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah. So we're going to go through Paul Aminier's seven key first chapter questions like we normally do, and the first one we always start with is genre. So we want to know what kind of story is it, and we like to look at commercial versus content genres. So just for anyone new that's listening, commercial is like where would it sit on a bookshelf or on the Amazon list, right? And then content is kind of what makes up the story Exactly. So what are your thoughts on genre?

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, so commercials run around call this outmarket fiction or general fiction. I think if you go into bookstore that's where you're going to find it. It's interesting. I went into my bookstore and you noticed that all the Frederick Backmans were under romance, which I found very odd, and interesting.

Abigail K. Perry:

I don't think that they'd usually be there in other bookstores. I think, honestly, it probably was supposed to be general fiction and just that's where it had a spot. But I think that outmarket is what I would go with. I interviewed Ariel Friedman Ariel Friedman, who's a literary agent at UTA and she was the publicist for Frederick Backman Cool and she confirmed that she would call them outmarket. So I also lean towards that because of that comment. But this is what I feel with outmarket is exactly modeling what we can do here, because it can reach a bigger audience.

Abigail K. Perry:

But we are having more concentration on characters and the literary line level, although it's not quite literary right.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and it's interesting because we've done other upmarket books and some of those have leaned more commercial. Yes, as in, I know we say commercial about two different things. There's commercial genre and then there's the type of fiction. So we're saying it's commercial. The other books we've done lean more commercial genre. This one's leaning more literary in that upmarket bucket, right? Yeah, exactly. So it's interesting and content genre. What would you say?

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, so content genre and this is where this is Okay. So content genre. Why I like to study Frederick Backman is because I think he's really difficult to study. Yeah, but I get a lot of this with writers who want to write books like this, because they're like I don't understand how to write a book like this and I'm like, well, you know what? Like I've attended Frederick Backman in a presentation, he's my favorite of all time that I've seen. But one of my most, one of the most interesting conversational topics that came out is he talked about how someone told him after when he first I must have been a man called Uba when he published a book, then his editor was like this is the genre that you're in. And he was like genre, what genre am I writing? So that just kind of said to me okay, so he usually just writes and then he has editors that help him figure out how to narrow it down, and he confirmed that in his presentation.

Abigail K. Perry:

With content genre, I'm always thinking when I'm working with writers, we're using content genre to help you write the story, to help you write what the story is really about, and that's why I think genre is really important to be thinking about on this content level. I would classify this more into the Like Savannah and I talked about this before how we really want an external content genre and an internal content genre. One might have a little bit more of a hold over the structural level than others. I think this one tips more to that internal example of worldview. Yeah, if you've listened to anything with Harry Potter, which Savannah and I both obsess over, we've talked about how really JK Rowling is a master at having equal parts of action in worldview, but we call it an action story and in this I would say, well, your external content genre is probably crime, if anything, because we are dealing with an actual crime, with a robbery, and it turns into a hostage drama.

Abigail K. Perry:

But this is not a crime story. And if you were to place this or market this as a crime story, I think it would flop honestly, because it is not the expectations for that crime. Part of why I know that is because in a crime story of reader is naturally People who love crime stories are naturally looking for that eventual climatic moment of is justice brought to the villain. And what's interesting about this and having read this, so I might be spoiling this a bit for you, savannah. So what's interesting about this is that, yeah, so I'm just gonna say spoiler because it's gonna help me talk about this. So huge spoiler, I'm gonna give way to the ending right here.

Abigail K. Perry:

But the hostages actually come together to protect the bank robber and you kind of get the sense of that in these opening pages because we'll talk about this in character, but you can tell like you're leaning more towards what is going on with this bank robber and this worldview story. So when we look at worldview, the internal arc of something, we're looking for that arc of maturation. How do characters alter their black and white view of the world in order to live with more meaning or fulfillment or sophistication in their or wisdom in their existence as they go forward? How can they be the better versions of themselves? Now, in every story you wanna have that internal change, because without internal change there is no character change and personally, for me, if there's no character change, I'm just not as much engaged into this story.

Abigail K. Perry:

And I would argue that most people fall on that boat. But I think that here's the goal. Here is like when we're looking at anxious people yes, we need to see what happens with the crime, but I think it's more about are these characters going to be okay? And you can't know if they're going to be okay until you understand if they can overcome the black and white views that are holding them back relationship-wise. Personally, there's a lot of like suicidal thoughts in this story with some characters. Are they gonna be okay? So it goes into big emotional places.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and that's really interesting because for multiple reasons, but it's just like you said, when you read it, you're not reading to find out who did the crime or did they get away with the crime, or whatever. You're kind of seeing okay, what are these people going? What's gonna happen to these people thrown into this weird situation? And it's funny because we just did the magicians that's already live by the time this one will go live, and we analyze that as a worldview story too, and on the surface they're very different stories right, and that's a really cool point that you bring up.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, keep going.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah. So like I'm just sitting back here kind of listening to us talking and I'm like, dang, that's like what a cool thing that you can write a worldview story like the magicians. And then this one we're saying is also worldview, but look at how like differently they express themselves. And this one is paired with crime, where magicians is probably paired with action.

Abigail K. Perry:

So it's really, really cool, and I think that's why people get really confused when they are writing a worldview story. You know, I work with a lot of I personally, probably most of my writers come to me because they wanna be writing a worldview story, and then we have talked about okay, well, you can't write a worldview story and not have an external story. So sometimes that's the problem People really wanna world. I don't want it to be a crime story, I don't want it to be a love story, I don't want it to be an action story. But without those components there is no worldview story, because without external conflict there is no reason to change. And a worldview story is all about internal change, right. So there's gonna be a lot with interiority, there's gonna be a lot of just really emotional struggle, right, and you need that. You need that conflict to force you to change, because otherwise you just continue to sit in your emotions, right?

Savannah Gilbo:

Exactly and we had this conversation this is funny timing from the universe in my notes and novel group the other day, because a few of the writers were like, well, I know for sure I have a worldview arc in my story, but now you're asking me what are my character's goals? And I'm having a hard time with that. And you're asking me what the conflict is, and I'm having a hard time coming up with that. And then I'll say, okay, well, just tell me about your character. And it's like well, they want to be happy. And it's like, okay, that's a great ending point, but like, how are they gonna get there? And that's kind of what you're saying is the how? Or like, what is the starting point for that change? Is that external genre?

Abigail K. Perry:

So even if you are writing a character-driven, very internal story, it still has to have an external component 1000%, and that's actually a perfect segue into the plot question, which is the next one, because I think that that's kind of what we're looking here. When we have these worldview stories, when you have students who say that to you, soana, and when I have students who say that to me, what I find is that when we're working on outlines in particular, they can generalize what they want to happen, but they don't come up with specific plot points. And we have to get the specific plot points down, because if we don't know those, we don't know how we're moving forward.

Savannah Gilbo:

And then your draft breaks down.

Abigail K. Perry:

Right and like in an upmarket, you need a plot. You still need a plot. We need to advance the plot right. In a book club fiction story, there still needs to be that plot. It's not going to be as in the foreground as a commercial fiction which is based on pace in plot right Over characters Not that characters aren't important, but probably favors it a little bit more. That movement we're an upmarket, we are blending the two and they need to have really equal importance, maybe a little tipped in the character section. But I think that that's something with why I think Frederick Backman, why I'm always wanting to study him is because part of me says to myself, where is the plot? And the other part of me says, oh yeah, I can definitely see what's moving forward and I'm engaged with how it's moving forward.

Abigail K. Perry:

But what's also interesting for you because, like you've talked about, this isn't your favorite necessarily, so it could be fun to see what you say for the plot question.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and so it's funny because I think we're gonna. I mean, like you said earlier, he told us what the story's gonna be about. So that, plus the back cover, I think I got the gist of like these people are stuck together. It's how do we each deal with our good and bad parts while stuck together, and I'm sure there's like judging others and differing wants and needs and all that. So it's the conflict of being in a room with people that you're not used to being with.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, so, and just to reiterate what the question is. So the four plot question we are saying what is the story really about? And with that, exactly in a way that so it's something that's interesting that he does with Savannah, with this is that he tells us, like you said, right away what this is about, but as you progress through the story he adds to it.

Savannah Gilbo:

So it'd be like.

Abigail K. Perry:

This is also a story about idiots and a Hustler's drama and blah, blah, blah. He continues to add to it to basically show that life is complicated and when people are complicated and I think that's something in the first chapter that he's reiterating a lot too is that if you're going to like you talked about judgments if you're going to judge someone, just remember that people are more complicated and it takes a while for someone to finally get to a place of making a really bad decision, right. So I think that's what we're really dealing with is a small universe, and I use that term because it is one of the pieces out of when I went for the winners, which is the third book in the Bear Town series for Peter Backman, but someone asked him a question and he came out. He's like I like to write about small universes and I connected with that on such a deep level that I think it's just like the perfect way to explain his books is that he's not going for these big events in a story.

Abigail K. Perry:

He's going very deeply into a group of people and it's not just one person, often it's a group of people and how those people change each other by learning how to see each other and help with each other's sufferings. So I think that as it unfolds, we start to realize that this story is really about a lot of things, but at its core, I think it's about suffered pressures or traumas that impact people to make not the best decisions later in their life. And when we can give each other empathy and see that there is innate goodness in us, what can then we do to heal one another and to support and help one another? And that's where I think there's a line in this first chapter that insinuates that we're going there when he says sometimes that make us sometimes that's like on the decisions sometimes that make us do things that seem ridiculous in hindsight but which felt like the only way out at the time. And you know, case in point, we're setting up empathy for the bank robber with that.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I was just thinking about that word empathy, because it's a lesson in empathy. We're gonna feel empathy.

Savannah Gilbo:

We're gonna question our empathy you know, so I think that's really cool, but, yeah, I think that's what it's about. And then, like you said, it is about a bank robbery that kind of kicks all this off, and you know, we do find out more about that, but it's not really what the story's about. Right, exactly, okay, cool. So then our next question after that is we go to point of view, right, so who is telling the story? What point of view are we?

Abigail K. Perry:

in Okay, so this is third person omniscient. We have a super authorial voice with this right, it's this ending narrator. So sometimes, with omniscience, I think people will question is it the author? Yeah, who is the narrator? And I'm not quite sure if I think it's Frederick Beckman or not. I felt like it was just really this like non-identified, non-gender, anything type of narrator. It was just here. We are True omniscient. Yeah, true omniscient. I would call this narrator emotion.

Abigail K. Perry:

I don't know, I think that this narrator just it's very important because we are going to have an ensemble cast and often in an ensemble cast you then have a central protagonist and I think that if you were to say who's the central protagonist in this story, it's either going to be the bank robber or it's going to be the police officer.

Abigail K. Perry:

But, maybe they'd be almost like dual central protagonist the one who connects everyone is the bank robber. So I mean towards that and it's why we set up empathy in the beginning for them. But I think that ultimately we need omniscient because we need to understand how this is about, how everyone, from their own places, can get to a place of making really bad decisions or just being really low in their life, and how can we see through pain in order to connect and help one another. And that has to come with a multitude of people. In order to do that, and I think that's why we do kind of, we need to zoom out with the omniscient narrator to give that. And again, we lean into the omniscient, even if it's not Frederick Backman necessarily being the narrator. There's a lot of dependence on the voice and style and he commands his narrative and that's just where he commands it as a third person omniscient POV, which you'll see in all of his books. So those are the ones I've read.

Savannah Gilbo:

And even if you know listeners, if you're not going to read the book, it's worth downloading the opening pages just to see what we're talking about. Because this I think so far this is probably the strongest example of a voicing novel we've done at least on our collective episodes. You might have done other voicing books with other people, but this it's definitely an example of like you can tell a third person omniscient, you can tell it's very voicy and with him like the first couple pages. So you know.

Abigail K. Perry:

for something for you, savannah, because you know you said this one like it, but it's not your favorite. So is that, do you think, because you are not as concerned about voiciness, or what do you think Is it? Would this be an area that would make a difference between you and me?

Savannah Gilbo:

I mean, I I appreciate the voice, so, like I read it, I'm like, wow, this is so cool that this person can write this way. But what I didn't like and I think I thought about this a lot last night because I knew you were going to ask me this I don't like feeling so far removed from the characters, like I want to be in that experience, as if I'm the character, and so, because we have the omniscient voice and the omniscient narrator who is telling me what I need to care about and telling me what's happening, I feel like I'm just missing that connectivity, you know, or that like true immersion. So, on one hand, I appreciate it and I'm like this is really cool, Like a craft study, and on the other hand, I'm like, but as a reader, I don't really want to go forward. I will definitely watch the show, though, because I love the emotional part of this.

Abigail K. Perry:

And I think it's a Swedish show. But I've noticed in Netflix that when I, when I pressed play, it actually was in English. There you go. It was a without the subtitles, so, however they've designed it, they I think you can watch it in multiple versions where you can just watch them as subtitles so yeah, yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah so it's like I connect with the story and what it's going to be about. It's just not my style.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah. Yeah, makes sense yeah which is, which I mean. That's fine, though right, that's where it's like. That is sometimes. That's just how it goes, and you shouldn't I always like to remind writers you shouldn't be trying to satisfy every reader right. You need to find who your target reader is and lean into that. And which can be you know, take some tests and try also not to do that. But yeah, can be done.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I think so too, and so we kind of already touched on this one. The next question is which character should we care about the most? And you said the bank robber, right? Yes, yeah, yeah, and it's. We do care about the other people involved because you know they're in a situation none of us want to be in, where we're held hostage. Basically Right, but we are definitely set up to care mostly about the bank robber and to not take everything on face value that is about to happen.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yes, yes, and I think the so this is where specifics help us with specific plot points, help us more and more care about the bank robber, first and foremost, and because you don't get exact details.

Abigail K. Perry:

So I have to you know hopefully I'm not going off of my knowledge of the whole story and not to speak on the first pages here you don't get exact details to know exactly what unfolds. Yeah, but ultimately we can see that the bank robber I mean one of the things that he says is that it was never intended to be a hostage drama, right, right. So again, it's one of those things where when we bite off more than we can chew because we felt like there was no other way out, right. So, just to go into a specific because, as an example of a great setup, by telling us you know this, basically have sympathy for this bank robber is what's being presented to us, you learn later that the bank robber, the only reason that they even and this is kind of a humorous thing. Another thing, that's with Frederick Beckman. He is very humorous with real events that could happen in life.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah.

Abigail K. Perry:

And the bank robber rob a bank that doesn't have money.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, no cash, right.

Abigail K. Perry:

So there, you can't actually rob that bank because there is no cash to take. Yeah, it's all virtual transfer, you know virtual exchange. So the bank robber also only wants a very small specific amount of money because they just want, and I'm going to say they, they, I'm not going to give away if it's a male or female?

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah who?

Abigail K. Perry:

it is Right, they need to pay their rent in order to keep their children. So that's where it's, like you know, really building it up to this place of desperation. But the second that that plan, they don't even want to be doing this to begin with, and then the second that it goes wrong, they're just panicking.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right.

Abigail K. Perry:

And trying to figure out how do I get out of this. And then it is, of course, like the situation escalates because of the events that unfold, which we'll get into a scene of structure. Yeah, you definitely are having that empathy for this person of. I mean, I definitely have been in the place of just panic, right, like oh crap, and then just making that wrong decision and then regretting it afterwards, right?

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and it's interesting that you said that, because even though we're saying it's like a small universe story and it's an internal story, the stakes feel pretty high, so high.

Abigail K. Perry:

And because they're high internally, but they're also high with the crime because, right, if the bank robber is caught, that will ruin their life now.

Savannah Gilbo:

You don't even understand how that's right.

Abigail K. Perry:

What you don't know on the first page is that that's an example of how the stakes are continued. You know you continue to raise the stakes right to the point and that's where it's like anyway. I kind of already gave it away in that the sense of everyone in the hostage situation actually comes together to protect the bank robber.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right.

Abigail K. Perry:

But they get to that place because they realize that if this bank robber is arrested that's the end of their life as they know it, Right their worldview shifts Right, yeah, great, okay.

Savannah Gilbo:

So then the next one's really easy. It's setting where and when does the story take place?

Abigail K. Perry:

And this is a small town that is not far outside of Stockholm. So I say that because there's a funny thing that you know a funny phrase that some characters use of stock homers later in the story. So we know that's just outside Stockholm and this is a pretty general area that we go to for Frederick Begman.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and then the next question and the seven key questions is how should we feel? So we kind of talked about this a little right, where equal parts probably sympathetic and worried about people but also curious Like how does we get here and what's going to happen?

Abigail K. Perry:

Yep, yep. That's why I said sympathetic for broken characters and intrigue about what's going to happen, because we know the beginning of the bank robbery, we know that at the end the hostages are released and the bank robber is missing. Right, how do we get to that? And I think that that intrigue is something that we lean into more again with the specifics of the plot. That is more what you get into as you proceed forward. But one of my you know, my favorite musical of all time is Hamilton and in the beginning of that, in Alexander Hamilton, the opening number, aaron Burr. Of course it's based on history, but Aaron Burr talks about how and I'm the man who shot him, so that story is not about will Hamilton be killed in the end or not.

Abigail K. Perry:

We know that he dies in a duel. It's about how do, how does like at its core. How do these friends become frenemies to enemies, to the point of killing?

Savannah Gilbo:

each other in a duel.

Abigail K. Perry:

Right, and I think that's kind of what we're getting with this setup, which is a very strategic move on Backman's part Right.

Savannah Gilbo:

And it's really interesting like I could go off on a tangent about this, so I won't go too far. But a lot of writers hold so much stuff back where, like look what we're saying, that he literally gave away what happened. Like we know the ending already and now we're reading for a different reason and it still works.

Abigail K. Perry:

So and that's where it's like there definitely are still questions, specifically because we don't know what happened to the bank robber, right? But you, so in a way, you're also saying, hey, the climax of the story is going to work up to the reveal of either we find the bank robber or we don't, Right, and now it's about. But there's so much more to the story than just that investigation, Right?

Savannah Gilbo:

So I think I think all that's correct and I like that you've said earlier we need to be specific about things. We're also showing listeners like okay, look, you can give away the ending sometimes and it's not the end of the world, right? You know, a lot of people are just so worried about giving away too much and then they hold too much back and it doesn't quite work. So we talked about this next question a little bit too. So this it's about stakes. Why should we care what happens next? We know that there are kids in the equation. I mean, maybe not in these opening chapters, but we learned that we also, I'd say, I mean, try to focus on the opening chapter. So in the opening chapter, we know obviously we care because people are being held hostage, right, we also get that internal psychological stakes that you can take it away with that.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, yeah, I think that psychological stakes are probably the highest stake, yeah, at the, at the root of what the story is, but I think that you absolutely see the physical stakes Because of the robbery. So that justice and injustice Stake is at hand here we can see. I mean, the robber has a pistol, right? Yeah, robert thinks the pistol might even be fake, but I think that, like, ultimately, that's kind of that there is a gun and for people who are being held at gunpoint, your main stake at hand is Physical stake, right, am I?

Abigail K. Perry:

going to die here or not, for the bank, robert, with the psychological stakes Then they make to have make the decision of whether or not they're going to rob this bank. Yeah, and I do think that you can see that there are some stakes that you or you can anticipate some stakes of Parenting and children and children being on the line because of the giveaways that we read about before Right about how it can be complicated to parent. So I think that you can see that Physical stakes on the line in that aspect as well, because it seems like there could be a chance of loss of people that we love in some.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah and I think the way, like we said in the voice part earlier, he sets it up so that we're imagining the average person with average things like we have and I mean average in a good way, so like we have families, we have jobs, we have Car payments, like we have all the stuff to worry about and if we're held hostage, we're gonna start worrying about that.

Savannah Gilbo:

You know, but okay, so let's go to the scene analysis part, and I think this is gonna shock some people when we say that there is no scene in this first chapter.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yes. So I think that technically you can break down. I see commandments. I think you can break down commandments. But part of why we say maybe there's no scene in this first chapter is because it's not Contained to one moment. It is telling us the in almost the entire story, right From a zoomed out lens, right.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and it's interesting you said the word tell, because I do think it's telling us about something instead of like we're in the moment as it's happening. So it depends probably how we want to look at what a scene is. I think most of the time we're looking for like what is that thing that's happening in the moment, whether it's written in past or present tense, but it's like that, that moment that's contained and, like you said, the narrator's more Just saying here's the setup mm-hmm and here's what we're gonna hear about.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right, and again, we talked about this in the beginning, like why can he get away with this? Why does this work, you know, so we don't have to go into that again. But I know you did an analysis, like you said, for your download, your free download, that we can put the link to in the show notes. But what? What's your take on this?

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, so I do think I look at this as chapter one and I would say scene one, but it's going to be Squishier than what we usually do for a scene. Yeah, so I start with a bank robbery and ending with now that the story now the story can begin. Yeah, and even that last line, now the story can begin, okay. So we're having a pretty general consensus as to this is All the main things that we need to hit at some point in the story. Yeah, and I just want to notice like we do not determine the scene based on page breaks in this chapter At least, I don't yeah and there are many, by the way.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, and I'm looking for what I believe is something of a value shift, so that's why it's squishy, because it's. Is there a value shift? Can we Say that there's a value shift from beginning to end? And technically you can, but so it's such a grand Landscape that I don't really classify this as a scene, although I can see why. I can name commandments, but they're almost pieces of ours is like give commandments for the whole story.

Savannah Gilbo:

And I I think I wonder if we should call it like do we think this is a summary versus a scene and we're seeing the commandments in the summary?

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, that's probably an accurate way to say that I would yeah. So when you go into you know first person when you're going into that then if we're gonna say what's our breakdown of the summary and Again, this is not something I know, you know, savannah, what do you think like debut authors who would be trying to do this? I would discourage them from doing this usually because, I think it's a lot harder to sell something like this unless you have proven yourself.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah in the traditional publishing world at least, or you have what they lean into here, which is voice right, yeah, but I mean, then I think it could be hard, because I've seen drafts you probably have to where it's like the voice is really cool and interesting, but really nothing happens Right in the whole story. And so imagine an agent who, yeah, they only are reading Five pages or ten pages or 25, whatever, and if you're not showing them that, hey, you know, trust me, I haven't given you a reason to trust that the voice is gonna turn into something. You're not gonna get their attention. Yeah, yeah. And Fred, this author, he has that trust built up from previous successful books.

Abigail K. Perry:

So absolutely a little different, absolutely, and that's where it's like when you go into Exactly what you said there. I think one of the the one of the number one, if not the number one problems with opening pages is that nothing happens right, and there is something that happens, even though we're having a summary. Right, there's a bank robbery right, which is kind of a big deal, right, huge deal. So what are they literally doing? The care there is a bank robber who rob is a bank. Now we get a great deal more in a general way about what happens following that. But that is, there is a shift from you know we're about to rob the bank to we've robbed a bank. It's it's spread out even more to robbing a bank, to trapped in an apartment, to even like hostages being released from an apartment, right, go like literally, literally in that landscape. But there is definitely a shift there.

Abigail K. Perry:

I think, before we talk about the scene Analysis through the structure or the structure of the summary, I think that you still want to Be asking yourself what does the character want? So is you're in back on that character that we care about the most? The bank robber. What did they want? They want To rob a bank, right, they want to. Now. That is the bad idea, the very bad idea. So I think that you can kind of ask yourself, when we start into these commandments, in setting incidents you know that causal or coincidental unexpected disturbance that either creates the want or Uproots the way that the character is going about to achieve that one. We have to ask ourselves and I see this as like the bank robbery Gets messed up really, because I'm starting with the want is that the bank robber wants to rob the bank?

Abigail K. Perry:

right, so maybe that first incident is when it needs to get messed up. I could see people argue this as it's when they come up with the idea. I don't Choose that because I think that the movement of the scene works better. Yeah, if you say it's when the bank robbery gets messed up, and I know that there's a whole nother scene later in the story.

Savannah Gilbo:

Having known read the whole story About when the idea comes to fruition, but I could see people arguing that yeah, and it's interesting because I, having not read the book, I agree that I felt the movement when he's, when the person is robbing the bank and their plan gets messed up. Yes, so, and it's interesting. My brain's going a mile a minute kind of, because I'm thinking of summaries and how, even when we looked at I know it was totally different book, but when we looked at the Harry Potter books and there are summaries in there you can usually identify the movement over the course of time in a summary. So it's just like another little tip for listeners Don't be afraid to use the five commandments in your summaries.

Abigail K. Perry:

That's right, if not, definitely use the.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah.

Abigail K. Perry:

Okay, so then we go to turning point for that second commandment, right, that second beat. So a turning point is that action or revelation that forces the character into the crisis. So this is the unavoidable dilemma, which means that even to avoid this is to have a positive or negative consequence For me. I see this as the bank robber runs into a building that is the first door to present itself.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah.

Abigail K. Perry:

And this leads to a sterile with no exits so it's interesting because I think to myself, like what is the reason why I would define this as the turning point, versus just another progressive complication or another conflict?

Abigail K. Perry:

Because there are a lot of conflicts and part of what's tricky is that I have to be looking at what is actually presented to me on the pages versus what I know happens based on the story and how it unfolds, because I have a lot more details when I know the full event. But for here, we see this as and I think even on the line level it talks about that there wasn't even really a decision to be made, that that was the first door that they were going to go into and that they committed to that Right. But I think that if you're to analyze this, there is that decision. I think that you could I mean that will move you into the crisis with this as presented as the turning point. You then have a crisis of a best bad choice where we can ask ourselves does the bank robber backtrack and risk getting caught by the police, or run up the stairs and hope for the best hope?

Savannah Gilbo:

that they can hide, because, yeah, the known, which is getting caught by the police, is bad, but the unknown could be equally bad or worse. Right, right.

Abigail K. Perry:

And, unfortunately for the bank robber, that leads to the climax. Their action is the direct action that they take based on their crisis. So that is that the bank robber runs up the stairs, they run into the building and run up the stairs Right, and then the resolution is that this turns into a hostage drama. So the bank robber holding the pistol is sweaty and out of breath when they run up. They talk about that on the line level and why that's important, because if this bank robber was in shape, then they wouldn't be huffing and puffing and seem desperate with the pistol. But that's not the case, right?

Abigail K. Perry:

And this action then causes the hostage drama. Because here they are with their pistol, with the huffing and puffing, going into the only door that is open, which is an apartment that is for sale and that is having a showing. So it has seven or eight hostages inside the room, which they don't get the number away. I forget exactly what should those are, but that's what happens the hostages. Then basically, we continue with that. Now, if you were to stop in a scene level, I think that's where you'd stop. But we continue with that because, in the summary, we're also going to learn that eventually the bank robber has to give up and that the hostages exit the building, the police search the apartment and they're missing.

Abigail K. Perry:

And that leads to the question right? So I think that one thing that's interesting for discussions Vanna is why do we go? Why do you think he does give away all of that in the end, versus just stop at? Okay, we're now in a hostage situation.

Savannah Gilbo:

Well, and it's kind of interesting because if I'm the author and I'm writing a book like this, it doesn't really matter if we know the end right, Like you said earlier, in a crime, a true crime story, we are wondering, oh my gosh, do they get caught and brought to justice or not, and like we kind of have a flavor of that right. But we know we're being told that's not what I want you to focus on.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right so it's almost like he's telling us I'm going to give it away because it doesn't matter, and here's why it doesn't matter. Now just hang in with me and I'll tell you the story.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, I like how you said that and to emphasize that, I think that for me as a reader, if you stopped it, if he had stopped it with not wearing to a hostage situation, probably I would expect the next scene to be in the hostage situation. Right, and by giving it away it allows us to sit with the characters For a while. I don't remember if it's chapter two or chapter three or chapter four, but quickly after that we're now going to see the police officer as a boy and how he is in a situation where he as a boy can't stop someone from jumping off a bridge and that creates his wound, that kind of drives his desire to be a police officer. So it's just really interesting. Like, if you didn't do that, I think it would be more difficult to go to that place of the emotional level for the characters versus just set up the expectations of again of getting into the hostage drama. Maybe the difference between we're dealing with a worldview story versus a crime story.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right, and I think, like, even though we're saying, because if you're listening and you go read the chapter, you'll see what we mean by summary versus kind of feeling more in scene where it's like unfolding in the moment but I think what's really cool is, like what you're saying is, although the chapter is, or the yeah, the first chapter is a little different in terms of the scene and how it's set up, it's still having that effect, which is here's what we need to focus on. Here's what it's going to be about. Buckle your seatbelts.

Abigail K. Perry:

Right, exactly, and that kind of brings us, I think, to the end of the analysis. So you have the big pictures and you have the breakdown of the five commandments, be it of a summary versus a scene. You can maybe say it works on the scene the same way that a scene would play out, but we'd call it more summary than the scene in this case. But it's a great example to show how we have an author here who maybe understands the rules and breaks them in a way that makes sense and that still creates emotional appeal and intrigue, versus breaking the rules just because you want to try to break the rules. You know, do you agree with that?

Savannah Gilbo:

I would agree, and I think it's. I love asking people why so like? If you want to break the rules, ask yourself why, like? What effect are you trying to have? Because, at the end of the day, someone needs to read this, right? So we want to make sure we're creating the experience that someone is going to want to read. Again, not everybody, because you're not going to please everybody with your book, but you know, sometimes it's less about being cool or doing something cool and more about, like, I want to entertain my reader in this specific way, so I'm going to do this thing. That's a little outside the box.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yeah, exactly.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, but a fun thought experiment overall, because I remember we talked about this off podcast and we were like what are we working with here?

Abigail K. Perry:

Like this is.

Savannah Gilbo:

Even then, we kind of sat with it for a while and came to a similar conclusion that you know there is a different purpose for this and it works for some people, some people it doesn't, and that's totally fine. Yep, exactly.

Abigail K. Perry:

So, okay, well, that was super fun. Savannah, thanks for always for jumping on and doing these analysis with me, especially when they're tricky, and I just love nerding out with you, so it's great to hear. It's always fun.

Savannah Gilbo:

It's the highlight of my week. Every time and I'm curious, listeners will have to let us know. Since this was a less straightforward book, we want to hear your thoughts on you know what, if you agree with our analysis, if you like when we do these kind of less straightforward ones, or if you like the straightforward ones better, just let us know. We want to hear all the thoughts.

Abigail K. Perry:

Yep. All right, we'll see you next time.

Savannah Gilbo:

So that's it for today's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to, and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Analyze Opening Chapter of "Anxious People"
Connection to Inner Struggles of Characters
Discussion on Genre and Content Genre
Analyzing the Worldview Story Concept
Third Person Omniscient POV and Bank Robber Importance
Building Stakes in a Bank Robbery
Analyzing the Structure of a Summary
Analyzing the Narrative Structure
Podcast Support and Future Episodes