Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Writing Lessons Learned from WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

I recently finished reading WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen, and loved it. As with any book, I learned a great deal from this one. Here goes:
  • Character development through interaction with animals. We instantly love two of the main characters because of their affection for animals. They sneak food to them. They risk danger in order to protect animals from the bad guys. On the flip side, the bad guys jump off the page with their viciousness. At one point a lit cigarette is flicked into the elephant's open mouth. In another scene, we suffer through the elephant's cries as she's beaten mercilessly.
  • First person present tense is not just for YA literature. Obvious, I know. But before reading The Hunger Games, I don't remember having read a book with this POV. YA literature is riddled with first person/present tense, and now I'm used to it. I thought it worked in this book, even though it's not YA.
  • Alternating points of view with the same character adds depth. In ELEPHANTS, the author deftly switches between two eras of the main character's life. One is in the 1930's, when the MC was a young man traveling with the circus. The other is when he's an old man, wasting away in a nursing home. It made me think of each person sitting in a nursing home now, and all the stories they must have bottled up inside them.
  • Brilliant words that add sound. Clatter, howl, nicker, screech, clackety-clack, clip-clop, snort. These sound words, and many more, added dimension to the story. I felt like I was there, listening to the raucous life of a circus.
  • Circus life sounds exciting, but it was a gritty business. I read the author's note at the end of the book, where she explained the depth of her research. Many of the circus scenes and ideas in the book sound outrageous, but they're based on fact. Wow.
Now that I've read the book, I want to see the movie. Have you read this book or seen the movie? What was your opinion?

54 comments:

  1. I love when we read a book and learn great writing lessons from it.

    I have not read this book, but I want to see the movie. You have me interested in the book now. Hope you had a great holiday.

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  2. Neither read nor seen it. And what about characters who snort? Is that cool?

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  3. I've read a few non-YA books that use first person present tense. The last one was "Father of the Rain" by Lily King.

    Now I think I should write some animals into my stories. Well wait the one story the characters ARE animals...

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  4. I read the book and LOVED it. I am an amimal lover and have a heart for the elderly so it really spoke to me.
    I also saw the move. As usual, it was a bit of a disappointment after reading the book but still was enjoyable. Well worth watching.

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  5. Great interpretation...I really want to read this book AND see the movie but I'll do the book first.
    Thanks Julie for pin-pointing the important aspects...I look forward to reading it.

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  6. I read the book a while ago. I LOVED bouncing back and forth between the old him and the young him. I also love being inside a guy's head. A fab book, I really want to see the movie, but it'll probably wait til after the theater.

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  7. I have not done either... but now, I feel compelled to.

    thx

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  8. So interesting about the sounds, Julie! Now I want to read this book even more. I have studied a bit about circus life in the past. The treatment of animals was horrific at times, and the lifestyle was rugged. This goes on my tbr pile! I'll definitely see the movie, cuz, ya know RPatz and all;)

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  9. I avoided reading this book because of the animal abuse issues. Though realistic for the time it's still hard for me to take. But now, after reading your blog, I know I MUST read it. Thank you! Elizabeth

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  10. I haven't read the book or seen the movie but I keep hearing amazing things about both. Character development through animal interaction can be so powerful! I had no idea that the book was written in first person present tense though.

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  11. I have read the book and loved it and seen the movie as well, and liked it.
    Karen

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  12. Haven't read it, but it sounds awesome! Maybe those adult authors are learning something from us! LOL. Great tips.

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  13. See, taht's why I couldn't wait to see what they did with the movie! Great post. I myself like to draw lessons from others' works but sometimes I just forget to take the time and literally take note. It's worth it. :)

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  14. I've been wanting to read this and just haven't had the time. I've heard wonderful things about it. And no, I haven't seen the movie either. Guess I better do both soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  15. Thanks for your writing insights on this book. It's a success for a reason! I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.

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  16. I loved this novel as well. It's amazing how 1st person/present tense can grow on you when it's done well. For a while, I couldn't stand reading past tense after THE HUNGER GAMES and this novel.

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  17. I adore books that let me peek into a world I'd never go to. Just downloaded the audio book of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Can't wait for the experience.

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  18. I've kind of avoided this book because of the realism. I don't know if I could handle the situations the poor animals are put in - I'm kind of a wimp in that department! Maybe in the summer when I have more time and don't have to stop at a heart-breaking point!

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  19. I read the book last year ... and it was outstanding. The characters stayed with me long afterwards.
    I'm not too keen on seeing the movie .. how could it ever every be as good???? :-)

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  20. Great post, Julie. I tend to read for pleasure only, but I think I need to start studying technique, too.

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  21. I haven't read it or seen the movie but this made me want to. Great post! I love learning while loving a book.

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  22. The two POVs from the different time periods of the MCs life sounds fascinating. I've been wanting to read the book and then see the movie. Thanks for this cool post.

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  23. Read the book and watched the movie. Both were wonderful and I agree with all of your points. I LOVED the dimension that the animals brought to the story.

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  24. I have neither read the book nor watched the movie. But I have heard lots about both. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book.

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  25. Loved the book! I haven't seen the movie yet. I'll wait for it to come out on Netflix.

    Great post! I agree with all your points. I remember reading the authors note at the end; it's crazy how the happiness and fun of the circus was sometimes a great big lie when you go behind the scenes.

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  26. I haven't read it yet, but I think I really should do something about it. I'd love to see how the story is put together.

    :-)

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  27. Great analysis, and I'm looking forward to reading this book.

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  28. Oh, I love your observations, Julie. What a great post. I really, really enjoyed WATER FOR ELEPHANTS for all the reasons you cited. In fact, I loved the book so much that I'm almost reluctant to see the movie. : )

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  29. I haven't heard of this one! Sounds great from your review.

    Tag, you're it! I've been tagged, and now it's your turn. See my blogpost for details and the nice things I said about you:
    Artzicarol Ramblings

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  30. I'm *about* to read this book! So I'll come back after to read everything closer... I mean--I scrunched my eyes closed in case there were spoilers, lol.

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  31. I read the first chapter and loved it! I want to see the movie, but then I want to read the book first (ha, go figure).

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  32. I haven't read it, but the movie looks gorgeous! I might have to give the book a try now that I read your glowing review!

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  33. Oh interesting. I love the observation about noise sounds. Onomotopeoia is one of my favorite features, but mostly don't think to use it in books for some bizarre reason. I still have to have something HUGE to suck me into present tense, though 1st person has almost won me over (not better than third, but acceptible).

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  34. Came over to say CONGRATS on getting an agent!!

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  35. I've known about this book for years but I've never read it and I still haven't seen the movie I sure am missing out!
    nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  36. As you know, I LOVED this book! I love the lessons you pulled out of it. I felt I learned a lot about the craft of writing when reading it as well. :)

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  37. I have the book sitting on my desk TBR. Haven't seen the movie yet, but I want to read the book first! :)

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  38. Yes, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was great. I would definitely re-read this one!

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  39. It's on my TBR list. I love your observations. Movie is on my list too, although I'll likely see it first, then read the book.

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  40. All the reviews I've read on this book make me want to read it. :)

    Did I miss something? Did you sign with someone???

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  41. I probably should have read this. But I went and saw the movie...and because I had nothing to compare it to, I thought it was gooood.

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  42. I haven't read this or seen the film, but your review makes me feel like seeking this book out. I like the way the author shows us the characters through their interactions with the animals... neat!

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  43. One of my fav books now! I adored it, and the film was amazing. And Not just because Robert Pattinson does a great job NOT playing Edward. A must read : )

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  44. I have recently bought this book and can't wait to read it!

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  45. I haven't read the book but did see the movie and will say this. I COMPLETELY forgot about Edward Cullen.

    I thought Robert Pattinson was amazing as Jacob. The book is now in my to-be-read pile.

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  46. I enjoyed this book very much too!

    Going to try to post as anonymous since this is one of the blogs I haven't been able to comment on - I'll try this . . .

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  47. oh, and it's me - kat magendie :-D

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  48. I read the book - liked it, though didn't love it (I guess I'm sort of a picky reader). I did like switching between old and young Jacob though. I haven't seen the movie -- I might do so if the opportunity arises, but probably won't go out of my way.

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  49. Hello, I come to via another friends blog.. I am co~author of http://heartofthehome-blog.blogspot.com/ and I enjoyed browsing your blog and wanted to introduce ourselves.. Heart of the Home is a womens ministry reaching out to women with encouragement from Gods word and his design for women as wives, mothers, friends and etc.. Hope you will get a chance to stop by and visit us, and that we can become Blogging Buddies.. Have a great weekend.. God Bless

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  50. I feel like I am crazy because everyone loved it, but I thought the dialogue was wooden and the characters underdeveloped. I felt like it needed one more draft to realize its potential. The story was interesting, though.

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  51. I've just started reading it, I hope I can handle the cruelty parts. It sounds like a fasinating insight into circus life anyway. Take care.

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  52. I really enjoyed this book. Another aspect I noticed was that she seems to describe only what we need in a scene and no more - for instance, in all the circus scenes, there were no endless descriptions of all the different acts, and the people in the crowd; only as much as the MC noticed and commented on.

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  53. Some people enjoy going to the circus and seeing the freak shows and animals; however, Gruen presents the behind the scenes of the circus world to give a rather grim, but engaging outlook. Although fictional, many of the events happening in Water for Elephants were based on true-life situations. It made the story traditional and familiar with special twists and unexpected surprises.

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