Saturday, October 15, 2011

Writing lessons learned from "The Rifle"

Our sons are reading The Rifle, by Gary Paulsen, in class. Out of curiosity, my husband and I read it together in about two hours. Here's a quick summary:

A priceless, handcrafted rifle, fired throughout the American Revolution, is passed down through the years until it fires on a fateful Christmas Eve of 1994.

This was a cool, quick read, and here are a few writing lessons I learned from this book:
  • Multi-published, award-winning authors can get away with what most of us can't. If a newbie writer wrote a manuscript that devoted several opening pages to how a gun was crafted, I wonder if it would make it past the gatekeepers. Just curious. My husband was fascinated by this part of the book, but I was tempted to skip it and get to the conflict.
  • Consider a unique point of view. This book doesn't follow a specific human character. It follows the rifle from the time it was crafted during the Revolutionary War to 1994, when it's involved in a tragic accident. I thought that was a cool spin on point of view.
  • Weave historical details into a story. I applaud historical fiction writers. We all know how much research is involved in these types of novels, and now more than ever I appreciate the way an author deftly adds historical nuggets without slowing down the story. It's a good reminder for me to add research details without making my manuscript feel like a textbook.
  • The power of pacing. Without giving too much away, one of the final scenes involves the rifle being shot. The entire scene took two to three pages to describe in painstaking, anxious detail, but the actual time span of the event took less than 1.5 seconds. I held my breath during this scene, which is usually a good indicator that the author did a nice job of pacing.
I'm glad I read this book, knowing it's another opportunity to discuss this subject with our sons. Plus I thought it ended up being an interesting read.

Have you or your kids read this book? If so, what was your opinion? And if you're a teacher, do you assign this book to your students?


17 comments:

  1. I hadn't heard of this book at all, but the plot sounds like a highly original way of delivering a story.

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  2. I haven't read this book (or heard of it), but wow, sounds like a good job of pacing all right. Something to consider for our own novels!

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  3. I don't know the book, but I do know Gary Paulsen now because of the SCBWI conference this summer. He was one of the most amazing speakers, and based on his company that's saying a lot!

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  4. I haven't read it but it sounds good.

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  5. I am always looking for good "boy books," for my classroom. This sounds like a perfect fit for 5th grade since we study the American Revolution.

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  6. I've read a ton of Gary Paulsen's books, but I haven't read this one. Sounds great - thanks for the tip. Paulsen really is a master.

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  7. I like Gary Paulsen. My son has read several of his books, but not this one -- yet. I'll have to pick it up.

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  8. I haven't read this one. I love tense climactic scenes where we get to live every second. Those are the best!

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  9. I hope I produce a little of this effect on my readers.

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  10. I haven't read this book yet, but Gary Paulsen is an awesome writer, and he always plunges you deeply into the story with his writing.

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  11. I haven't read this, but I may pick it up at the library for my son and I. He is enjoying the Harry Potter books now.

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  12. I haven't read this one of Gary Paulsen's, but I had to leave a comment to say that I think he's a genius. He's one of the only people in the world who could probably get away with opening a story like that! :) Although, I read a hot air balloon "picture book" by him the other day and was thoroughly disappointed. I'd thought everything by GP was amazing, but this was ... weird. We read it through once (barely) and gave it back to the library right away!

    Amy

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  13. Never heard of this book but you do make a great point, they are able to write pretty much anything and get away with it when they're multi-published and sold a lot. What can you do!

    Thanks for sharing!

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  14. I love this post. I too take away writing lessons from many of the books I've been reading. Mostly I applaud you and your husband reading your kids books. So many good things come from that. Thanks for a great post.

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  15. I haven't read it, but a good reminder that there is always something to learn. Always! And I'm so grateful to you for sharing with all of us:)

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  16. I love it when a crucial event is slowed down perfectly... so that we await every millisecond, without being bored.

    Not sure I would have liked the gun's background at the beginning. I'm pretty plot-oriented.

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