Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Writing lessons learned from SHINE


I recently finished SHINE, by Lauren Myracle, and wow, what a great book. If you write contemporary YA, this is a must read.

From Goodreads:

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community, and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

Here are some of the valuable writing lessons I learned from this book:
  • Open with a newspaper article--I mentioned this is my post about HATE LIST, and I felt the same way with SHINE. Opening with a newspaper article was a great way for the author to bring the reader up to speed on a traumatic event that took place before the book began. This article was packed with powerful details about the victim, the hate crime, and the story world.
  • Introduce a coma patient through brief flashbacks--Patrick, the best friend, was in a coma after a horrible beating. But brief flashbacks revealed the close relationship between Cat and Patrick, and also showed how and why their friendship had changed over the years.
  • Create a cast of suspects--this story was a mystery, and the author did an amazing job of introducing several likely perpetrators (or Purple Taters, as one character called them). As each character was introduced, the author threaded in possible motives. Tiny clues were dropped about each person, which kept me guessing until the big reveal.
  • Refer to a life-changing event early, but unveil late--something big and bad had happened between the main character, Cat, and a local boy named Tommy. Cat referred to it from time to time, as breadcrumbs were dropped along the way. But the author deftly strung the reader along, not revealing the big bad thing until later in the story.
  • Create an unlikely love interest--this wasn't your typical love-at-first-sight-can't-live-without-each-other drama. The true love story was about Cat and her good friend, but the "crush" sub plot was tame and unusual, which made me appreciate it even more.
  • Dual motive ending--toward the end, Cat not only continued her search for answers about her best friend's beating, but she also worked to prevent a future crime. I held my breath as the stakes rose from chasing clues to saving a life.
  • Establish your climax setting early--the climax setting, which I won't reveal here, was mentioned early in the story. The main character had good times there, but the location was also fraught with danger. When the climax took place, I already knew what dangers lurked there. This location didn't appear out of nowhere--it had been established early and mentioned a few times throughout the story.
  • Don't shy away from controversial topics--this author bravely wrote about sexuality, drugs, molestation, and hate, but it was obvious she didn't do it for shock value. Each of these topics wove throughout the story in a perfect blend of sadness and hope. It was a natural progression of events, with just the right amount of surprise.
Have you read SHINE yet? If so, what was your opinion? And what writing lessons have you learned lately from a great book?

28 comments:

  1. Hi Julie, I have not read the book, but I find it interesting that it was "accidentally" nominated for a National Book Award. I don't think it was an accident. I think it was meant to be, as this sounds like a wonderful book that needs the publicity it has gotten as a result of that "accident". Thanks for sharing your insight.

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  2. Hi Julie, this book sounds wonderful. I am looking forward to reading it. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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  3. I haven't read it, but I've heard if it. And now, since I've learned to trust your reviews, it's in my TBR list. I love learning from authors.

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  4. I actually just purchased this book this week. I can't wait to read it. I've had it on my wish list since that controversy last year regarding it being mistakenly announced as a finalist for some award.

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  5. I haven't read it, but now I really want to. Looks like a great set of stuff to help improve a story. I especially like having introduced the climax setting early--makes it possible for a much tighter end scene.

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  6. I've been meaning to read this book. I should move it to the top of my TBR list because it sounds like an important and well-written book. Thanks for sharing these lessons!

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  7. I'm not a huge contemporary reader, but I might give this one a try. It sounds like a great read.

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  8. I keep hearing about this book. I rarely read contemporary YA, but the few I have read (like 13 Reasons Why) were fabulous. I will add this one to my TBR list.

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  9. I haven't read Shine, but I really like these writing lessons. What a great post, Julie! I've learned things before reading the novel and yet you gave nothing away. ; )

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  10. Love these tips and lessons. It makes me want to pick up a copy of Shine right now.:)

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  11. Sounds like a great book! I love the lessons you've gleaned. I've been considering where to place a news article in my current story - this helps! And I love the advice about the setting of the climax scene - something I hadn't thought much about. Thanks! :)

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  12. I love these lessons. I'm using the confidence in the book the Help to give me courage to not fear controversial topics with my book! The worst is I get fired.
    Actually... I love these all. I'm thinking now how to use them in my next book. Because, they transcend all genres. Thanks for a great post!

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  13. I have read this story and thought the writing was excellent.

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  14. I will look into this one. Thanks for sharing!!

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  15. I WANT to read this book!
    And I love books where you don't have insta-love! :D

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  16. Thanks for the great tips, Julie! This book sounds like one I'll need to read.

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  17. No, I haven't read this book, but I loved your list of techniques that you picked up from it. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. Haven't read that one yet...notice I said YET! Now I'm dying to!

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  19. Yay for book analysis! I love to dig into what made a book work, and I love when others do the same thing. Sometimes its tricky because not everyone (in fact very few) will have read the book. Your format works great: now i'm very curious about opening with a newspaper article (never seen that used, yet) and a dual motive ending.

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  20. SHINE is a book that will stay with me forever. I loved the way no characters were stereotyped by either their sexuality or poverty. They were all richly developed and the story was a piece of perfect.

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  21. This has been on my tbr list since all that stuff last year, you just reminded me of how much I want to read it.

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  22. I absolutely have to read this book. Great analysis!

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  23. I've read SHINE and wholeheartedly agree with your analysis. Very well put.
    The mystery, the characters, the style and the tone drew me in from page 1. I consider it a neo-noir story.

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  24. I read a lot of Mystery and Suspense when I was younger, but not much lately. This sounds like a good one, though. I'll have to pick it up!

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  25. I love all of Lauren's books. She always manages to go deep to make the reader feel, and really takes on the tough topics.

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