Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Writing lessons learned from THE FAULT IN OUR STARS



I'm a John Green fan, and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS did not disappoint. Jodi Picoult, another favorite author of mine, blurbed that this book was "Electric...filled with staccato bursts of humor and tragedy." I couldn't have said it better myself. From Goodreads:

"Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumors in her lungs...for now.


Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too...Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind."


This story had such an impact on me, I teared up as I typed the above summary. *deep breath* Ok, here are some of the writing lessons I learned from this book:

  • Humor lightens a serious mood--Obvious, I know, but the humor has to be done right. In Green's case, he created smart, funny main characters whose spunky language made me smile despite the sad subject. Hazel and Augustus joked about cancer perks. Hazel called her oxygen tank Phillip. Augustus said funny things like, "You'll find my leg under the table." Humor like this relieved pressure from the heavy story.
  • A small cast of characters increases their importance--I'd guess that about 98% of this story revolved around Hazel and Augustus. It chronicled their survival, and their relationship. It wasn't watered down with multiple story lines and a huge cast. This allowed the reader to become close to the main characters. Hazel and Augustus are still on my mind.
  • Create sympathetic characters with serious obstacles--For Hazel and Augustus, just living is a big deal. Augustus is an amputee. Hazel struggles for each breath, and is forced to lug around an oxygen cart. This alone created problems for them.
  • Catch that phrase-Hazel and Augustus rolled their eyes when their good friend and his main squeeze gushed over each other and kept saying "Always?" "Always." For Hazel and Augustus, their own private phrase became "Okay?" "Okay." I felt like I was a third wheel in every private moment between them.
  • Write a story that's bigger than the characters--This story explored leaving a mark on this world, or in some cases, leaving a scar. It was about "loving deeply and not widely." It left me thinking that one of the greatest gifts someone can give is a kind word. This book resonated.
Bonus thoughts from a teen reader: After finishing this story, my fifteen-year-old son said, "This book reminded me to not worry so much about material things, and other stuff that doesn't matter, and to be thankful for my health."


What do you think about the above points? Have you read this book? If so, what was your opinion?

photo credit

23 comments:

  1. I haven't read this book yet, though I've heard such great things about it. It is on my to read list, but I worry that it will just be far to emotional for me, reading this though makes me want to read it more.
    Thanks for sharing :)

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  2. I also thought it was great. And I like your final sentence: "This book resonated."

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  3. I haven't read it, but I'd like too. I'm hoping my library will get it in soon!

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  4. I've not read this book but I do love Ms Picoult so I guess I'd better look at it! It sounds like a genuinely touching read.

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  5. I teared up when I read what your son said.

    This is such a great book! I loved how it showed that being a cancer patient/dying is different for everyone...it shattered the stereotypes that are there to make healthy people think they understand what's going on, or maybe to help them feel better about it...amazing stuff.

    You're right about the humor. Loved it, made it easier to take the heavy subject.

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  6. "Love deeply, not widely." I LOVE that!! So simple yet succinct. Perfect message.

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  7. Julie, what kept me into this book was the wit of the characters more so than the story itself. The story should have moved me more, but it didn't. And I think it's because I have just recently (January) lived this situation. So as I was reading, I was thinking more, "Oh, so this is what it was like for her," or "That's why she acted the way she did," kind of thing. Perhaps I didn't shed any tears while reading this book because I had already shed so many for my friend.

    So I guess I could say the story was more informative for me than moving. I hope that makes sense. :)

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  8. Glad your son got a good message from the book.

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  9. I totally agree. This is such a fantastic book!

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  10. I agree that is is so important to balance humor with serious. Life is like that, and when a story overplays one emotional note it loses its credibility.

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  11. This story sounds absolutely fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing it. Off to buy now.

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  12. This one's on my wishlist! Love what your son said - kids always hit the heart of the matter!

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  13. This is one of my favorite books this year. It was such a tough read at times and I really appreciated how John Green could still make me smile with his humor.

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  14. I really liked this book. John Green is a great writer (though I've had trouble getting into his other novels).


    The Golden Eagle
    The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

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  15. I did enjoy this book and also got teary. I think JG is a mega talented writer, though I struggled with some of the wit being too witty, too spot on,too swift and perfect on the comeback. Just too much for most adults I know, much less teens. That said, I overlooked it and still enjoyed the read as it is a beautifully written, moving story that I do rec highly for teens on up:)

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  16. Lovely post. I think a humor in any medium makes the serious parts all the more meaningful. (For example whenever my favorite sitcoms added the rare, occasionally sad subplot, I always felt it more.) Great observation.

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  17. I haven't read this book, but will add it to my TBR book list. Thanks for sharing about it.

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  18. For me, this was one of those books that, since everyone gushed about it so much, I went into it with these incredibly high expectations and then I wasn't as impressed as I was expecting to be. I hate it when that happens! :) But it WAS hilarious. (The scene where Hazel and the blind kid are playing the video game near the end of the book has to be one of the most hilarious scenes ever written, imho.) And I did cry at the end. And of course these characters will stick with me, so I guess, from that standpoint, I'm very glad I read it. My biggest problem with it was that -- No, having cancer does not turn you into a witty genius if you weren't a witty genius before you got cancer (so, why are all three of these kids with cancer witty geniuses with the same sense of humor?). And, of course, the world view was just depressing. Besides that, it was a very good book and I can only hope to someday write as well as John Green!

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  19. Great advice! Your first suggestion reminds me of Steel Magnolias, and their "laughter through tears" moment. So sad and funny at the same time - perfect!

    I've heard great things bout The Fault in Our Stars. Must read it!

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  20. I really enjoy your posts - especially your insights into the books you've read... Thanks for sharing.

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  21. This book was recommended by several agents at a conference this past weekend. All six copies are out in our library system so I have it on hold. Reading another agent recommendation - Sparrow Road, which is really good so far.

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  22. I read this book over the summer for school. I was truly inspired by the themes present in this novel, as well as the lessons. John Green is an outstanding author whom has left an impression on me which I shall carry with me through out the rest of my life. This was one the absolute best books that I have ever had the privilege of reading.

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