Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing lessons learned from SHATTER ME


Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi, surprised me. I normally don't read dystopian, and I have to admit, at first I had a hard time with the scratch-through text. But...once I got into this story, I loved it.

From Goodreads:

Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what The Reestablishment needs right now. Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Here are a few of the writing lessons I learned from this book:
  • Style and voice stand out--This book has style up the wazoo. Unique scratch-through text. Lack of punctuation where you'd expect it. Rule-breaking numbers written as numbers instead of spelled out. Some cases where there's a series of one word lines. And the voice totally separates this book from others. So internal, and bursting with passion and emotion.
  • Create an uncomfortable bind between protagonist and antagonist--The villain, Warner, represents the bigger villain, The Reestablishment. He points out something to Juliette that's disturbing: they both gain power from killing other people. She gains physical power when she touches someone, and Warner gains social power when he kills others. People fear them and think they're both monsters. This complexity adds to Juliette's doubt and confusion.
  • Teens girls still love a swoon-worth guy--Confession: I swooned over Adam (in a non-cougar way, of course). Not all girl teen readers like this, I know, but a lot of them do. As a teen, I loved a hunky guy thrown into the mix, and that hasn't changed. But he can't just be a hunk for hunk's sake. He should be conflicted and flawed. There should be a logical reason why he only has eyes for the female protagonist. In this case, Adam and Juliette share a forgotten past and similar feelings of neglect. I thought the romance angle of this story was beautifully done.
  • Add a unique symbol of hope--Juliette hopes and dreams that one day she'll see a "white bird with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head." She's seen this in her dreams. And later, when she sees this tattoo on another character, she feels hope. That one day she will see this bird fly again.
  • Unpredictable plot turns rule--I play a strange game when I'm reading a book: Guess The Plot Turn. But in this book, there wasn't a single plot turn that I saw coming. I eagerly turned the pages, wondering what would happen next. Mafi did a great job of sending me on an unpredictable journey.
  • Sprinkle backstory, don't dump--We've heard this tip so often, but this story was another great reminder. There were all kinds details that remained a mystery until later in the story. But I loved that. Even now, there are things about the character and world that I don't know yet. And that's ok. The author told me what she needed me to know at that point, and left just enough out to keep me curious. I'm ready for book #2.
Have you read Shatter Me yet? If so, what were your thoughts? And if you've learned a writing lesson from a great book, we'd all love to hear it!

28 comments:

  1. I read and loved this book. The strange thing is though that not much really happens in it not compared to most dystopian books. I also read it more for the poetry of the writing than the story. It was like a drug. I'd read a little bit every night to savor the words, kind of like you would a book of poetry. (I have to say the ending really surprised me. I thought it was kind of odd.) But I still gave it 5 stars and can't wait for book 2.

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    1. Laura, the ending surprised me, too. And you're right about the language. Wow. So pretty.

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  2. Haven't read Shatter Me, but you certainly make me want to. I need to start reading with more purpose. I don't take the time to analyze like you do. But what I did learn from my latest read (The Fault In Our Stars) is to give my readers a proper ending, don't leave them guessing about what happened to the characters--unless I'm planning a sequel. Not that John Green did this in his book, but he addresses this issue within his plot.

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    1. Linda, I've made a deal with myself: I don't force myself to learn from these books, but I keep paper stuffed within the pages just in case something pops out at me. Low pressure!

      And I'm reading The Fault in Our Stars right now! I know what you mean about

      See? I just did it there :)

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  3. Haven't read this - I love your critiques by the way and I also love you are not participating in the a-z challenge. It's a relief to read a blog that isn't. I am and I'm almost sorry.
    Karen

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    1. Karen, I'm impressed with you A-Zers. That's a heck of a lot of blogging!

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  4. I did read a sample of Shatter Me, and while I was impressed by the style and the introduction of the main character, I was about to start writing something new and didn't want to be overly influenced. As much as I love reading great books, they make me feel bad about my own writing, lol. :P

    It's on my list to read once I've finished my first draft, though. Thanks for picking these lessons out for us who haven't yet read it, Julie! This will be much more helpful to me as I'm writing!

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  5. OMG, Tere, that feeling you have when you read a good book? Where you feel bad about your own writing? I feel that all the time! I'm feeling it now, actually, as I'm reading The Fault in Our Stars. Great stuff.

    Best of luck to you on that first draft!

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  6. I haven't read this one yet. Honestly, I've waited after a discussing it with a friend who didn't care for it. But, hmmm, Julie you never steer me wrong and I always love reading what you've learned. SO helpful! I'm reconsidering.... May have to put it on the teetering tbr pile and hope there won't be an avalanche!

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  7. Like the idea of seeing the bird in a tattoo.

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  8. Another great analysis. You nailed it! And made me remember more of what I loved in that book.

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  9. I haven't read this yet but I've heard great things about it! I'm interested in the style. I love a book with a unique style that breaks all the rules (such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak).

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  10. Loved it! The writing was so beautiful--I'm a sucker for a unique turn of phrase--and the story as unpredictable. Can't wait for the sequel.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  11. I've just started Shatter Me. I'm glad to hear that it's going to be a great ride. I love reading books that inspire me to kick my own writing up a notch.

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  12. This one has been on my wishlist for a while! Can't wait to get to it :)

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  13. Sounds very I frigging Julie, I'm really getting into dystopian and such. Would you call Maggie Steifvater dystopian? Inside Out is great too.

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  14. I love these writing lessons posts, Julie. They are always so insightful. I have not read Shatter Me, but now I'll have to add it to my pile. You've intrigued me. : )

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  15. Thanks, guys! If you read this book, I hope you enjoy it :)

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  16. This typically isn't within my scope of interest but your critique and Laura, Becca and others comments about Mafi's writing style has hooked my curiosity . . . I've added this title to my PBS 'wish list'.

    Really enjoying your your posts Julie . . .

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  17. Wow, that takes confidence writing a book that is so different (scratch-through-text style). I'm curious to read it to see what you mean. :)

    Thanks for the writing lessons, Julie. Your points are always so good!

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  18. I learned so much about voice from this book. It did have a really strong voice, and it didn't always work for me, but it stood out. I quit reading half way through and went to the author's blog. I realized it's her voice. It's not really that the MC has a separate voice--that was the author's voice. And I realized that I shouldn't worry so much about trying to find the character's voice because really my characters come from my head. They're all just different pitches of one voice.

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  19. I adore these posts of yours. You have such great insight into the books beyond the usual reviews. I would hazard a guess that this kind of specificity makes your fiction writing a standout too!

    Martina

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  20. Hi Julie! I haven't read Shatter Me. Thanks for sharing the lessons you learned from it.

    Susanne
    PUTTING WORDS DOWN ON PAPER

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  21. Oooh, great little review of it. Thanks for sharing Julie! This is in my massive TBR pile and I can't wait to read it:)

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  22. I haven't read this one yet, though I must admit, I'm intrigued by your post. And now I'm wondering what 'scratch-through' text is. Do you mean they formatted the book that way? Ugh, that might be annoying.

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  23. Thanks for your thoughts! I really appreciate it :)

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  24. I have to argue with you on this one. While the story was okay, it was just about the ONLY reason I finished this book. The voice was the most grating I have ever read. EVER! Talk about a drama queen! My God! Every other paragraph was over the top. Geez! The style, the strike-throughs, it was distracting. But more than anything, the entire book felt like a prequel, like a setup so the reader would understand the books that follow. It was ALL backstory. I finished because, after hearing so much about it & Mafi, I had great hopes, but I was seriously disappointed.

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