Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing lessons learned from MATCHED


I finally read MATCHED, by Ally Condie, and once I finished the first chapter, I couldn't stop. I dragged that book with me everywhere. And, wow, wow, wow. I totally loved it all--the story, the characters, and most of all, the writing style. Ally Condie won a new fan.

From Goodreads: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate...until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

I have a long list of writing lessons learned from this fabulous book, but I'll list my favorites:

  • Give readers time to know the MC before "the change"--Too often I think we have to jump directly to the time where things change for our main characters. MATCHED begins with action, since we meet Cassia on the way to her Match banquet. We're given a chance to know her, and how she views her world. We get to know her best friend, Xander, and how he fits into her life. I was entertained from the start, and began liking each character right away. By the time of the inciting incident, I cared.
  • Give characters a job that matters to the story--Cassia is an expert at sorting data and finding patterns. Her dad sorts through material at an old library. Her mom works at the Arboretum. I had a feeling that each of these vocations would play a part in the story, and the author didn't disappoint.
  • Make the MC uncomfortable--Cassia is forced to not only sort data, but eventually sort people. This made Cassia, and me, the reader, totally uncomfortable. She knew her sort would impact the lives of real people, and the stakes were high. My stomach tightened during this entire scene...a sign that it was well-written and well-paced.
  • If a rule-follower will later rebel, show early signs that it's possible--Cassia learned that she's not the first rule-follower in her family to show signs of rebellion. Her grandfather slipped her a forbidden poem. Her father broke the rules for people he loved. This showed us that Cassia had it in her, so when she took her turn breaking the rules, it made sense.
  • Give the main characters a shared secret--Cassia and Ky, the boy who is not her Match, share secrets that connect them. Ky knows about Cassia's forbidden poem, and she catches him writing in script, which is also forbidden. They conspire to keep these secrets between them, and this small seed shows they have it in them to break the rules.
  • Create sympathy for an antagonist--During one scene, Cassia's artifact, her most prized possession, is collected by an Official. The Official is the antagonist in this scene, but Cassia noticed the Official had a band of white skin where her ring had been. This Official had also lost something valuable, which made it difficult to hate her. We learn that Cassia's father is also an Official, and she knows her father is only doing his job when he enforces the rules. Quite a predicament.
  • Use a poem or other written work to enforce a theme--Cassia's grandfather gave her a gift in the form of the Dylan Thomas poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night." Such a cool link to the past for a futuristic story. The words "do not go gentle" became part of the bigger theme of the story, and perfectly described Cassia's character arc from rule-follower to someone who did not go gentle.
Have you read MATCHED? Have you seen these writing tips in books you've read, or have you used them yourself? Any great tips you can share from your favorite book?

45 comments:

  1. Ok, wow, I haven't read Matched but now I want to. And this was SUCH a helpful post! Great lessons. I'm keeping this one marked for future reference!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Michele. The book exceeded my expectations. Now I need to read Crossed!

      Delete
  2. Great points, Julie. I particularly love your #1 & 3. Getting to now the MC prior to that change takes such balance, and at times we're so excited to write the rest of the story we forget about the beginning. This is where my current struggle lies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sheri, I share the same struggle. Too much? Too little? How do these great authors get it so right? *digs back into revision*

      Delete
  3. Sorry, not a genre I read. But I do know how to make my main character uncomfortable!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alex, I love it when the author makes the character & reader uncomfortable. A skill I need to sharpen!

      Delete
  4. Nice character analysis. And a good review.

    I don't know if I would follow a formula as this suggests. My favorite Lenard(sp) quote about leaving out the parts the readers don't read...I apply that to every paragraph, and every situation.

    I try to show my character to be as rich as I can, then end up editing out stuff, idiosyncrasies, opinions and events that end up being unnecessary.

    -Mac

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mac, excellent advice about snipping out the stuff readers don't read. I read somewhere that if the author is bored, the reader will be bored. Makes sense!

      Delete
  5. I've heard mixed reviews for this book and haven't tried it myself, so thanks for the review (and tips)!
    erica

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Erica, I hadn't heard much about the book, believe it or not, so I didn't have expectations one way or another. So in my case, it exceeded my expectations. If you do read it, I hope you enjoy it!

      Delete
  6. Amazing the way you're always able to pull valuable lessons out of your books. Wish I had that talent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Nancy. I tell ya, these days I have lightbulb moments when I read any books! And believe me, I need those lightbulb moments :)

      Delete
  7. I haven't gotten it, yet, Julie, but it sounds like it will be a summer read. You've done an excellent job whetting my appetite.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lee, if you read it, I really hope you enjoy it. I know sometimes it's all about expectations, so I don't want to ruin it for someone else. But I loved, loved, loved the writing style.

      Delete
  8. Read it not to long ago and was surprised, for as little action in it, how quickly I kept turning the pages. Great examples of micro tension. I loved this quote: "His lips move silently, and I know what he says: the words of a poem that only two people in the world know."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG, Margo, I totally remember that line! So many great lines like that...almost poetic. And you're right about micro tension. I hadn't even thought of that.

      Delete
  9. I haven't read this yet, sounds like I need to! I love all these points, they are what make a novel great. Okay, you've convinced me, I'll go check it out. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather, if you do read it, I hope you enjoy it. I thought it was really well written.

      Delete
  10. I adore this book. I've recently finished CROSSED the sequel and am dying for book 3. I was taken in by this story because Cassia is presented with a choice in a world where choice has been all but eliminated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See? This is why you're brilliant. Excellent observation, birthday girl :)

      Delete
  11. Personally, the sequel isn't that good, and the beginning of MATCHED stretched my suspension of disbelief (another best friend romance? Does it have to be another childhood friend romance? And out of all of the men in the world, isn't it too...?) it was a fun read with its virtues.

    It's just that my mind is unsure what type of book it is in hindsight, especially when it comes to the romance. Not to mention Divergent set my expectations for the book too high.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh, I've heard great things about Divergent, and I have heard that the two books are similar. I'll have to check that one out.

      Funny you mention "another best friend romance." When I was reading it I thought, darn, I should have written my book with a best friend romance." Maybe it's a good thing I didn't! ;)

      Delete
  12. Loved, loved, LOVED Matched. Among other things, I thought Condie nailed the tone; the writing felt somewhat sterile to me, which is usually a turn-off, but it was perfect for this sterile, forbidding world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Becca, funny you mention the tone. I thought the same thing...that it was sort of formal, and definitely not current teen speak. But you're right, for that world, it totally worked.

      Delete
  13. I have 2 copies of Matched in my classroom - but I haven't had a chance to read them yet. Now that summer's almost here, I can get my hands on it! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jemi, it's nice to know I wasn't the only person who hadn't read it yet! When you finally to get the change to read it, I hope you enjoy it. It exceeded my expectations.

      Delete
  14. Great writing lessons, Julie. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Linda, you bet! Might as well learn some writing lessons while reading a great book.

      Delete
  15. I really loved MATCHED as well and while the sequel (CROSSED) did not quite meet my expectations of it I still enjoyed it. You definitely hit all the points of 'how to'. And I will be buying the third book, regardless. Allie Condie can definitely count me as a fan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting about book #2. I kind of felt that way with Catching Fire. But still, I was glad I read it. I'll definitely read Crossed.

      Delete
  16. I love this series of yours Julie. I haven't read Matched yet, but it is most definitely in my TBR pile!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Julie! I hope you enjoy it! I sure did :)

      Delete
  17. I'm just now reading it. I didn't read all of the descriptions you give because I'm still not through it and didn't want too many spoilers, but I agree 100% with your points AND with Ally Condie being a great writer! Bookmarked so I can come back and compare notes when I'm done=)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh, I'm glad you didn't read all the way through. There are some things that you might not want to know yet. Yes, definitely compare notes when you're done!

      Delete
  18. Awesome! I love reading. But what I love more is learning how to write better from reading
    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mrs. Jones, I feel the same way. We're reading a good book anyway, we might as well learn from it!

      Delete
  19. Ooh now I'm more curious about this book! (been wanting to pick up a copy since I spotted it in the bookstore). Awesome that you listed down your learnings from the book and shared it with us. Thanks, Julie!
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so welcome! When you do read it, I hope you enjoy it :)

      Delete
  20. Haven't read Matched or any other in that series. So many times it's recommended that we place the author at the point where their lives turn upside down, but I also see advantages to being able to relate to where they are before their situation changes. Give the chance to get acquainted and identify with them. All around good advice in your post. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Joy. It was an eye-opening lesson for me to learn!

      Delete
  21. Oh, these are great lessons from MATCHED! It's been almost two years since I read it (!), so it was fun going back and sort of remembering the story. Now I almost want to read it again. Condie fan here, too! <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh, did you read the sequel also? I'm so behind the times with my reading :/

      Delete
  22. Now you have me totally intrigued by a book that was lower on my TBR list!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm totally shocked you haven't read this one yet!

    ReplyDelete