Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing lessons learned from THIS BURNS MY HEART


I won This Burns My Heart, by Samuel Park, on Sarah Skilton's blog, and enjoyed it every bit as much as I thought I would. From the reading group guide:

Set in South Korea during the 1960s, This Burns My Heart centers on Soo-Ja, an ambitious young woman who finds herself trapped in an unhappy, controlling marriage. She struggles to give her daughter a better life and to overcome the oppression of her husband, while pining for the man she truly loves. Ultimately she must make her own way in a society caught between tradition and modernity.


Here are some writing lessons I learned from this book:

  • Give a logical reason why the MC makes a life-altering decision: Soo-Ja's poor marriage choice changed the course of her life. Why did she make this bad decision? Ambition. She married a man she didn't love, thinking he was her ticket to Seoul. She believed he'd allow her to be a diplomat, which was her goal in life. 
  • Cultural details add flavor: I know almost nothing about South Korean culture, and I was fascinated by well-placed details. The wife of the oldest sibling must take care of all the other siblings. Parents of marriage-aged children paid a matchmaker to iron out details of marriage ahead of time, including finances. Sons were coveted, and women went to great lengths to conceive a boy, such as not running, not walking up stairs, and not talking about "serious matters." I felt like I was learning history while also enjoying a captivating story.
  • Cultural realities add conflict: in Soo-Ja's world, honor and respect were at the top of the priority list. This dictated what decisions were made, despite the consequences. The duties of each character--daughter, father, elder, and first son--were made clear. 
  • Use a child as leverage: not only a child, but anything or anyone who matters most to the main character. In Soo-Ja's case, she knew the law would side with her husband and force her to relinquish her daughter if she sought a divorce. This kept her tethered to her husband. As parents, we understand why Soo-Ja would do anything to stay with her child. Freedom at the expense of your child? Unthinkable for most parents. 
  • When it comes to romance, keep the main players at arm's length: without giving too much away, I'll just say that Park did a great job of keeping Soo-Ja and her true love apart. Not always geographically apart, but they were far apart from what they really wanted, which was to be together. This kept the tension high. All the way until the end, I was rooting for Soo-Ja and Yul to find happiness.
What do you think of these writing lessons? Do they ring true for you? And have you read a book which highlighted a different culture? What cool things did you learn?

28 comments:

  1. Yes, they do ring true for me. Being that I write kidlit, I haven't read many YA books that specifically highlighted a different culture. But you make a great point in how to use such a tool. I have, however, learned that keeping romance (could be any desire of the MC, really), at arm's length is a great tension builder. That method can also be used to tell a lot about the characters.

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    1. Great point about keeping the MC's desire at arm's length...whatever it is they want!

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  2. It's funny, no matter what culture - we all speak that same language of love. It translates through any culture, language barrier, or time period.

    Great stuff, Julie!

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    1. Ahh, love, you're so right, Loree. We do all speak that same language, huh?

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  3. Nice to know I've tackled a couple of these. I don't read too many boks that cover different cultures, but I did enjoy The Hotel in the Corner of Bitter & Sweet which was about a young Chinese boy, his family, and the Japanese girl he loved in Seattle during the days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Interesting stuff for an American.

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    1. OMG, Nancy, HOTEL is still one of my favorite books. Such a sweet story.

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  4. I definitely implemented that last one.

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    1. Alex, your characters must have hated you for it, but your readers love it!

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  5. I can't think of any examples at the moment, but all of your points make perfect sense to me. Reading about different cultures adds another element of reading pleasure because it puts you in another frame of mind altogether.

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    1. Oh, totally. I was fascinated by this culture.

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  6. What wonderful lessons from this story. Sounds like a great love story. I love when cultural details play a role in the conflict.

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    1. Me too, Laura. I swear, it was like a history lesson rolled up into a cool story.

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  7. Great notes as always, Julie. I was especially glad to see:

    "When it comes to romance, keep the main players at arm's length."

    Just my opinion, but I think it's so important for a good romance. :)

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    1. Linda, I totally agree. I'm frustrated when the lovebirds can't be together, but then again, that's what keeps me hooked to the book!

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  8. I won a copy of this book too! Hoping to get to it in the summer :)

    Your lessons are always so insightful! thank you :)

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    1. Yay for you, Jemi! When you read it, I'll be curious what you think of it.

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  9. I've seen this book popping up around Bloglandia. It intrigues me. I love a story where the romance is hard won.

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    1. Leslie, those are my absolute favorite romances!

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  10. Oh, another fabulous review, and lessons learned. I really like the keeping the love apart. What better tension could be than that?

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  11. Will keep in mind. Great lessons!!

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  12. I love stories with multi-cultural themes. Thanks for mentioning this one, Julie.

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  13. The last two are major players for me. The whole having something the MC has to sacrifice for gives him/her heart; and the separation from his/her love just builds tension. This book looks so great. Thanks for the heads up, Julie! <3

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  14. Sounds awesome, Julie! Have you read The Toss of a Lemon you'd like it.

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  15. Great lessons, but I don't always like romance where the mcs don't get together until the end. I feel like I spend most of the book waiting on the romance.

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  16. Sounds like a captivating story. I feel bad for all these women throughout history who have pined for sons, going through ridiculous lengths to conceive them. And then they're blamed when they have a daughter. How lucky we are now to know it's the men's part that determines if it's a boy or girl. Too bed there are still places where this knowledge isn't known, and women are still oppressed.

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  17. I love learning about history and another culture while immersed in a compelling story. And these writing lessons are golden.

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  18. I loved this book and Samuel is such a great guy, too. I love the lessons you pulled out of it. Another thing that impressed me about this book is that Samuel didn't give into the temptation to go overboard with his character's problems. Her husband was bad, but not the WORST. Still, he showed how she was miserable and that was enough. Sometimes I tend to be melodramatic and make everything so horrible that it loses its realism. (I hope I'm making sense here.) I did feel like this story was something that could have really happened, and I love when a book feel so real.

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