Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writing lessons learned from SEA


I recently finished SEA, by Heidi R. Kling. Here's a blurb from the inside cover:

Despite recurring nightmares about her mother's death and her own fear of flying, fifteen-year-old Sienna accepts her father's birthday gift to fly to Indonesia with his team of disaster relief workers to help victims of a recent tsunami, never suspecting that this experience will change her life forever.


Here are the writing lessons I learned from this book:

  • Hint at history: Sienna (aka "Sea") hints at a romantic history with her bff's hunky older brother, Spider (love that name). It was just a hint, but I was curious and wanted to know what went sour between them, and why Sea now keeps her distance from the likable surfer dude.
  • Establish crippling fear early: Sienna's mom disappeared in a plane crash over the Indian Ocean, and now Sienna is terrified of flying and the sea. When her father buys her a plane ticket to visit Indonesia, we already know this is an epic fear of Sienna's.
  • Use real tragedy as a plot point: This story takes place during the aftermath of the horrific tsunami of 2004. While reading the story, I remembered the news images, and how entire towns had been wiped out. It added authenticity to the story.
  • Early empathy: In the opening pages, we learn about Sienna's mom's death. The main character doesn't feel sorry for herself, but she definitely has lingering scars. The reader empathizes with her, and wishes things were better for her.
  • Create shared experiences between characters: Sienna helps in an Indonesian orphanage, where kids who have lost both parents in the tsunami now live. Although she still has her father, Sienna relates to the orphans, and their extreme sense of loss.
  • Show character through sacrifice: Toward the end of the story, Sienna is faced with a decision--keep the truth to herself and hurt someone she loves, or share information and break her own heart. It's a tough choice, and Sienna's character is revealed when she makes her final decision.
  • Consider a story within a story: Spider and Sienna remember a story they were told as children--a story about how their town, El Angel Miguel, got its name. It begins with a sea captain in the 1800s whose "great and only love died very young. He was so heartbroken that he vowed to never step foot on land again. He'd sail the seas forever and never return to the homeland that stole his true love." For a moment I was taken out of the larger story, and enjoyed this little sidebar.
Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer, wrote this: "Sea is a richly woven story as turbulent and beautiful as the sea itself...A touching and romantic debut." 

I agree!

Have you read Sea? And what are your opinions of the writing lessons? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

16 comments:

  1. Like the idea of showing character through sacrifice. I've used that before.

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  2. Great learning lessons. I went to the store to buy this one when it first came out and accidentally bought Sea Changed instead. Fortunately, that was a good book. Unfortunately, I still haven't read Sea. LOL.

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  3. Great lessons! I haven't read Sea yet, but now I really want to check it out. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  4. Great lessons. I do love the stories within the story...as long as they add to the meat of story and not take us on a wild senseless goose chase.

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  5. Sounds like a well told story. I love the diversity of conflicts Sea faces - and what a great choice for a name considering the issues she faces and the setting of the story!

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  6. I haven't read this book. I like your breakdown of the writing lessons--it sounds like a well-written novel!

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  7. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about SEA! I love bouncing around writing lesson :)

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  8. Thanks for sharing this. I have to say I often read books now with an eye toward what can I learn from this author? What did they do right?
    I also love books in which a sacrifice must be made, especially when there's a choice but no right or wrong answer.

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  9. I hope this was your vacay read, because it sounds great! And really helpful lessons, as always. So glad you do these posts!

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  10. Honestly, I hadn't even heard of this story yet. But I love stories where a character sacrifices - always draws my heart into the story. I'll never forget Perfect chemistry for this reason.

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  11. That is a gorgeous cover! Thanks for bringing this book to mind; it sounds like a great read. Your list is excellent too. :)

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  12. This is new to me. I love the character names and the not over-trodden locale.

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  13. Hints at history and a story within a story, I love those lessons! These are such great features. You have me taking notes every time. :)

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  14. I like your "take" on figuring out what a well-written novel can teach you. Good job -- I think I'll steal this idea!

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