Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writing lessons learned from WHERE IT BEGAN


"Where it Began," by Ann Redisch Stampler is a cool, cleverly written book. Stampler can turn a phrase and make fun comparisons like no other author I've read. Here's the blurb from Amazon:

Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving--and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.

As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?

As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex...and that nothing about her life is what she has imaged it to be.

There were several writing lessons to choose from, but here are my faves:

  • Open with a slew of unanswered questions: Gabby, the main character, has been in an accident. She's in the hospital. She remembers Billy Nash, and something about a crashed Beemer, but not much else. I was interested in figuring it all out with her.
  • Organize flashbacks using clever tags: this story required several flashbacks, but they were entertaining and important. And the author let us know we were entering a flashback by writing tags like "Look:" Gabby entered some flashbacks by saying "Gabriella Gardiner Presents Scenes from Teen Life in the Three B's." 
  • Sneak in another layer: Gabby's accident happens after a night of drinking, and I figured she drank with the cool kids for fun. But her father also drank too much. As the story unfolded, I realized Gabby's drinking might be more than just a result of peer pressure. This connection to her father's drinking was a subtle but effective layer.
  • Hold secrets about The Main Event: the party night, when the accident occurred, is a mystery to Gabby. I knew big things happened during that time, and these missing details kept the story interesting. The author did a great job of dripping in answers without divulging too much too soon.
  • Clueless character: because of her injuries, Gabby is clueless about many story details. Throughout the book, I kept thinking Gabby was the only person not in on something. Others knew more than her, and that upped the tension. The author did a great job of allowing the reader to learn what Gabby learns when she learns it.
  • Friends with tools: one of Gabby's friends is a photographer, and this character detail is established early. His hobby of taking photos of unsuspecting people is what helps Gabby piece it all together.
Have you read "Where it Began?" If so, what was your impression? And what are your thoughts about these writing lessons? Have you seen them in other books, or have you used them before?

One more thing...I goest posted over at PW Creighton's blog, chatting about how research shapes our fiction. Come on by and say hi!


photo credit

19 comments:

  1. Sounds like an entertaining, well-written book! I love when we learn along with the characters - especially if it's something as important as this! :)

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    1. Me too, Jemi! It's all about pacing, and the slow release of information. I could always improve in this area, for sure.

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  2. I have not read this one. What I find interesting is that the plot of this story sounds tired, yet it obviously isn't from what you say. A great reminder that there are no new stories, but always new and interesting ways to tell them! I'm all about dripping details/clues slowly (I've been told sometimes painfully slowly so that the reader is about to blow, lol) so I bet I'd like this one!

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    1. Michele, I was totally envious of the way the author turned a phrase. Great stuff. And hey, painfully slow information keeps readers engaged, right? ;)

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  3. Really like the first tip about opening with unanswered questions, Julie. I've been writing a lot of short-ish fiction the last few months and have begun to realize just how much you can leave out of a story and still have a story. Sometimes an even better one. :-)

    Yes, as readers we want to know EVERYTHING, but we're also more than willing to figure it out as the story unfolds. In truth, how many of us know everything there is to know about who and what we are at any given moment in our lives? My guess, and hope, is that we're more in the dark than we are in the light.

    But that's probably just the optimist in me thinking, "Tomorrow I can be a better version of who I am today. Things will make more sense, but I'll probably have even more questions. And that's a great thing!" :-)

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    1. EJ, if only pacing and dripping information could be done by robots. Then I wouldn't have to worry about whether or not I'm doing it right :/

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  4. Never used a flashback. I like layers though. Getting better at those.

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    1. Alex, my first book, which no one else will ever read, was about 1/2 flashbacks. Yep. True story.

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  6. Dear Julie,
    Thanks so much for this! I'm flattered to find Where It Began on your writing blog, and especially to see your take on the flashbacks, which I struggled to make effective through many revisions.
    Best,
    Ann

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    1. Ann! Thanks so much for stopping by my little blog.

      You have some amazing skills. When I read this book I kept thinking, dang, she's good.

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    2. More thanks! Thank you so much for letting me know. The ironic thing here is that the primary feature of my blog at the moment is Really Bad Writing Advice. I am so moved that someone who offers really good writing advice is using my novel. Wow.
      Ann

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  7. It sounds like the author used some great techniques in this book. I'll have to check it out.

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  8. More great tips! Thank you. I'm about to start the editing phase of book number 2. (5 chapters to go) And... this is where I will go back and use all the tips. Thank you!

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  9. Oo, I'm going to have to get this one!!

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