Guys, I have a new love. The object of my affection is Sarah Dessen's writing style. Dessen is the author of JUST LISTEN, and several other YA books. In YA circles, I'd heard Sarah Dessen this, Sarah Dessen that. Now that I've read JUST LISTEN, I can see why teen girls love her books.
A brief description from Amazon:
When Annabel, the youngest of three beautiful sisters, has a bitter falling out with her best friend--the popular and exciting Sophie--she suddenly finds herself isolated and friendless. But then she meets Owen--a loner who's passionate about music and his weekly radio show, and always determined to tell the truth. When they develop a friendship, Annabel is not only introduced to new music, but is encouraged to listen to her own inner voice. With Owen's help, can Annabel find the courage to speak out about what exactly happened the night her friendship with Sophie came to a screeching halt?
Here are some of the writing lessons I learned from this amazing book:
- Keep secrets--I feel like I mention this all the time, but that's probably because I really admire authors who do this well. In JUST LISTEN, something bad had happened between Annabel and her best friend Sophie. Something bad had also happened with a guy. But we don't know what these Big Bad Things are until much later.
- If the protagonist does something out of character, set up the why--Annabel wasn't a rule breaker, but when her new friend Sophie suggests breaking a rule, Annabel crosses that line. Why? An older guy had shown interest in Annabel, and Sophie used that information to lure Annabel to the other side.
- Show important character traits early--Sophie, the best friend, is insecure and controlling. This is shown, not told, very early. As a matter of fact, it's shown in a long flashback (which totally worked, by the way). We learn early on that Sophie is someone you don't want to cross, and her behavior with Annabel makes total sense.
- Consider placing an important romantic moment in an unlikely place--Annabel and Owen don't share their first romantic moment with candles and soft music. Instead, it's at Owen's house, with five thirteen-year-old girls running around, having a fake modeling shoot. It was unlikely and took me by surprise.
- No banging over the head necessary--JUST LISTEN had many layers of important emotions and issues. But Dessen didn't bang the reader over the head. Instead, she quietly and expertly wove a complex story, and she took her time doing so. It was beautiful.
- Quiet books work--JUST LISTEN had zero explosions, zero car chases, and zero shouting. It was a real-life drama at its best and worst, and played out with memorable characters. Even in the quietest moments, something important was happening. Not all readers are fans of quiet books, but I am, especially when they're packed with strong emotion.
When I grow up, I want to write books that affect people the way JUST LISTEN affected me. As a reader and a writer, this book changed me.
Have you read any of Dessen's books? What did you think of her writing style? And what do you think of the above writing lessons? Please share!