I zoomed through my third Sarah Dessen book, WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE. Here's a brief blurb from Amazon:
Since her parents' divorce, Mclean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move--four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother's new family, Mclean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, Mclean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.
As I've mentioned before, I've become a huge Dessen fan. Here are some of the lessons I learned from this book:
- Consider a short opening to show character: the book opens with a short scene in a diner, where a lot is revealed. Mclean and her dad move around a lot because of his job. Mclean's attitude? Instead of looking at her situation as a negative, she views it as an opportunity to reinvent herself in each new town. This perfectly sets up the character quirks, with enough backstory to make it believable.
- Hint at strife: Dave, the love interest, lives next door. Before Mclean meets him, she watches him and his parents through the window, during dinner. Body language conveys that all is not right with this family. No conversation, shoulders rounded in defeat. Without a spoken word, we see that Dave and his parents are not happy.
- Sum up a character in a nutshell: through inner thought, Mclean sums up Dave in one sentence--boy genius, smoothie maker, cellar dweller. It's a tight character description that says so much. It reminded me to use this type of description not only in a query, but in the manuscript as well.
- Character contrasts: at school, the perky welcome-committee-of-one reveals she used to be a drummer in a metal band. With her quilted purse and sunshiney demeanor, this is a pleasant surprise. Dessen does this so well. She slips in fun details without it seeming calculated.
- Serious moment? Add humor: Mclean's dad and his female restaurant manager must decide who's the weak link on staff. Problem is, it's everyone. When Mclean walks in on their discussion, they aren't stressed out and angry. They've opened a bottle of wine and they're goofy with laughter. It's endearing.
- Involve a "together" project: the restaurant manager agrees to put together a model of the city in exchange for parking spaces. Dave is forced into the project to fulfill community service obligations, and Mclean works on it to help her father's restaurant. The couple bonds over this project, and the model city works with the plot as well. It becomes a symbol for finding your own place in your community.
"What Happened to Goodbye" is a quiet book that delves deep into family, community, and the courage to be ourselves.
What's your opinion on these writing lessons? Have you used these techniques yourself? Please share any tips that have worked well for you.