I'm a huge Nicholas Sparks fan, so I was excited to read The Longest Ride. Of course I learned some helpful writing lessons!
First, a little about The Longest Ride:
Ira Levinson is in trouble. Ninety-one years old and stranded and injured after a car crash, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together--how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can't possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.
A few miles away, at a local bull-riding event, a Wake Forest College senior's life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward--even life and death--loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans--a future that Luke has the power to rewrite...if the secret he's keeping doesn't destroy it first.
Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys.
Ok, and now for some writing lessons learned. Warning! If you haven't yet read The Longest Ride, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further:
- Open with detailed character information--the book opens with Ira's pov like this: I sometimes think to myself that I'm the last of my kind. He's an old man who's been in a car crash. He reflects on early lessons his dad had taught him, such as never count money in public, hold doors open for women and children, and always give a customer more than expected. These life lessons tell us a lot about the type of man who's been in a car crash. I immediately liked him.
- Remind the reader of the character's predicament--Ira is injured, cold and thirsty. He reminisces with his long-dead wife, recalling their love story. Every few paragraphs the author brings us back to the present, by injecting lines about Ira's pain, the falling snow, and the oncoming night.
- Reference a life-saving anecdote early--Ira likes to watch TheWeather Channel. He recalls a story where a man survived a crash for over 60 days by eating snow. This memory comes into play later in the book, but it makes sense because it was established early.
- Embed threads between two alternating stories--we have two parallel stories happening. Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. I wondered how these two stories would connect, and paid attention to details that would finally bring them together. The author did a great job of keeping me curious, while also planting clues along the way.
- Stupid makes sense--if the character has to do something stupid, like ride an angry bull even though he doesn't want to, give him a moral reason to do it. Luke shouldn't ride bulls anymore (I won't spoil the story here) but he does it anyway. Why? Not for fame or accolades, but to help his mom.
- Eliminate short, choppy scenes--I actually got this tip from one of my beta readers for my own book. I had tied up the book with a few short scenes at the end. She suggested I pull what I needed from those scenes and write one significant scene. So I did. I was surprised by the amount of short, choppy scenes at the end of this book. It's still amazing, but that ending could've included one significant scene with the details from the short scenes.
What do you think of these writing lessons? Have you used any of them in your own fiction? Are you a Nicholas Sparks fan? Do you like stories with old/young points of view or parallel stories that merge at the end?