Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Writing lessons learned from NINETEEN MINUTES

Hey, friends! I hope you're all enjoying your summer. While on vacation, I re-read NINETEEN MINUTES, which was written by one of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult.

From Amazon:

Sterling is a small, ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens--until the day its complacency is shattered by a shocking act of violence. In the aftermath, the town's residents must not only seek justice in order to begin healing, but also come to terms with the role they played in the tragedy. For them, the lines between truth and fiction, right and wrong, insider and outsider have been obscured forever. Josie Cormier, the teenage daughter of the judge sitting on the case, could be the state's best witness, but she can't remember what happened in front of her own eyes. And as the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show, destroying the closest of friendships and families.

In my opinion, Picoult is a brilliant storyteller. I learned many writing lessons from this book, but here are some of my favorites (Warning! Avert your eyes if you haven't read this book yet and don't want to know any plot points):

  • Open with the theme & reference to the title: depending on your perspective, nineteen minutes can zoom by or be agonizingly slow. Picoult opened her book like this...In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five...In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge. Already we had mood, title, and theme. 
  • Chaos breeds confusion: the scene was a high school shooting, and the level of confusion made it seem real. We got the cop's point of view, which showed us the "fog of war." Who's a victim? Who's running to safety? Is one of them the shooter? That scared boy crouched by the lockers, is he a victim? The shooter? The pov character's inner thought here was crucial, coupled with bursts of dialog.
  • Journal entries in pieces: throughout this book, snippets of journal entries were introduced. At first I assumed they were written by the shooter, but later I wondered if they were written by another troubled character. Just like in 13 REASONS WHY, we got brief glimpses into the mind of a character who had reached the end of the line. The regular story thread kept the plot moving, but these glimpses were good reminders of how much pain the character was in.
  • Consider attaching only one character name per letter: with such a brilliant book, this small complaint is petty but worth mentioning. One main character's name was Patrick, another was Peter. When a paragraph opened with the name, it took me a couple of sentences to realize which "P" person it was.
  • Assign each character a unique backstory: there were many characters and moving parts to this book. Each character had their own easily recognizable backstory. I wouldn't say each of these characters had super-sized unique voices--the author's voice is very distinct--but they each had a unique story that was obvious from the first words of the scene.
  • Add one detail that doesn't fit in: one bullet hadn't been found during the investigation. It came from a gun that had been fired but then jammed. I knew this was significant. In fact, it led to a big twist at the end. The missing bullet was mentioned maybe three times before the twist was revealed. It was there, lurking in the background, which kept me curious.
  • Tackle tough subjects: one thing I love about this author is that she boldly plunges into difficult subjects. In an interview on her web site, she explains how sometimes we can process these touchy subjects easier through fiction. She shows the story from all angles in such a way that we understand why her characters do what they do. Why they chose what they chose. And why life can be so darn complicated.
Despite the gut-wrenching subject, this book kept me just as riveted the second time around. 

Have you read any of Picoult's books? What did you think of these writing lessons?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Vacay

Friends, I'll be on vacation with my family for a few days. I'll return to the blog on July 31st. Enjoy the summer sun. Or the shade. Better yet...a hammock in the shade :)

photo credit

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writing lessons learned from CROSSED

I recently read CROSSED, by Ally Condie, book two in her MATCHED trilogy. If you want to read my writing lessons learned from book one, click here. Like I mentioned in that earlier post, I absolutely love Condie's writing style. Mmm, mmm, good.

From Goodreads:

In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky--taken by the Society to his certain death--only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake. Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander--who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart--change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

Did I learn writing lesson from this book? You bet! Here they are (Warning! Avert your eyes if you haven't read this book yet and don't want to know any plot points):

  • Brief references to important moments from book one--I've never written a sequel, but I recognized a great technique in Crossed. Condie weaved snippets of book one into this story. She didn't linger there for long. Just a reference, and a brief connection to how it mattered in book 2. For more help on writing a sequel, visit Janice Hardy's blog and type "sequel" into her search bar. Treasure trove.
  • Add new characters--In Crossed, the main players remained the same: Cassia and Ky. But adding new players organically, with new goals and conflict, made book two fresh.
  • Simple story goals become bigger--Cassia and Ky were forced apart at the end of book one. In book two, their goals started simple: find each other, and survive doing it. Bits of the story hint at a larger purpose for the two main characters. There was talk of a Rising, and the Pilot who would lead the Rising. It made me wonder how these two characters would fit into that storyline. Which brings me to my next lesson...
  • Reluctant leaders--Cassia and Ky thought they were regular people, and for a while, I thought that too. Although they don't think of themselves as a leaders, other people look to them for guidance and information. The reader knew there was more to them than originally thought. I liked that it wasn't an "I'm a leader, so listen to everything I say" sort of thing.
  • Bring on the love--For teen girls, and women like me who love love, the romance angle is huge. Yes, the characters were escaping a totalitarian government. Yes, they were fighting for survival. But the love story made reading about all that other stuff more meaningful. Who were they willing to fight for? That was what I wanted to read about.
Have you read CROSSED? MATCHED? What was your opinion? And what do you think of the writing lessons learned. Ever used any of these yourself? Please share!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Selflessness #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writer's Support Group!

When I was growing up, my mom used to say, "Many hands make light work." So true.

Something else my mom used to say? "Good things come to those who wait."

I thought of those words when news was released that our blogging buddy, Martina Boone, signed a three book deal with Simon Pulse. SIMON PULSE!!!

Most of you have probably heard this news. And most of you probably already know Martina. But if you don't, please, PLEASE do your writerly self a favor and follow the blog she runs with other writers.

So, why did I title this post "Selflessness?" Because that's the word that comes to mind when I think of Martina. I mean jeez, she even included giveaway winners in her book deal announcement! I didn't even tell her I was featuring her here today, because she'd probably want to turn the whole thing around to make it about everyone else. Nope. Not today. Today I'll focus on how selfless she's been while pursuing her own dreams.

Here's what you can find on her blog:

Contests and Workshops
Craft Tips.
WOW Wednesday Inspiration
And book giveaways...always book giveaways!

And that's just a small sampling. All of this while she was writing her own books, honing her craft, and submitting.

She's one of us. She had a dream. She was rejected. She worked hard. She was rejected again. She helped others along the way. Now it's her turn.

I think Susan Sipal, who writes the Harry Potter for Writers blog, summed it up best when she left this comment on Martina's blog regarding the awesome book deal:

"Martina, you are such an inspiration to me for showing where extremely hard work, tons of discipline, incredible amounts of talent, and dogged determination can get you. I am sooooo happy for you and can't wait for the whole world to read your glorious story."

Hard work.

And I'd add Selflessness.

Want to be inspired? Read Martina's post The Heroic Journey Every Writers Has to Face. You'll recognize each of the steps in your own writing journey. You'll be ready to kick down doors, do a karate chop to Rejection, and help others along the way.

I'm so excited for Martina. I love it when great things happen to great people.

Have you heard Martina's news? Do you follow her blog? Do you get super excited when one of our peeps hits the literary jackpot? Please share!