I recently plowed through SHARP OBJECTS, by Gillian Flynn. After Flynn's Gone Girl shot to the top of my list of favorite books, I realized I not only love inspirational romances. Apparently I also like dark, twisted dramas. Sharp Objects is definitely dark and twisted, but sooo good.
As always, I learned several important writing lessons from this book. Before I get to that, here's a little bit about Sharp Objects:
Fresh from her brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille Preaker's first assignment at her second-rate daily paper takes her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. As she works to uncover the truth, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims--a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.
And now for my writing lessons learned. (Warning! If you haven't yet read "Sharp Objects," and don't want to know any plot points, STOP!)
- When writing a murder mystery, add an unforgettable detail. Without giving too much away, let me just say that there was a strange detail that included teeth. I swear, I keep thinking about those darn teeth. The author did a great job of embedding a disturbing detail in my mind.
- Mystery solved? Not so fast! Just when I thought the mystery was solved, BAM! It so wasn't solved. The author messed with my head, including one last glorious surprise. This was a great reminder to me to not rest on a good ending. Consider a major twist in those final pages.
- Downer of a main character? Show the reader why. In the opening pages, I could tell that Camille was a cynical downer. I didn't love her and I didn't hate her. I felt sorry for her, and was intrigued by her story. Once I met her mother, and other residents of her small town, I understood why she was who she was. The author made me curious about the backstory, but threaded it in slowly.
- Paint the setting with "showing" details. The author never said Wind Gap, Missouri was a place worth running from. She showed us through the in-a-rut townspeople, the depressing bars, and the nasty gossip. I understood why Camille fled her hometown as soon as she could. (A quick Google search tells me Wind Gap, Missouri isn't a real place. True? Does anyone know for sure?)
- Find a unique way to show your character's inner turmoil. Again, without giving too much away, I'll just say that Flynn used words in a unique, disturbing way to show Camille's turbulent past.
- Consider an unhappy ending. However, genre really matters here. I've been frustrated with endings to Nicholas Sparks' novels before, because I want my romances to end happily. In a dark drama like this, and in Gone Girl, the unhappily ever after works.
Footnote: Gillian Flynn is also a master at metaphors.
Have you read Sharp Objects? How about Gone Girl? What are your impressions of these lessons learned? Any you've tackled in your own fiction? Please share!
Wait! Before you go...here's an announcement from Janice Hardy:
Looking for a Fun Kidlit Writers' Conference? Give Springmingle a Try. Springmingle '15 Writers' and Illustrators' Conference will take place on March 13-15, 2015 in Decatur, GA.
This year's conference faculty includes: Giuseppe Castellano, Art Director at Penguin Young Readers Group; Karen Grencik, Literary Agent/Co-Founder of Red Fox Literary, LLC.; Elise Howard, Editor, Algonquin Young Readers; Bill Mayer, Award-winning Illustrator; Meg Medina, Award-winning Author; and Neal Porter, Publisher, Neal Porter Books, imprint of Macmillan Children’s Book Group.
Visit their website for a complete listing of workshops.