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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Big Reveal

Drum roll, please...I'd like to present to you...


Isn't she gorgeous? Okay, okay, so I may be a little biased since my name is so large and pretty...and all dressed up with a fancy New York Times Bestseller hat!--but seriously, I think it's fresh and new and different.

You can't tell from the jpeg, but the dust-jacket is actually a cut-away; underneath the letters is a picture of a girl, which will be viewable in its entirety on the actual book.

What do you all think??


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Detroit Story!

Um, okay, so anyone who has ever read BEFORE I FALL or an early copy of DELIRIUM knows I am not the *most* concise writer in the world...thus my attempt at an intro to a Detroit story. I ended up writing waaaayyyy more than 250 words but...well, that's just the kind of writer I am!
Enjoy. x

Stories Do Not Always Have Introductions, But This One Does.

All lives are stories. They all have a beginning, a middle, and unfortunately, an end.
Pick any person at any moment in any place in the world, and that person is a story.
That man with the strangely large forehead on the train platform? He is a story. Perhaps his story begins, “Once upon a time, there was a man who was dropped on his head,” or “Once upon a time, there was a boy who liked to play baseball.” The old woman in her garden? She is a story too. Maybe the first line of her story is: “Once upon a time, there was a woman who loved apples,” or simply, “Carol Anne had always loved apples.”
Throw a dart; spin around in a circle wildly and point your finger; pick a name out of a hat. Stories, stories, everywhere, and little time to ink.
But this is not a story about a man with a big forehead who is waiting for a train; nor is it the story of the grocery store clerk. It is not a story about a babysitter who smells like pork dumplings, or a teacher who smells like milk, or a bus driver who yells too much.
This is a story about two friends, Holding and Easter.
Maybe you’ve read a story like this one before. Maybe you’ve read a story about a boy and a girl who are best friends. Maybe you’ve read a story about monsters, and misunderstandings, and magical bicycles.
That’s okay. Stories, like lives, are meant to be shared. They are meant to me repeated. That’s the second best thing about them.
The first best thing is this: they are always at least a little bit special.

A Warning:
This story doesn’t begin “Once upon a time.” This story begins, “Holding Perishables-Pyncher did not remember his mother, or his father.”
But you can be certain that it happened once upon a time.
And believe, too, that it is a fairy tale: and no matter how bad things get, like all fairy tales, it will have a happy ending.

Stories Do Need Beginnings, and The Beginning Is Here.
Holding Perishables-Pyncher did not remember his mother, or his father. (See? Didn’t I tell you?)
As far as he knew, he had never had either.
Instead, he had had a box.
He remembered the box vaguely—at least, he thought he did. Sometimes, just before dropping off to sleep in the narrow bed, squashed up against one of his foster-brothers, he thought he could recall the faint close smell of wilted lettuce and bruised peaches and wet cardboard and a sense of enclosure. He thought, too, he could recall the bright glaring sunshine overhead, and a cloud in the exact shape of a lion skittering across the blazing blue sky.
And then the lion, and the sun, and the sky, would be eclipsed by a looming red face, streaked and mottled with veins, and lips glistening with saliva, and a voice booming out: “Why for God’s sake. There’s a baby in this box!” And the image of Mrs. Pyncher—arriving so suddenly in the middle of a peaceful memory—would turn his dream, as she so often turned his waking life, into a nightmare.
Despite his humble beginnings in a box, Holding grew up more or less normal. He was skinny, but then again, so were all of the abandoned children living in Mrs. Pyncher’s home. There was not much food to go around, and she and Mr. Pyncher consumed most of what was available. He liked puzzles, and reading, and playing with the dogs that roamed the empty streets near Mrs. Pyncher’s apartment. He felt he understood these mangy and flea-bitten and semi-starving creatures. They, too, had been abandoned.
Holding had one major peculiarity, however: he had an extremely, an incredibly, refined sense of smell. He could smell the two beads of sweat that pricked up on Mrs. Pyncher’s palms whenever the social workers performed their routine monthly visits. He could smell rain before it began; he could smell a single flower, poking up through a bit of cracked sidewalk, from a block away.
And he could smell when people were lying.
When Mrs. Pyncher told nice Mrs. Talmadge, who visited once a month with a clipboard, how she loved all of her children and lived to make a good home for them, for example, the smell was overwhelming. Its stench filled the kitchen for hours afterwards, even as Mrs. Talmadge sat and took notes on a piece of paper, and looked over the children one by one. It was the single time the children were all allowed to bathe on the same day, and the single time Mrs. Pyncher laid out freshly washed and ironed clothes for them, and combed their hair.
The smell of lies was strange. It was a little bit sweet but also somehow wrong, off, spoiled—and unmistakable. It was the smell of wilted lettuce, and bruised peaches, and damp cardboard—and beneath it all, the sharp tang of car exhaust, the smell of rubber tires on a hard asphalt road, spinning off into the distance, and leaving a box behind.

You Will Learn More About the Main Characters Now.
Mrs. Pyncher had seventeen foster children, all of them named after the places they had been abandoned. Kings Highway-Pyncher had been three years old when he was spotted toddling along the shoulder of Kings Highway, choking on exhaust from the passing trucks. Orange Spring-Pyncher had been left in a dumpster. She was rescued by a passing nurse, who heard her crying, and had to unearth her from underneath a pile of orange peels and several busted mattress springs. The box in which Holding Perishables had been placed had at one point been used to cart produce, and the two words had been traced over and over along its corrugated sides.
Easter Pyncher, Holding’s foster sister and single friend in the whole world, believed that she had been delivered to Mrs. Pyncher’s doorstep in a basket on Easter Sunday. This was not true, but even Mrs. Pyncher—mean, short-tempered, cheap, and unhappy though she was—would not tell Easter the truth of her name. Some tiny, miniscule part of her heart must have still twinkled and flashed deep inside her chest, though the rest of it was as cold and dull as a rock, and she recognized that the story of Easter’s name must never be repeated.
The truth about Easter was this: She should have been dead.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Writing Challenge--The Stories!

Last week I set out a Monday Morning Writing Challenge: I asked people to write me the beginning of a children's book set in Detroit. And some of you DID, which is awesome.

Today I am going to post the three wonderful stories I received in my inbox, and on Wednesday I will post the beginning of the story *I* wrote. Isn't this fun? I think I'm going to do writing challenges more often. I really love seeing all of your work. It's starting to be like a virtual writing workshop up in this blog! I love it.

From William White:. Check out how many questions William raises is just a few short paragraphs: what happened to Emma's dad? What about her mom? What's E's stepmom's deal? Piquing the reader's curiosity is a great technique for story intros...

A Garden in the Dark

Emma loved to grow daisies. She always had. At least for most of her seven years. Knees covered in dirt she pulled stray weeds from around her treasures. She gazed at the flowers. So beautiful. So pretty. She loved them. She loved them so much she didn’t hear the boys shouting at the other end of the vacant lot. She loved them so much she didn’t hear the police sirens in the distance. She loved them so much she didn’t hear the big city train as it roared past only two blocks away.
As Emma knelt in the dirt tending her daisies all she heard was her father’s voice. A voice from long ago.
“Daisies are the happiest of all the flowers sweet Emma. And I’m sure that your daisies are the happiest daisies in the whole wide world.”
Emma’s stepmother sat in the dirt nearby. She was tending the carrots. Sort of. She didn’t look very happy about doing it. She was dressed in fancy clothes. Not gardening clothes like Emma’s. When her stepmother looked over at her, Emma looked away.
“Can’t eat them flowers you know. Tend the beets. We can eat the beets.” her stepmother said.
Emma pulled a few more weeds from around her daisies then scooted on her knees over to the beets. The leaves on the beets felt dry. Emma stood up, brushed the dirt off her knees and walked over to the red brick wall of her apartment building. In the wall was a small faucet and Emma filled the rusty old coffee can full of water. She tried not to spill as she walked back to the beets.
Again she heard her father’s voice.
“Watch the water Emma. Every living thing needs the water.”

And this, from Sydnee Thompson: Given the content, this would be YA; but I love how well and how quickly Sydnee evokes this scene. And see the interesting attached note, below.

I've lived in the Detroit area all my life. The downtown area isn't really all that bad, but I've never been to the Detroit firework show because every year, without fail, someone gets shot or stabbed. - Sydnee

The pounding of fireworks above filled his ears. It seemed to seep into his blood and control the very beating of his heart. Bright splashes of blue and pink and red exploded in the night sky, the smell of barbecue wafting in the air.
Brian pulled the viewfinder of his camera up to his eye and captured a firework’s silver tendrils soaring towards the horizon. Someone jabbed him in the side. He yanked his camera close to his chest and checked for his wallet. A homeless man wandered by begging for cash. Passersby winced and glowered at his loud praises of generosity and God’s forgiveness.
Brian looked up. A girl with a purple sweatshirt hood hiding her face stormed over, hands shoved in her pockets.
“You could’ve waited for me, you know!” Katelyn sputtered, linking her arm with his. He ignored her in favor of taking a snapshot of the homeless guy. She groaned. “I hate crowds like this… I don’t know why I even ca-”
Brian snorted. “Me neither.” The annual July fireworks show was one of his favorite events of the year. Because he was only twelve, he didn’t have many chances to explore the city’s nightlife. Only when July 4th rolled around did his mother shove a twenty at him and throw him alone into the crowded, chaotic streets. “You invited yourself, remember?”
Katelyn looked offended. Brian sighed. “Okay, just give me a minute. Then I’ll buy dinner, okay?”
Katelyn tipped her chin up. Her narrowed eyes dared him to challenge her. “I want ribs. And French fries. I don’t care what they cost. You owe me.”
“Fine, fine.” Brian watched another small firework explode, then glanced wearily at the crowd of twenty-somethings smoking weed and cackling to their right. “On second thought… show’s almost over. Let’s get out of here before someone starts shooting again.”

Lastly (but not leastly!) from Lizzy Doutsis:. Check out all the detailed and beautifully alliterative description: "weal wisps of sprouting green grass specking"--amazing!!

To Make Her Smile

The sun shone so brightly it hurt his eyes as he stumbled down the narrow street. The sidewalk hard and brittle, and his feet kept catching on the little knobs of stones and dirt, stuck between the cracks. Despite the fact that this was a fairly new neighbourhood the houses already looked old and discoloured, cramped together with weak wisps of sprouting green grass specking the brown dirt of the lawns. Shiny new cars sat on some of the driveways, as if the owners were trying to prove their worth by the brand of vehicle they owned, as if that would somehow make their lives better, or more prosperous.
Protectively clutching the stack of newspapers in his hands, the boy roamed through the paper to the fourth page until he found what he was looking for, the hockey standings for the Detroit Redwings.
Even though his dad was in danger of being laid off and his mom was sick at home with chronic fatigue, Aaron’s family found comfort in watching the Redwing’s hockey games (They were all die hard fans, even Aaron’s little sister, Sierra) on their twenty-seven-inch TV. With a dab of pride, Aaron thought that their living room was the only one in the whole neighbourhood which displayed a Redwings flag. It was their symbol, their prize, like the shiny Volvo on Mr. Kowarsky’s driveway or the flowery garden in front of Mrs. Patigran’s porch.
Having a paper route was a time consuming and strenuous job, but one of the only employment opportunities for thirteen year old boys. Aaron’s mind wandered away from his task as he continued down the street, tossing newspaper at each door, thinking about how his family was never happy anymore. His mom’s birthday was coming up, and despite their tough situation right now Aaron wanted it to be a memorable occasion.
The neighbour’s grungy dog barked ferociously from behind the iron clad fence, but Aaron didn’t hear it; inspiration had stuck. His mother had never been to a Redwing’s game. He knew that if he could just get his family to a game, he could make his mother smile.

Thanks so much Sydnee, William, and Lizzy...and KEEP WRITING!

Wednesday I'll post my attempt. Don't be too hard on me. :)

Aren't writing challenges fun??

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Writing Workshop, Part IV: The Wise Words of Ernie Hemingway

My last writing workshop focused on one technique for helping you stay the course: figuring out what is going to happen (at least roughly) before you're forty pages and eight characters in and have no idea how to move forward, sideways, or even backwards. (Check out the post here.)
I'm a huge advocate of the "write every day" approach. You MUST be able to count on habit and discipline when things get hard--which they will. Inspiration won't cut it at word 52,000, when your characters are acting like monstrous spoiled brats, your plot is quickly unraveling, and you feel as if the only think you have accomplished in the past two months is writing the world's WORST novel and gaining five pounds of stress weight. That's when you'll need to depend on straight-up discipline and routine to carry you through.
One thing that is useful for helping to develop this habit, and for making the transition from bed to desk-chair slighly less painful: always leave off writing for the day when you know exactly what you have to write next. This might seem counter-intuitive--shouldn't you just write until you don't know what happens next? Until you're stuck, in other words?
Actually, the reverse is true. You want to give yourself as easy and entry-way as possible into the text. Look, if you were trying to move somebody from point A to point B you would indicate the path, and all of the turns he/she would need to take to do it. You wouldn't just leave the person stranded in a room filled with a hundred different doors and trust her to find the right one--at least not quickly and without a great degree of missteps and cursing. Your brain is the same way. Leave it in a big room with too many doors, and much of the next day will be wasted on doors that lead nowhere and shitfuckdamns.
I wish I could take credit for this little gem, but actually, this was Hemingway's famous recommendation. But hey...good enough for Hemingway, good enough for me.
On a side note, my father recently recommended I read Stephen King's seminal book on the craft of fiction, entitled On Writing. All I have to say is...OMG. Dude can't even write a NONFICTION book on CRAFT that's not a page-turner! I can hardly put it down, and recommend it emphatically to all aspiring writers. It's probably the most useful--and most entertaining--book on writing I've ever read. Order it! You'll be glad you did, I promise.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Writing Challenge

Greetings, lovies...

I am currently writing you from beautiful, verdant, and sunny (gasp!) England. I always feel inspired by this country--maybe it's because some of my favorite novelists (Jane Austen; Dickens; Henry James; Lewis Carroll; Phillip Pullman; J.K. Rowling) are English or at the very least have spent a huge portion of time here, but the landscape of England just seems saturated with literary magic.
In fact, I was saying to my sister just today--as we were strolling through the charming, labyrinthine Oxford streets; and crossing over the Thames, which winds lazily through the city and is dotted with houseboats and punters; while students and scholars whizzed past us on bicycles--that it almost seems unfair. Pullman, Rowling--they had such magic material to work with in the first place! They came from a place steeped already with tradition and story and imagination--no wonder they were able to get the creative juices flowing!

So, my pets, my Monday Morning Challenge is this: today, I want you to write between 250-300 words of the first page of a children's book...set in Detroit. If you can find magic in that city, dear friends, you can find and evoke it anywhere! And no cheating. I want car dumps, and cracked sidewalks, and packs of roaming dogs, not the shiny bright glitter of the Detroit 1950s hay-day, or some bowdlerized version of the place now.

Send your texts to me at laurenoliverbooks@gmail.com and I'll post 'em up!



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Literary Mash-Up

I'm a huge fan of the TV show Glee, and a huge fan in particular of their rocking mash-ups of awesome pop songs (see a list of my favorite things from June as evidence; the Borderline/Open Your Heart mash-up was my month-long musical selection of choice). And recently I came across a version of a kind of literary mash-up. The question: which fictional characters--from different books--would you like to see hook up? (See the interview with Bree Despain here that got me thinking about this rocking question.)
I love the idea of page-crossed lovers, and this post got me thinking about allowing my characters to do some book-hopping of their own. After some long and hard thinking, however, I had to admit that I don't want Sam to be with anyone but Kent--they're too perfect for each other, and after offing the poor girl numerous times I think she deserves some modicum of happiness.
BUT Lindsay is another issue.
And although the literary mash-up I envision for Ms. Edgecombe, Queen Bitch Extraordinaire and Social Tornado, is not romantic in nature, it is all too a propos: I would like to see Lindsay in The Hunger Games.
I'm sorry, but that girl would not even need even a quiver of arrows or a blunt-edged knife in order to have an advantage. Give her five minutes and the revelation of a weakness and/or insecurity, and she'll have all of her competitors sniveling and begged to be torn apart by weird computerized dog-versions of themselves.
Warfare is scary. Psychological warfare? That, my friends, is horror. And everyone knows there is nothing more horrifying than a privileged teen with daddy issues, a credit card, no parental guidance, and a popularity obsession. Even typing those words gave me heart palpitations!
So that's my literary mash-up...what about you? What scenes would you mix up? What characters would you pit together in an ultimate death match? What characters would you bring together for a little inter-novelistic somethin' somethin'?
I want to know!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Better Than TV

I'm all about cool people doing cool things. I'm particularly amazed by cool YOUNG people doing cool things now that I'm officially--sniff!--over the hill. (Okay, well, not really; but considering that I spent most of my adolescence and early twenties squeezing into pleather pants and trying to find unsuitable people to date, I am still really impressed by young people whose ambitions/activities outstrip shopping and bar-hopping.)

In that vein, check out this cool new YouTube channel started by the lovely Molly H. Molly intends to interview a ton of young adult authors and unify their responses in one place--so if you want to see me answer questions in my study while dressed in my pajamas, check it out! Seriously, though, I love this idea, and I'm psyched to have participated. So go ahead and watch--you know you need a Tuesday reason to procrastinate anyway!--subscribe, and spread the word!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Importance of Canine Self-Discipline

So...I spent my weekend with one of my very closest friends, Patrick, on the North Fork of Long Island, where my father has a house. I absolutely love the North Fork. It's beautiful and very agrarian; it's a farmland and pie shops, vineyards and beaches, bare feet and cheap beer kinda place. At night it is absolutely quiet except for the crickets, and the stars are absolute magic. My favorite part? Midnight swimming, my friends.
It's also a great place to write. I love the stimulation of NYC when it comes to brainstorming stories. There's so much inspiration to be found on the streets, and in the conversations and characters you encounter. But when it comes time to write, the same thing that makes it fabulous for inspiration--the noise, the activity--makes it difficult for execution.
The reverse is true on the North Fork, making it a wonderful place to write. It's also great to be around my dad, from whom I learned my disciplines and pattern of writing in the first place. Those of you who have heard me speak have no doubt heard me speak of my dad's work ethic. I have said over and over that I think the greatest skill you can develop as a writer is the capacity and motivation to write every day. It is the number one habit I encourage young writers to cultivate, and it is absolutely a skill I inherited and learned from my father.
Case in point: my dad NEVER takes a day off from writing. Ever. Even I occasionally take a Sunday off, particularly if I've finished a chapter or um, you know, a book.
Not my dad.
Crazy town, right? Well, it turns out a certain amount of discipline runs in the family because even the newest addition to the clan likes to start her a.m. at the computer! Check out the photographic evidence: below you'll find Trudy, my dad's new puppy, slaving away at her Macbook.

I guess if even puppies can get their butts in front of the computer...
Happy Monday!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Writing Workshop, Part III: How to Stick With It

I would say that the number one thing I hear all the time as a writer is this: "Oh! I've always wanted to write a novel. In fact, I have a great idea for a mystery/thriller/tearjerker/YA paranormal"... Etc.

I have no doubt that all of the people who say this to me (in recent weeks: my dentist, a B and B owner in Martha's Vineyard, a woman at a cocktail party) do, in fact, have a great idea for a novel. I also have no doubt that they could write a great book. But the fact remains that most of them don't. And the question is why?

Let's be honest, people. The fun part of writing a book IS the idea, and possibly a few great scenes you imagine in your head, maybe a few lines of whip-smart dialogue you can already envision on the printed page. What's not so fun?

Well, um, just about everything else...i.e., the actual writing. The vast majority of the choices you make when writing are mechanical, not artistic--you need to make sure the damn thing holds together. In that way writing has more in common with automechanics than it does with inspiration or The Muse. People need to stand up, sit down, walk into rooms, have flashbacks that don't interfere with the current action, want what they don't need and need what they don't want and not be able to see what the reader can plainly perceive. It's a 350+ page puzzle, without the accompanying image that illustrates whether you are on the right track.

I think that's why people don't end up finishing books: it's too easy to get lost amidst a pile of bolts and pipes and valves and rubble. It's easier at that point to walk away than it is to slog through the mess and try to build something drive-able (er, readable).

So HOW can you avoid this? How can you stay motivated through the mid-section slog, when you have no idea what is supposed to come next and your characters are misbehaving and the gorgeous scene you'd imagined in your head has morphed into a nonsensical mess on the page?

There are several different factors when it comes to staying motivated, because there are several dimensions of snag/difficulty/resistance you will encounter as a writer. In this post I will focus on the kind of resistance that comes from confusion, and not knowing what comes next for your characters or your book. It is hard to sit down and write; but it is infinitely easier once you know what you are supposed to be writing about.

When I start a book, I always take a 2-3 week period of what I like to think of as "play-time"; I explore the world and the characters, write down some great lines, get a sense of the world of the book. And then I sit down and I outline. Outlining isn't fun--it's the novelistic equivalent of writing a car service manual--but trust and believe, you will be SERIOUSLY grateful for the big-picture info it will provide when you're at page 132 and your character has just wedged herself behind a refrigerator and you have NO idea how to get her out.

Outlines, like manuals, are only useful in so far as they are detailed and specific, so I highly recommend you don't scrimp on this part of the process, especially if you are relatively new to writing. Go ahead and dive in chapter by chapter; really think about everything that can and must occur in Acts One, Two, and Three (for more on the three-act structure, see my blog post here.) It might help to flesh out seminal, or "turning point" scenes first, and then think about what should precede and immediately follow those. Get down and dirty in there; some of my outlines are twenty pages, single spaced. Remember, you are building a lifeline; later, when you're lost and discouraged, you can pull yourself ahead on this rope.

And yes, people, I know that outlining is difficult and soul-crushing work. But nobody ever said writing was all daisies and chocolate malts! (And if they did, they were lying...or they have never actually finished a book!)

More on staying motivated in future posts...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Quick Trip to an Old-School Bookstore

Hey all!

Hope you all had a fabulous fourth of July. Mine involved:

1. Burgers
2. Fireworks
3. Ice cream with hot fudge from THE BEST ICE CREAM SHOP IN THE WORLD (Sundae School, in Cape Cod)
4. Best friends
and...of course...

(Enjoyed not necessarily in that order.)

I hit up Martha's Vineyard and then Cape Cod with some of my oldest, best friends, and spent a week swimming, biking, tanning (BUT VERY CAREFULLY and wearing LOTS OF SUNBLOCK!! C'mon peeps...wrinkles + skin cancer = NOT HOT), and generally being as happy as a clam. (Not the clams I consumed on my vacation--not sure they were so happy--but happy as a FREE clam.)

As you can probably tell, some of the sunshine and sugar addled my brain, but I did have time for some intellectual pursuits...I had a chance to stop by Titcomb's Bookstore in East Sandwich, where I met lovely owner Vicky and various other members of her extended family. The store has been in existence since 1969 and it represent everything I love about indies: a warm and knowledgeable staff, an incredible selection of books, both old, used, and antique (I rediscovered some classic Beatrice Potter editions I used to have when I was little; I literally almost cried when I saw them), and BROWNIES! Okay, so, brownies aren't necessarily something I associate with indies, but Vicky had whipped up a batch of them and they were ridiculously delicious.

I was in the Cape with one of my best friends, Elizabeth Miles, a soon-to-be debut novelist whose first book, FURY, will be out in Fall 2011, and whom I recently interviewed here. Below you will find a pic of the two of us standing in front of the papier-mache statue that marks the entrance to the bookstore.

For those of you that have read BEFORE I FALL, you might recall that one of Sam's final "greatest hits" involves a memory of catching crabs in Cape Cod with her sister Izzy...and I have to say, this latest trip to the Cape might very well make it onto a greatest hits collection of my own.

Hope everyone had a happy Independence Day...now summer really begins!


Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Beach Read Winners!!

Thanks so much to EVERYONE who entered my Summer Beach Reads contest!! It was so great to hear what you all have been reading--and looking forward to reading--on the beach.

So, I decided that since there were so many amazing responses, I would select FOUR lucky winners. Each winner will receive one of the fab beach reads listed below; first place winner gets first choice, second place winner gets second choice, etc etc.

The WINNERS (picked entirely at random) are:

1. JL of An Avid Reader's Musings

2. Bee of Dream Catcher's Lair

3. Okapi of http://thesmartyowl.blogspot.com/

4. Rhiannon of Diary of a Bookworm

And you will have your PIC of the following four amazing summer beach reads:

1. The complete Harry Potter paperback boxed set (yes, I know, I give amazing prizes! Get over it. :P So many of you said that summer would not be summer without good old HP, and I totally agree. i have amazingly fond memories of completely neglecting to do any of the tasks associated with my high school job--lifeguarding, for those who are interested--because I was too consumed with reading Harry Potter).
2. The Last Summer (of You and Me), by Anne Breshares
3. Along for the Ride, by the eminently readable an unrivaled Sarah Dessen
4. The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han; I just read and loved this myself

As I mentioned above. the first place winner will have first pic of a prize, second place winner second pic, etc etc...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Writing Workshop, Part II: Story Structure

So in this post, I'm going to focus extremely broadly on the narrative structure of most books (and, incidentally, most plays, and even many short stories and jokes). In future posts I'll cycle back into specifics: fleshing out characters; symbolism and imagery; developing and resolving conflict, etc. But for now, let's stick to the basics: building a plot arc.
Plotting books is tough. It's definitely, for me, the most difficult part of the process. But it's a critical part--otherwise, it's all too easy to write yourself into a wilderness and become completely and irreversibly lost. (Not that, um, this has ever happened to me.) Understanding the basics of narrative before you begin will give you the equivalent of enormous sign posts poking up above the trees; no matter how deep in the forest you go, at least you will always be able to consult those signposts for orientation.

Okay, so, most books can be thought about in terms of a three-act structure. I find the 3-Act model incredibly useful when I am plotting books. It is simple and breaks down as follows:

Act One.
Introduces major characters, the setting, and often backstory. Ends at the moment where the conflict the rest of the book will explore is established. (I usually think of this as an "inciting incident"--see my previous blog post about this here.) For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Act One would end after Romeo and Juliet have met, fallen in love, and discovered that they are the respective progeny of their families' sworn mortal enemies.

Act Two.
Act two comprises most of the developing action of the book; the additional conflicts that result from the inciting incident; the development of additional story-lines and complications; the attempts of the protagonists to bring the inciting conflict to resolution. It is important to know that Act II should end at a point of MAJOR dissolution; everything should explode, fall apart, seem irreparable and hopeless. In a traditional romantic comedy, for example, this would be the moment where the main character has (seemingly) ruined all of her chances for true love; the guy she is supposed to be with has moved away, or is on the verge of getting married to someone else; it will never work out, etc etc. In Bridget Jones' Diary, for example, the end of Act II is demarcated by Mark's departure to NYC and engagement to his legal partner--just after Bridget has finally accepted her feelings for him.

Act III.
Act III is, obviously, the remainder of the book, and brings unexpected resolution to the seemingly insurmountable difficulties established in Act II--or, in a tragedy, does not so much resolve them as subvert them in some interesting way. (Plato and Aristotle would tell you this leads to something called "catharsis"--i.e. the you laughed/you cried part of the reading experience.) For some great examples of Act III resolutions, check out pretty much every romantic comedy that has ever been made or written. To stick with a previous example, in Bridget Jones' diary the culminating moment of Act III is embodied by that ridiculously awesome kiss in the snow. Hot, hot, hot. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please go Netflix that sh*# right now. Colin Firth 4ever!!

Okay, that was a little off-topic.

Point is: it's necessary to build a sturdy framework for your story. Otherwise, it's like building a really fancy house on top of faulty foundations. Add in all of the balconies, french windows, and flourishes you want, but sooner or later that pretty pile of plywood is gonna come tumbling down.

Content by Lauren Oliver - Copyright 2011. Blog designed by Ella Press Studio - 2011.

Author Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie - Copyright 2010. Original Font Idea by Erin Fitzsimmons - 2010.