Sunday, November 29, 2009

Telling the story by its cover - or not

I was browsing the shelves at the library last week and picked up "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" by John Boyne. As usual, I turned it over to read the synopsis on back of the jacket. It was blank. I checked the inside flap for any information about the storyline and found this:

The story of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about.

If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year old boy called Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence.

Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter such a fence.

I was intrigued, and wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading the book. It wasn't until about page 20 that I really figured out what was going on, and by then I was completely hooked. I don't want be a spoiler in case you read it (or rent the movie, which I haven't seen). What an amazing storytelling John Boyne is, using a 'slow reveal' technique to gradual unveil his story. One of the most unique stories I've ever read. I recommend it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fantasy and historical fiction

Fantasy and historical fiction seem to be my two favorite genres to read, going all the way back to grammar school: A Wrinkle in Time, the Wizard of Oz books, and the Little House on the Prairie books (thanks for reminding me of those, Lisa) Then there was The Hobbit, The Diary of a Young Girl, and more others than I can count.
This past week, I read two YA historical fiction novels, Nefertiti by Michelle Moran (no relation) and Someone Named Eva by Joan Wolf. Both started with historically accurate time and place, painting word pictures of the culture and the daily life of its people. Actual events which took place during the timeline of the story were woven in and added to the challenges faced by the characters. I came away from both books with more knowledge of actual events and the curiosity to know even more.
That's what I'm trying to do with my book. I want a reader to feel more informed about pre-war Germany, and perhaps to see how millions of educated people fell for twisted truths. If we don't learn the lessons that history has to teach us, we risk making the same mistakes .

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Eavesdropping and watching

Just because I titled this post "Eavesdropping and watching", don't think I spend time peering into windows or pressing my ear to doors. I just love people watching and part of that involves listening to them.
Walking through the aisles of Gerrity's yesterday, I kept bumping into a young woman with two girls, so I made a number of observations about them based on the way they moved and snippets of their conversation.The woman, the girls' mother I presume, walked quickly and spoke to the girls about the tasks on hand: pick some apples you'd like, oatmeal or cereal this week? etc. The older girl, about 13 I figure, showed the classic "I'm so embarrassed to be seen with these people" attitude by her clipped answers, her shuffling feet, and her downward gaze. When her mother's back was turned, she grabbed a box of chocolate granola bars and silently tucked it into the basket. The younger girl, probably about 10 years old, was chock full of energy and entertained herself (and me). Without prompting, she grabbed one of those premade flower bouquets. "Oh, thank you," she said to no one in particular. She curtsied. "I'm honored." Her mother rolled her eyes and smiled. Her sister moved away.
In the dairy aisle, I caught up to the younger girl choosing yogurt. She lifted one and said, "If this is Greek yogurt, how come I can read the label? I don't know Greek." and "Ooh, la la. Zis yogurt iz French." You get the idea. Her mother stood nearby, smiling and apparently enjoying this kid's antics. Her sister hid among the baked goods.
I guess what I'm saying is I watch people and listen to them because I learn a lot that way. Being a student of human behavior comes in handy when I'm trying to write realistic dialogue or show a character's traits and emotional state.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ways to tell a story

Well, the Young Authors Day is history now, and I had a ball. I was even interviewed for the Abington Journal and I'm interested to see how it's reported there ("Local woman with a few writing credits plays with kids and laughs a lot"). The kids engaged well in the activities I planned, moving and talking and writing down their ideas. Some of them even shared their budding story at the end by standing up and talking it through.
The teenagers in my Sunday School class tell stories too. Each month, they're assigned a Bible story and they're in charge of presenting the lesson behind the story during the Children's Sermon. Most months, their lesson is done as some kind of performance (they're a bunch of hams), usually a skit they've written. This month, they're making puppets and putting on a puppet show. Another way to tell a story.
This weekend, I watched the Pixar film Wall-E. Yes, I know I'm behind the times. I was impressed by how much the characters of Wall-E and Eva were developed with basically no dialogue. The gestures and body language spoke volumes about who they were and what they felt. Fascinating.
Three distinct activities, all with the same storytelling goal.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

How about a title?

Since I'm about 2/3 or 3/4 done with my first draft, it's high time my book got a title. I know it's likely that whatever I choose will be overruled by an agent or editor, but hey, I gotta try. After all, even an agent or editor might be drawn in by the just-right title of a manuscript that lands on their desk.
Like everything else for kids, there are different trends for different age groups. Picture book titles are almost a story in themselves, like Don't let the pigeon drive the bus! or Diary of a worm. Middle grade books tend to have titles brimming with middle school sensibilities. Your mother was a Neanderthal or Gossip times three probably won't appeal to an adult, but those titles speak to the heart of a 10-year old. The target audience for my novel is young adult, ages 14 +, and with any luck and a lot of prayer, it'll go into the 'cross-over' world of also appealing to adults. Titles for YA books tend to be snappy and dramatic. Speak. Twilight. You get the idea.
My working title is The Focus. It defines both what Sophie wants to avoid, the attention of other people, and what she eventually uses to tell the truth of what's happening around her, her camera. What do you think?