Learning from the Masters: The Meet-Cute Part II

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Last week I talked about meet-cutes–the moment when the protagonist meets her potential romantic lead. Today I want to give another example…

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Learning From The Masters: On Subtlety

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So I want to talk about one of my favorite things in fiction…

Subtlety.

I’ve already written about how one of my biggest pet peeves in books is showing and telling. I also wrote a post on how to not do that. 

I think the best novels are ones that show you everything that’s happening–then leave it to you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions. Books like this treat you like you’re smart–the author knows they don’t have to spell everything out for you.

There is one writer I know of who does this exceptionally well, but the example I’m going to give is kind of a big spoiler for this book. So I’m not going to tell you which book or writer it is. I’ve also omitted character names.

For background info: in this novel, a female detective is investigating the murder of a pregnant woman. Earlier on, she finds a notebook where the murdered woman had kept track of her monthly cycles. The detective also hints about a past tryst with a coworker that left her feeling kind of empty, to put it mildly. These people also live in a country where abortion is illegal.

And then, near the end of the novel, we get this passage:

I’m not her, I’m not clockwork, specially not when I’m wrecked and stressed and wretched. By the time the terrible sinking feeling kicked in, I had moved to Domestic Violence, he had been bounced into bureaucratic limbo somewhere and all our bridges were burned to bitter ash; he had gone so far away I couldn’t even see him on the other side. I didn’t tell anyone. I got the boat to England before dawn one sleety Saturday and was back in my dark flat that night—the plane would have been faster but I couldn’t take it, the thought of sitting still for an hour each way, squashed elbow to elbow between strangers. I walked up and down the deck of the boat instead. On the way back the sleet came down harder, soaked me to the bone; if there had been anyone else on deck they would have thought I was crying, but I wasn’t, not even once.

In case you didn’t get it, this character is telling you that she got pregnant as a result of her tryst of her coworker, and then elected to get an abortion.

But at no point in this narrative–or anywhere in the novel–does the character state “I had an abortion.” Instead, the author takes what you already know about that character and the story and presents you with this scene of the detective on a boat on a sleety dark day–and leaves you to figure out exactly what it was that happened.

Of course, not stating things outright means there are some readers who won’t get it. For example, in discussions forums for the above book, some people wrote they had no idea this character had had an abortion. But that’s why it’s so important to read closely (especially in detective novels).

I’m definitely going to be incorporating this into my own writing. How about you?

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Learning from the Masters: Opening Lines

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I’ve already done a list of the opening lines from all my favorite books, but now I’m going to do a list of some of my favorite opening lines. (There’s a difference, though some overlap.) I’m also going to avoid the classics, since those lists are already all over the internet already.

Opening lines are so important. They’re the first taste your reader gets of your story. They need to hook, and hook hard.

So here goes. See if you can guess!

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Learning from the Masters: Voice

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I’ve written about voice in YA contemporary (twice), I’ve written about voice in YA historical, and today I’m going to talk about the voice of a writer who’s not YA at all. Because while it’s absolutely crucial as a writer to read within our genres, there is a tremendous amount to be learned from other genres, also.

So here is this week’s voice example. Perhaps we can play “guess that super-famous author/novel”…

Frannie leaned one hand against the warm metal of her car, took off her sneakers, and put on a pair of rubber thongs. She was a tall girl with chestnut hair that fell halfway down the back of the buff-colored shift she was wearing. Good figure. Long legs that got appreciative glances. Prime stuff was the correct frathouse term, she believed. Looky-looky-looky-here-comes-nooky. Miss College Girl, 1990.

Then she had to laugh at herself, and the laugh was a trifle bitter. You are carrying on, she told herself, as if this was the news of the world. Chapter Six: Hester Prynne Brings the News of Pearl’s Impending Arrival to Rev. Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale he wasn’t. He was Jess Rider, age twenty, one year younger than Our Heroine, Little Fran. He was a practicing college-student-undergraduate-poet. You could tell by his immaculate blue chambray work shirt.

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Learning from the Masters: Voice

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So last week I said I wanted to talk about something super-important in novel-writing: voice. This week I’m talking about the same thing, and showing an example of a completely different kind of voice.

In YA, you can sometimes read several books in a row all with similar voices. That’s why I love The Spectacular Now–the voice is so unique–and that’s also one of the reasons I adore Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy.

Take this passage:

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Learning from the Masters: Voice

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So I’ve written a lot about what we can learn from the masterful writers who’ve come before us, focusing mainly on the first 250 words of the manuscript. Today I want to focus on something else: voice.

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Learning from the Masters: The First 250 Words

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It’s time for another installment of this! (Click here to find installments 1, 2, and 3.)

You know how when you read advice on querying, they suggest comparing your manuscript to a published book? For my first manuscript, this was really hard to do–it’s a YA mystery, with some historical fiction, with some magical realism, with some romance, with a lot of coming-of-age stuff mixed in. I was having so much trouble coming up with a comparable book–until I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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