Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Reading Like a Writer: THE FAERIE RING by Kiki Hamilton

Friday, May 11th, 2012

I don’t read much fantasy – which is odd, since as a kid I lived in Narnia and Middle Earth. But somehow, as an adult, my preferences have shifted to realistic fiction. So if Kiki Hamilton weren’t a friend and colleague, I probably wouldn’t have picked up her debut novel, THE FAERIE RING.

But boy, am I glad I did! Not only is it an engaging story, full of pickpockets and malicious faeries and royalty, but it’s incredibly well written. And since my goal is to read like a writer, here are some of the things I’ve learned from reading this book that I plan to apply to my own work.

1. Choose your verbs wisely. Here are some interesting verbs I found on the book’s first page: pickin’, loomed, shadowing, illuminated, bubbled, dissipated, jingled, taunt, clutched, forced, tugged, disguised. I love these verbs because they’re not only unusual and active, but they evoke the feel of the story’s 1871 London setting.

2. Make your main character a hero. Or, in this case, a heroine. Tiki, the pickpocket who dresses as a boy who is at the center of THE FAERIE RING, is a heroine not only because she’s brave and adventurous, but because she acts as a guardian for a group young urchins. The depth of her caring about these children is what makes me admire and root for her.

3. Sow the seeds of mistrust. Reiker, another pickpocket character, is handsome and, in some ways, sympathetic. But doggone it, I just don’t trust him, and I cringe every time Kiki does – which in turn intensifies my desire to see her reach goals and overcome obstacles before he can screw things up.

After reading THE FAERIE RING, I might just become a fan of fantasy again. I know I won’t want to miss the sequel, THE TORN WING, which releases this October!

Have you read anything like a writer lately? What did you learn that you can apply to your own work?

Writing like an…1890s gal

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Once in a while on this blog, I like to post studies of books by fellow members of The Elevensies (an online group of YA/MG authors whose books debut in 2011). Notice that I say “studies” and not “reviews.” I’m not interested in passing judgement on my peers’ books; I read them to glean gems of wisdom to help me in my own writing — and to share those gems with you.

Currently, I’m reading THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS by Carole Estby Dagg, who is a member of both The Elevensies and The Class of 2k11.

This novel was inspired by the true story of her great grandmother and great aunt who, in 1896, walked from Mica Creek, Washington, to New York City. The author recounts their many adventures along the way, including surviving a flash flood, encountering real live Indians, and almost landing in jail. As a writer of realistic contemporary novels, I don’t usually read a lot of historical fiction. I’m glad, though, that I picked up this book, because it’s teaching me so much about showing time and place through voice.

As soon as I opened to the first page of THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS, I was transported to the 1890s — not because of description, but because of the narrator’s voice. Voice is always tricky to define, but for me it comes down to two things: sentence structure and word choice.

Sentence structure: Take the very first sentence of the novel’s preface: “The first seventeen years and three months of my life were so ordinary, they would not be worth the telling.” By ending this opening sentence with the old-fashioned phrase “worth the telling,” she signals right away that she is taking us to a different time.

Word choice: Sometimes it’s not the way Estby Dagg’s narrator frames her sentences that clues us into the time period, it’s the very words she uses. Look at a sentence in the first chapter: “As if in league with my intent to rouse Ma from bed today, Marmee jumped on the  bed to lick Ma’s cheek and purr into her ear.” The words “league,” “intent,” and “rouse” have the formal tone that lets us know we’re in the past, and even the name “Marmee” has an old-fashioned feel.

So how do I apply this to my own work? Even though my novels are set in current times, each has it’s particular milieu. The main character in FLYAWAY, for example, is from a lower economic class in Seattle, while the main character in my new novel is half Latina and lives in San Diego. I have to make sure each has her particular way of phrasing things and chooses specific words to voice her thoughts.

Have you read a book lately whose author uses voice to take you to a particular time and/or place? If so, I’d love to hear about it!


Once just isn’t enough: books worth a second read

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Like just about every writer I know, I’m a voracious reader. A pile of books to be read teeters next to my bed, and every time I go to a bookstore or library, I add another one to the endless stack. I do my best to keep up with new YA books as they come out, but lately I’ve also enjoyed going back and rereading some favorites.

About a month ago, I reread THE BOOK THEIF by Marcus Zusak.

THE BOOK THEIF by Marcus Zusak

I loved this book the first time I read it, but the second time around was even better. The first time, I focused on the amazing story of a young girl in Poland whose adoptive family harbors a Jewish man in their basement. On the second read, because I knew what was going to happen, I could focus more on the language, on Zusak’s incredible turns of phrase, and on the way he subtly wove his themes of cruelty and redemption into every chapter of the book.

Now I’m rereading another favorite from the past, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s THE MISTS OF AVALON.

THE MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I read this book when it first came out almost 20 years ago. Back then, again, I was so immersed in the story – essentially the tale of Kiing Arthur, told from the perspectives of the women around him — that I wasn’t conscious of the writing. Now I can marvel at Bradley’s uncanny ability to convey her characters’ emotions and how her perfect word choices give the novel the feel of long ago while still appealing to current sensibilities.

I guess what I’m saying is that the first time around I usually read a book like a reader — in other words, for the story — while the second time around, I’m more inclined to read like a writer, to notice the tools the author used to make the story work. Which leads me to one other book well worth reading:


READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose tells you how to do just that. She looks at works of literature on a word level, a sentence level, and on up to a thematic level.  I wouldn’t want to analyze the books I read this way all the time, but when I want to learn something about writing from my reading, this book is a great resource.

What about you? What books have you read more than once? What did you pick up in the second read that you didn’t notice the first time?