Archive for ‘Thoughts on Writing’

May 6th, 2011

Learn from the Classics

by Madeleine Rex

We’ve read some very well-known books in my English class this year (many of which I’d already read). We began the year with Of Mice and Men, a book I’m a huge fan of. However, it wasn’t until I dug into it for a second time with the aid of my fabulous (or “rad” as one of my other teachers described her) English teacher that I realized just how spectacularly detailed Of Mice and Men is. There’s something that writers like Steinbeck have managed to do with word choice that gives their words layer upon layer of meaning.

There’s a passage in which Steinbeck describes Lennie’s and George’s physical features, such as the way they walk and the angles of their face. It’s mystifying. I’d never noticed before reading it in class that Steinbeck manages to write the sentences in a way that reflects the image he’s trying to create. The words he uses to describe George’s skinniness are, well, skinny words, and vice versa for Lennie.

Ray Bradbury accomplishes something similar in many parts of Fahrenheit 451. When we’d discuss the intricacies of Bradbury’s or Steinbeck’s word choice, I was almost exhausted by the very thought of putting that much consideration into the words I choose. Certainly, diction’s important to me and something I love to deal with, but I can hardly imagine creating something so complex. It’s far more fun as a reader to untangle the meanings of specific paragraphs or individual sentences of other people’s books.

In Les Edgerton’s Hooked: Write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go, he says:

…every word needs to count and to represent much more than the few syllables it takes to utter.

Some writers have truly taken that advice to heart and created magic. I aspire to be half as brilliant before I die. Leaning to play with words and create illustrious images is a process I’ve yet to master and likely never will. But isn’t it fabulous to read a paragraph in a book and simply gape at it? Stare at it for ten seconds, and then reread? I love it when I come across something so magnificent that I wish I could tattoo it on my mind and carry it around with me as a constant reminder of what words can accomplish.

Someday, I want to make someone feel that way. Don’t you? Let’s look to the masters. Reread those books you were forced through in high school because there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll learn more the second time around. Don’t analyze. Analysis is too cold. Savor. Enjoy.

P.S. I just got my 100th follower! Thanks, Vy! There’s a giveaway coming up soon! Goodness knows you guys deserve it for putting up with my irregular posts!

April 26th, 2011

I was born in 1995

by Madeleine Rex

I am not under the impression that any of you are creating a timeline of my life or writing a paper on me. My purpose in stating the year I was born is to remind you that I am the teenager of today. Going to high school five days of the week, talking with and texting teenagers, and drowning in the glory of overactive hormones and a swarm of young people with the worries/sense of invincibility/insecurities we read about makes me an insider.

I know that adults are constantly saying things along the lines of, “I remember when I was your age…” but that’s not all that’s required to write a young adult novel. You might remember an event or experience, but you, admittedly, did not experience it in 2010 or 2009. Prom in 1988 is different than prom now, despite the fact that the major characteristics are the same.

Miranda Kenneally, who is still young, once asked me what kids my age call a record store. And I said, “Um… a record store?” When I read a draft of one of her books, though, I came across an instant in which the main character mentions seeing someone’s underwear. My eyes bugged out of my head for a moment before I realized she meant undershirt.

I can promise anyone my age would have spit their Sprite all over that page if they’d read that the main character could see the guy’s underwear while he was leaning against his locker. And the reader probably would have blushed, too.

There are little differences between generations. Even those minor differences can help loads when it comes to making stories and characters easily relatable to the audience (people my age). Sarah Enni posted about this last week, and made many great points. I commented and left a short list of things that have struck me as slightly off or outdated and a few things that I think many people would assume were before my generation but are actually talked about. Here’s the comment:

You’re pretty much spot-on, although I think a lot of people my age have a hazy remembrance of 9/11. I remember walking into the living room on the morning before my second day of kindergarten and finding my mother standing in front of the TV, eyes glued to a building going down. I think lots of people my age feel some sort of connection to it (though I could be wrong). Also: We watched the version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio in it, and girls *were* drooling. One person people bring up all the time is Justin Timberlake, but I hear practically nothing about him. 😀

There are a few things I see in books that don’t strike true (and sometimes my adult friends will come to me with questions as they write, trying to verify). For example:

1. We (meaning the people I talk to at MY high school) don’t say “cell”. Often, we don’t even say “cell phone”, unless we’re asking if someone has one or what we’re saying could truly mistakenly be applied to a home phone. Most of the time we just call it “phone”.

2. There are names that creep up in a lot of YA books these days that I hardly ever hear. It’d be hard to list all of them, but there are many.

3. People do talk about politics. And the economy. They tend to sound like they’re regurgitating their parents views (and they are often pretty liberal, at least here). However, people get really worked up over it. Even in middle school during the last election, Obama’s face and name were *everywhere*.

4. OJ is still brought up occasionally. Michael Jackson is still brought up all the time. And almost everyone’s seen Titanic at least once.

5. We sometimes mention Blue’s Clues. And Elmo. And The Cookie Monster.

6. We don’t wear skirts over jeans. Ever.

7. Don’t forget Jamba Juice! It’s not all Starbucks.

I realize that these details might seem insignificant, but they’re the ones that stand out to me as I read. Particularly the overuse of “cells” and the occasional character who wears skirts over jeans. I never see that.

Although I understand that particular characters are unique and might break a generalized rule, I wanted to make the point that the details do not go unnoticed by the target audience. It’s like being ripped out of a dreamworld when the reader comes across something that feels off. Suddenly, we’re distanced from the situation or character, simply because we’ve remembered that what we’re reading is fiction. It’s our job as writers to sustain the illusion.

March 18th, 2011

Bags of Flour and Their Relevence to Our Books

by Madeleine Rex

The two weeks before winter break, about a quarter of the kids at my school were wandering the halls, babies in tow. 16-year-olds leaned against lockers in the Commons, their babies dressed in onesies and hats, snug in the crook of their arm. They wandered through the Arts Building, through the Multi-Purpose Room, down the E Hall, the C Hall…

I’d have to say the things that disturbed me most were the chopped off babydoll heads that were glued onto the bags of flower. A friend of mine stooped so low as to chop legs and a head off a teddy bear and attach them to her “baby.”

Freshmen like myself take PE all year, and sophomores take Health. I get the impression that the “drag your bag of flour around for two weeks” assignment is a crucial one. I’m guessing the official purpose of the assignment is to teach the students parenting skills, but I’d bet the lesson most of the kids get out of it goes along the lines of: “Wow. Towing this baby around all day totally gets in the way of my texting. I need both hands!” Thus, the assignment serves as a more subtle way to say, “At least use protection.”

I have a point. Promise.

Let’s say that books are babies, and obviously, we are parents. Some of us rushed through the whole experience, writing 15,000 words a week, and at the end of the month were left with wrist pains and a manuscript/baby.

Others thought, “Why not?” but didn’t really make an effort. They moved fairly quickly, but they weren’t sucking 5 Hour Energies down and staying up into the wee hours of the night. The baby that landed in their lap was surprising, but not necessarily a surprise.

And then there are those who examine their financial stability, the time they have to spend at home, the schools in the neighborhood… those who plan meticulously and then move at a steady, intentional rate toward, uh, birth.

(May I request that you ignore the creepiness of this analogy? Moving on…)

However they got there, they end up with same thing – a manuscript/baby.

With a baby comes responsibility. There are logical steps to take – bottles, pacifier, crib, car seat, stroller – and they must be taken. There should be no compromise. The baby needs particular things in order to grow, develop, and thrive.

See where I’m going? No? I’m just freaking you out?

I took the middle road when writing my book. I moved fairly quickly, but I wavered and wandered down out-of-the-way pathways, feeling my way through and going with the flow. When I finished the first draft, I was left with this alien object – I was in a sort of shock despite all the hours I’d put in. Amidst this awe was one undeniable fact: I had to take care of it now.

The Lemonites needed and continues to need constant support, nourishment, guidance, and love. How I take care of my baby reflects my diligence – just as the kids who showed up to Health with a flour bag completely intact and dismembered babydoll head screwed on tight all earned an A. They tackled their problems and slammed them to the ground, thereby excepting their responsibility as a “parent.”

As writers with young, impressionable books – books that would flounder and wander down forbidden paths if it weren’t for our care and guidance – it’s our job to take the necessary steps toward a healthy, productive life for them. It is our job to make certain that our books/babies meet their potential. Steps such as revision, revision, revision, revision, revision, and then queries.

Slap on those babydoll heads, wrestle into those onesies, because it’s time to take the hand of our WIPs and pull them out of murky waters. Lead them to a bright, prosperous future.