Ok, let me preface this post by saying I am part of the northeast heat wave.  And, being from the northeast, my house is not equipped with air conditioning.  If I ramble a little or use bad grammar or contradict myself, it’s probably because my brain is hard-boiled in this heat!  That being said…here we go!

For me, the structure of TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY by Jay Asher is a dream.  A prologue and an opening chapter sets up the story.  In these chapters, you see a ragged Clay Jensen the morning after he listens to the tapes and then the book flashes back to the previous evening, when he gets Hannah’s package in the mail.  So, immediately you know whatever is on those tapes is bad.  You’ve got the tension working right away.

Thirteen chapters follow that.  Each one is essentially a short story from Hannah Baker’s life.  Her first kiss.  Her first friends in a new town.  Episodes she remembers in school.  Each chapter is a reason why she committed suicide and each chapter corresponds to one side of one of the tapes.  The driving force of the story is twofold.  First of all, Hannah Baker doesn’t sound like a withdrawn, quiet, victim.  So you’re genuinely curious how things could have gone so wrong for her.  Second, like I’ve already said, you like Clay.  One of the reasons that you keep reading is because you want to know what his role could possibly be in Hannah’s death.  Which is also why Clay continues to listen to the tapes.

Structure works for me both as a reader and as a writer.  When I give myself a firm structure in my writing, I have less of a tendency to ramble.  I have more of an inclination to hit my writing “marks”, like putting action sequences in the right places, resolving conflict at the appropriate moment, and making sure that tension builds at a compelling pace.

On the other hand, as a reader, when an author gives his book a predictable structure, I anticipate the rise and fall of the book.   I experienced this in the HARRY POTTER series, where each book was the length of a school year.  When spring started to arrive, you knew it was about time for the big showdown.    Or CHARLOTTE’S WEB, where you know autumn is when Wilber, the pig, is to be butchered.  Especially in CHARLOTTE’S WEB and TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, the structure of the book creates natural tension.  You have a built in ticking clock.  By the end of the summer, Charlotte needs to have convinced Mr. Zuckerman not to butcher the pig.  And by the thirteenth side of the tape, Hannah will have decided to kill herself.

So, by Friday, I’ll either be a puddle of melted Kate, my supply of sugar-free popsicles having run out.  Or I will have outlasted the heat and have a post for you on writing style.  This book was interesting because the tapes were written in Hanna’s voice while the narration of the story was Clay’s POV.  At moments it was a little confusing, but I will say that it was an ambitious story-telling device to use.  Until then!

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