Tag Archive: Michael Grant


This gorgeous image is by mariobraune and I found it on flickr. click the photo for more of this artist's work.

I’m going to start this post by saying that I don’t always believe that the best type of writing is writing that you don’t notice.  THE BOOK THIEF was definitely one of those books where the writing was noticeable and it added to the story.  In fact, I think when the book is more psychological and less action-y, a more florid writing style really fleshes out the book.  However, with action the opposite is true.

GONE has psychological elements.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there is a character with an eating disorder.  There is a character who resents taking care of her autistic little brother.  In a situation where children grow up too soon, there has to be a psychological impact.

However, I believe, at its heart, GONE is an action story.

The majority of this book is action or tension-filled scenes.  Exposition is at a minimum.  Characterization is achieved largely through action.  Want to know what kind of person Sam is?  Look at how he reacts in a stressful situation.  What to know how he relates to people? Pay attention to how he talks to his friends.

GONE is written in the third person, which by its very nature keeps the reader out of the character’s heads.  I’m not a person who’s overly attached to reading a particular point of view, as long as it works.  I think, in this case, third person works.  It’s removed.  It allows for point of view shifts.  And it doesn’t lend itself to long passages of introspection.

The author keeps the action rolling.  There are chase scenes and emergency situations the characters have to respond to quickly.  Often, sentences are short or even fragmented.  There isn’t much in the way of flowery language.

Which makes my analysis of the writing for this story a pretty easy job.  The writing gets out of the way of the story.  At the end of most books I’m left thinking about a phrase or two that stuck with me.  Some even pulled me out of the writing briefly.  Not so with GONE.  This book is pure storytelling.

I’m sorry I don’t have more for you with the writing style.  I can say that I was so engrossed in the story, I was paying less attention to the writing than I usually would.  If you’re not trying to compose literary fiction, that’s a pretty high complement.

If you pick up GONE (which I really did enjoy) let me know how you like it.  Tell me if I’ve missed anything in the analysis.  I love to get other people’s points of view.

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This gorgeous image is by mariobraune and I found it on Flickr. Click the photo for more of the artist's great photographs.

GONE by Michael Grant has a premise that’s a brilliant hook: every person over the age of fifteen disappears and only children are left behind.  The author tells you about this situation in the very first sentence.  Consider this opening:

One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War.  And the next minute he was gone.

As a reader, that sentence alone was going to be enough to keep me reading for at least a couple of chapters.  However, as I’ve been reminded lately, a premise is not a plot.  It will keep me reading for a couple of chapters but GONE is a whopping 560 pages long.  After the initial shock of children being left to their own devices, a story with tensions and struggles had to happen.

As a writer, I know the challenge of composing the beginning of a book.  You need to introduce characters.  In GONE, there’s a pretty sizable cast.  You also have to introduce setting.  If there’s world-building to be done, that needs to be solidly established in the first several chapters.  Besides all of that, the plot needs to move.

Mr. Grant uses a very effective device to get all of this done. The main character is Sam.  His love interest is Astrid.  Astrid has a little autistic brother and he’s missing.  Voila!  We have action.  We have an excuse to explore the setting.  And if we break up the search for little brother Pete with a point of view switch here and there to look at some of the other characters, that’s OK too.  It’s brilliant and there’s tension, even if the real antagonist of the story, Caine, isn’t introduced until page 140.

Once Caine shows up, the story is propelled forward.  We have our antagonist and his cohort of villain friends.  Our protagonist, Sam, and his cohort of hero friends have already been established.  Instant tension.

In the meantime, many of our minor characters have their own separate challenges and tension going on.  Lana, a character with a story-line of her own, fights for her life for weeks.  First, she’s terribly injured in a car accident, then coyotes trap her in a hermit’s shack.  Her private story is compelling and it’s sprinkled in amongst the main plot line.  Mother Mary is a character who takes charge of the youngest children.  At the same time she fights with an eating disorder.  Jack is a young computer genius who is having second thoughts about his association with the Cotes Academy crowd.

And these are just a few of the minor stories.

These are situations that the average reader can identify with.  Sam and Caine might be awesome super heros/villains, but Mother Mary, Lana, and Jack are (mostly) just stressed out people dealing with crazy circumstances.  As a writer, this is a good lesson for me.  Sometimes, I avoid writing about the “normal people” for fear that the reader will find it dull.  However, watching normal people cope is rarely dull.  If I ever find myself in need of a subplot, I’m going to look to my secondary characters and see if there’s a story there.

Plotting in GONE by Michael Grant is a clever mix of hero quests, the struggle of good versus evil, and personal stories of coping.  There are aspects of the plot that I didn’t like.  It felt like a lot of time was spent following the travels of the main characters.  Books where characters travel through the desert, then travel through a forest, then travel on the water, then travel (pick your mode of transportation) one of my pet peeves.  Just moving a character around doesn’t mean they’re really doing anything.  Nonetheless, I never felt the urge to put the book down.  By the last half of the book, I was completely engaged.

So, that’s my plot analysis for GONE by Michael Grant.  On Wednesday, I’ll take a look at the writing style.  This was definitely a book where the writing didn’t get in the way of the story!  Until then.

This magical image is by mariobraune and I found it on Flickr. Click the photo for more great images by this artist.

GONE by Michael Grant is totally set up to be a book about what kids would do if they had to build a society.  Picture it: all of the adults disappear one day, suddenly, for no apparent reason.  Simultaneously, a barrier made of God-knows-what-but-burns-to-the-touch encloses a large but limited area around the town.  It’s a perfect set up for power struggles and warring factions.  And GONE is that, but somehow it’s also much deeper.

It’s pretty cool how Mr. Grant managed the setting.  There are two maps at the beginning of this book, one of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone, the area inside the barrier) and another of the town of Pardido Beach, California (the one small town within the barrier).  Let me just say, I HATE books that include a map at the beginning.  I usually think that means that the author doesn’t trust his writing enough to believe I can imagine his setting without pictures.  Amusingly enough, after my initial grumble I completely forgot they were there.  I didn’t need them, the setting was so clear.

It was fun to look at them after I finished the book, though, because despite the limit of the setting–it’s about 62 square miles enclosed under the dome–the setting is wildly diverse.  I honestly don’t think that this book could have been set anywhere other than California.  The FAYZ contains a beach (which plays a pivotal role in a chase scene), the desert (which plays a pivotal role in one character’s survival story), hills and forests (which offer a nice variety of wild-life to mutate and become terrifying), a gold mine, and some barrier islands.  As far as structures go, there’s one town, a nuclear power plant, a private school, and a marina.  Everything a pack of unsupervised children need.

However, the real treasures of this book are the characters.  Things don’t break down as utterly black and white.  Sure, we have our “good” characters: Sam, the protagonist; Astrid, his brilliant girlfriend; Edilio, the kid who’s got your back.  On the other side of the equation, we have the “bad” characters: Caine, the leader of the private school kids; Diana, his sort-of love interest; and especially Drake, the private school psychopath that likes to hurt people.

However, the bulk of the characters are the variety that is working each day to do their best.  Some of them are weak and some of them are clueless but all of them are complex.

  • There’s Mary, who later becomes known as “Mother Mary” who takes care of all of the little children.  She’s super-stressed, battling an eating disorder, and experimenting with self-medication.
  • There are the two local bullies: Orc and Howard.  Orc is the brawn and Howard is the brains.  While they’re annoying and potentially dangerous, they’re nothing compared to the evil that is Caine.
  • There’s little Pete, Astrid’s autistic younger brother.  Who knows if he’s good, bad, or neutral?  He joins my ranks of spooky little kids, though.
  • One of the most conflicted characters is Quinn, Sam’s best friend.  He longs to be special and wants to lead but lacks the courage.  He goes with the flow, even if the flow is being directed by some pretty dastardly dudes.
  • Or, my personal favorite, Lana and her dog Patrick, who find themselves stranded out in the desert when Lana’s grandfather blinks out as he’s driving them home.  She is On. Her. Own.  Stuck in a mining shack, surrounded by mutated coyotes.

I could go on and on.  These characters, the ones doing their best, were the best part of this book for me.  The idea that there would be a “good” side and a “bad” side was conventional.  The concept of a power struggle was utterly predictable.  But the idea that there might be kids filling roles with utter reluctance, in over their heads and coping badly was just simply beautiful.

Throw in the super powers and you’ve got one big mess!

So that’s the characters and the setting. On Monday, I’ll tackle the plotting.  This was a pretty long book and Mr. Grant kept the pacing good and fast.  I’ll see if I can’t figure out how this author does it!

This picture actually does go with the book! This great photo is by mariobraune and I found it on flickr. Click the picture for more images by this artst.

It was bound to happen.  I hit a writing slump.  I’m questioning my premise, my characters, and my pacing.  There’s only one thing to do when that happens: read some other author’s fantastic writing so I can get horribly intimidated.  The least I could do I share my experience with you!

The book up for deconstruction is GONE by Michael Grant.  Like so many of the other books I read, this is the first in a series.  As of October 2010, three of the books have been published (Gone, Hunger, and Lies).  There are rumored to be six books in the completed series. GONE, the first book, was published in 2008 which means Mr. Grant is putting out one pretty sizable book a year.  Seriously impressive!

Mr. Grant has a small promotional website through HarperTeen with a short bio and a little bit on each of the books in this series.  There’s a perplexing little website called “the fayz“.  It’s a reference to The Fallout Alley Youth Zone–the nickname given by the children to the 100 or so square miles enclosed by a barrier where the adults are missing. The website looks like a journal kept by a character named “Sinder” who, as far as I know, doesn’t appear in the book.  The cool thing (besides the journal, which was cool and does contain spoilers) is that the site contains a link to an on-line version of the book.  So, if you’re curious and don’t want to add to the stacks of books in your living room (come on, fess up.  I know I’m not the only one with book towers.) you can read GONE from here.

GONE is the story of what happens in one small California town when every human being over the age of fifteen blinks out of existence.  Very much like LORD OF THE FLIES bullies vie for power in this new adult-less world.  Unlike LORD OF THE FLIES, we have a supernatural element in this book.  Some of the children left behind develop abilities, like super strength or super speed.  Of course this just lends a sharper edge to the power struggles.  And, not even get me started on the freaky animal mutations….

The main character of the story is Sam, a reluctant hero-type.  He’s a leader.  He’s a good guy.  And he knows that power is a corrupting force.  He doesn’t want any part of it.  Still, when a scary group of bullies from the private school on the hill come to town, Sam has to decide if he’s going to lead or if he’s going to submit.

One of several antagonists in the story is Caine, the leader of the private school crowd.  He’s charismatic and smart.  He’s also brutal and selfish but in the absence of leadership, the kids follow anyone willing to tell them what to do.  Immediately he and Sam have serious problems with one another.

There’s a pretty big cast.  There’s also a fairly big scope in the story-telling arena.  I thought I was going to read a book about society building.  What I got was much, much more.

On Friday, I’m going to take a look at the characters and setting in GONE. Then, next week, I’ll tackle plotting and writing style in separate posts.  I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts about this book with you!