Tag Archive: Writing style


Let’s get Physical!

This great image is by graur codrin. I found it on freedigitalphotos.net. click the picture for more fantastic work by this artist.

I break my writing education into two pieces: before the beta read and after the beta read.  I’ve been writing forever.  Usually my stories were what I fondly call “soap opera style”.  Characters do shocking things with shocking results, and then they do more shocking things with even more shocking results.  This goes on until I can’t dream up anything new or I’m sick of the story.  A manuscript like this isn’t designed to end…thus the soap opera analogy.

Then, one day I picked up one of these rambling stories, saw a potential ending and wrote with that in mind.  Inside of two months, I had a finished manuscript.

At this point, I felt like I had a fairly good vocabulary.  My grammar was usually good.  I had some interesting ideas and images.  I didn’t really know what else a writer needed.  So I went to the internet and found that I was supposed to get a reader.  Or a whole bunch of them.  Preferably, someone who had a writing background.  I had one writer friend who offered to read my manuscript and I took him up on it.

The whole experience was one light bulb moment after another.

One of the first lessons that I learned was that the physical movement of the character has to make logical sense.  I, like so many other writers, wrote awkward fight scenes because I wasn’t sure how a body would move in this situation.  I would lose track of my setting during a chase.  Would the antagonist be able to see the protagonist from where he was standing?  Does the protagonist need to jump over the box that fell earlier in the scene?  I didn’t even ask these questions before my beta read.  My scenes lost authenticity because of the lack of detail.

So, how did I rectify this problem?

  • I drew pictures.  I drew a floor plan of the building where the character was located.  And then I drew a diagram of the room.  Let me stress this point.  I AM NO ARTIST!  J.K. Rowling may be able to sketch out a great image of a character but I can’t. Still, laying out the space my characters move through really helped to add authenticity to the scenes.
  • Act it out.  I’ve already mentioned my sad acting of a scene where my very confused dog stood in for a monster and my best friend played a ten year old boy.  Since then, I’ve walked through dozens of scenes making sure that the character is moving in a natural way.  That’s double-true for fight scenes.
  • I got an artist’s dummy.  They have authentic movable joints and you can see if a position you have in your head is feasible for the human body.
  • Get some realistic props.  Does your character shoot a gun?  Try to find a way to shoot a gun.  How heavy is it really?  What does “kick” really feel like?  If you have a chance to drive a car like one your character drive, do it.  So much of writing is in the details.

So, what do you do to make sure a scene plays out authentically?  Is physicality a weakness in your writing or do you have some other are where you have to go to lengths to achieve realism?

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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.

What’s Your Point of View?

I'm the sixth person from the left--Just Kidding. This fabulous image is by James Cridland and I found it on Flickr. Click the image for more of his work.

First of all: Do not adjust your computer.  I was playing with the blog’s appearance.  Let me know how you like the new look!

Now, down to business: They say that every part of the book you write is a choice.  Each word choice sets the tone.  The setting helps to create a mood.  Even the title draws a reader in.  So how do you go about choosing what point of view to use?

My choices are narrowed down to two.  I don’t write in the second person, where the reader is considered the main character in a book.  Good examples of this are those CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books.  And in this case it serves a purpose.  The reader makes decisions in each book and decides where the story is going to go.  Second person is a logical choice.  I also don’t use the omniscient point of view.  I would like to say that I don’t use it because I don’t like the distance it creates between the reader and the characters.  The reality is that it’s hard for me to achieve without being confusing.  You can be in anyone’s head at any time.  Masters, like Charles Dickens can make it work in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, but I, unfortunately, haven’t figured it out yet.

This leaves the first and third person limited points of view.  I’ve dabbled in both.

The first book that I wrote, the one that still sits lonely in a drawer (and on my hard drive) was written in the third person.  I had the hardest time with this manuscript.  It didn’t seem to have any voice.  The narration was flat.  I tried playing with point of view shifts.  That made it worse and I couldn’t figure out why.

In my second manuscript, the one that got a little bit of play with agents was written in the first person.  The first several drafts of the first chapter were written in the third person.  I just couldn’t make it work.  It was the same problem: no voice, no flair, too flat.  So, after a whole bunch of frustration, I started writing from the point of view of my main character, Eve.

It wasn’t supposed to be more than a writing exercise but I got writing magic.

The voice popped.  I knew it the second I started putting Eve’s words on the page.  It was worth foregoing point of view shifts (I don’t really like it when the first person point of view shifts, even though Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyers have done it in highly successful books) to get the rock-solid voice.  Plus, when I look back on it, it made logical sense.  The story was Eve’s; it really shouldn’t leave her point of view.

For six months after I finished this manuscript, the successful first person point of view ruined me.  I had trouble writing any other way and I had serious trouble leaving Eve’s voice behind.  I was beginning to wonder if I had any other voice in me.  Therefore, recently (as in, this month), I decided to try third person again.

Ta-dah !

I found a third person voice.  It’s completely different from the Eve-voice and again makes sense for the story I’m trying to tell.  This story is darker.  It’s creepy.  I want there to be a level of uncertainty about whether or not my main character will make it to the end of the book.  If the voice holds up through the end of the book, I’ll call it more writing magic.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

So, how about you?  What type of point of view do you favor?  Have you tried more than one?  Do you have any tips or hints for people struggling with choosing a point of view or making a specific one work?

Writing at Your Worst

This isn't me, but it COULD be most days. This photo is by makelessnoise and I found it on Flickr!

Like I mentioned in my bio, I was an English and biology double major in college.  There was one upper level English class that formed the basis for my writing critique style.  It was an Analytical Poetry class.  I don’t mind admitting that this class kicked my butt. The professor was this Insane Poet Lady who cried over poems that were virtually incomprehensible to me.  She also wrote, and has since published, a collection of her own poems, many of which I also thought were total gibberish.

One interesting thing about this class was that it was three hours long.  Six o’clock until nine o’clock one night a week.  By the third hour, brain exhaustion took over.  Gibberish started to have at least a little bit of meaning and some of the oddest stuff just flew out of my mouth.  The professor said that she loved teaching three hour classes for just that reason.

Recently, I remembered the madness of the three hour poetry class and it led me to question the time of day that I work on my book.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I liked to get up early and write in the morning before I go to work.  It’s my freshest time and I feel like I’m giving my best to my writing.  But then I thought, maybe a little exhaustion would change the way my writing sounds and feels.  Maybe, if I was punchy it would give my writing a little more punch.

So, I gave it a try.

Wow.  Just wow.  I was a little stuck in my manuscript and trying to put off working on it until I had a bit of energy.  I gave up on that idea.  I purposely sat down in front of my computer at the end of an extra long work day when I was sleep deprived and just let myself write.  The next morning, after correcting the spelling errors, abysmal grammar, and a couple of really funny logical errors, I realized that I liked what I had written.  It was more honest and raw.  There was less self-censorship.  It had a completely different feel.

So I offer this as a writing challenge.  Try writing when you’re at your worst–particularly if you’re at a bumpy place in your work in progress.  See if it doesn’t open up some subconscious well of creativity you didn’t even know you had.  And let me know how it works for you!

P.S.  I will always love Insane Poet Lady because she introduced me to Mark Strand.  I’m pretty picky about my poetry but this stuff is just strange enough to be interesting.

Add a Little Culture

I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I’m happily writing on my next book.  This is really good news, actually.  For a while there I was having trouble settling on one project.  I actually have three that I’ve been playing with and I haven’t been able to commit to one.  I’ve found that there’s absolutely no way for me to finish a big project unless I seriously commit.  So splitting my attention three ways is not a recipe for success.

The bad news is that I’m reading less.  To be honest, when I’m on a role with the writing, I don’t like to derail myself.  Forcing myself to read when I would rather be writing feels like self-sabotage.  The book I am currently reading, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ by Fanny Flagg, has been in my bag for over a week.  It usually takes me no more than a day and a half to finish a book.  Plus, I never intended to blog that book anyway.

So what does this mean for the blog?

I have a whole stack of books that I’m just itching read.  I am going to get to them and pass my deconstruction on to you.  However, while I’m deeply into my writing, I think I’m going to blog about writing for a little while.  I hope nobody minds.

So, in the spirit of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (which, by the way, I love) I’d like to talk about creating dialect in writing.  As you may know, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES is a book steeped in southern culture split between the story of Idgie and Ruth (starting in the 1930’s) and Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode (Set in the mid 1980’s).  One of the things I noticed as I was reading this book was that Ms. Flagg manages to create a distinctive southern voice without too much folksy spelling.

This is a real talent.  I tried to create a character with a German accent and I cut the guy in revisions.  He was just too cartoonish and I didn’t know how to be more subtle.  Yet, books like FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, THE COLOR PURPLE, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, manage to infuse easy-to-read writing with a flavor of another culture.  Here are the tips I have picked up:

1. Minimize spelling out things to sound like the accent of a particular culture.  Sure, Ms. Flagg spells out a few commonly used words like “cain’t” and “Miz” but for the most part she relies on word choices and cadence to ground us in the setting.

2. Use your turns of phrase wisely.  In FRIED GREEN TOMATOES Idgie is described as being wrapped around Ruth’s finger like red around a barber’s pole.  What a wonderful image!  In MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, things are often described in terms of astrology.  It really grounds you in Asian mysticism and superstition.

3. Making reference to the culture adds in a way that all the creative spelling in the world can’t.  Southern cooking and southern traditions help to imply an accent so you don’t have to be so explicit in the writing.  Southern cooking is one commonly used reference.  MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA was like an educational course in Asian culture.

So what works for you?  Have you tried to create a character from a different culture?  Have you ever tried to work an accent into your writing?  Do you have any tips to share?  I’d love to hear from you!

I mentioned in my last post that the writing style in TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden, was one of the more charming things about the book.  Despite all of my complaining about the over-detailed story-telling and pacing issues and the lack of tension, this book has voice.  I feel like there’s a tough, young Australian person telling this story.

Consider the opening paragraph of the book:

It’s only half an hour since someone–Robyn I think–said that we should write everything down, and it’s only twenty-nine minutes since I got chosen, and for those twenty-nine minutes I’ve had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice.  Rack off guys!  I’ll never get this done.  I haven’t got a clue where to start and I can’t concentrate with all this noise.

To me, this definitely sounds young.  The run-on sentences read like a rush of excited energy.  If it wasn’t for the Australian slang glossary, I wouldn’t know what “rack off” means (Go away) but I would guess that it’s something like “leave me alone” based on the context clues.  Since I don’t know what it means without a glossary, it definitely sounds foreign.  Even without the story summary on the back of the book, I would have guessed that it was set in Australia or New Zealand.  That’s one pretty darn good voice!

Admittedly, I thought that the voice was that of a male character.  That’s something I would like to explore.

I once read on an agent wish-list that she was looking for strong female protagonists and that doesn’t mean girls that act like boys.  I was left wondering…what does that mean?  What if the strong female protagonist isn’t boy-crazy or tends to be mechanical or isn’t particularly in touch with her feelings?  Certainly, we all know real life girls and women like this.  Yet, in this book where the main character, Ellie, is aggressive, somewhat emotionally shut off, and great with heavy machinery, I came to the wrong gender conclusion.

I wanted to look at some of the reasons that I thought that the point of view character in this book was male.  The first descriptive clue you get about the point of view character is on page three.  That’s where you learn that she must be female.  By that time, she’s already been aggressive towards her peers (with the “rack off” comment), mentioned that someone male named Chris might be upset that she was chosen to write the group’s history instead of him, and made a couple of blatantly defiant statements.  To me, this set her up as male.

As the book goes on, even though I know Ellie is the girl leader with two male love interests, I’m thrown by her admiring attitude towards the beautiful Fi.  She’s the only person in the group capable of driving heavy machinery.  She makes a bomb and uses it against the invading enemy.  Why can’t a girl do these things without gender ambiguity?

So I leave you with this question, is the problem Kate-the-reader or John-Marsden-the-author? Am I gender biased or is Mr. Marsden having trouble representing the internal thoughts from a female perspective?  How do you create a strong female character or a sensitive male character without blurring the gender lines?  If you’ve read the TOMORROW series, or you just have an opinion to share, let me know what you think

I’ll see you on Friday with some writing thoughts.  Until then.

That gorgeous (and in this context, terrifying) photo was taken by tathamoddie and I found it on Flickr.

One thing that I really enjoyed about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky is that was an easy read with some very philosophical thoughts.  At first, I questioned Charlie’s voice.  He’s only supposed to be fifteen years old and sometimes he comes off as so much younger.  For example, consider this exchange between Charlie and his gay friend Patrick after Charlie has eaten his first marijuana brownie at a party and caught Patrick kissing the high school quarterback.

Patrick then took me out of the room and closed the door.  He put his hands on both of my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye.

“Brad doesn’t want people to know.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s scared.”

“Why?”

“Because he is…wait…are you stoned?”

“They said I was downstairs.  Sam is making me a milkshake.”

Patrick tried to keep from laughing.

“Listen, Charlie.  Brad doesn’t want people to know.  I need you promise you won’t tell anyone.  This will be our little secret.  Okay?”

“Okay.”

When I read this, my mental image of Charlie became that of a ten or eleven year old.  The way Patrick speaks to him, calling the incident our little secret, making the sentences very simple, is the way one might speak to a confused child.  Charlie’s perceived youth and inexperience is further reinforced by the way that Sam tries to help Charlie through being stoned by getting him ice cream.

The age gap between Patrick and Charlie seems so vast.  But it isn’t really.  Charlie is fifteen and turns sixteen during the school year.  Patrick is a senior, making him seventeen or eighteen.  Two to three years difference and yet Patrick and most of his friends treat Sam like their babysitting a very precocious child.

At the same time, the whole book is told from Charlie’s point of view.  We know what he’s thinking and we know that he’s very capable of understanding things.  He seems to have a particular interest in the motivations of the people around him.  Consider this scene where Charlie is watching his grandfather as the family views a VCR tape of his older brother playing college football:

My grandfather was crying.

The kind of crying that is quiet and a secret.  The kind of crying that only I noticed.  I thought about him going into my mom’s room when she was little and hitting my mom and holding up her report card and saying her bad grades would never happen again.  And I think now that maybe he meant my older brother.  Or my sister.  Or me.  That he would make sure he was the last one to work in a mill.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I don’t know if it’s better to have your kids happy and not go to college.  I don’t know if it’s better to be close with your daughter or make sure she has a better life than you do.  I just don’t know.  I was quiet and I watched him.

So the writing style is very simple, right?  No crazy vocabulary.  No complex sentences.  In fact just about every other sentence is a fragment.  Simple words.  Short, clipped thoughts.  Huge, deep idea.

We could have a whole philosophical discussion on those two paragraphs alone!  And these sorts of conundrums and questions are peppered through the whole book.  These are some astute observations from someone who is at a time of life when so many thoughts are turned inward.  In fact, despite the way people treat him, Charlie seems to have the maturity of someone much older than sixteen.

This representation of Charlie’s interactions juxtaposed against his thoughts does something very interesting: without ever telling you that Charlie is a brilliant, innocent, unique teenager, you get that strong impression.  He brings out the protective nature of the people around him.  He gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.  He empathizes.  Rather than putting Charlie in gifted classes and having adults talk about how smart he is, the reader experiences the reality of Charlie’s intelligence through the way he thinks about his friends and family.  This book was one of the most poignant examples of showing instead of telling that I’ve read in a long time.  And for this, I applaud Mr. Chbosky.

I hope you enjoyed this deconstruction.  If you read THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, I hope you’ll let me know how you enjoyed it and if you got any insights that I didn’t think of.  Until Wednesday!

That great image is by Filomena Scalise and I got it from freedigitalphotos.net.

A few years ago, when I decided I needed a crash course in professional writing, I started reading as many writing theory books as I could get my hands on.  There was one piece of advice that tended to get on my nerves: when you’re writing, every word is a choice.  To me, it sounded just a tad melodramatic.  I mean, really.  How many different ways can you say “It was foggy.”?

But then, I started reading more critically and realized how wrong I was.  The difference between a mundane sentence, a chilling sentence, or even a funny sentence can be the matter of a word or two.  Fog covered the city sounds pretty bland whereas Fog smothered the city is more ominous and Fog choked the city could, in the proper context, be chilling.

In THE HAUNTING OF ALAIZABEL CRAY (HAC) by Chris Wooding, precise word choices set the tone and build the suspense in the story.  The author continually reminds the reader of how risky it is to live in London.  Even when nothing particularly violent is happening, Mr. Wooding doesn’t let up on the tension.  Consider this sentence from chapter 11:

There was no fog tonight; the torrential downpour had torn it to tatters and it had retreated to the hollows, lurking in the thin shreds around the cold graveyards and derelict wasteground.

I had to re-read that sentence to figure out if it was describing the weather or a vicious animal attack.  By giving us a description of the weather that echoes the horror and violence of London, we are primed and ready for the attack that is going to happen in just a few pages.

Mr. Wooding also uses words in his descriptions that are reminiscent of blood and bleeding.  It really adds to the icky, ominous tone of the book.  When the author describes a character imagining a sunset, it is written:

…she’d stood and watched the last of the day bleed out of the sky….

When he describes the poorest district in London, he writes:

The city of London has a secret heart.  It is a clotted thing of crumbling stone….

When he describes one of the many disgusting monsters he writes:

…a clot of darkness that bled along the walls and path of the sewer….

I could keep going.  The bloody reminders are everywhere.  At every opportunity, Mr. Wooding makes a descriptive choice to have everything–the weather, the buildings, even the darkness–shadow the violence and gore in the city.  And it works.  The tone of this book is dark, dark, dark.

I’d also like to touch on a point that I’ve mentioned more than once: Mr. wooding dedicates a huge amount of his writing space to description.  And, while I stand by my assessment in earlier posts that it really slows the pace, it’s also another choice that I believe contributes to the tone of the story.  The story is set in alternate-history, Victorian-era London.  Writers of this time include Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and the Bronte sisters.  These are not sparse writers.  Charles Dickens spends more than a page at the beginning of A TALE OF TWO CITIES telling the reader that the story takes place in a time like any other time.  So, in terms of the style of the day, Mr. Wooding’s book is actually pretty reserved.

So, that’s THE HAUNTING OF ALAIZABEL CRAY by Chris Wooding.  This was my first steampunk and I hope I find more in the same genre that are just as enjoyable.  I’ll see you on Friday.

The scaaaary artwork is by Shain Erin (seriously, this artist makes constructs really messed-up dolls that are icky and awesome.  LOVE it.) and I found it on flickr.

Voice.  It’s the one thing that will make a writer wax poetic for hours.  Do you have a voice?  Is it an authentic voice?  Is it a consistent voice?  Is it a strong voice?  Can I lose my voice? (OK, I’m just making fun with that one)  Here’s what I know: every book that I’ve ever loved has had a very strong voice.

To me, voice is that quality in writing that makes you feel like the narrator or point of view character is speaking directly to you.  When you write with voice, you’re not dictating your story to your reader; you’re engaging your reader in a very lopsided conversation.  They’re nodding sympathetically while you talk.

In my second novel, after about ten false starts, I found a voice.  I knew the story I wanted to tell in that book.  I knew the middle and most of the end.  But where to start?  I wrote beginning after beginning, because something just wasn’t working.  It was horribly frustrating.  I wrote in the third person and the first person.  I started with description and then dialog, and then action.  Finally, because I was so aggravated, I put it down for about a month.  When I picked it back up, I could hear the “voice” of my main character.  She was tough and sarcastic.  This book HAD to be written in the first person.

So what had I been doing wrong?

  • I wasn’t writing with any confidence.  I wasn’t sure who my main character was.  I didn’t know how she should sound.  That made my writing tentative and the voice just dried up.
  • My writing was very self-conscious because I was thinking too much about the rules of writing.  Even as I was trying to compose a paragraph, I would wonder if I was using too many adverbs or if the sentences were too long for such an action-y scene or if I was staying consistent with my themes in my figures of speech.  It’s a ridiculous way to write.  Nothing flows when you’re just thinking about the rules!  Besides, that’s what revisions are for.
  • I didn’t trust my readers.  I was micro-managing the audience with too much description and too much stage managing. I was inserting my ego into the story ahead of my character’s personality.

As soon as I loosened up, trusted myself, and let the writing flow, the “voice” was there.

It’s not like I’m in the clear, though.  For the life of me, I can’t get a good voice when I’m writing in the third person. It’s frustrating for me because there are some stories I think belong in a more distant point of view.  So, I keep hoping a narrator’s voice will find me.

As a final note, literary agent extraordinaire Nathan Bransford wrote a fantastic blog about the components of voice. You know how I love a good dissection!  It helped me look at my own style.  So if you need a great read about voice, check this out.

What about you?  How do you define voice? Do you feel like you’ve found your voice or are you still looking for it?  What do you do to help develop your voice?

I love that photograph!  It’s by ktylerconk and I found this art on flickr.

I enjoy different brands of writing style for different reasons.  When I’m reading an adventure story, like SHIPBREAKER, I want the prose to be easy to read.  Descriptive elements are fine but don’t give me too much to ponder.  You’ll lose the adventure-style pacing.  At the same time, I’m a writer so I love words.  I read Jane Austen aloud because I love the way she sounds.  Her books are social satire so stopping to think about phrasing and meaning doesn’t take away from the story-telling at all.

In THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, the writing style is almost literary.  I knew this was a holocaust story and I knew that it was categorized as young adult so I was a little bit surprised.  But as I read on, I think I understood what Mr. Zusak was doing.  Again, this is about the point of view character.  Death.  By filling the prose with figures of speech, Mr. Zusak manages to maintain a surreal, water-color feel around the book.  Even though the setting is based on historical Germany, even though there’s nothing supernatural about the story, there’s still a dreamlike quality, thanks to the writing style.  Consider this bit of storytelling from Death’s point of view:

The last time I saw her was red.  The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring.  In some places, it was burned.  There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness.

Earlier kids had been playing hopscotch there, on the street that looked like oil-stained pages.  When I arrived, I could still hear the echoes.  The feet tapping the road.  The children-voices laughing, and the smiles like salt, but decaying fast.

What an image!  A red soup sky!  What does it mean?  I have no idea but I have a strong mental picture of something I’ve never seen. And since I’ve already confessed that my mind’s eye needs glasses, giving me a great visual is quite an accomplishment.  And smiles like salt.  Not sweet.  Easily dissolving.  So few words but with a ton of meaning.

At the end of my edition of THE BOOK THIEF, there’s “A conversation with Markus Zusak”.  In it, he states that he likes the idea that every page of a book can have a gem on it.  If he doesn’t manage to do just that, he comes pretty close.  Some of my favorites?

  • …the minutes soaked by.
  • Frau Diller was a sharp-edged woman….
  • If they killed him tonight, at least he would die alive.
  • His eyes were the color of agony….

As you can see, Mr. Zusak uses words in a way that almost makes literal sense.  You can imagine the “color of agony” even if agony isn’t a color.  You can sense how minutes might “soak by” even if they aren’t liquid.  We’ve all known someone who was “sharp-edged”.  They are surprising turns of phrase, but they work nonetheless.

I also think that Death’s voice is a preview of the adult Liesel.  Her story covers her life from age nine to fourteen.  During this time she learns how to read and write.  It would be hard to have a literary style from Liesel’s point of view because she is still building her vocabulary.  However, about halfway through the book, the Jewish boy living in her basement asks about the weather.  Liesel answers:

The sky is blue today, Max, and there is a big, long cloud, and it’s stretched out, like a rope.  At the end of it, the sun is like a yellow hole….

There’s a literary bent in the way Liesel thinks that’s very similar to Death’s.  And lest you think that Markus Zusak only has one voice, the dialog is a whole other animal.  It’s earthy (to be kind).  There’s much swearing and name-calling in German.  Kids sound like kids.  Adults sound like adults.  It’s only through the Death narration that we get this delicious literary quality that I enjoyed so much.

So, that’s THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak.  I enjoyed this book.  There’s so much to discuss I could probably write another week worth of posts about it.  But I won’t; I’ll move on to something else and leave you to enjoy this gem on your own.

I hope everyone has had a great Monday and I’ll see you Wednesday.

The gorgeous photo is by szlea and I found it on flickr.