Sunday, April 4, 2010

Analyzing 19 Minutes, by Jodi Picoult

My spring break: relaxing on the beach at Hilton Head, S.C. with the sun on my head, my feet in the surf, and Carey and Anne giggling ecstatically over discoveries of shells and sand dollars and starfish.

The rest of my spring break: reading in various contorted positions (timeshares do not come with comfortable sofas, chairs, or beds). Nevertheless, the books were hard to put down.

19 Minutes, by Jodi Picoult.
Chose this book because I recently discovered that "women's fiction" is a high on the list of genres that agents are looking for. I'm pretty sure my book Raining Toward Heaven falls in the Women's fiction genre, but I figured I'd better start reading heavily in this genre to learn more about it (Also recently finished Lisa Samson's the Church Ladies, another excellent women's fiction book). I'm new to Jodi Picoult, but I'll definitely be reading more her books after this one.

Actually I'm not sure if this book was women's fiction, it really fit more in the mainstream "high concept" category. It's a very well-crafted fictional account of a high-school massacre similar to the one in Columbine, exploring the motivation behind the killer, and the impact of his act on the community, his family, his closest friend, and himself.

What I learned from 19 Minutes:

How characterization, depth and suspense is built in a series of relatively short scenes and shifting points of view. Each scene starts with some simple action that also serves as characterization and provides setting, moves into the character's thoughts, and includes some interaction and dialogue. Sometimes the order is different - sometimes the dialogue comes first, sometimes the thoughts come first. Many of scenes (especially in the beginning) are unusual, for instance a teenager forcing herself to take a scalding hot shower, a midwife delivering a baby, a judge forgetting her backdoor key and having to enter the court building by the front entrance along with everyone else, a professor whose occupation is unusual: he studies the economics of happiness.

Put your characters in unusual situations or situations that are familiar to them, but with a twist.
My other spring break book: the Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis. Not fiction, but I took lots of notes anyway. Not that I could ever hope to aspire to this level of writing, because it's just brilliant. I've been reading Lewis for years, but he never fails to amaze me, how he comes up with illustrations of things like faith and reason and writes about them with the same precision and beauty as an artist like Michelangelo paints or sculpts a masterpiece. This collection of essays is the best I've read after his Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia. Makes me glad that I still have several of his books to read, because I know I have more to look forward to.

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