Can you believe that this is book 8 out of 10 for writing tips? We’re almost done, and then back to normal writing posts! I’ve had so much fun reviewing these books and pulling tips from them… I’ve actually gotten into a habit of making mental notes about writing while I pleasure-read. It’s a writer thing. And a nerdy thing.
I’m proud of it. But it also drives me a little crazy. There’s no off switch for us writers… always at work!
Today’s book choice for writing tips is 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This book is really deep… like seriously deep. It kept me on the edge of my seat and takes a different approach to telling a tragic story.
The story follows Clay, who knows and likes Hannah Baker. Or at least he did. That was before she killed herself. One day he comes home to find a box on his doorstep, and inside it were the tapes. He soon finds that these tapes were recorded by Hannah, telling why she committed suicide. Thirteen tapes. Thirteen reasons. And thirteen people. If you get the package, you are one of the reasons, and when you are done listening, you have to pass them on to the next person on the list.
The first thing I would like to pull from this book is the role of the main character. He isn’t really the one telling the story, like most main characters in most books. He is only interpreting it, only hearing it for the first time like the reader. As he listens to the tapes, he walks to the places that Hannah talks about in the tapes. He shows how he sees it, how these places and these people were in his life. And she talks about what they were to her.
Look at the role of your main character. Is your main character really the one who should be telling the story? Maybe you chose this character to be the main character for a reason. Maybe you like the twist that their interpretation puts on the story. Or the way they influence the story itself. Maybe they experience and feel things the most and that’s why they can channel it into the reader.
Maybe the story is about them. In this book, it isn’t really about Clay. It’s about Hannah. That’s why she tells it and he listens.
This is something that I’ve brought up before, the perspective. I just recently did this with my own story. I had flashbacks and present-day chapters, but didn’t realize that I could tell the story way better if I told those flashbacks in a unique way. In this book, Hannah talks about the past. The majority of the book is her words, but Clay is feeling them too. He’s seeing everything in a different way.
Secondly, Asher tells the story kind of backwards. He starts with getting the package, which makes sense, because it is the beginning. But the backstory is something that the main character doesn’t fully understand from the beginning. Asher tells the story through Hannah’s eyes, even when we know how it is going to end. We know she is going to die. We know that from the very beginning, but the story still keeps you on the edge of your seat as if you don’t know the ending.
Another thing that Asher did right in this book was be honest. I wrote about this with another book, but it happens in this book too. The author doesn’t sugar coat it. He doesn’t over-dramatize the world through Hannah’s eyes. He tells things how they are, but how they are through her eyes. Which is how she thinks things really are, and maybe not how the author sees them. It’s all about getting into the character’s head, writing as them.
And since suicide is such a serious topic, he didn’t make it unbelievable. Some teen novels out there might make someone think that every teen out there is partying and getting drunk every night. And that isn’t actually true, you know, in reality.
This story isn’t as much like that.
Today’s challenge for you is to consider who should really be telling the story. Did you choose the right character in the story to be the main character? Should you make that character something else instead, like an observer or bystander or witness? Maybe they don’t do much except observe for most of the book, but make an impact at the end, or even at some point along the way.
Consider the order in which you should tell the story. Should the reader know the ending from the start? Should the ending be the big reveal at the end? Maybe even tell them just a little about what is going to happen, but make it much more than they think.
The first line of my next book is, “‘Deny Everything.’ This is what my parents tell me the day that they die.” You know her parents are going to die. You know that she has a secret to keep, and that it is somehow linked to their deaths, but you don’t really know anything else. That’s how I’m going to reveal a little to my reader. What about you?
Finally, consider how much of the book you want to dramatize or sugar coat. Honesty is only one style, and everyone has a certain balance in their writing between what is really real and what isn’t because it is too unlikely. Or too crazy. Or impossible. You just need to find the balance that you like to write in, and you can always adjust it in your editing. Of course, some of the greatest books are great because they are dramatic with their description.
In real life, we don’t all look at the sun and see an eternal inferno that breathes life. We see the sun. It’s a spot in the sky. But sometimes these weird and powerful interpretations from the character help build a picture and help the reader understand who that character is and the theme of their story.
Just consider all of those possibilities. A lot of times we think that there is only one way to tell a story, from the beginning to the middle to the end. From one person’s eyes. Like how we see life in reality. But that’s the beauty of books and writing! We can tell the story in whatever order, through different points of view, and tell the reader whatever we want about something, even before it happens.
Like this post if you liked it, and you can follow my website via email, WordPress, or any of the social media widgets on the side. If you are reading this on Goodreads, then you can follow me or add me as a friend!
Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!