Monday, November 25, 2013

Discovering Tension in "What Happened to Goodbye"- Part II

If you live in the Carolinas and are a Christian writing either for the young adult or children's market, please note that registration for Write2Ignite! 2014 is now open. This is a great opportunity to learn more about your craft, meet knowledgable professionals in the field at a very reasonable price. Please go to for more information. 

In my ongoing blog series about the writing class I'm taking through the Center for Writing Excellence, I learned two new ways to produce tension: Horizontality and Verticality. 

Horizontality, as Bethany Nuckolls instructed,  "refers to narrative that moves chronologically."
Verticality "happens when multiple events or times are present in the same narrative moment."

Our assignment was to find examples of tension in our reading novel.  McLean, the protagnoist in What Happened to Goodbye? is both drawn to her next-door neighbor, David, but also afraid of getting involved in any type of lasting relationship because she and her father always leave town. This passage comes immediately after a scene in which he is close enough to kiss her but doesn’t; the talk and action subsequently turns to basketball.   

Here is the passage I chose; my analysis follows.   

  He sat up, choosing to ignore this. “You know, you talk this tough game and everything. But I know the truth about you.”
     “And what’s that again?” I said, getting to my feet.
     “Secretly,” he said, “you want to play with me. In fact, you need to play with me. Because deep down, you love basketball as much as I do.”
     “Loved,” I said. “Past tense.”
      “Not true.” He walked around my deck, grabbing a broom there and using the handle to fish around beneath.” (Horizontality) “I saw how you squared up. There was love there.”
     “You saw love in my shot,” I said, clarifying.
     “Yeah.” He banged the broomstick again, and the ball came rolling out slowly, toward me. “I mean it’s not surprising, really. Once you love something, you always love it in some way. You have to. It’s, like, part of you for good.”
     I wondered what he meant by this, and in the next beat, found myself surprised by the image that suddenly popped into my head: me and my mom, on a windy beach in winter, searching for shells as the wave crashed in front of us. (Verticality) I picked up the ball and threw it to him.
     “You ready to play?” Dave asked, bouncing it.
     “I don’t know,” I said. “Are you going to cheat?”
      “It’s street ball!” he said, checking it to me. “Show me that love.”
       So cheesy, I thought. But as I felt it, solid against my hands, I did feel something. I wasn’t sure it was love. Maybe what remained of it, though, whatever that might be. “All right,” I said.
“Let’s play.” (p. 273)
I think this is the original cover; I like it best!
Analysis: Dessen probably used the verb “fishing” purposefully to describe David’s action of getting the ball out from under the deck. This fits in nicely with McLean’s flashback of her and her mother at the beach, searching for shells.  Horizontality is shown in his three chronological actions of retrieving the ball.

I think verticality is achieved when there is something about David’s words about love that trigger her memory of her mother. Although McLean is trying hard to distance herself from her mother, memories of pleasant and loving times keep popping up. Her mother, like it or not, “is with her for good,” as the rest of the novel attests to.

Tension is created because it takes McLean the entire page to decide if she will play basketball with David. Her slow deliberation over what he has said to her intensifies the conflict for the reader (who of course wants her to say “yes!”).

The chapter ends with a cliff-hanger letting the reader know that McLean is indeed, allowing herself to “play” and get involved with David.
Now you try it. Has an author you have read included tension in her novel? How have you included it in your own work?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Plot Elements and What Happened to Goodbye: Part I

Congratulations to Ann Eisenstein who received a copy of Odette's Secrets in last week's giveaway.

In this ongoing mini-series of blog posts, I share more nuggets from my online writing class, Plot and Structure, with instructor Bethany Nuckolls.  
As our class proceeded into analyzing Act II of our novels, Bethany explained the concept of Shock: “Shock is the moment when the protagonist’s world comes crashing down, their ideals prove to have a fatal flaw, their companions betray them, or their desire proves to be short of expectations.  This is the darkest moment in their journey thus far.  For the first time, success will seem impossible.  Doubt becomes certainty, bringing about the third point of Act II: the Critical Choice.” 

Since I had just finished listening to What Happened to Goodbye? by Sarah Dessen, I decided to use that to discuss this concept and  explore why I felt the book was emotionally compelling. I have included some of the previously discussed plot elements as well. 

McLean, the 17-year-old protagonist, chooses to live with her father after he and her mother divorce. Her father’s job is helping faltering restaurants to either survive or close.  In the last two years, McLean has gone into each new school and established a new identity for herself along with a new name.  At one school she is a drama diva, at another a cheerleader, and most recently the student council secretary. Along with new names, McLean makes sure she never got attached to any of her friends since she knows she will be leaving soon.  This is her Stasis (original state).

She moves to a new school (Trigger)  and her pattern changes when she “accidentally” introduces herself as McLean and allows herself to develop new friends and a special friendship with the boy next door, Dave. As Dave and her group of friends work on putting together a model of the town (a superb example of an objective correlative of McLean’s life) she builds relationships and enjoys eating at one of the girl’s homes (Food, and the lack of eating together with her father is another objective correlative). When her friends look on a popular social media website, and discover that her email address is associated with four different names, they question who McLean really is--a question she is already asking herself. They react with distrust and she sinks into self-doubt.

I don’t remember if I cried at this point (although something in this book triggered tears); Dessen built up to this Shock point very cleverly and logically, but it still took me by surprise. McLean’s sense of loss when she realizes she has betrayed her friends by not revealing these past “selves” totally makes sense. It is definitely her "Point of No Return." After this, the book moves into the end of Act II when McLean faces her Critical Choice: Will she join her father when his next job takes him to Hawaii, or will she find a way to finish her senior year with her friends? 

After I posted my analysis, Bethany commented, “Indeed, the Shock is not necessarily supposed to shock the reader (via the definition of "surprise"). Rather it shocks the lead character, and if the reader has drawn close enough to that character in the meantime, it should emotionally affect the reader as well.
Next week I'll continue my review of this beautifully-written young adult novel and will share examples of the tension elements which Dessen employed. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Odette's Secrets, Plot & Structure, And a Giveaway!

I am taking an online writing class, Plot and Structure with Bethany Nuckolls, an instructor in the Center for Writing Excellence.  I am learning names for plot elements that I had barely considered--and some I didn't even know existed! As a student, I am encourage to find these elements in a book of my choice. In a mini-blog series about this class, I plan to share some of what I have learned by analyzing two novels. 

Stasis: This is the character's original state.

For Odette's Secrets, it is life in Paris in 1942 for a twelve-year-old Jewish girl:

“My name is Odette.
I live in Paris,
On a cobblestone square
With a splashing fountain
And a silent statue.
My hair is curly
Mama ties ribbons in it.
Papa reads to me and buys me toys.
I have everything I could wish for,
Except a cat.” (p.1)

Trigger:  Bethany explained that this is, "usually some calamity or opportunity that directly affects the protagonists and their fortunes, awakening them from their Stasis hibernation."

It's Saturday , so Mama and Papa take me to the cinema.
On the huge screen,
Soldiers march, 
Their legs and arms straight as sticks.
A funny looking man with a mustache
Shouts a speech.
His name is Hitler.”  (p. 1-2)

Objective Correlative  This is a new term to me. The Miriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as something that "symbolizes or objectifies a particular emotion and is used in creative writing to evoke a desired emotional response in the reader." In this book, Odette loses her beloved doll Charlotte, a gift from her godmother. When her mother replaces it with a new one, Odette thinks:

“Before long, a new Charlotte peeks out at me
from Mama’s knitting bag.
This Charlotte has a china face too,
And curly brown hair.
She looks the same as the real Charlotte,
Even though I know she’s not.” (p.12-13)

The doll is a marker to the reader about what lies ahead for Odette- she may become "not real" herself. 

Launch of the main problem of the book  Her father joins the army, German soldiers invade Paris, and Odette's life changes. 

“Hitler and his solders are called Nazis.
Papa can’t wait to fight them!” (p.20)

Odette’s Growth begins after her father leaves. Just as he is confident that the French army will return victorious, Odette has confidence that she and her mother will be safe in their small apartment in Paris. The building’s caretaker and godmother, Madame Marie, is Odette’s bastion of refuge: 

“My godmother is like the perfect moon.
Always round.
Always full.
Always there.” (p. 8)

Madame Marie disciplines Odette when she skips school one day and informs her that she “needs to clean up the mess in your heart." (p. 37) Although she doesn’t instruct Odette to confess to her mother that she played hooky, the message is clear--tell the truth. Later, Madame Marie lies to soldiers who come looking for Odette and her mother.  This second message cements in Odette’s brain: some secrets and lies are acceptable.  Odette grows as she learns she must keep her identity secret in order to stay alive. She is learning to navigate a new world. 

First Odette, and then her mother, move to the country where they take on a Catholic identity. Odette thinks she is doing this successfully until her world comes crashing down (Shock) when some village children attack her for being Jewish. Although she denies it and her mother successfully enlists the mayor’s “pretend” support, Odette fears that her true identity will be discovered.

“Mama gives a party to show the villagers
that we are still ready to be friends.
I pretend to have a good time.
I keep all my sadness and anger buried inside,
Like all my other secrets.
It’s safer that way.

I can’t stop being scared, though.
So scared, that one day I stop going to school.
So scared that I even stop talking.” (p. 146-7).

When Paris is liberated, Odette’s mother decides they must return home. Despite the troubles she endured, Odette hates to leave her country village.  She says goodbye to her favorite places, her cat Bijou, and then gives her friend, Simone a present:

“The morning Mama and I leave,
I give Charlotte to Simone,
To make sure she’ll look after Bijou.
I don’t trust Simone, not really.
I have never told her that I’m a Jew.
Mama and I agree about this.
We still keep it a secret here that we are Jewish…
a secret from everyone.” (p. 169)

Odette’s Critical Choice comes in two parts: first, she must turn her back on her Catholic identity and the safety of her country home; and second, she returns to Paris and resumes her Jewish identity. 

Before a ceremony when the ashes of French Jewish dead will be buried, Odette wonders where she belongs. At the cemetery, a woman comes forward and clings to her as if she was her own daughter. That night Odette concludes:

I don't need to hide anymore,
and I don't want to keep any more secrets.
Secrets stand in my way.
They stop me from knowing who I am.
I am a Jew.
I'm sure of it.
And I will always be one. (p. 205)

I trust you will find this book as powerful as I did.  Bloomsbury has generously provided a copy of Odette's Secrets to one fortunate blog reader.  Here is how you can win:

1. Leave me a comment. Make sure you leave your email address if you are new to my blog.

2. If you want to have your name entered twice share this post on your favorite social media site and either tag me or let me know in your comment. 

3. Become a new follower of my blog and let me know--I'll enter your name twice!

4. A winner will be chosen on Friday, November 15 and announced in next week's blog. 
If you don't win, you can read six chapters for free on the Odette's Secrets Facebook page as well as a Teacher's Guide. Or, of course you can order your own copy!

I hope you'll stop by next week when I analyze parts of Sarah Dessen's book, Whatever Happened to Goodbye. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Of Violins and Orchestras

Congratulations to Joyce Hostetter, who recommended Yankee Girl to me. She won her very own autographed copy! 

Many years ago my husband and I spent time and money on violin lessons for my daughters. By the time they hit middle school, other activities became more important and they lost interest. Everyone realized that there was a lot more involved in playing a violin than listening to Suzuki tapes in the car every day.  
Lisa, Lori, & Lydia Baldwin
fiddling around 17 years ago

But that experience probably was the reason why, when my brother emailed me recently and asked, “So, when is your book coming out?” I wrote back with the following answer:

 “Thanks for your interest, but I am a long way from holding a hard copy of Half-Truths in my hands. Think of it this way: you don't sit down to learn how to play a violin and automatically start playing in the orchestra.

“I have learned a tremendous amount in the years I have been working on this book, but still have a way to go. It's like I created my own master's degree in writing. I am start a new draft which has potential to be "THE" story. Remember, I made my job much more complicated by deciding to tell the story from two points of view; that’s very hard to pull off for a brand new novelist. 

“WHEN I am done with this draft I will need to polish it before submitting it to an agent. Hopefully by then it will be in great shape and I’ll find someone to represent me. But then that agent will shop it around to publishers. After a publisher accepts it (and who knows how long that process will take!)  it’ll be two more years before the books come out. That will be the time for edits, cover design, and creating a marketing plan. 

"It's a long process, but by the end, I hope to be playing in the symphony!”
The Charlotte Symphony
My brother, like many who aren’t in the writing/publishing industry, had no idea how long it takes to birth a book--especially a first one when a novelist is learning so much about characterization, point of view, plot, etc. To be honest, I didn’t either. But as I look back on the conferences, writing workshops, and classes I have taken I recognize that in fact, I have been teaching myself how to write a novel. No small task.

Now, pardon me, while I get back to work. 

Anybody seen my rosin?


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