About The Book: "How about a story? Spin us a yarn."
Instantly, Phoebe Winterbottom came to mind. "I could tell you an extensively strange story," I warned.
"Oh, good!" Gram said. "Delicious!"
And that is how I happened to tell them about Phoebe, her disappearing mother, and the lunatic.
As Sal entertains her grandparents with Phoebe's outrageous story, her own story begins to unfold — the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother.
In her own award-winning style, Sharon Creech intricately weaves together two tales, one funny, one bittersweet, to create a heartwarming, compelling, and utterly moving story of love, loss, and the complexity of human emotion.
Of course many of us have read this delightful book, if not once, perhaps several times. So I'm changing up the format just a bit and to explore what Creech has done and why this book is so powerful.
First Sentence: Gramps says that I am a country girl at heart, and that is true.
This is what screenwriters would call the opening scene. In his book Save The Cat, Blake Snyder says that the opening image "sets the tone, mood, and style of the (story), and very often introduces the main character and shows us a 'before' snapshot of him or her."
Look at all this sentence accomplishes. Protagonist is a girl and the narrator. Gramps is important to her and sets the tone for how she speaks. Using the words heart and true are not an accident these are cleverly placed clues to theme. We hear the voice immediately, we get the setting and who the narrator, the protagonist, thinks she is. Amazing in only 14 words.
“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” —Stephen King
First Five Pages: These five pages are probably some of the most important, yet they are usually the first ones we written. Or are they. Obviously, you have to start somewhere, but any writer knows that often those first drafts change considerably when we figure out what we are trying to say. These should set up the thematic premise. Let's see if we can find where Creech states it.
When Sal tells us about her father chipping away at the plaster in the living room and finding something behind it, Creech effectively creates a visual image of how she is going to tell the story that our protagonists story will unfold within another story. Complicated to explain but executed perfectly.
The reason that Phoebe's story reminds me of that plaster wall and the hidden fireplace is that beneath Phoebe's story was another one. Mine.
And were off...
Characters: This is where Creech truly shines. She always tells us just enough to get a real feel for the the character. Usually she does it through the protagonists eyes. Here is one great example:
Mr. Birkway was mighty strange. I didn't know what to make of him. I thought he might have a few squirrels in the attic of his brain. He was one of those energetic teachers who loved his subject half to death and leaped around the room dramatically, waving his arms and clutching his chest and whomping people on the back.
He said, "Brilliant!" and "Wonderful!" and "Terrific!" He was tall and slim, and his bushy black hair made him look wild, but he had enormous deep brown cow-like eyes that sparkled all over the place, and when he turned these eyes on you, you felt as if his whole purpose in life was to stand there and listen to you, and you alone.(80)
We get bits and pieces of his physicality but the description is active, so much so, that we feel like we're right there in the classroom. This is significant because later when Mr. Birkway reads their journals aloud it would be easy to assume he was just being a jerk but because Creech used her description to move the story along and set up her story, we feel sorry for him because he didn't think of the outcome and honestly feels bad when he realizes that some of the students have had their feelings hurt.
These are just a fraction of some of the ways that Sharon Creech creates the depth and timeless resonance. Reading her books have done more for my writing than any exercise or how to book ever has.
"If you don't have time for reading," Stephen King says,"You don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Question Of The Day: What have you learned about description and character lately?
Next week: Troll Hunters by Michael Dahl