Yesterday, the inimitable Tawna Fenske had a blog post about how reading outside our comfort zone can make us better writers. Her post got me thinking about a book I recently finished, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.
Unlike my usual genres of paranormal or historical, Anna and the French Kiss is a contemporary YA romance. However, I’d heard great things about the book and the author (and not just that Stephanie has blue streaks like I do), so I decided to give it a try.
Did I love it? Yes and I think so. I adored the humor and was ready to give Stephanie a high five by page 3 with her description of the heroine’s father—which just happens to sound an awful lot like an author I’m not fond of. Heh.
The teenage angst of “does he like me or not?” was incredibly well depicted. Almost too well depicted for my taste, as my stomach was in knots the whole time. By the end of the book, although every aspect of the story was perfect, I couldn’t tell you if I actually enjoyed the experience or not.
Then again, I’m not a teen. And thank goodness for that.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy high school, or college, or any other part of my life. I did. But I’m done with that phase and have no desire to re-do it. I learned what I was supposed to learn and moved on.
In a way, reading YA with characters so behind my experience in how to handle situations is painful for me. The more I get into a story, the more I feel like I’ve lost all those lessons I learned. And I’ve fought, studied, and paid attention too much for too long to let them go easily.
I cringe when I read something I wrote a year ago, much less a decade ago. I’ve learned so much about the craft of writing, from grammar and pacing to characterization and emotion. Those lessons are important to me.
Do You Have a Favorite Writing Lesson?
Every once in a while, we should think about everything we’ve learned. And we should feel proud of how far we’ve come since we started.
We’re all focused on the “next step”: finishing our story, finding an agent, getting a contract, increasing sales. Looking forward is great, but it can make us feel like we’re never making progress. So stop for just a minute and look backward. Recognize what you’ve learned and accomplished.
My favorite lesson is probably always going to be whatever my most recent breakthrough is about. Each thing I learn is like a knot tied in the path of this learning curve, preventing me from falling back.
In the past month or so, thanks to feedback from my contest entries, I had a breakthrough in how to create emotion in the reader. I had the internal dialogue and physical reactions showing a character’s emotion, but I wasn’t quite connecting to the reader enough with it. I discovered that making my writing more sensory fixed this issue. Getting the other senses in there and involving the reader’s emotions more? Bonus.
I’ll probably read through Anna and the French Kiss again to see if I can pick up any pointers. Obviously, Stephanie Perkins did a fabulous job at creating emotions within her readers, even this reader who was somewhat reluctant to get involved with the story. Maybe on a second read, I’ll learn even more ways to add angsty goodness in my work.
Are you able to step back and feel proud of your progress? What’s been your biggest writing breakthrough? What’s your favorite writing lesson? How did you learn it?