Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Importance of Story Questions

Over the weekend, I checked out an upper middle grade/lower YA novel from the library for my 10-year-old daughter. Although the premise was intriguing--as well as similar to other books she's read and enjoyed in the past--she didn't care for the book enough to get past page 5. Wondering what the problem was (since I thought the book sounded great), I read it.

Right away, I could tell it had the following problems:

1. Too sophisticated language and vocabulary, calling to adult sensibilities, not a middle grade voice.

2. Repeated distinctive catch phrases. If an author wants to say, for example, that someone's gaze "glinted with malevolence," s/he should only say it once. In the entire book. Not four times.

3. The adults probably played too large a role in the story.

Yet...I continued reading, although I couldn't stop asking myself, Why? since this book was clearly a clunker. And that's when I realized it had two essential things going for it:

1. Likable, funny characters, and, more importantly,

2. A hearty string of of story questions.

I kept thinking, But what's going to happen with X? How will the main character resolve her problem with Y? Will she get the boy in the end? And then I'd read another chapter.

Published by a Canadian imprint, I found myself wondering if this book would have flown had it been sent to a U.S. publisher. Maybe, maybe not. From her bio, I could see that the writer is plenty experienced (although not with MG/YA), so my guess is that the repetitious stuff was laziness on her part. The story questions and tight plot-point structure, expertise. Another mark of craft: she left no dangling threads. Each and every clue/mini-subplot was eventually picked up and developed to completion. Also, there was a sense of justice in the end, with antagonistic characters subtly getting what they deserved.

So what do you think? Are there books you've read to the end even though you know they're lacking on some front?

Monday, October 3, 2011

New York 2012

I made my reservations and bought my airplane tickets, so it's official: I'm going to the winter SCBWI conference at the end of January. I'll be staying two subway stops away from Grand Central, where the conference is, but for $99 per night, the small commute in is totally worth it (Hotel Thirty-Thirty, just in case anyone out there's a bargain hunter like me).

I don't think I'll be doing the Friday intensive day (although if they're all with editors, it might be tempting), but I'm staying through Tuesday, so I can hang out with friends and see more of the city. Hope to see you there!