by Erica Sun, Age 17, USA
When I was thirteen, I would flip through writing magazines and online articles, the kind that offer numerous tips on how to write. But over the years, I’ve realized that reading an actual novel and analyzing how it was written beats reading thousands of those hypothetical “How to Build Character” articles, which only build the backbone of your writing skills. Reading novels written by successful authors though—that builds everything else.
Let’s take Sarah Dessen’s novel, The Truth About Forever, as an example. Everything mentioned below is part of a list of writing concepts I learned from reading this book.
The Main Character: Protagonist Macy Queen is introduced right away, written with a clear voice and a detailed background story. She is not a Mary-Sue; she is very flawed, which gives readers a reason to care about her.
The Other Characters: It’s obvious in just a few pages that Macy is struggling with an internal conflict, and thus—boom. Enter the supporting characters. Macy Queen meets a group of young adults that compels her to make crucial decisions, resulting in her character development by the end of the book.
Everything Mattered: None of Macy’s actions or the supporting characters’ actions are wasted. In other words, they all contribute to the overall plot in some way, emphasizing the theme and individualizing the characters even more.
Fantastic characters? Ah, yes. By reading through this novel the first time, you will have already gotten an idea of where those “How to Build Character” articles came from. But what about the plot of The Truth About Forever? What could writers possibly learn from such a simple thing? Indeed, the plot is very humble: a somewhat introverted girl meets an extroverted group of friends that helps her overcome her problems and become someone “better.” A humble plot though requires some good pacing and scene crafting to be successful.
Again…Everything Mattered: All scenes in The Truth About Forever contribute to the plot in some way. They all emphasize the themes and premise, and they all demonstrate key moments where the main character overcomes obstacles and takes another step towards achieving full character development.
Excellent Pacing: The beginning scenes are focused on introducing the characters, interlaced with dialogue that reveals their quirky and likeable characteristics. The reader is thus pushed onwards, wanting to read more so they can meet these characters again. The middle scenes are filled with the usual obstacles for the main character, but the key thing here is that there are always obstacles, followed by recovery periods, giving readers a reason to keep on reading and moments to reflect on what they have just read. Then finally, the last few scenes are short and sweet, not unnecessarily drawn out or melodramatic.
There is always something to learn about writing from reading a novel. So I say this: Embrace your novel-reading hobby. Let yourself become a true bookworm to become a true writer.
Erica Sun is a 17 year old writer from the USA. Erica says, “I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and my written works range from being very terrible to surprisingly decent. I’m always striving to improve my writing, and although I’m not entirely sure of my future, writing is definitely in there somewhere!” Read Erica’s blog.