Monday, October 7, 2013

A Writer Reads:Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle


I’m reading Dream Thieves right now, book 2 of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. It is lush and brilliant and I’m turning the pages as fast as I can. Well, more accurately, pressing next on my Kindle, but let’s not quibble. I love this story; I could hardly wait for the new book to come out once I read Raven Boys last year. It’s my favorite of her books—there is just something about the characters and depth of their relationships and the complexity of the story being woven that gives me great pleasure.

But I’m a writer reading another writer. So I’m also learning. It goes with the territory. I honestly can’t imagine any writers who aren’t in some sense students of other authors’ work. You read, but also observe the underpinnings: how they move the plot; how they develop their characters; their word choice and punctuation choices (or lack thereof); the division between act one and act two and act three; how their dialogue is written and how the narrative is done.  You look at everything, I think, unless you’re reading a genre far removed from yours, which is why sometimes I need to read non-fiction essays or a biography so that I won’t be looking for all of those things—at least not the same way. And in Stiefvater’s case, the vivid and specific sensory description she uses throughout.

In the case of the Raven Cycle, Stiefvater has chosen to tell the series in 3rd person, past tense. This allows her some writerly turns of phrases that possibly couldn’t exist in 1st person – particularly 1st person present tense. I think about that as I read. I’m working on a couple projects right now:  I’m editing The A Word, which is next year’s sequel to my Sweet Dead Life. It is told in 1st person past tense.  I’m about to begin edits on Finding Paris, told in 1st person, present tense, a book that will be out in 2015. I ‘m thinking about both of them as I read Dream Thieves.

Here’s some of what I see and  ponder: How Stiefvater uses adverbs, which she judiciously does, often set up either humor or horror. How she sets up her dialogue, particularly when there are multiple characters in a scene, which happens frequently. Her word choice and description and how it is – to me – clearly influenced by the fact that she is by craft and profession also a working artist.  Also it’s freaking amazing.  A character’s smile is ‘sharp and hooked.’  Clothing during a fight doesn’t so much rip as it ‘parts.’  Womens’ mouths ‘twist’ into smiles. Lips are ‘lifted’ from teeth.  A smile is ‘plum and wicked.” And on like that. I’m not that far yet, but let me say that Chapter 14 of Dream Thieves is particularly phenomenal.

I love that the act of reading is a classroom for me. I really do.

How about you? What are you reading? What authors are you learning from? Let me know! I’m genuinely curious.




13 comments:

  1. I love Maggie Stiefvater and always learn something new from reading her books. The book I am reading now--with a fun mix of envy and inspiration--is Laini Taylor's brilliant Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Wow!

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    1. Ooh, that's another great one to study! and to read! Such amazing world building in both these authors' works

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  2. I'm way late to the party, but I just finished Divergent a few days ago! One book that I learned a lot from (in a writerly way) was Shatter Me. It reinvented "show don't tell" in my world :)

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    1. I've only read the sample of Shatter Me. Guess i need to go finish!

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  3. "Reading is a classroom"--YES! The best classroom I've ever been in...

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    1. I know, right? Plus a job where all media is tax deductible? Cheers to that!

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  4. Joy, I love how you said writers read but "also observe the underpinnings." Great phrase. I just finished Divergent and Insurgent, but now you've all made me want to read the Raven Cycle, Shatter Me and Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

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    1. Although I think it also makes me painfully aware when there is too much obvious 'pipe-laying' in a story.

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  5. I love Stiefvater's writing and as a writer, I have learned reams from her, particularly about quiet characterisation and that the story doesn't have to have literal explosions to be tense and edge of your seat worthy. I absolutely adore her writing and find myself as inspired as I am intimidated by her brilliance.

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    1. Particularly in Dream Thieves, where there is some actual scary violence, it is still so creepily understated that it makes it even more wrenching.

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  6. I recently read three Tom Perrotta novels in a row. He writes for adults, but often includes teen voices. I love the way his writing reads with such a natural ease. I, too, love your comment about reading as a classroom. When I'm in a classroom teaching a workshop, I can always tell within a paragraph who reads voraciously. Best way to learn to write is to read!

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    1. I love his work, too!! And yes, students sometimes don't believe that we almost ALWAYS know the readers because their word choice and innate sense of storytelling is so obvious. It just is.

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  7. I haven’t read this series yet! I will have to check it out. And yes, I am constantly a student, too. One of my biggest struggles is how to pace and weave in backstory. I literally took notes from Julie Buxbaum’s book, After You, (an adult book) because she did it so well!

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