by Sarah Albrecht
This summer my five-year-old daughter is in a swim class with two older kids. They can apply what the teacher tells them more quickly than she can, but they are still working on tightening their strokes. The older boy, for example, swims freestyle with considerable flopping and splashing, but he can certainly swim across the pool. As the class session has progressed, so has he: his kicks are a bit smaller, his arms enter the water more cleanly, and he can swim across the pool more quickly.
I’ve been trying to tighten my writing strokes. One thing I’ve focused on is learning from published writers in my genre (middle grade fiction) because I can squeeze reading in at odd moments and because, hey, I get to read and call it writing!
Here are a few books I’ve learned from (and also thoroughly enjoyed):
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson: A character can recognize his/her primary motivation (be the fastest runner) without recognizing a deeper motivation the primary one represents (belonging).
Half Moon Enterprises, by Eoin Colfer: A strong lead character can make you have no choice but to keep reading.
Shakespeare’s Spy, by Gary Blackwood: Hooks at the end of chapters keep you turning pages. Blackwood has great chapter-ending “hooks.”
Gideon the Cutpurse, by Linda Buckley-Archer: Background story dispersed through the main story adds tension and interest.
My Brother Sam is Dead, by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier: I needed a good example of a character torn between two sides of an issue (here, the Revolutionary War), and this was it.
I’ve also learned more about “what’s out there”; what themes recur in book after book (lots of orphans needing to belong!); and that many of my ideas that I thought were so original, like a lead character having issues with his name, are not original in the tiniest bit.
Funny how I could read for so many years and never see these things because I wasn’t looking. Now I can use the books as teachers and tighten my floppy strokes.