Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TotW: The AHA moment - Darlene

Two books, two AHAs

These two books illustrated writing concepts I already knew in my head, but had not taken to heart. They may be common ideas – i.e. books need suspense, every scene has to do something – but I needed these books to bring the concepts out of the abstract world of ideas and into vivid reality.

Jane Eyre: I was not forced to read this in high school. I don’t know if I would have appreciated it as much as I did if I had picked it up before I was in my 20s. I listened to the book on cassette tapes in my “beater” car while driving back and forth to Charlotte for work. The story enthralled me. I didn’t read the back cover copy or look for a synopsis online, so I experienced all the twists and turns of Jane’s experiences in a fresh, unaffected way. The mystery of the in the attic was really a mystery, Jane’s love affair with Rochester really seemed hopeless when he told the truth of his past. The book’s level of suspense and growing conflict drove me through the chapters while I drove to Charlotte. I had to take the tapes out of my car and keep listening in my room when I got home at night. It gave me a taste of the pleasure of a good on-the-edge-of-your-seat mystery. I felt inspired to write, so I started playing with ideas for a first person novel that eventually became my NaNo novel and thereby my first complete manuscript draft.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: One of the most fantastic summers of my reading life was when I worked through the first six books of the Harry Potter series. I confess I started with book six. I had listened to the audio book in the car with a friend and got hooked. I read book six until right before the black moment, stopped, and read the whole series in order from book one. I have since read the series three times at least (mostly on audio book, I do love being able to hang out with Harry while I’m waiting in traffic). I can actually place my “aha” moment for this book in space and time. I can see in my mind the parking lot where I walked through the rain thinking about what I had just heard in the car. I was reading Prisoner of Azkaban, and I suddenly realized how everything in a book works together to complete the plot – how J.K. Rowling masterfully used each and every scene to do something for the story. I knew this conceptually, but suddenly I could see it in beautiful detail.

As an aside, yes, I listen to a lot of books on audio. The mental and emotional experience for me is the same, if not better in some cases, than reading a book off the page. It does depend on personal style though, because there are a lot of people (like my mom) who cannot follow a book if it is presented in an audio format. I must be a little kid at heart - I like being read to.

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