#TRUESTsem Part One

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I hope you’re excited for #TRUESTsem, my first BookDeeply event, a virtual book club meets free writing seminar. Learn more about BookDeeply in general and TRUESTsem in particular here. Grab the schedule, the passwords for future posts, and optional assignments here.

If you’re participating in the read along, read chapters 6-10 and come back on Monday for the discussion. If you’ve never commented on my blog before, your comment might not appear until Sunday. I’ll be at NerdCon and might not have Wi-Fi to approve new comments.

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Chapter One

“The swans on Green Lake looked like tiny icebergs, only it was the first weekend of my summer vacation. One hundred feet from where I sat in the car, they lay quiet claim to the lake, as if it were their inheritance.”

From the first paragraph we know where the book is set (Green Lake) and what time of year it is (beginning of summer). We also know what kind of book this is from the tone of the first page. This book is presenting itself as a literary one. We can expect some interesting imagery in the following pages, if this book is going to live up to its premise.

The rest of the page sets up that West’s dad is a pastor (but note how Sommers portrays this fact, rather than explains it) and that the relationship between father and daughter has some underlying tension.

We meet Silas on page two. We meet Laurel on page three. There you go, the inciting incident. The peaceful, swan-infested town of Green Lake is going to change for West as soon as she meets the Harts.

“Sitting on the couch was a princess.”

Here we have a literary element I’ve been noticing in contemporary YA lately. The teenage protagonist makes a metaphor but doesn’t comment on it to clarify. Teens can be hyperbolic (I still am, frequently), and using an exaggeration as a metaphor is one way to make your teenage protagonist feel authentic. If you’ve read We Were Liars, you might remember the scene where the protagonist recounts her father shooting her as if it were a literal event. He did nothing of the sort, but feeling is more real than reality sometimes.

Note that this can come off as melodramatic, so if your protagonist isn’t prone to bouts of exaggeration, I’d advise that you not use hyperbole.

Questions

One of the points of BookDeeply is to train you to read like a writer. If you don’t want to pick books apart or try to predict the endings, then you should be a reader. If you want to be a writer, you’ll have to try to see the seams so you can draw up a pattern and start sewing your own pieces.

In upcoming posts, I’ll ask leading questions which I hope will result in you figuring out the answer for yourself. Maybe there is no answer. Maybe there are multiple answers. Reading isn’t math. We’re speculating subjective literature, not factoring polynomials. However, novels follow similar patterns and pull from a preset list of literary elements. We’ll be considering some of them during BookDeeply.

What are some of the conflicts you noticed in these first five chapters?
What motifs?

I’ve been noticing a pattern that West makes quick assumptions about Silas and Laurel. Assumption would be one motif.

We’ve also got a small town motif going on. Sommers includes specific details which make Green Lake feel like a real place. What are your favorite details that help flesh out Green Lake? What are some ways that you can instill a pseudo reality to your own fiction? What would need to change if West lived in a city? A suburb?

Genre fiction adheres to tropes. If you read, watch, or listen to romance stories, what does Truest have in common with them?

General or literary fiction is more likely to include literary illusions. Sommers refers to many other works of literature in Truest. Why do you think this is so? Does it strengthen the work, in your opinion?

One criticism of general or literary fiction is that “nothing happens.” Instead of a character going out and doing something and accomplishing physical or measurable achievements, the character’s growth is inward, emotional, or social. Which relationships do you think will be the focus in Truest?

Young adult novels have the luxury of school-year divisions. How many YA or children’s novels can you think of that don’t take place during a school year or summer? Seasons provide natural changes, so they often coincide with inciting incidents and resolutions. (How many climaxes in teen movies coincide with Prom or graduation?) The start of summer isn’t the start of West’s story, though. It’s just the set-up. Would this story happen if Elliot weren’t working or Trudy hadn’t gone to camp?

Writing prompt

There’s a theory that only two stories exist: A person goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Brainstorm your own story using one of these plots that you don’t usually write. Ask yourself “But what if…?” to keep the story going. If you’re stuck, list some stories you know are journey or stranger stories. Then pick different characters and settings and see where that takes you.

Discussion

Comment below with your answers to the questions, your favorite quotes from the first five chapters, questions you might have, or even your writing prompt assignment (if under 500 words. A link to your blog is fine, if you give us a couple sentences to introduce it here).

Note that I’m at NerdCon:Stories this weekend, so I might be slow to respond or to approve comments for people who’ve never commented here before. I appreciate your patience!

Come back Monday for the next 5 chapters! You can add to the discussion in the comments at any time.

7 thoughts on “#TRUESTsem Part One

  1. Katie says:

    I have a question concerning flashbacks. I’ve heard from different people that writers should refrain from using flashbacks in the first 50 pages (sometimes 70 pages, sometimes one third of the book, etc.). But, on page 20, West has a flashback to prom night, recalling how she wasn’t ready to have sex with Elliot.

    What are your thoughts on this scene? Is it acceptable to break the flashback “rule”? If so, what makes it the exception? Is it especially well written or especially relevant?

    • Lara says:

      Great question! I wouldn’t call this a flashback so much as an aside or explanation. Since this book is in first person, it makes some sense for West to explain why she knew he wouldn’t pressure her. It serves the purpose of characterizing Elliot, especially when we don’t get to see much of him in these chapters. There’s a flashback on page 17-18 which, to me, halts the story more for the sake of symbolism than characterization.

      Flashbacks aren’t always bad, but I do warn against them. Here are some questions to ask when revising a flashback:

      • Is it a scene in and of itself, or is it a brief explanation?
      • Is it in a different tense? If writing in past tense, you can use past perfect (I had [verb]ed) in short flashbacks that explain, but complete scenes might need to be written in present tense (I [verb]. She is [verb]ing)—it’s the literary equivalent of adding a foggy filter to a dream sequence. The later is overwhelming early on.
      • Does your narrator need to explain something, at that moment, in a sentence or two? Could that information be summarized somewhere else?
      • What is the genre and pace of your novel? Is the focus character and internal conflict or plot or external conflict? In a novel that’s more introspective, short flashbacks make sense but still might slow the forward movement. In a page-turning thriller, a flashback will stop the momentum, feeling jarring.
      • Every writing rule can be broken. But in order for it to work, you have to know why you’re breaking the rule and if it makes sense considering the purpose, genre, and audience of your book.

        Thanks, Katie!

  2. tntvrdy says:

    Hello all, I am new to responding to–well, anything like this, so please let me know if I do anything incorrectly. 🙂

    First, regarding conflicts I think that we can already see in the first chapter that there is some tension between West and her father. It’s a conflict that she has to pretend isn’t really there, or that bad, because of her father being such a good man in such a small town. This conflict, is pivotal in my opinion because it is the root of this character.

    Other conflicts:

    West and Elliot over sex. Sex isn’t really the issue though.

    West and Silas, over misunderstandings. But I think that she enjoys this conflict because it is conflict that she feels allowed to confront, unlike the conflict with her father, and it is conflict that she can name, unlike with Elliot.

    As for motifs, I’m not sure I have a real grasp on them. I wonder if you could give me another example from the book? I mean, I understand that West is big on assumptions, with the first person narrative and her being a teenager, we get a lot of assumptions, but what are other motifs?

    I was thinking maybe poetry was one, or just reading in general, but that doesn’t seem–motif-y. Lol.

    I find I have similar issues with tropes. But if I had to take a stab at a trope, it would be that West starts out her story as a typical teenage girl who is waiting for something. She just doesn’t know what. This seems like a romance novel thing.

    Also, if I am correct in my understanding of tropes, the love-hate dynamic between West and Silas is one. And, it is one of my favorite tropes.

    As for the literary illusions, I love those. Of course, there is a bratty part of my brain that says, why bring up work that is so much better; but, that part of my brain is stupid. If a character likes to read, they should talk about books. And since I like to read, I love when they do.

    I like general fiction, because nothing happens. Even though, I think a lot actually happens. 🙂 The relationship that I think West will discover is the source of all other relationship woes, is the one with her father. (Which now that I think of it, may be a motif? Dad issues? Hiding feelings in a small town? Yeah, I really need help with the motif thing…)

    Okay, I’ve already written too much but I wanted to address your last question. I think that the story still would have happened, it just wouldn’t have happened as quickly. And here is my thinking. The friendship with Silas was still inevitable because of her dad being pastor and Laurel needing communion. West and Silas were bound to continue crossing paths. Elliot and West would still be having issues and Trudy would be just as curious about Silas as West is.

    • Lara says:

      This is great, Tanya! I’d like to hold off too many answers to give other readers a chance to respond, but you’re showing great insight here. TVtropes.org will teach more about tropes, but be prepared to get sucked into it for a few hours! As for motifs, I’ll list more in subsequent posts but daddy issues and small-town secrets can definitely be motifs! Basically a motif is an idea or symbol that is repeated throughout the story. A theme is a statement that can be argued or defended.

  3. tntvrdy says:

    Also, thank you to Katie for asking about flashbacks. I love to use flashbacks–a little too much, so it is wonderful to have some boundaries drawn. In fact, Lara, I am going to look back over some old stories and ask the questions you wrote to myself and see where I need to cut out some things. 🙂 This book-discussion-idea is a lovely one.

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