#TRUESTsem Part One

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.


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.


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.


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.

#TRUESTsem Schedule, Assignments, and Passwords

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.

(Thanks, Aften, for the name inspiration!)

Schedule and Passwords

Here’s the schedule for this month’s BookDeeply, along with the passwords to unlock the posts. You’ll want to read the chapters before reading my post.

  1. Truest chapters 1–5: October 10
    1. No Password Needed
  2. Truest chapters 6–10: October 12
    1. Password: chapter 5, fifth word of the last sentence. rescue
  3. Truest chapters 11–15: October 15
    1. Password: “The song was like an _______” anthem
  4. Truest chapters 16–20: October 18
    1. Password: “How could brilliance love a _____?” blur
  5. Truest chapters 21–25: October 20
    1. Password: The name of Silas’ poem truest
  6. Truest chapters 26–30: October 24
    1. Last word of chapter 30. yes
  7. Truest chapters 31–35: October 25
    1. Last word of chapter 34. truth

Note: each password is a single word with no capital letters.

Remember that you can join the discussion after the fact, too! All you need is a copy of the book. On October 15th’s post, I’ll ask if anyone wants to do a live hangout or group chat at the end of the month.


I’ll be dividing the assignments into two tracks. The first is for plot, and the second is for character and theme. You can participate in one, both, or neither.

BookDeeply Track A: Plot Marginalia

If you’ve got your own copy of the book and have no qualms about writing in it, I want you to have a pencil with you when you’re reading so you can annotate the reversals. In the margins, you’ll draw the following symbols:

+ Character comes up with new goal
– Character doesn’t get what they want
-> character gets what they want

Draw a PLUS SIGN when a character has a new goal. Underline that goal or state in the margins.
Draw an ARROW when they get what they want. Underline the achievement or state in the margins.
Draw a MINUS when they don’t get what they want. Underline the failure or state in the margins.

BookDeeply Track B: Character and Theme Notebook

Divide a notebook page into six boxes (2 columns of 3 rows) and label them:
1. Conflict/Motivations
2. Questions
3. Predictions
4. Answers
5. Motifs
6. Possible themes

Depending on how you write notes, you could have a page per section or a page per chapter. You could also have a page for each of these categories, for example listing questions as you find them on one page, including a page or chapter number. It depends on what you’d rather see at a glance: what goes into a single chapter or section, or how often a literary element appears or how it progresses.

For each chapter, I’d like you to list a new conflict that comes up while you’re reading. It can be as simple as “West vs Dad” or as complicated as “West feels humiliated when she first meets Silas—why is he acting weird?” Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out a character’s motivations. In these cases, look at conflict. There’s no conflict between characters who want the same things! Some characters might seem like they want the same thing, but their approaches clash. If character motivations are obvious, include them in this square.

2–4—Questions, Predictions, Answers
In one box, keep a list of questions that each chapter asks but doesn’t answer. In another, include predictions of what might happen next or what the answers to those questions might be. When you come across answers, note what chapter the question appeared in.

5–6—Motifs, Themes
Include another box for motifs. Motifs are like miniature themes that can be stated in one word. For example, “Truth” is a motif. “Truth is worth killing for” is a theme. Themes are stated in a sentence. In stories that have a central theme, characters will prove or disprove that theme.

The theme is the thesis, and the story is the argument. It’s difficult to really know what the theme is right at the beginning, but in some cases, the theme is stated outright (this is especially true in movies). In the theme box, write down lines that might be the novel’s thematic statement.

If you’re participating in the read along, read chapters 1–5 this week and come back on Saturday 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 time to approve new comments.