Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's Alive!

I love to learn.  I was a good student in college but I attended in fits and starts because while I love learning, I hated being taught.  But that's a topic for another blog.  If I had my way, I'd audit college classes for the rest of my life and learn anything and everything I could.  I'd be that old dude in the back of the class always interrupting the lecture to ask questions.

I've been reading Donald Maass' WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL because I've heard from a lot of friends that it is a good book.  I credit Stephen King's ON WRITING for giving the me the necessary push that ended up landing me my first book deal, so I thought Maass' book might help me continue to grow.  As a writer, we should constantly seek growth.

Most of the stuff in there feels like stuff I already know.  But that doesn't mean it's not useful.  For example, I'm working on a new draft of a book that I really love.  It's about a young man who lives in a hospital. I don't want to give anything away but in writing this draft, I've taken a lot of care with refining the characters from my first draft and making the plot more streamlined.  All the things that I should be doing in a second draft.  I've had a lot of time to think about it as it's been over six months since I wrote the first draft, and I really felt like I was nailing every chapter, ever scene.

Except...I started reading Maass' book and I had a very sudden realization between the chapters on setting and character that I'd been ignoring the biggest character of all.  The hospital.  The concept of the story is simple: Andrew Brawley lives in a hospital, hiding from Death, who was late to get him the first time around. He comes out of hiding to befriend a boy who was set on fire by bullies and will risk anything to keep Death from getting the new boy too.  I spent countless hours crafting the cast of characters that inhabited the hospital but forgot that the hospital itself was the most important character of all.  It lives, it breathes, it has moods.

And this wasn't a new revelation for me, merely something I'd forgotten, that I'd overlooked in my desire to make everything else right.  Even if I get nothing else from Maass' book (which I'm sure won't be the case), it opened my eyes to something I'd forgotten.  Places are characters too.  Don't forget about them.

And don't stop learning.


  1. Wow, your new book sounds fabulous. I love the idea of a living, breathing hospital. I agree, settings can be important characters in any book.

  2. Helen: Thank you :) It's a bit of a labor of love.

    I think The Hunger Games was a great book that used setting as a character. So were all the Harry Potter books. Was any school more alive than Hogwarts?

  3. Damn, what an awesome idea Shaun. The book sounds really interesting, and you're right - if you got that one thing out of the book you were reading, it's worth it.

    I like to learn all the time too, I just am looking forward to when I get the choice to learn rather than being forced to (i.e. my Masters program LOL). Have a nice weekend, buddy.


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