Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Introducing a Novel with an Unusual POV, by Bill Johnson

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is a great example of beginning a novel with an unusual, intriguing Point of View.

The prologue in its entirety:


a mountain range of rubble

in which our narrator introduces:

himself—the colors—and the book thief

This clever opening raises a number of questions. What does a mountain of rubble have to do with the narrator, and what does the narrator have to do with colors and the book thief?

The prime directive of a story's opening lines is to draw in a reader. Zusak has accomplished that in a masterful manner.

The title of Chapter One is Death and Chocolate. Again, a question is embedded in this simple title. What does death have to do with chocolate? To get the answer requires reading the next line.


First the colors.

     Then the humans.

     That's usually how I see things.

     Or at least, how I try.

This again conveys the POV of this novel will be unusual. It also raises other questions, what would happen if the narrator saw the human first, then the color? Interesting questions. To get the answers we, again, have to keep reading.


          * * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *

          You are going to die.

In my writing workbook A Story is a Promise I write about my 0-5-10 scale. To avoid being obvious (a five), struggling writers often go toward being obscure. Zusak is going toward being suggestive, hinting here about the true nature of the narrator. But he can hint because he knows the nature of the narrator, just as a mystery author generally has to understand the clues to leave at the beginning of a novel.


I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, thought most people find themselves hindered in believing in me, no matter my protestation. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

The narrator is now offering more detail. Note, the detail is still suggestive, and continues to draw the reader forward.

      * * * REACTIONS TO THE * * *

     Does this worry you?
      I urge you, don't be afraid.
      I'm nothing if not fair.

...Of course, an introduction.
     A beginning.
     Where are my manners?
     I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary.

The reason it's not necessary, as the clues mount, is that the narrator is Death. Death is giving an overview of its existence in this three page introduction.

As the chapter moves forward, Death talks about his need of a distraction so he won't be too aware of the survivors left behind as he carries away the souls of the dead.

To conclude the chapter:

     Which in turns brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors—an expert at being left behind.

     It's just a small story really about, among other things:
     *A girl
     *Some words
     *Some fanatical Germans
     *A Jewish fist fighter
     *And quite a lot of thievery

I saw the book thief three times.

This unusual novel opening conveys in a mysterious, engaging way who the narrator is, and who will be the main character of the novel, the book thief.

If we want to know more, we have to turn the page.

Every hugely popular storyteller finds a way to engage readers or viewers and draw them forward.

Everything in The Book Thief speaks to Zusak's intent as a storyteller.

When I'm shown a weakly written opening to a novel in a workshop, I will have the novel's opening read line by line asking, what is this a story about? I'm trying to point out the difference between that and a well-told story.

Novels like The Book Thief are wonderful examples of the storyteller's art.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond At Aladdin Theater

Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond are coming to the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon, on January 15th, 2017, for a live recording of Dear Sugar Radio: The Writers Resist, Portland Edition. WRITERS RESIST is a multi-city event organized by writers and activists across the nation seeking to "re-inaugurate" a shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech and the fundamental ideals of democracy.

Cheryl and Steve will be joined by some of their favorite Portland-based writers, including Samiya Bashir, Wendy Chin-Tanner, Rene Denfeld, Zahir Janmohamed, Cooper Lee Bombardier, Cari Luna, Sam Roxas-Chua, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. They'll also be taking your questions about how to move forward as a nation during this time of tremendous division and uncertainty.

All proceeds from the event will be donated to six Oregon nonprofits that protect human rights, freedom of speech, the environment, and artistic expression. For more information and tickets: http://www.aladdin-theater.com/event/1396315-dear-sugar-radio-writers-portland/