Monday, September 9, 2013

What Jessica Sorensen Taught Me

Recently I purchased Jessica Sorensen's The Coincidence of Callie & Kayden. I'd been watching it on the Kindle Top 100 paid list, and decided that for $1.99 I could give it a shot. I don't read a lot of chick lit (which I consider this to be) but it's been very interesting, if a little melodramatic so far, and it's taught me a few things about writing voice and what you can and can't get away with.

Firstly, this book had thousands of great reviews on Amazon, and that's partially the reason that I decided to click "buy" when I was browsing. I'm notorious for reading all the reviews I can before deciding on a purchase, and in this case, since I couldn't read all 3,000+ reviews, I read a few from each star point (five stars, one star, etc.). Most of the reviews praised the characters and their struggles with different inner demons and scars, so I anticipated an emotional read.

The first thing that surprised me was how simple the story is. The book begins at a point in time before the main bulk of the book's timeline (don't worry, no spoilers for those interested in reading the book!) where Callie witnesses Kayden in an abusive situation. She rescues him from the situation and then resigns herself to the fact that she will never see him again. On top of that, Kayden will most likely not even remember her.

Fast forward six months to move-in day at a college. Callie has been there with her flamboyant new guy friend, Seth, and is getting over her eating disorder. As predicted, Kayden is also going to the same school and he remembers her! The rest of the story follows them building up a relationship despite Kayden being taken by a stereotypical cheerleader and Callie not willing to open up and be herself around an attractive guy from her past.

So, back to my surprise at the simplicity of the story. What did this teach me?

Well, it taught me that I don't need to jump through a million hoops to keep my reader interested. My plots tend to be pretty intense, but what really matters in the case of Miss Sorensen's book - and any work of fiction, for that matter, is the characters and their inner demons. What are they struggling with? What do they have to overcome to get x? It's very cool to see that a story about two college kids can be so engaging. True, it wasn't masterful writing, or even that involved stylistically, but it still kept me coming back when I had spare moments to dip into the book.

The second thing that this book taught me was that it is possible to pull off first person narration with two separate characters telling the story. I haven't written anything publishable yet in the first person, but I love using the character's voice to tell their own story. I guess I'm a sucker for the unreliable narrator. Sorensen differentiates the two narrators by beginning each section with his or her name in bold. I liked this, and if you are wondering if her two voices were unique enough for each character, I can say that yes, they were. Kayden sounded rugged and was peppered with curses, and Callie was shy and introverted.

Lastly, this book taught me that simply withholding the details of the past event that made the character so scarred and damaged is enough to keep the reader moving forward through the story. More than once in the first quarter of the book, Callie continually mentions "that day years ago" that led to her eating disorder. What is she talking about? I had to read to find out. I wanted to know! If I can get a hook like that into my own work, maybe it will be all the better for it. Suspense is excellent.

There is a sequel to this book that I will most likely be checking out, as well as an expanded universe of sorts with side characters getting their own books later this year and in 2014. I applaud Miss Sorensen for being able to flesh out so many characters and franchise her work. It's something that I hope to try one day with my own characters (the ones that demand their stories to be told, of course! Sometimes they won't shut up until I write them down.).