Writing Tip — Favorite Book: The Outsiders

OutsidersThe Outsiders was the one Young Adult (YA) novel I read as a young adult and actually liked. By the time I was twelve, I was reading adult books, mostly mysteries from the Golden Age of Detective fiction and action-adventure novels by Alistair MacLean. I only discovered the novel when the movie aired on TV when I was sixteen. I wrote about that two years ago when it was the fiftieth anniversary of The Outsiders.

Today I am writing about the things that made me fall in love with the novel, qualities I try to remember when writing my YA fiction.

Kids on Their Own

I think one of the reasons I switched to adult fiction is that I got sick of books with teen characters, who make huge mistakes — dumb ones in my opinion — and then get corrected by adults. I had enough of that going on in reality. In The Outsiders, Ponyboy Curtis, the main character, lives with his twenty-year-old brother because their parents recently died in a car accident. He has to work out the problems in his life for himself or with the help of his brothers or friends. I found the absence of adult figures, except for a few key scenes, greatly appealing.

First-Person Narration

Ponyboy tells his story in first-person. His narration is so personal that I felt like he was sitting beside me, talking to me as a friend. Author S. E. Hinton threw in all kinds of extra detail that didn’t directly affect the plot but made Ponyboy, his brothers, and the friends of his gang seem real. Such as the Curtis brothers like chocolate cake for breakfast, Ponyboy hates most guys with green eyes, and he loves to smoke but also runs track.

I still enjoy reading YA fiction because so many authors use first-person. I don’t find it nearly as often in adult fiction of any genre. Many times the third-person narration keeps the characters at a distance from me.

Characters Described in Depth

Ms. Hinton introduces Ponyboy and the other main characters in the first chapter with detailed descriptions. Today her style is considered poor writing. But I loved it then and still do. In a few pages, Ms. Hinton allowed me to imagine those characters vividly.

Sodapop Curtis –” . . . he has a finely drawn, sensitive face that somehow manages to be reckless and thoughtful at the same time.”

Dallas Winston — “He had an elfish face, with high cheekbones and a pointed chine, small, sharp animal teeth, and ears like a lynx.”

Johnny Cade — “He was the gang’s pet, everyone’s kid brother.”

What’s your favorite YA novel? Do you still love it as an adult?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: YA Historical Fiction

teenagerw-349981_1280One of the perks of writing YA fiction is that you can write in any genre as along as your main character is a teen. This photo caught my attention because it looks like it was taken a hundred years ago, and about 1925, my grandfather severally injured his hand as a teenager. He was firing a muzzleloader that someone had overloaded with gunpowder, and it blew up. He lost the index finger on one hand. His father didn’t think he would be able to use his hand, which had serious consequences on a farm.

He should have know my grandfather better. He was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. The doctor told him the exercises he needed to do to regain strength and mobility in his hand. He did them no matter how much it hurt. As an adult, he ran a farm, mined coal, and eventually researched businesses for Dunn and Bradstreet.

What story do you imagine for this character?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Fourth of July as Writing Inspiration

flagw-1446423_1280Since the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is the only major holiday in the month, I thought I had to use it for my writing inspiration. But I felt completely uninspired. The Fourth of July was never one of the big holidays when I was growing up, and now my husband, kids, and I celebrate by attending a local parade and fireworks. Not a lot of inspiration there.

So I asked the kids in the writing workshop I led at my library. Talking over my dilemma with kids ranging in age from 9-12 kickstarted my imagination.

Alternative history: If you aren’t familiar with this subgenre of fantasy fiction, it means some key event in history is changed and the story is based on that. What if the Confederate States won the American Civil War? What if the Russian Czar had beaten the Communists? At my workshop, one boy wondered what would happen if there was no Independence Day in America. What had happened so that it never became a holiday? So many things in American history could have changed. Or maybe there is no American history because America didn’t win the Revolutionary War.

Family traditions: Someone else mentioned making ice cream with a manual machine. That got me to thinking about family traditions and if they are passed on. For my story, I can have an elderly grandmother try to hand crank an old ice cream machine for the family Fourth of July picnic. She’s always done it. But this year, she’s having trouble and eventually gives in and allows her granddaughter to help, passing on the torch of tradition.

Personal freedom: Freeing a character of some problem while he participates in Independence Day activities would be a nice match. Maybe he is freed from a sin that has burdened him for years. Or, during a community picnic, he realizes the truth behind a misconception he had of another person. Or he could finally cut ties with someone who is a negative influence in his life. The climax of the story could occur during a community fireworks display, where the soaring fireworks are a symbol of the character’s new freedom.

How would you use the Fourth of July as writing inspiration?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: What’s the Story?

teenagerw-959125_1280This month’s theme is Young Adult fiction. The Sparks will be photos that can ignite a Young Adult story.

What’s the story in the photo above? Who are these kids? Why is there only one girl with eleven boys? With the kids all looking the same age and standing around in the woods, they remind me of my trail group that I led when I chaperoned my oldest and 150 classmates at sixth grade camp for three days. Although making a group of one girl with eleven 12-year-old boys seems cruel. I can imagine her concern.

Lone girl: Miz Allen, my friend Madison is supposed to be in our group.

Me, digging out sheet of paper: She’s not on my list.

Boy #1: So you take the French fries and stuff them up your nose and …

Other boys: Cool!

Lone girl: Can I please go find my friend Madison?

 

 

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