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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Favorite Books

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?

Writing Tip — Favorite Books and Giveaway: “The Emotion Thesaurus”

Emotion-Thesaurus-2nd-EditionI can’t remember how I found The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, but it was one of the best books I’ve bought on writing technique. It’s so good that everyone who comments during the month of May will be put in a drawing for it. To enter the drawing, you must be a U.S. resident You can comment from now until May 31 at 5 p.m. EST. I will notify the winner that day.

When my freelance editor Sharyn Kopf tackled my YA novel, The Truth and Other Strangers, she pointed out that I used the same facial expressions to convey emotions, usually smiles, grins, and the width of the eyes. So I had to figure out how to describe emotions in a variety of ways.

The Emotion Thesaurus offers loads of descriptions for 130 emotions. Under each one is a definition, a list of physical signs, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of an acute case of this emotion, and cues of suppressing it, along with a writer’s tip.

Whenever I see that I am falling into the trap of relying too heavily on my character’s grins or narrowed eyes, I pick up the thesaurus. Reading the list of physical signs lifts my imagination out of its rut. Sometimes, I don’t use the exact sign the authors have listed, but the signs have sparked my creativity, and I come up with one of my own.

For example, when my main character experiences fear, I often use shortness of breath or a sick stomach. The thesaurus suggests such reactions as “lowering voice to a whisper”, “pleading, talking to oneself.”, and “stiff walking, the knees locking” among 33 physical signs. For the main character of my recent mystery short story, I decided when she was scared that she would raise up on her toes, digging in like a sprinter, to be ready to run.

These authors have other writing thesaurus, which I have not read, but I’m intrigued by The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Although I live in the country, I know I can use someone else’s perspective to see a familiar setting with new eyes.

Be sure to comment during May and to be eligible to win The Emotion Thesaurus

 

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