Sunday, 29 September 2013

Highly Effective Passages I Wish I Had Written: Part One

So last night I finished edit number fifty-six billion on HEAT. YAY ME! Or something. I have now returned to Query Letter Hell, and oh boy does it BURN. My skin is festering and peeling as I type.

And now I’m totally grossed out. Ew.

I wrote about 3000 words worth of query attempts last night (don’t be impressed; a query is only meant to be roughly 250 words so that is actually VERY VERY BAD) but I STILL can’t get it to, you know, NOT SUCK. After a few hours of solid work (I SWEAR I didn’t take breaks to watch the latest VyRT Violet*, watch VEVO PRESENTS: The Church Of Mars and just generally stalk people on Twitter. Nope. I wouldn’t do that at all.), I decided to mosey on over to The Query Shark and get some tips. Now I love Janet Reid. I think she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. She runs two blogs; one details her life in the reef (she is a Literary agent for Fine Print Lit) and the other is The Query Shark blog, where she teaches neurotic and aspiring writers such as myself how to revise their query letters so that they actually work (that line is taken straight from her subheading). Both are funny and incredibly informative, so if you’re insane enough to also want to become an author, I highly suggest you check them out.


I swear I have a point.

On her blog (although I can’t remember which one, but if I find the post I will link it!), The Shark suggests that all writers keep a journal of the books they are reading. She says you should write down phrases and passages that really work for you, and write down why you find them effective. She says this helps you to get a better feel for the rhythm of effective writing, and it also helps you to find your own style. Now I’m not entirely sure how the copyright thing works if I want to do that on my blog, so let me begin with this giant disclaimer:



It comes from one of my all-time favourite books: Killing Aurora, by Helen Barnes. Some of you may recognise the name (taps nose knowingly). I love this book so much that I could include EVERY passage as one I wish I had written. Helen Barnes is an amazingly talented author (and yes, I said AUTHOR, not WRITER. There is a difference.) and if I ever write a book that is half as good as hers I will consider my life complete. The following is one of my all-time favourite passages in any book, ever Killing Aurora:


Returning to her bedroom, she sits at her desk. She is quiet and motionless, staring at the new Maths textbooks.

The numbers fester on the page. Twelve to the power of three. She can’t understand the problem. It was never this hard before. Cosine is the, is the, what? Never this hard. The unresolved equation twists in her stomach. Find the common denominator. She feels ill. What is the rate of decay? She wants to throw up. Divide by the smallest prime integer. Why can’t she do this? Ten to the power of twelve multiplied by the square root of negative one. She’s always been so smart. What’s gone wrong? Find the next number in this sequence. Her mother is in the hall, calling down the stairs in a baby voice, ‘Gary, sweetheart, time for beddy-byes!’ Aurora winces and tries to think. Four, fourteen, forty-two, one hundred and sixty, and the next number is…

Crawling into bed, she takes the problem with her. She puts it under her pillow and whispers to it. Carry the six, divide by three, if a equals 3c and c is one half of b, then quod erat demonstrandum…what? When she dreams, monstrous numbers swarm like flies in her head, multiplying and extrapolating themselves into fantastic sums, and she sees the bright little girl she used to be and the stupid, great lumbering beast she is now.

She dreams her teeth are falling from her mouth, pearls from a necklace. Scrambling for her pearls on the ground, she remembers that each tooth has a number, and she has to put the teeth into the right sequence, but she can’t find the numbers, can’t work out the logic of the series, and the teeth fall from her fingers and clatter and bounce on the hard floor, disappearing under chairs, rolling out of doors, and she knows now that she will never, ever find them all.


Now comes the fun bit. Why is this passage so effective? Obviously not everyone is going to have the same opinions as I do, but this is my blog and I’ll blog what I want to!

The first thing that jumps out at me is how much I can relate to it. Who hasn’t sat in front of their homework and wondered when it got so hard? I first read this book when I was either 15 or 16, so it was really relatable then. I felt exactly the same as Aurora, sitting in front of a textbook filled with problems that I couldn’t understand and wondering when I stopped being the bright little girl and started being the stupid, lumbering beast too stupid to do basic math. She is a very relatable character for me in many ways.


The next thing I really like** is the dream she has, and the way it is one long run-on sentence. It really gives you the feeling of panic and claustrophobia Aurora must be experiencing. Although as I type that I think claustrophobia? Really? I feel claustrophobic as I read it. I wonder if that is intentional? Interesting.


Finally, I love the focus on numbers in this passage. If you haven’t read the book, it’s about a girl (named Aurora, obviously) who develops an eating disorder at age fourteen. Are pieces about me and my writing starting to fall into place for you yet? If you know much about eating disorders you’ll know that most of the time, numbers dominate the life of the person with the disorder. Calories in, calories out, bites of food, time spent exercising, number of star jumps, push up, sit ups, and of course, the all-important number on the scale. It’s a hellish world where your worth is measured in pounds (or kilos, but I like pounds because they go down faster), and the less you weigh, the better. At this stage in the novel (page 25) Aurora has not yet developed full-fledged eating disorder, but she’s well on her way. The focus on the numbers here provides a great element of foreshadowing without beating the reader over the head with a WATCH THIS SPACE, SOMETHING BIG IS GOING TO HAPPEN. In my opinion foreshadowing is quite difficult to do well, and this is a great example of how it should be done.


So there you have it! Ways To Avoid Writing My Query Letter I mean Highly Effective Passages I Wish I Had Written, Part One!  What did you think of the passage? Have you read the book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments section. But for now, I guess it’s time to go back to burning in Query Letter Hell. Although…Is that another VyRT Violet I spy? Maybe I’ll just watch that first.



*R-Evolve? Really, Jared? You’re going to throw THAT at us?? I hate you. But I love you.


**I can’t help but hear this in the voice of my year two students during News:

And this is my teddy bear…His name is Fluffy…And I really like it…

(Complete with the unnecessary inflection at end of each sentence. Oh, children. Please stop.)