Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The One and Only Ivan: Making Characters Unique

With seven Newbery-award-winning books under my belt already, I finally read the 2013 winner, The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate.

image from betterinbulk.net

I've joked in previous posts that clearly the trick to winning a Newbery is to write a book about a tween or teen uprooted from his or her home because of some family tragedy. Applegate's book puts a spin on this formula - a gorilla named Ivan is uprooted from his home because of some family tragedy.

Ivan has been part of a mall circus exhibit, the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, for 27 years. He has accepted his fate, but when Ruby, a baby elephant arrives, Ivan decides this is no place for an animal to spend its life. He concocts a plan. He is going to free Ruby so that she can grow up in a zoo with other elephants.

Applegate creates a unique character by telling the story from the first-person perspective of a gorilla. To that end, she has written in a short, choppy style with chapters rarely lasting more than a couple pages, and sometimes just a couple sentences.

The lesson for my own writing is to find a way to make a character unique. That isn't always as easy as writing from the persective of a gorilla, but uniqueness can be achieved because of a character's unique circumstances or unique perspective. In Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone and its in-progress sequel, I have been able to tell the story of King Arthur from the perspective of a mouse. As I write my next story, Abigail's Atlantis, my challenge is to find what makes the main character unique.

It is the challenge all writers must undertake - give readers a new experience through the uniqueness of the character, the circumstances, or perspective. After all, if the story isn't unique, what is the point in telling it?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Victor Hugo's Les Misérables published 150 years ago

First posted 7/5/2020.

Les Misérables

Victor Hugo

First Publication: 1862

Category: fiction

Sales: 1 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

Les Misérables “ranks among the greatest novels of all time.” AZ It “gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope – an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.” AZ In 1980, it premiered as a musical which has run in London since 1985, making it the longest-running musical in the West End. WK

The story takes place in the 19th century “during a period of political unrest in Paris.” LT The focus is on Jean Valjean, “a French peasant, and his desire for redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy.” WK

“Trying to forget his past and live an honest life, …Valjean risks his freedom to take care of a motherless young girl.” LT As a result, “he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert.” WK

“Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.” AZ

“Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds.” AZ

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