Revising Leah

December 7, 2008

5087 Trivia Questions & Answers

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A big, big book

A big, big book

I recently ordered a copy of one of the books that Leah reads in the novel. It arrived yesterday, and it is called 5087 Trivia Questions & Answers. It only cost me a dollar from Amazon, but it’s in really nice condition.

I love the book for its title alone. It begs the question, Why 5087? Why not cut 87 questions for an even 5000 or add 13 more questions for 5100? I thought the book would offer some explanation for that number, but I can’t find one. It’s just that sort of weird, random thing that attracted me to the title when I was selecting books for Leah to read.

The book plays an important role in chapter 8. It’s the book that Kyle steals from Leah and makes fun of, which in turn causes David to intervene on Leah’s behalf — thus introducing David’s character to the story. In the novel, I made up a question about Socrates that Kyle reads from the book. Now that I have the book itself in my possession, I might browse through it and see if there isn’t a better question that I might have Kyle read, but I’m satisfied with the Socrates question and might leave it in, even if it doesn’t appear in the actual book.

It’s a big, bulky book. Hardbound and over 700 pages long. Inside, the questions are listed on the right, and the answers to the questions are printed on the back of each page. The size of the book worries me. It’s not as heavy as it looks, so Leah wouldn’t have any trouble carrying it, but it would take up a lot of space in her backpack. Still, the advantages of the book outweigh the disadvantages, and I don’t plan to change the title.

Someday, I’d like to complete my own collection of the books that Leah reads in my novel. I’ll pick them up when they’re cheap, but unfortunately, not all of them are. One book, titled The Interstate Commerce Commission and the Railroad Industry costs at least $60 for a used copy. (Leah hated that book.) That’s more money than I’m willing to spend.

Inserting the titles of real books into the novel is one of the best ideas I’ve had during this revising project. It just further adds to the sense of realism, and it further breaks down the barriers between the fictional universe that I’ve created and the real world in which I live.


October 14, 2008

Is My Novel Too Weird?

The other day, I awoke from sleep and the very first thought in my mind was, “Wow, Leah sure is kind of a weird book.” And I didn’t mean “weird” in a good way, either. It was one of those moments of self-doubt that, as a writer, I frequently experience.

One of the problems with writing a story is that, as the writer, I am too close to the story. There’s a degree of myopia that I have to account for — myopia that blinds me to possible problems in the story. For example, the reason why I’m reading my novel over and over again is because there are mistakes in the text that I will miss the first three or four times that I read them. I may not notice the mistake until the fifth or sixth time that I read the story.

But the other day, when it occurred to me that my novel might be a little too weird, I wasn’t thinking about one specific element of the story that I could correct; rather, I was thinking about the story as a whole. What I thought was weird about my story isn’t that it is odd or idiosyncratic in places (the best works of literature are often those that are a little strange); instead, it’s the fact that the story really isn’t weird at all which makes it too weird.

I’ve written before about how my story seems to bear little resemblance to a lot of the stories being written and published in the young adult genre (which is where I’m assuming my story belongs). The reason is because nothing sensational happens to Leah in this novel. There seems to be an expectation that teenage readers only want to read about sensational events. Maybe that expectation is accurate, but my novel doesn’t follow that formula. Unfortunately, Leah Nells doesn’t get raped, she doesn’t run away from home, she doesn’t turn into a vampire — none of the things that you expect to see happen to a character in a young adult novel happens to Leah.

Instead, the “second act” of my novel revolves around a history report on the ancient Egyptians. Of course, that report is a plot device which allows me to bring Leah Nells and David Parks together for a few weeks, but I still take time to describe the process of putting together a history presentation. Leah goes to the library, she takes notes, she writes her essay, she’s nervous about reading it in front of her class. These are some of the most mundane events imaginable, and what worries me is that the story itself is too focused on these mundane events.

But what I like about the mundane is that it is real. Sadly, it’s true that a lot of the horrible things that happen to main characters in other young adult novels do happen to some real teenagers in real life, but most teenagers live relatively mundane lives: they go to school, they hang out with their friends, maybe they have a job, maybe they experiment with drugs, maybe they fight with their parents, they anticipate getting a car or going to college, they download music and play video games. If I write a story about these things, then I may be writing a “real” story, but the price I have to pay for that realism is, I guess, a weird and boring novel.

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