Friday, October 30, 2009

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, ACTION: And a Partridge in a Pear Tree, Red Versus White and Wake: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Hi Meg -

There is something I’ve noticed again and again in this book, which I am reminded of in this poignant little chapter, And a Partridge in a Pear Tree. It has to do with the fine line writers for children must walk when defining their character’s sensibilities.

Although this story is largely autobiographical, Sherman Alexie, at the SCBWI International Conference in LA this year, commented that the character Junior is nothing like Alexie really was at that age. Junior reflects a level of sensibility, maturity and confidence that Alexie didn’t achieve until much later in life. On page 151 Junior says of his father’s boot, “that thing smelled like booze and fear and failure.” Does that reflect how a fourteen-year-old rez kid would see or describe the world? Would he say that a boot smells of fear? Of failure? No. It is how a grown-up Sherman Alexie would describe such things.

But is that a problem? No, and here is why. Consistency. The character is perhaps a little too mature, a little too self-aware for someone in his circumstances, but he is unswervingly so, and as a result, I buy that it is simply who he is.

Storysleuths Tip # 14: Be consistent with your characters maturity level and sensibility and you can get away with a lot

At this year’s SCBWI conference in L.A. Jordan Brown, editor at Walden Pond Press spoke about the function of scenes. He said, “every scene should have something no one is expecting to happen because that is what propels a story forward.” These chapters, Red Versus White and Wake, bear the shocking news that Junior’s grandmother has been killed by a drunk driver, and describe the way that all who loved her dealt with her death. I didn’t see it coming. On page 154 when Junior begins speaking of his grandmother in past tense, “And do you want to know what the very best thing was about Wellpinit? My grandmother,” I found it a little odd that the author suddenly switched perspectives and was looking back over the distance of time. Then, on page 155, six pages into the chapter he very matter-of-factly reveals that she’d been struck and killed by a drunk driver. Wow.

Story Sleuths Tip # 15: Introduce the unexpected to propel a scene forward.

-- Allyson