I need to add something that occurred to me when reading chapter two, specifically the scene in which Oscar is shot. When he spoke at the SCBWI conference, Alexie said that a major theme in this story is about being trapped; about the experience all children have of their decisions being made for them. This is what gives the book universal appeal. Yes, it is a story about a poor-ass kid on a reservation, but the character is a child experiencing something all children can relate to—his choices are being made FOR him. He is completely powerless when his parents decide Oscar’s fate. Furthermore, while he is powerless, he still recognizes that as much as he wishes to be in control, he needs his parents. He says, “my mother and father are the twin suns around which I orbit and my world would EXPLODE without them.”
Jordan Brown, editor at Walden Pond Press says that the character should be someone the audience can relate to. Whether you are a wealthy white kid from the suburb or an inner-city kid struggling just to eat each day, you can relate to both the powerlessness and the desperate need for parental support that Junior experiences. I think Alexie does a great job of exposing the frailties unique to kids in this age group.
Okay, now on to the next chapter. This go around I will point out the attention to details that really let us into Junior’s life. Richard Peck has said “The character should only see things that matter.” In other words, as writers we must take care not to reveal to the reader those things that the author might notice, but that the character would not. We have the tendency as writers to imagine ourselves in a setting and then describe in detail everything we see. Instead, we should describe the things our character would notice. On page 17 Junior describes the 127th annual powwow celebration where there would be, “singing, war dancing, gambling, storytelling, laughter, fry bread, hamburgers, hot dogs, arts and crafts, and plenty of alcoholic brawling.” I believe that as an adult, especially as a non-Indian adult I would notice many things at the powwow that Junior does not mention, and I appreciate that I am seeing the world through HIS eyes.
Story Sleuths Tip # 3: See the world through your character’s eyes.