I'm packing up for a morning flight to NYC. The next few days are packed. First I'll meet up with some lovely publishing and writer friends, then it's on to A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC on Broadway with family, then the SCBWI writers intensive and winter conference. All that in four short days. Whew!
I've also been working hard to complete a writing guide before my trip. As I wrote, I thought a lot about my techniques for writing guides. Keeping in mind that you are writing a document to market the book, I think that the most important thing is to look for the author's intent in their writing. What are they trying to say? How do they employ images, themes, stylistic techniques, to develop their ideas?
A good book is built in layers: story, character, themes/ideas, structure, and style. While one's first instinct may be to invite readers to consider only plot or character-related questions, I think a much richer guide can be created by connecting these "why" questions to some "hows." For example, how does the author use point-of-view, punctuation, imagery to create a sense of urgency or isolate a particular character?
On a practical level, I find it helpful to take a look at the number of questions I want to write, divide this by the number of pages in the book and, very generally, come up with a sort of one-question-per-X-pages formula. Again, this is very general as books are not paced evenly. However, it makes me pay attention to each section of the book and not only draw questions from, say, the denoument or conclusory part of the story. In addition, within these sections, I also try to balance plot/character-related questions with structural and thematic questions. Hopefully, in this way, I can offer something that will interest many different types of readers coming at the story from many different levels.
This may sound rather nuts-and-bolts but, again, the goal here is to honor and support the book and by making sure I am taking a broad and complete look at the text, I am hopeful that I can do so.
There is so much more to say about structuring questions in terms of grade/age level, vocabulary, quotations and references but, honestly, I've got to pack up some cute, NYC-worthy outfits before I fall asleep at this computer.
Back next week with stories to share and more on writing guides for readers.