Writing Case Study: Open Road Summer

open road summer writing

As some of you have pointed out, I read a lot. While most of this reading is for fun, there is an element of “I am reviewing this” to a good number of the books I read, too. Reading doesn’t look quite the same when I’ve got a review to film or post instead of cracking open a book for pleasure. Just how different are the two?

Spoiler: not drastically. But there are far more copious notes to take when reading for a book review. Today I’ll give you a glimpse behind the scenes as I truck through one of my more recent reads, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. And after talking about the concept of “show don’t tell” earlier this month, it felt appropriate to see the idea in action. (Need a refresher on what Show Don’t Tell is all about? Look no further!)

The Scoop
I’m only at 45% progress on this novel. I started reading it with moderate hopes, but am dangerously close to putting it aside forever. Obviously, being only partway through, I’m unaware as to whether or not my problems with the novel will be resolved by the end, but as it stands, this book is a pretty solid violation of show don’t tell.

Open Road Summer starts with an interesting premise, but quickly falls flat due to clunky narration. (Sadly) this book is a prime example of too much blunt narration and not enough development of characters and their motivation. It’s got other redeeming qualities, but its issues with overpower its rewards.

The Offenders

1. He hands me the notebook, and I can’t help but ask. Not only am I curious, but I’m also trying to get his attention. I can’t seem to stop myself.

“Tattoo, huh? Can I see it?”

Maybe this is a brazen thing to ask, but hey — he’s the one who had his shirt off in the first place. He tugs his shirt up and turns to the side. I lean closer, peering at the carefully inked letters. Clearing his through, he says, “It’s from the second verse of—”

“‘Forever Young.’ Bob Dylan,” I finish.

Matt’s tattoo is lyrics from a song I love, written by a singer I love. And I do not use the word “love” lightly or often.

I really can’t tell that Reagan loves this song, or Bob Dylan, or even music for that matter. Come to think of it, the only reason I know she’s associated with music is because she’s friends with Dee. The conversation here happens, but aside from her hasty response, Reagan doesn’t convey her love of “Forever Young” through anything other than her direct narration to the reader.

This could be a great moment to see Reagan’s reaction, to see how she reacts when she loves something, supposedly, so much. Not to mention the fact that she’s an interesting, “angsty” character, for lack of a better term, who’s trying to suppress her personal reactions as well as her growing feelings towards Matt.

2. “So I’ve spent the past two months atoning, keeping to myself as I carried my own brokenness beneath the heavy plaster of a blue cast. This whole time, I’ve been trying to figure that girl out — the one who got too drunk at parties just for attention, the one who dated a loser pothead because it seemed cool.”

Has she now? Reagan’s character is little more than a narrator in the direct sense of the word. She’s got a troubled, rebellious teen girl attitude, but most of her bad girl cred is implied and never shown. As much as I love the idea of her character struggling with a dark past, her characterization is all talk and no action. Up until this point in the story, I caught no real sense of this withdrawn Reagan, of a girl who is punishing herself in her own way for past behaviors that she doesn’t now approve of.

Reagan doesn’t even really cry for attention throughout the early pages of the story, making her statement about seeking attention at parties little more than empty words.

3. “Most reporters haven’t realized that Dee doles out face time based on respectfulness. If a reporter is especially nice to her, with thoughtful questions, she always remembers.”

Earlier, Dee remembers a little girl’s name in the crowd and gives the girl a very personal shout out in the middle of her concert. It’s a sweet moment that perfectly characterizes the singer and the attention she pays to her fans. Yet pages later, that moment is eclipsed by a matter of fact statement of Dee’s niceness that was more effectively portrayed earlier in the story. The earlier endearing moment of indirect characterization was better left alone.

While the story itself is intriguing, the abundance of direct characterization and narration make Open Road Summer a lackluster read. There are plenty of opportunities to provide insight into what are pretty interesting and complex characters, but the writing makes them forgettable and annoying. Being likable does not mean being perfect, but it does require readers to understand the character’s motivation and believe that it is honest, which is where Open Road Summer falls flat.

I won’t lie — this book frustrated me to the point of putting it down. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it, and until I can muster up the energy to sift through dry, direct characterization all day I’m putting it on hold for books that do a better job of exciting me. Despite its flaws, I do like Open Road Summer‘s depiction of female friendship, plus Dee’s got this Taylor Swift vibe going on, which is a major bonus and makes for an enjoyable aspect.

Like this post? Want me to break down my entire reviewing thought process?
Tell me what book would you like to see broken down next!

7 Things That Make Me Feel Like An Adult (with JORD Watches)

Things That Make Me Feel Like an Adult

Every now and then I run into people I went to high school with and think “Wow, you’ve really aged.” Which I realize makes me sound like kind of a horrible person. What I mean is that they are a far cry from the baby-faced, naive-looking student that they were years ago, and really look like an adult.

I know “looking like an adult” is a vague and baffling statement on its own. What does an adult look like, exactly? Are they precisely 5′ 6″? (If that’s the case, I’m doomed.) Have a certain percentage of their face covered in facial hair? (gentleman, obviously.) There comes a time when people just start to look older. They have more of a presence, seem more sure of themselves — responsibility streaming from their eyes.

And here’s me, getting stopped by building security and asked where my hall pass is.

I know I’m petite in stature and have the eternal look of a middle-schooler. But after a while, hearing “You’ll appreciate your youthful looks when you get older” becomes frustrating in itself. Maybe it’s because I can’t see myself as others see me, but I don’t feel like I’ve physically changed much since I was in high school myself, much less look like the substantial “adult” that others do.

JORD Wood Watch

There are a few little things in life that make me feel like an adult, however, and I’ve come to appreciate them greatly. Not because they make me feel any more validated, but it’s nice to feel – internally — like I’ve accomplished things. They may not seem like much, but these are the moments that make me stop and really feel like I’ve “made it”.

  1. Talking about insurance and interest rates over dinner, among other things. A captivating conversation for sure, but talking about what’s going on in your day-to-day life takes a turn for the more boring when you reach a certain age.
  2. Hearing my footsteps click on the hard linoleum floor. This conjures up images of adults from my childhood and, for whatever reason, just screams adult to me. Maybe it’s the association my brain makes, or the fact that it’s harder to be confused for a student when you’re wearing professional shoes.
  3. Walking into a car dealership and negotiating a deal on a new car. Chalk this up as one of my biggest accomplishments this year. Buying used just isn’t the same as walking into a big, intimidating dealership and holding your own.
  4. The urge to clean the apartment before company arrives. A dirty, disorganized house just isn’t okay. Cleaning is beyond a chore and while I still don’t like it, I recognize when it needs to be done. Having a scrubbed and dusted house complete with candles burning makes everything feel more homey and put-together.
  5. Sensible shoes. I don’t have the patience for shoes that I can’t move in. Call me crazy, but I’m all about comfort and practicality.
  6. Shopping for candles becomes a thrilling adventure. The candle store is exciting! I have places to put candles! I must smell all of the candles! Twice! There was once a point when shopping for CDs was my primary interest, but those days are long gone. Give me candles or give me death!
  7. Checking my JORD watch for the time. Phones are great and all, but a watch has the added bonus of making you look classy and put together.

For whatever reason, of all of the things that scream refinement and maturity, I love a good watch. Maybe it’s because we’re so reliant on our cell phones nowadays, but raising my wrist to look at the time feels like a nod to an earlier generation. It’s a little luxury, even, and a welcome motion that I know won’t turn into my getting distracted with a text or notification from Instagram.

IMG_5886

I love that JORD’s watches are unique while still looking timeless. A wood watch is quite a statement in itself, but JORD’s manage to take classy to the max. My style leans more on the traditional side, but the burgundy hue of the Cora watch caught my eye immediately. The mother of pearl face paired with the purpleheart wood is sophisticated enough while still making the subtle statement that makes my high school goth phase giddy.

Burgundy is just so darn classy.

Can I add a color to a list of things that make me feel like an adult?

*I received a complimentary watch from JORD to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Watches Made From 100% Natural Wood by JORD

What little moments make you feel like an adult?

Link Love

link-love

My boxes are mostly unpacked (finally!), though I’m still trying to set up a place to record new Booktube videos. It may not be perfect yet, but I wouldn’t trade my cozy living room for the world (because plaid and candles for days! Total no brainer.)

While I finish getting settled in, here’s some reading for the week…

♥ Advice I’m 100% tuning into right now: I’m returning to single-tasking
The Emotions That Make Us More Creative
♥ Teaching, meet Blogging: 5 Educational Theories That Will Improve Your Content Marketing
Too much to do, not enough time
♥ The Caped Crusader has come a long way in film since 1939 — The Evolution of Batman in Cinema
♥ There’s also a Batman cafe in Malaysia. Who’s coming with me?
♥ Every Southern Gothic Novel Ever – ha!
♥ How being in an all-girls D&D group reminds me that femininity and feminism can coexist in harmony
♥ Isn’t love supposed to be a head over heels feeling? What about the peril of not dying for love?
On being a bad blogger
♥ Ever wonder what goes into choosing a book cover?
♥ Fiction writers! Here are 8 paragraph mistakes you may not know you’re making
What a degree in Literature teaches you
♥ Could you go one year without social media?
People wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees (I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me!)
♥ The internet was all in a tizzy a few weeks ago about this couple that tried to emulate a Victorian lifestyle in 2015. Y’know, by blogging about their historically accurate lifestyle. The internet retaliated with the important distinction between appreciation and ignorance, and what it means to understand history with pieces like Vox’s Victorians.

What fun links have you found lately?

Books That Make Me Cry

30Lists Filofax

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you — that’s a list that you see!

If you’re a long-time reader of My Life as a Teacup, you’re probably not surprised to see a list this month! Since 2011, September has been synonymous with 30 Days of Lists around these parts, and this year is no different. #30Lists is a listing challenge that exercises your creativity with a daily list prompt. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, other than to just have fun!

I’ve been participating since the challenge’s first run, and when Kam and Amy invited me to host another prompt this fall, I couldn’t say no. Especially when the topic was books!

Typically when I read, it’s not my goal to turn into a blubbering, sobbing mess of tears. Nevertheless, it sometimes happens, whether due to character deaths or poignant messages in stories. Whatever the cause, here are a few of the books that are guaranteed to make me cry:

Books That Make Me Cry

  1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  3. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  4. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  7. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  8. The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Want to know what exactly it is about these novels that make me bawl? Join in on the 30 Days of Lists fun to see the full list (don’t worry — there’s no right or wrong time to start listing!)

P.S. That watercolor Filofax printable you see? It’s a list template I made exclusively for #30Lists this year!

#30Lists listing challenge

Show Don’t Tell

Show Don't Tell

Writers hear the phrase “Show, don’t tell” bandied about in the fiction world an awful lot, but what does it actually mean when editors comment that an author is simply telling rather than showing, and why is it made out to be such a big deal?

While authors have their own individual style, common story elements — from characters’ personalities to background about a fictional society — can be described in a number of ways. At times, it’s beneficial or even necessary for a writer to convey these details through explicit statements. But a story that consists solely of a laundry list of facts about a character or situation can get real boring real fast.

By describing characters’ conversations, facial expressions, actions and reactions, just to name a few, an author can convey the same information as a descriptive list would, but with more engaging prose.

Take the following examples:

  • “The cocky man was a smuggler, who didn’t care much about other people’s problems. He wasn’t pleased with the princess’s request.”
  • “The blaster dangled from his belt as he melted into the captain’s chair, legs sprawled in front of him. ‘Look,’ he snarled, ‘I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.'”

Yes, Han Solo is certainly cocky and doesn’t care for plans that don’t benefit him, but why just tell you that when I can show you through his actions, words, and stance? After reading the second example, you probably have a much better mental picture of Han and who he is as a character, not to mention aren’t bored out of your skull at the first’s relatively flat prose.

If you’re having trouble with the showing aspect of this common critique, practice describing different characters doing the same, mundane task (characters are probably the easiest example of showing vs. telling, hence my reliance on them in this post). How would Han Solo cook breakfast, versus Captain America, versus Cath from Fangirl? Each have different personalities, and aren’t going to move and behave in the same way. An angry Captain America will act differently than one running laps with Sam Wilson. Keep those traits in mind as you write descriptively.

There are times when, as an author, you need to cover more ground (and usually complicated ground, for that matter) and telling may better serve your purpose. Showing does take more time, but creates a much more vivid image than telling does. Just like with anything — really, anything ever, literary-wise or not — balance is key. I’ve read my fair share of stories that rely so heavily on description that the story turns into an adjectival mad-lib filled with clunky and empty prose. I’ve also read my share of stories that have no imagery whatsoever and use a character/narrator as a crutch to tell the reader about ALL THE THINGS!

As with everything, there is a time and a place for showing, as well as for telling.

What books drive you mad with too much telling or even too much showing?