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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog


"There is nothing new under the sun." Solomon said in Proverbs. The same goes for story ideas.

As a writer you may have selected the background or theme for your story and now found out that hundreds of books have been written on that topic. Do you go ahead and write the story? Maybe.

Let's take prom, for instance. In a quick check on Goodreads, Laura "The Zealous Reader" posted 34 books with a prom theme. If we were to look up "prom" in Bowker's BOOKS IN PRINT by subject, I'm sure there would be many, many, many more novels on that topic. Obviously not all these books are the same. They don't have the same characters, the same voice, or necessarily the same story problem. Even if they had similar characters and story problems and resolutions, the story plots would not necessarily be the same.

For example, let's look at PROM by Laurie Halse Anderson and PAPER TOWNS by John Green. Without giving away too many spoilers, I'll talk mainly about the characters and the setups. In both PROM and PAPER TOWNS the main characters do not want to go to the prom. This is their external plot problem. It also makes them reluctant hero/heroine.

Both novels are told in first-person single point of view (POV). Yet the voices are distinctly different, and not just because they are different genders. Anderson's main character (MC) is a street-smart urban girl who rides the bus and is from a blue-collar family in Philadelphia. Green's MC is a suburban boy who drives a mini-van, his parents are college-educated, and they live in Orlando.

Both PROM and PAPER TOWNS involve a plot problem where the main character cares very deeply for a neighbor girl. In PROM, the neighbor girl has an eccentric grandmother. In PAPER TOWNS, the neighbor girl has a younger sister. The similarities continue in that both characters have a small circle of friends who want to attend prom.

However, the two YA novels, PROM and PAPER TOWNS, are extremely different. Anderson's story is a straightforward, streamlined, sequential telling of her main character's story. Green's novel, PAPER TOWNS, becomes very complex, including a mystery and a journey. In the layers of complexity, Green plays off of "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. As  Read More 
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