Here’s something wonderful: how other writers and book lovers can illuminate a work of art for you — adding to your pleasure and understanding of it. The book club that some of my writing buddies have started to read and analyze fiction from a craft point of view had its first meeting.
One of my favorite books, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, was on the table. Over pizza and lemonade, my fellow writers, Nancy, Priscilla, David and I talked about Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the kinds of storytelling devices he used. It was so much fun to hear what my friends admired about the book and took away from it to inform their writing — and then to share my own enthusiasm for it.
Everyone had something fresh and revealing to offer. Priscilla bought a copy of a first edition of The Bridge from her family’s library. Now that was thrilling! To leaf through a 1927 edition was like being present at the book’s creation for a brief moment. Priscilla pointed out some of the literary devices that Thornton used so artfully to create a sense of time and place: letters, repetitive chapter structure, and parallel characters.
David had a great list of questions he’d framed to help him think through key craft and character issues. He pointed out some other storytelling devices and then made a couple of points that were so illuminating about creating engaging characters: First he said that readers really respond to characters who are “struggling and flawed” — and that Thornton did a masterful job of evoking those responses in his readers. And then he added that, when it comes to creating characters, “you don’t have to like them, but you do have to care about them.” How true that is — and how helpful that can be in my own writing!
And finally, Nancy blew us all away when she described one belief at the heart of The Bridge: “Life is insignificant, but love is not.” What an amazing insight! And what an amazing evening: pizza, pals, and precious, precocious words. I learned so much and have so much to think about. If you’re involved with a book club, why not consider looking at your selections from a craft point of view? It can be such an illuminating light to shine on an author’s work. It’s so much fun and so instructive. And write on!