Every November thousands of people worldwide sit down at their computers, typewriters, or blank notebooks and take up the challenge to write a novel in a month: 50,000 words in 30 days. Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, the challenge attracts everyone from the youngest beginners to seasoned authors and, ten years after first hearing about the challenge, I finally participated as well. Since one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read more, here are a couple of titles for your consideration: one that might spark some inspiration to write from your own experiences, and another one to help you get started with your writing.
“Bless Her Heart” by Sally Kilpatrick
When Posey married Chad Love, she told herself she was doing it for the sake of stability; once they were married, they would have children, a beautiful house, and a perfect life, so Posey devoted herself to being the perfect wife. When her husband left the Baptist church to form his own ministry, she followed; when he took control of their finances, she believed him when he said it was to take the worry away from her. When he appointed himself head of the household and began making all their decisions, she accepted it as the price of stability.
But when Chad suddenly runs off with another woman, sells their house out from under Posey, and makes off with all their money, Posey is cast adrift, so she returns home to her grandmother, her mother, and her two teenaged siblings; of course, after cutting ties with them nearly 10 years ago, their reunion is somewhat strained. When her sister remarks that being a model Southern wife did not work out for Posey, Posey resolves to try something new: namely, living exactly how she wants, ignoring all the rules, and doing exactly the opposite of everything she has ever done. What starts as an experiment grows into something much larger than herself, touching the lives of each of her family members; and though each of them have to confront some painful truths they find that happiness sometimes comes from breaking all the rules.
“Bless Her Heart”, while short, is a deceptively complex story; touching on spousal abuse, faith, and troubled family relationships, it doesn’t promise a no-strings-attached happy ending. The characters each have their own unique flaws and can behave rashly out of anger when things begin to go wrong; their unwillingness to be honest with each other spurs conflict, but by the book’s end, they begin making amends and learn to be more understanding with each other. Judging others less harshly is a major theme throughout the book, and one that all of them take to heart. Ultimately, “Bless Her Heart” is a simple reminder that the happiness we find isn’t always the happiness we were looking for.
“Story Sparks” by Denise Jaden
“Story Sparks” is an excellent primer for writers who either lack an idea for their book or the knowledge of how to start writing their book. Short and concise, it offers succinct solutions to a number of common problems writers experience. Jaden’s S.P.A.R.K. method serves as a great starting point for those new to writing; it encapsulates the bare bones of story development like seeking an idea, finding and utilizing allies to develop and refine your ideas, and maintaining momentum in developing your ideas.
Jaden spends a majority of time focusing on how to designing an idea, in both conceiving and refining. She details a number of methods that writers can use to spark an idea, which is infinitely more productive than waiting for inspiration to strike. These suggestions are especially useful for beginning writers who may have limited experience with actively searching for an idea and intentionally developing it. Jaden also sets out a number of good habits for writers to adopt, from the obvious, like getting organized and being positive, to more inventive habits, like getting active and changing your daily routine on a regular basis. The appendices are especially helpful, containing lists of potential character names, settings, motivations, obstacles, and themes; they’re a good resource for writers to refer back to for inspiration, or if they’ve reached a dead-end in their story.
Overall, “Story Sparks” is a great resource for new authors, addressing common issues writers can encounter and gently coaching beginners through the first few stages of story development. Its short length makes it an appealingly concise guide for writers who are eager to get to writing and its brevity makes it a good resource for those looking for a reference text that is easy to refer back to quickly.
If you like these books and would like to find similar titles, check out NoveList Plus; this online resource, available through the Mid-Continent Public Library, will help you find fiction books that appeal to your personal reading style. For non-fiction titles, check out Books & Authors.
Elizabeth Reinhardt is the Readers Advisor and Book Group Coordinator at the Parkville Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library. She holds a Bachelor of English and Master of Library Science from Emporia State University.