Details Make the Difference

Because I’m writing a Young Adult novel, I read a lot of them, too, in more genres than I’d read in Adult fiction. I read ghoul stories. I read mean-girl stories. I’ve read faerie/fairy/faery stories. I even read (shudder) sports stories. And lately, I’ve been reading post-apocalyptic stories.

Until I started reading YA on a more-or-less fulltime basis, I hadn’t met a p-a novel I liked well enough to finish since Riddley Walker, and that was back when the world was young and the earth’s crust had not yet cooled.

And then came Life as We Knew It and its sequels and The Hunger Games and its sequel, all of which I found extremely well done, and now I’m reading another p-a, Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest.

Image used with permission.

Farwalker follows two young teens, Ariel and her best friend Zeke, whose training in their discerned crafts of healer and interpreter of tree speech is interrupted when Ariel finds an artifact from the Old Times that sends the two of them on a dangerous journey. The story seems to be set in the Pacific Northwest (but quite a long way from Forks!) and in some ways it is gentler and not as dark as the other books I’ve mentioned. Still, I’ve needed every gram of discipline I have to focus on the tasks at hand that need immediate attention (such as, Hello, you have paying clients!!!!) instead of gobbling up Farwalker in one sitting.

This week I realized why Farwalker has such a grip on me. Joni has not only created a world that works, she also includes little details that make both the world she built and her characters thoroughly believable.

In the Farwalker universe, people don’t get around much. Villages are isolated, there are no mechanized vehicles, few people have horses. And now Ariel suddenly finds herself on a horse in the middle of the night, unable to see where she’s going. What caught my eye was the sentence I’ve italicized in this paragraph:

Ariel’s ears strained for clues to her location. She couldn’t hear the surging sea or anything other than hoofbeats. They’d been walking at first, probably so the thud of hooves didn’t wake any neighbors. Now they galloped. Ariel had little experience with horses, but she often ran herself.  These dull thumps sounded more like feet pounding through meadow or forest than skittering on sand or rattling over rocks. The rustle of sailcloth and clothing, however, blocked any other telltale sound.

Joni could have written “…Now they galloped. From the sound of the horse’s hooves, she gathered they were in meadow or forest,” and a reader caught up in the story might not have stopped to wonder how Ariel could have figured this out. But I am 100% sure that by adding the little detail of Ariel extrapolating from her own experience, the author provided a detail that registers on the reader’s subconscious.

Admittedly, I did consciously notice it, which means it pulled me out of the story to some extent, but it was an Aha! This is good! moment, not a Thump! I just fell out of the story, I must therefore throw this book across the room moment. It’s an occupational hazard if you’re a writer, even more so if you have a stint as “book reviewer” listed on your resume.

I’m looking forward to the sequel, The Timekeeper’s Moon, which just came out this month, and I just discovered that Joni (whom I “know” from an online writer’s discussion board I haunt) has a couple of others I need to catch up with as well. I am going to wait a few weeks, though, until the weather warms up because I’m pretty sure they’ll all be great porch books. A mug of tea, a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies, a good porch book—boy, am I ready for spring!

© 2010 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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8 Responses to Details Make the Difference

  1. Anna says:

    Interesting post! I read and enjoyed Farwalker’s Quest a while back and I agree with you about the details. Even now, I have very vivid images from the story which I think is due to its specific details.


  2. Susan says:

    I haven’t read this one yet. This sort of book is right up my alley and is now on my to-read list. Thanks for the good review!


  3. I want to echo what Susan said, it’s now on my list thanks to this great review!


  4. Anne Bingham says:

    Thanks for visiting, Anna, Susan, and Catherine! I find myself I had a young-teen niece to share it with.


  5. interesting post! I like how you’ve highlighted the good parts. Yes, I agree with you. Don’t you love reading and learning from great authors?
    I felt the same way after finishing Dead Tossed Waves.


  6. MaryWitzl says:

    That sounds great and now I want to read it. And I’ve got a reading list from here to Istanbul…


  7. Anne Bingham says:

    It’s a good book for a long plane ride, Mary!


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