What I Learned About Writing from Reading SHIVER

As writers, every book has the potential to teach us something about writing. Last night I finished Shiver* by Maggie Stiefvater. From this experience, I was reminded of many things I knew but now experienced again, reinforcing the importance of each lesson.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read it, please know that I give examples that give significant story elements away!

Here’s some of my learning highlights:

  1. If you are going to tell a story from two points of view, each needs a distinctive voice. Shiver shifts back and forth between the point of view Grace (bitten human that didn’t turn into a wolf) and Sam (wolf). This is great. However, without their names printed at the top of the page, I’d never know who was speaking until they talked about the other person. Sure, some people are a lot alike–my husband and I think so alike sometimes it’s creepy–but after years together I know that the voice in his head doesn’t sound like mine. On paper, it wouldn’t either.
  2. Foreshadowing can be great, but only tell the story once. I think this is a stylistic thing, but Stiefvater often tells us what’s going to happen–the deer’s going to hit the truck–and then she tells us again in slow motion. The problem:
    • It takes away a lot of the shock value that you would get if you skipped the first telling.
    • It can cause confusion for readers. Every time this technique was used, I had to re-read the section to see if what I thought had happened really did and (because the punchline was thrown in my face instead of leading up to it), it if did, then did it happen once or twice? (e.g. was there one deer? or two?)
  3. Everything in a story has to lead to one purpose, and that purpose has to become clear enough to readers to propel them ahead in their reading. What do I mean? We need to be merciless in making cuts. If it doesn’t lead to our primary purpose for writing the story, and it doesn’t draw in readers to make them want to read more, it needs to go. Here’s the problem I had with Shiver: I never really knew where I was headed. I felt like I was ambling most of the way. Fairly early on you learn that Sam can’t stand the cold and he thinks this is his last change (which, since he didn’t really have much to back it up, I wasn’t really buying). You also know that some white wolf chick is in love with Sam and has it out for Grace. You know she’ll attack eventually, and you know she’s not dead after she does. Is she coming back? Is this the main thrust of the story? After a while, I kept reading just to see if that was supposed to be where the story was leading me or something else. The problem: there wasn’t enough to make me go crazy wanting to read the next part of the story. As a result, it took me a whopping 3 1/2 weeks to finish–during which, I traded off with other things.
  4. A love story needs a little tension to be believable. I realize some will hate me for saying this. Sam + Grace forever, I know. But here’s the problem: it was too easy. I’m not saying love has to be difficult (it never has been for my husband and me), but for the plot to move forward (again, see #3), there needs to be tension. For most of us, that tension is separation: we want to be with the significant other every moment–especially when we first meet–and we can’t. Why not replicate this in our stories? Imagine this: Sam appears on the doorstep naked and wounded. Grace takes him to the hospital, but then, he disappears. Where’d he go? Will she see him again? Now I’m dying to know out what happened. Now I want him to come back. I need him to. Suddenly, I have to put everything else in my life aside to find out what happens next, and I read through the book in a day, rather than weeks. Stiefvater’s version of the wolf is perfect for this: every time it gets cold, Sam disappears again. There’s mystery involved. There’s suspense. There’s fiery romance.

All this being said, I still love the premise of the book, and I’m left wondering how much wolf is in Grace. Could anything provoke her to change over? Will Sam ever change again? Will his father-figure Beck? While the book isn’t perfect (few are), it leaves me enough questions to want to linger on the story a bit longer.

*Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is part of a trilogy including linger (book 2) and forever (book 3).

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About Amy Joy

Founder of the Indie Writer's Network, Amy Joy is the author of serious and silly books for adults and kids including 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist THE ACADEMIE (YA dystopian romance).

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