Mystical Monday: Ten Writing Lessons from the Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first

(from book description on GoodReads)

(I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but there still may be some light spoilers in this post!)

What Worked:

  1. Fleshing out the setting. Ms. Bray did an incredible job with the setting and atmosphere. This novel is set in the 1920’s and the world is absolutely brought to life. The characters speak very strongly in vernacular, but she does a great job of making it feel genuine and real. Plus, I’ve noticed since her Gemma Doyle trilogy that she does a fantastic job with creepy. This is a supernatural murder mystery, and the reader can feel it. I was immersed so deeply that I sat and read instead of doing other things I should have been doing (i.e. writing).
  2. Flawed characters. The protagonist, Evie O’Neill, isn’t always likable, but she is relatable. I know people provide that writing advice all the time, but it really does make a difference. Even if I didn’t like her in a moment, I could still relate to her. I understood her motivations, and she came off as three-dimensional.
  3. Forcing the protagonist to face the antagonist alone. Speaking specifically about my WIP Synchronicity for a moment: there was something bothering me about the end of Synchronicity, and upon reading The Diviners, I realized what it was; a group of characters fight the antagonist in the end. It makes for a much more compelling and dramatic ending when the protagonist is forced to face the antagonist alone, particularly when she is outmatched in strength and/or skill. (This also happens at the end of every Harry Potter book with the exception of the third and the possible exception of the fifth).
  4. Placing hints throughout that so the idea of sequel doesn’t come out of nowhere. It seemed like a the Big Bad was defeated toward the end of the novel – and while the antagonist of The Diviners was certainly defeated, there was a phrase repeated throughout the book that comes up again at the end.
  5. Bringing threads together just enough to get the reader intrigued to read the sequel. These threads were mentioned at different points in the story and seemed completely unrelated. Some of them even seemed like little throwaway details to make characters more three-dimensional. When the connection between these details were revealed and the book ended, I immediately jumped on Google to make sure there would be a sequel. There is a sequel, but it isn’t being released until Spring 2014!! 😦

What didn’t Work:

  1. Backstory info dump. This is probably because there are just so many characters in this novel, but there were quite a few times that a character’s backstory is told to the reader. Oftentimes, the reader would be in the dark, wondering about the character’s mysterious past only to have it all blurted out suddenly. Although it was nice to finally find out what the secret was, it would have been nicer if the layers were peeled away, and it was revealed a bit more slowly. I think it would have been more rewarding for me, as the reader.
  2. Having SO many different perspectives. I’m of two minds about this because it wasn’t pleasant to be in the perspective of a murder victim, but it was nice to have the murder victims feel like real people rather than just corpses placed in the story for the sake of having murder victims.
  3. Jumping perspectives within one scene. Since there are are so many perspectives, there was often more than one represented in one single scene. It could be a bit confusing and also through me out of the scene because I had to think about which character was thinking a particular thought or feeling a particular emotion.
  4. Hasty editing. At times, I was brought out of the story because, for example, in one line Sam said something…and in the next line Sam said something. Was Sam replying to himself? Plus, there were a few instances where I thought the author stated too much. Take this excerpt: “Evie shivered. From what they knew, John Hobbes had been anything but a lovely man. He’d killed many people and taken body parts from them…” (442). The paragraph continues in this vein when it could have ended after “John Hobbes had been anything but a lovely man” or even just “Evie shivered.” As the reader, I remember all those other details and understood through his actions that he wasn’t a lovely man. I didn’t need to be told it as well. If excesses like these were cut out, the book would have been a bit tighter.
  5. Love triangle? This is just a quibble (possibly because I’m a Sam-Evie shipper) but it bothered me a little that Evie has feelings for Jericho all of a sudden. It seemed that Ms. Bray was laying the groundwork for Evie to fall for Sam (and I still hold firmly to this idea) when Evie suddenly liked (and kissed) Jericho. Not that I don’t like Jericho – I just find Sam to be a much more interesting and dynamic character. Also, there’s definitely more chemistry between Sam and Evie! I think the reason it turned out this way is because Ms. Bray wanted to set up a love triangle. *sigh*

Mystical Monday is about anything fantasy/supernatural/ethereal in honor of my YA Urban Fantasy novel, Synchronicity.

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