Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What a good speech has in common with a good book

by Karen Harrington 

I had the pleasure of attending the annual ALA conference in Chicago last month. One of the highlights was attending the Newbery/Caldecott Awards Banquet and listening to the awards speeches delivered by winners Jon Klassen, Katherine Applegate and Katherine Paterson. As a former speechwriter, I'm something of a connoisseur of speeches. I love hearing the patterns of a well crafted speech.

It occurred to me the other day that the rules of a good speech have something in common with the rules of a good book in so much as the opening pages of a novel are concerned. How? Well, there is a maxim in speechwriting that says this: The goal of the opening pages is to simply get the audience nodding in agreement.

You get the audience nodding in agreement by quickly articulating some shared feeling or position. Sometimes a speaker will use something out of the headlines to accomplish this. (Man, how about those Cowboys!) And at other times, she might suggest wish fulfillment. (Don't you wish we lived in an era when....) And also, he might make the ME/YOU connection. (If you are like me, you want your children to grow up and....) Then, you've put the audience in a position where they feel connected to you. They are more willing to listen to the rest of your message, hear about your product, if you are a business, or call to action, if you are in politics. They are nodding their heads and they don't even know it.

So this got me to thinking that this is a great place to start when writing a first draft of a novel. If, on those first two pages, you can engage your reader in such a way that they are nodding in agreement and experiencing that "Oh, I've felt this way before" feeling, then you've made a connection to between the character and the reader. Because even though speeches and novels are vastly different forms of communication, their aims are quite similar: to make a connection.

Now, why did I write this post today? Well today July 16, was the original release date for SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, my debut middle-grade novel and I was supposed to use this space to create virtual balloons and celebrate my launch. However, as it goes with publishing, the date is now August 20, 2013.

No reason to let the air of the balloons just yet! Little Brown Books for Young Readers just posted a Goodreads giveaway for the book. Follow this link for all the details. The giveaway runs through July 20, 2013. 

So join me in celebrating a Not Quite Release Day Party! 

About the book:

You've never met anyone exactly like twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson. While most of her classmates geek out over Harry Potter, she writes letters to Atticus Finch. Her best friend is a plant. And she's never known her mother, who has lived in a mental institution since Sarah was two.

"Readers will sympathize with the plucky protagonist and rejoice in the way her summer works out." - Kirkus, starred review

"For the opening of her middle-grade debut, Harrington cuts right to the heart of her narrator's grim situation: "You've never met anyone like me. Unless, of course, you've met someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with an alcoholic father." - Booklist, starred review.