Short Powerful Vignettes (Analyzing The Winner's Crime)

I recently read The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski.  So good!

One thing I really liked about Rutkoski's writing is how she layers together small scenes that offer bits of insight into the characters.

For example, this passage from Winner's Crime.  A short 3 paragraph scene.

Kestrel’s father inspected the puppy. He gripped the scruff of its neck and held it stock-still. He lifted the surprisingly big paws. He held the muzzle and peeled back the pink-and-black lips to see the teeth.
“That’s a good dog,” he said finally. “You’ll have to train her.”
No, Kestrel decided. She didn’t.

The scene doesn't really advance the plot, but it's a really telling moment that reveals something about Kestrel's relationship with her father.  I like how Rutkoski didn't feel any need to pad the scene with anything extra.  There's nothing about the father coming into the room, seeing the puppy, leaving the room afterwards. It's just got the key conversation. It enough conveys what it needs to, and it trusts the reader to fill in the blanks.

There are many of scenes like this in the series.  They're not all as short as the one I quoted, but they're short, powerful vignettes, that when taken together create a really layered feel for the characters and relationships.  It's a neat way to structure a story.  There are certainly long scenes that move the plot along, but there are also many short scenes with the extraneous details removed, leaving just the meat and emotion of the moment.

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Brain Science For Writers Roundup 6/20/16

Boxing080905 photoshop.jpg
By Wayne Short - Edited version of File:Boxing080905.jpg, Public Domain,

Featured: The Limits of Fight-or-Flight Training

Featured: Why We Snap: From Road Rage to Barroom Brawls

Students who believe they have more "free will" do better academically

The Strain of Always Being on Call

By age 8, children already recognise the greater moral seriousness and consequences of criminal acts compared with mere mischief

Is It Your Turn to Speak? Watch My Eyes

What's it like to be an autistic person at work?

Why Preteen Friendships Are Fleeting

Making a Memory of Murder

Why Boredom Is Anything but Boring

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Setting up Surprises (Analyzing The Wrath and the Dawn)

I read The Wrath and the Dawn, a retelling of a thousand and one nights by Renee Ahdieh, and loved the lush, romantic story.  I also admired how Ahdieh set up expectations several times and then surprised the reader by going the the opposite direction.

(Major spoilers to follow.)

Example One:  

Background: The Caliph of Khorasan takes a bride every night and kills her the next morning.  The main character Shazi volunteers to be his bride, with the ulterior motive of exacting revenge on the Caliph for murdering her best friend.  She stays alive by her wits, and the two start to fall in love.  However, the Caliph's cousin Jalal eventually learns of Shazi's deception.

Setup:  The cousin comes into the Caliph's room and hands him the incriminating evidence, begging the Caliph to give Shazi a chance to defend herself, since Jalal has also grown fond of her.  However, the Caliph doesn't respond.  He simply stares at the evidence and storms out of the room.  He takes out a dagger and confronts Shazi.

The surprise:  The Caliph kneels down at Shazi's feet, hands her the knife, and gives her permission to kill him for what he did to her friend.

I love this.  The Caliph's actions would have been dramatic to begin with, but the setup scene with  beforehand, with Jalal begging for mercy on Shazi's behalf, makes us expect a fight. This makes the Caliph's actions even more powerful.

Example Two: 

Setup:  Shazi's friend and first love Tariq finally attacks the Caliph's Palace in an attempt to rescue her.  He doesn't know know that she's fallen in love with the Caliph and befriended his cousin Jalal. Shazi takes herfriend to the stables to help him escape, though she secretly plans to stay.  As they're in the stables readying the horses, they're discovered by the Jalal.  Tensions flare, and it looks like a fight will break out. 

The surprise:  Just as we expect Jalal to take Shazi back into the Palace, he instead asks Tariq to take Shazi away to safety.

Now your turn, readers.  Read any books where the author set up some nice surprises?

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