What a Fiction Book about Catty Teen Girls Taught Me about Writing Better Copy and Stories…

How was your weekend? Mine was good…no papers or comics, though. I know what today is. You know what today is. You’ll likely have so many particles about what today is floating around in your molecules that if I add one or two more, you’ll burst and make a huge mess all over everything there is around wherever you are as you’re reading this.

So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’d like to say I got more and more into a book that I’ve read snatches of over the past couple weeks (and I did say it).

Anyway, let’s get to it.

For some reason (which I know, and we’ll get to) I started Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (they’ve turned the thing into a movie now, and I think I actually do remember the previous cover, but don’t remember actually reading the book).

Here we go:

The main character, Sam, wakes up. On the 12th of February. Okay. It’s Cupid Day at school, for kids to get roses from people who think they’re awesome. The main character here is a high school kid, but she’s still pretty into it (mostly because she’s one of the cool girls at school–even though she wasn’t there for a super-obvious reason like most of the other girls in her group are).

Things happen here and there, blah blah, they tease some girl, Sam’s boyfriend writes her a lackluster note, a dude who’s an outcast and who admires her writes her a note to make her think, so on, so forth.

The girls go to a party hosted by that same outcast dude…but think he’s all right for a bit now because there’s a nice house and booze involved.

A girl who’s an outcast (who got teased before) comes to the party where all the cool kids are and tells off everyone in Sam’s group.

After things wrap up there, Sam is in a car with her friends on the way home. The road is slick. At 12:39, there’s a bright light, and then an accident. Sam smells fire and all kinds of other things…

And then she dies.

Suddenly, she hears her alarm waking her up. It’s February 12th…

And she remembers everything that went on the night before…and nobody else remembers one second of it.

Whew. Since this ain’t a book review, I’ll pipe up that the science fiction writer in me was initially attracted to this part of the story–meaning I picked up the book so I could find out why Sam is dying more than once.

On Day 2, or replay #1, it’s still Cupid Day. Everything happens exactly the same way, but Sam is horrified because she sees everything coming at her, and can’t stop a bit of it. She’s scared and mad about it, too.

At first she’s really upset, but then she thinks maybe she can cheat this thing by skipping the party. No party means no slick road, no accident, and no dying. So on Day 3, that’s exactly what she does…she persuades all of her friends to watch a flick or two and stay in for the night.

And then everyone finds out that girl who told off Sam’s cool group (at that party they didn’t go to this time) committed suicide.

That shocked me. That’s also when I realized that the girl they teased was actually who the book is really about (and I read the summary line online that the book is about bullying, but to me it wasn’t brought out like I would have thought). I also didn’t know that she has to relive her dying day for a whole week, either.

One of the more interesting parts here on replay #2 was the fact that after Sam learns that the teased girl killed herself, she goes searching in the house for old yearbooks. She finds the teased girl and the head girl of her own cool group holding hands in a couple class pictures, dressing like each other sometimes, or what-have-ya. To me, this was much more effective than just telling us “Hey so-and-so was great friends with her.” We get to go with the character as she figures things out for herself (show, don’t tell).

All right, so that’s it for that. Sam’s come to expect things by now, and yep, she suddenly wakes up. (And double yep, this book did mention Groundhog Day…I think that was mostly because the author figured she wouldn’t get away with ignoring it, I dunno).

This is the redux (#3) that kinda goes off the rails. Sam realizes that if nobody else remembers anything, she can do pretty much anything. She ends up alienating her Queen Bee friend by telling her that she makes fun of other people in the group, which she does, even though no one will stand up to her (which earns her an ejection from the car and a walk the rest of the way to the Connecticut school where most of the story takes place).

And now when she cuts class, she’s not really having fun with her friends anymore. Those roses she was so jazzed by? Well, they’re in the trash now, and she makes sure everyone sees her do it in one of the classes she does actually go to.

She ends up smoking duhweed in the bathroom with a girl she’d seen in the previous replays with a guy who was supposed to be happily dating some other girl.

Sam is under backlash for the insult still, so she ends up hanging with girls she barely knows, swiping her mom’s credit card, and charging loads of stuff, while floating on the cloud of being Queen Bee of her own group for a day.

So when she gets to the party where the teased girl insults everyone in Sam’s main group, she’s come there this time with a whole different group of girls. And she also engineers things so that she’s not even in the right room (but is still in the same house) when the teased girl comes in to give it to the cool girls.

Sam actually doesn’t go home this time–she sleeps in the guest room of the house of the guy who had the party (who she was kinda friends with, forever ago).

She wakes up in her own bed, back at home. It’s you-know-when-by-now, only this time, she actually skips school…to hang out with her little sister.

That’s why I decided to write this now…I literally can’t blow it for you because I haven’t finished reading this book…yet.

For some reason–maybe because it reflects what I’m dealing with sometimes–I’m more receptive to books that talk about how fleeting life is, how we need to make the best of the time we’ve got, because we don’t have a guaranteed amount of it.

And the main character was starting to change to become better, too…it was almost like the five stages of grief type thing, only here, Sam is starting to figure out that her current path is unworkable despite everything she’s actually tried to do. The loss she’s actually dealing with is her own life, or what she thought of as her whole existence and what really matters to her.

That’s also why this book impacted me–because of the fact that we know we have it in us to be better people–or at least try to be (although most people don’t want to be, truthfully).

As a copywriter (if you’re one of those), you can show people how to get what they want–that’s really what it’s about with improvement…the end result–but becoming better is an ideal side effect of them getting what they’re after.

If you write fiction, you can help people figure out what they want or don’t want by showing characters in action (not being obvious about it), and having things happen to them that affect them in real ways (even though the characters didn’t exist before you created them).

Because different people will make an impact on this world in different ways, how they discover the way they’ll do that is something unique to them.

They could be one book, email, blog post, or what-have-ya away from that discovery.

And the words they read that make it all click for them could have been written by you.

Until next time,

Ty

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About Ty Mall

Thanks for stopping by. I've almost always been interested in writing, among other things. Along with discovering pop culture, I've uncovered a lot about the craft over the past 10 years. And whether you're a fiction writer or email copywriter, I'm here to pass on what I've found out. And have a ton of fun in the process.
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