Editor Ruta Rimas on what makes a great book
Revision update: On chapter 14 out of 30. I still think I can make my end of February goal.
In my first post about the Houston SCBWI conference, I’m featuring some tips from Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas. Energetic, knowledgeable and obviously passionate about books, Ruta advised authors to read books by the authors they love both for pleasure and craft.
She gave a some examples of books she thought were worth reading:
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak for word choice
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White for sentences
- Not a Box by Antoinette Portis for use of punctuation to show emotion
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak for use of sentence structure to build tension
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman for paragraph length
- Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (one of Ruta’s favorite books) for the treatment of the pivotal moment for the protagonist in chapter 16
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems for the way it allows the reader to experience the situation with the pigeon
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (which Ruta called “a remarkable piece of art”) for the way it’s so in the character’s head
- Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi for its use of word choice to show character, i.e. using the type of words this particular character would use
- The Astonishing Life of Octavion Nothing by M.T. Anderson for the way it shows the character’s voice right from the title page
Ruta also recommended Francine Prose‘s Reading Like a Writer and quoted the book as telling writers to put “every word on trial for its life.” I love that!
To do that, Ruta told writers to look at their work in progress and:
- choose a section and look at the words. What words stick out? How do the words support the theme of the story? Do any words stick out as inappropriate? Why?
- choose a favorite sentence or series of sentences and ask yourself why you love it (them). How does it (they) inform the reader of who the narrator or character is? What does the sentence structure do?
- choose a sentence you don’t like and ask yourself why you don’t like it.
- choose 3-6 paragraphs and look at how they break. What if you break them differently, how will that affect the tension or flow?
- choose a scene and try rewriting it in a different voice, different perspective, different tense or another character’s point of view. What would the scene be like if the character was different emotionally, i.e. angry, upset, cynical?
Ruta ended with a great quote from novelist John Gardner:
It’s the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer.
So, Write On!
Check back tomorrow for notes from author and Scholastic editor Lisa Ann Sandell.