A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Another classic that I just never got around to reading before.

And it’s deservedly a classic. Dickens absolutely skewers the ruling classes of three societies: his native England, pre-Revolutionary France, and the post-Revolutionary Terror. The snarky political commentary makes his dips into melodrama excusable.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • You can write in the third-person POV without insight into any characters’ thoughts or feelings at all, only their actions and words.
  • Admitting that there is a narrator telling the story (while standing outside of it) gives you a chance to comment on the action, not just tell it.
  • Even if readers can anticipate a turn in the story, if the characters don’t know it’s on its way, you can generate tension just in putting off the moment that that event happens.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Reads like a nineteenth-century fairy tale. Manages to weave these mythical characters into a bigger story about the immigrant experience in 19th century New York. Wonderfully well-done.

Taught me a few new things about writing:

  • You can use multiple perspectives to build tension into the narrative, by giving the reader access to thoughts and feelings that impact the main characters later on.
  • It’s okay to give opinionated descriptions. In fact, letting your character’s perspective color the way they describe the world around them is a great way to make both feel more real.
  • Even an absurd premise, if taken seriously enough, can become drama.