Tag Archives | Jandy Nelson


We’re back for our last look at THE SKY IS EVERY WHERE. The ending, the oh so crucial ending if you want readers to read your next book! I learned a lot from this book, and I hope you did too. Here’s Act III broken down to Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT.

Break into Three: (External and internal conflicts combine for the solution.)

In a character-driven story often the external conflict (or A story) is closely tied or the same as the internal conflict. So, at the start of Act III we see Lennie making decisions to take control.

She not only decides to challenge Rachel for first chair, but she brings her Gram’s famous roses to Joe’s house. Way to go, Lennie! Living life. Taking risks. The exact opposite of the Lennie we first met.

Finale: (the climax)

The climax, for me, is the rest of the book, chapter after chapter of emotional pay-offs. Her Gram. Toby. Her friend, Sarah. Joe. #nospoilers

An amazing ending.

Final Image: (Opposite of the opening image.)

Remember the sickly plant with black spots? That represented Lennie? I thought the plant would thrive at the end. But no.

In this last scene, Lennie visits Bailey’s grave and she throws the sickly plant off a cliff. I loved this. The plant didn’t get better. The old Bailey is gone. She realizes that through her sister dying, she has become a different person, a stronger person, a more alive person, who feels things she didn’t feel before.


Some of you may have figured out by now that this book had excellent structure. Whether Jandy Nelson did that on purpose, I’ll never know. Sometimes, stories come naturally. As writers, we know to put in more tension, create character change, and tie up loose ends.

The only reason I read this book was to study the structure of a literary novel. Would it hold up? I’m so glad I read it. Why did I wait so long?

Any books you feel that way about? Because I want to read them!

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How to keep a literary novel afloat in the middle.

That’s right. Let’s dive into Act II of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. And learn to stay afloat in Act II!

Break into two: (protagonist must make a proactive decision)

Again. This was easy for me to find. Remember the debate? It’s answered. Lennie strides into Act I by saying yes. She finally is willing to play her clarinet with Joe and all her grief comes pouring out. Joe is stunned. But it wasn’t just a random decision. In order to avoid Toby and grief, she decides to play.

B story: (the love story – not always romantic)

In Act I, Joe pursued and Lennie pushed him away. But now the world is upside down and they set off on the rocky road of love. They play together. They have fun together. And surprise, surprise because at times, Lennie feels joy.

Fun and Games: (the heart of the book – why we read it)

Why did I pick this book up? What were my expectations? I wanted to read about a girl dealing with her grief and moving on and figuring out how to do that. So, with her newfound decision of playing the clarinet comes other brave decisions. It’s really hard to call this section Fun and Games, but don’t take it too literally. It’s a breather before the tension spikes.

You’ll have to read the book to find out what those brave decisions are. #sorry

Midpoint: (stakes are raised significantly; another big game changer)

Again, in a plot-driven novel, the midpoint should be obvious. In a literary, character-driven novel what turns out to be a game changer is just on a smaller scale but still huge in Lennie’s world.

In Chapter 20, exactly half way, Lennie finally talks to her best friend, who she’s been ignoring. She tells her everything. This is huge! Lennie is letting someone into her life in a healthy situation.

Bad guys close in: (Things get even worse.)

In a character-driven novel there is no regrouping of the antagonist and his minions. It just isn’t like that. But, stakes are raised. Definitely.

I’ll just say that Lennie learns that Bailey, her sister, had secrets. Big secrets! And in her grief, she makes mistakes that affect her budding relationship with Joe.

All is Lost: (no hope left)

In chapter 30, Lennie is in her room. So many things come to a head. She realizes how Bailey’s secrets affect her too, and Joe is not coming back. And even worse, as the days pass, she no longer hears Bailey’s heels clicking in the hall. She’s getting used to her sister’s absence. Her sister’s clothes now smell like her, since she’s worn them so much. In all areas, Lennie has no hope left.

Dark Night of the Soul: (How does the protagonist feel about everything?)

Through out Chapter 30 we know exactly how Lennie feels. Miserable. Then her friend, Sarah, forces her to go to the movies. They see Joe and Rachel together. Rachel plays first chair clarinet, and Lennie plays second. But we all know that Lennie is better. At the end of this chapter, Lennie decides to challenge Rachel for first chair. (Who is this girl, who at the beginning wouldn’t even play her clarinet?)

And that ends a wonderfully structured Act II. Onward!

Can you find some of these elements in the middle of your current wip? Do you agree or disagree with me?

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THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (Act I) or how to make a BIG impact!

Last Monday, most of you came to the conclusion that based on the description and plot that THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is not high concept. I can see your point. But if you want to write or understand how to make a low concept book have high impact, then keep reading.

Act I

Opening Image: (the before snapshot of the protagonist)

I fell in love with this opening. Lennie is sitting with her Gram and her Uncle, known as Big, as they contemplate Lennie’s emotional health and her future based on a plant. The plant, which has always been “connected” to Lennie has black spots and is quite sickly.

You’d think the opening would show Lennie’s life before Bailey died, but it starts four weeks after. So how is this the before snapshot? Well, it’s her life without Bailey before things start changing and getting out of control.

Theme stated: (What is the story really about?)

The plant says it all. This story is about survival and grieving. Will the plant survive? Which really represents Lennie. Will she make it through this experience a survivor?

In this opening, several times over, Gram and Big ask if the plant is going to recover.


Because this is more literary and character driven we are absolutely drenched in Lennie on every page. Every chapter in Act I shows us a different aspect of her life and her troubled relationships.


Lennie’s goal is to get through every day and face the challenges of how grief has changed all her relationships.


The stakes are extremely high for Lennie. It’s about the survival of her as a person, living, without her sister. She might not be saving the world or fighting a demon king, but to me, the stakes are just as high as if she were.

Six things that need fixing:

  1. Lennie’s soured relationship with her best friend, Sarah.
  2. Lennie sits in the closet, wearing her sister’s clothes, to grieve.
  3. Lennie doesn’t talk to her Gram anymore, refusing teatime or talks.
  4. Lennie’s lack of passion when playing the clarinet.
  5. Her bedroom, she shared with Bailey, has not changed, even down to Bailey’s dirty laundry.
  6. Lennie writes poetry and leaves the pages in random places around town.
  7. She’s been finding a reprieve from her grief while kissing Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby.

Catalyst: (the game-changing moment)

For me, the catalyst occurs in chapter 6, when Joe, new student and band mate, asks if they can play their instruments together. At this point, Lennie says no. But it gets her thinking. It symbolizes her unwillingness to let go of her grief, or even try. But we learn the problem stems to before Bailey’s death. Lennie has been struggling with a lack of passion in her music for over a year. So, a fellow talented musician asking her to play is a big deal. Almost as big, or bigger (in a personal way), than Frodo being asked to be the ring bearer and carry the ring to Mordor.

Debate: (asks some kind of question of the main character)

Okay, I’m going to be honest. I found it easier to find the debate in this character-driven story than I have some of the plot-driven stories. And maybe that’s because so much is being asked of Lennie that finding a debate is like plucking grapes off the vine.

Is she going to start living life again? But it is represented by one question. Joe keeps asking her to play with him, and she keeps saying no. When is she going to play again? When is she going to let go of the past?

At the end of Act I, Lennie is trying to pack up her sister’s stuff, but she’s having a hard time. Her and Toby go for a walk and share another emotional kiss. But it’s a kiss that develops from thinking about her sister and questioning how can the world go on? It’s a big moment. A dark moment.

And so ends, Act I.

Question: Do you think the only reason this book is high impact is because it deals with life and death and is more character driven? Have you read a high concept plot driven book with such impact?

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Plot Busters – THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE – High concept?

We’re going to spend the next few weeks studying this incredible book. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson.

Okay, truth time. I put off reading this book for a long time– why? I’m not even sure anymore. I chose it specifically for studying structure to see if a fiercely character-driven and more literary book would hold up to structure. And I’m so glad I read it. So, let’s take a look.

Logline: (from the inside cover)

In the months after her sister dies, seventeen-year-old Lennie falls into a love triangle and discovers the strength to follow her dream of becoming a musician.

High concept or no?

Doesn’t sound it from this description, does it?

But I’m going to say yes. This is about something big. Death and grieving and survival. And that pushes it up into the arena of high concept, for me, anyway. You are free to disagree.

1. Does the character offer the most conflict for the situation?

Lennie lived in the shadow of her older sister, Bailey. And now she has to learn to live without her. I’d call that conflict. Not shoot ‘em up conflict but still powerful.

2. Does she have the longest way to go emotionally?

Yes. A very big yes. She wasn’t a particular strong person before her sister died. And similar to the above question, she not only has to overcome grief, she has to figure out who she is as a person. As an only child.

3. Demographically pleasing?

Again. Yes. A teen girl dealing with death. Many, many teens deal with loss. Almost anyone can relate to this story.

4. Is it primal?

I probably don’t have to answer this one. But any story dealing with life and death is primal. So, another big yes!

By definition and compared to other “big” stories, the logical person would say this book is not high concept. But, to me, this story was BIG. It was more than just a sweet romance or mystery. Through out the story, Lennie works through her grief and has to decide whether to truly live her life or not.

What do you think? High concept or not?

Come back next Monday for a look at Act I of this terrific book.

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How to find practical application power for your writing? Plot Busters.

What is Plot Busters?

Plot Busters is my attempt to strengthen my writing by studying the structure of published novels.

But I have a secret.

Some of you may think I created Plot Busters because I felt the innate desire to share all my expertise.

Not really. I’m not an expert. I don’t pretend to be.

In fact, looking back on my earlier Plot Buster posts, I realize I might break them down differently today. That’s how much I’ve learned doing this.

I am on a journey to become a better writer, and I knew I needed to study published novels to do it. I’d read the craft books, but I found them hard to apply. I had too much head knowledge and not enough practical application power.

My first attempts at it over a year ago were pretty pitiful. I had some turning points and the climax but I wasn’t sure how to break down each act. I’d written a middle grade ghost story that I absolutely loved. I wanted to rewrite it but I knew it was lacking structure.

Then I read Save the Cat and I loved how Blake Snyder broke down structure. So I started breaking down books. You can use many different methods to break down stories. The nine point grid (didn’t work for me), five acts, four acts, 8 sequences, three acts, hero’s journey – just to name a few. Find one that works for you.

My studies provided answers but also raised questions.

  • Do books have to follow structure?
  • When’s the best time to be flexible with structure?
  • Is it only high concept stories fit for film that work with structure?
  • Is there a difference in structure with middle grade and young adult books?
  • Is there a difference in structure with character driven vs plot driven books?
  • Do my favorite books follow structure or not?
  • Could some best sellers possibly have been even better with stronger structure?
  • Can strong writing, voice or a compelling hook make up for a weak structure?

So many questions. And I wanted answers.

Want to learn with me? Every Monday. Here. Plot Busters. Some books we’ll spend a month with and others one day.

Starting next week, we’re looking at THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, a young adult novel by Jandy Nelson. Because I was pretty sure a character driven book like that wouldn’t have a strong structure.

What do you think? Do character driven more literary books have strong structure?

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