Welcome to Exemplary Reads! In this series of posts, I will be building a reference log of books that I think do a really good job at particularly hard-to-define writing concepts, and then I’ll explain why.
It’s really easy to say in vague terms, “Do this,” “Avoid that,” “Write in this way,” etc. But without examples, a lot of writing advice can have a hard time resonating with its audience. I’m hoping this series can help bridge that gap. Fair warning, some explanations will contain spoilers so read on at your own peril.
This week, I discuss The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke. Cover art by Anka Lavriv with cover and interior design by Dana Li.
If you’re struggling with writing detailed physical reactions or emotions, then look no further. This 400-page book is 200 pages of visceral description. There is not a single moment where you don’t know what Sideways Pike (the main character) is feeling. Absolutely perfect to get you into that descriptive headspace!
At one point in the book, Sideways is kidnapped from the backyard of her friend’s house by a group of boys who hate magic, but who are also totally cool with using a magical object first to discover Sideways is a witch and then render her immobile. Once she’s trapped inside the shell of her body, they shove her into their car and drive down old, gravelly roads to their house in the middle of nowhere. Then they carry her upstairs and lock her in a room, where she eventually regains her mobility. This is, understandably, a very traumatic experience for her. She had been in a place she deemed safe, then was stripped of all agency and power, betrayed by her own body and abilities, and had no idea what the outcome would be.
While some fantasy stories will chalk this up to just a consequence of living in the fantastical world, Clarke makes sure the reader sees the effects this experience has on Sideways. From that moment on, any time Sideways is in a car, even if it is her friend’s, she is nervous. Her breathing might speed up; she might become nauseated. But the most accurate part is that it doesn’t happen every time and it doesn’t always happen immediately. Clarke portrays this as a true trauma response, where sometimes the act of getting back into any car is enough of a trigger to upset Sideways, while other times she’s totally fine until they start driving over a bit of gravel or the road becomes surrounded by trees. The traumatic event is not just forgotten because Sideways is no longer living it. It follows her wherever she goes, and some days are better than others.