Nancy Sondel's Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop
16th Annual    September 28-30, 2018    Master Class to Masterpiece
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“The pre-workshop material helps me at many levels. Before PCCWW, my novel was only
a ‘That would be cool’ idea. Now it’s a work in progress.” — Sherise Mitchell, enrollee

2008 Home Study

EPIPHANIES AND ENDINGS

Bring Your Story Arc Full Circle

Short Novel: Buddha Boy (SPEAK) by Kathe Koja

For faculty-led roundtable discussion

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults, this 120-page pocket paperback is a fast-paced, yet thought-provoking novel. In this coming-of-age story, peer issues intermingle with visual arts, and are unobtrusively sprinkled with Buddhist tenets (universals, such as the interrelationship between cause and effect).

At the workshop, we’ll explore how the author handles incremental epiphanies and the story’s ending. Are these elements compelling? Credible, memorable? Why?

Time Commitment: Plan on about two hours to read the book, then add time for notetaking (see Reading Proactively).

Plot Summary

Sixteen-year-old Justin relates the story of new classmate Jinsen, called “Buddha Boy” because of his physical appearance and equally unusual behavior. When, for a class project, Justin is paired with this so-called oddball, Justin just wants to get it over with and return to his friends.

Then he discovers Buddha Boy’s artistic genius. The more Justin gets to know the newcomer, the more Justin questions his own beliefs. But being friends with Buddha Boy isn’t simple, especially when “respectable” students torment Buddha Boy. Then Justin realizes he must take sides. What matters more—the high school social order, or getting to know someone extraordinary? In a surprising but credible twist, Justin’s choice impacts the whole school and his own future.

 
Opening Lines

Like a flashback memory, he’s there in my mind: skimming up the stairs at school, his sloppy old T-shirt big as a sail, red tie-dyed dragon T-shirt, who wears stuff like that? No one. Jinsen. Head turned and laughing at something someone had said, to him? At him? I don’t know. Once McManus called him a human lint ball, and he laughed about it all day.

Him going up, me down below, he saw me and waved and “Later,” he called down, “I’ll tell you everything.” And he did, too, but by then I already knew.

Buddha Boy, by Kathe Koja

Reading Proactively

When you finish reading a novel, do you remember the “big picture” but many details remain a blur? Improve both your memory and your craft by reading proactively—for example, make chapter-by-chapter notes with an eye to technique. Even if you have time to read Buddha Boy just once, try the following suggestions (and/or create your own tools):    

After reading one to three chapters, note the main plot points and/or character growth that has occurred in each of these chapters. Also note any structural elementssuch as Chapter One’s setup, story problem, and protagonist’s plan of action. Continue throughout the novel’s 14 chapters.

Note your observations and story landmarks within the book’s pages—there’s space for your summary at the beginning of each chapter; room for notes in margins. Then boil down (or, in some cases, expand) these notes on a sheet of paper. Answer questions such as the following, and create others of your own:

  • What are the protagonist’s goal and world view (belief system) at the beginning? Have they changed by the end; if so, how?

  • Which actions or expressed thoughts show the protagonist’s changes?

  • Where are these changes and other turning points positioned in the story? (Beginning, middle, end?)

  • Do events follow a cause-and-effect pattern? (Nothing “out of the blue.”) List the hierarchy of events that (should) increase internal and external tension; raise the stakes.

  • What makes the ending satisfying to you (or not)? For example:
    • Does the ending answer the dramatic question or conflict raised in the beginning? In what way(s)?

    • Are all the threads tied up neatly... or some hint given that they will be?

    • Does the ending seem surprising, yet inevitable (and credible)?

bullet  Now, answer the above questions for your novel. If you haven’t finished a first draft, base your responses on your synopsis or chapter outline.

“The final scene is a snapshot of your protagonist in the aftermath or at the very end of the
significant situation. Final scenes should reveal that your protagonist has changed.”
— Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time

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