Reading Like a Writer: Stardust

“The squirrel has not yet found the acorn that will grow into the oak that will be cut to form the cradle of the babe who will grow to slay me.”

from Stardust by Neil Gaiman

What can this sentence teach us?

  • What does one of your characters predict about themselves? Showing characters making this kind of prediction, whatever the genre, can reveal to readers a great deal about them. Resolving the tension between the prediction, what readers already know about the character, and what readers anticipate based on the plot they already have, can help keep readers engaged and reading. (The character who says these words in Stardust is the villain; right after she says them, a squirrel finds an acorn, plants it, puts its paws together in prayer, and then forgets about it.)
    • Consider too how the predictions are made and how that might characterize. Tarot? Entrails? Spreadsheet? The mood of the moment or the flight of birds?
    • Does the prediction ever change? Why?
    • This prediction suggests a long life, usually a good thing. But readers may not want that for this villainous character. Conversely, how do readers feel when a character they like makes negative predictions about their own future? Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football or each baseball season, for example. Another example might be the Robert Redford character in A Bridge Too Far.
    • How do other characters (squirrels or not) react to this prediction?
  • Notice the syntax, the three “wills,” for example. Notice the “not yet,” the “that,” “that,” and “who” (rather than a third “that”). Consider tinkering with this syntax: “always,” “which,” “which,” and “where,” for example. What might a sentence build with with those words and that structure look like?
  • Notice the punctuation or lack of it. Which words in the sentence act as punctuation? Which control its pace?

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