Friday, 15 June 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

This is another post for my book reviews for writers. I break down the main plot and character components of a novel and discuss what writers can take away from it.


The first time I read this book was in primary school, and I'm surprised I a) got through it, and b) understood a single word. It was tricky for me to follow, the main plot didn't happen until almost halfway through the book, and the tension went up and down erratically throughout the story. Why does it work? It's a classic, it was written in 1960, and readers were looking for something different than what they look for today.

So could we try a story like that? Tricky, not impossible. But I wouldn't recommend trying it unless you're a pro. Why?

My answer is based on a theory I have about today's readers in general. With technology making things simplistic and instant, people expect everything to happen Now Now Now. That's why I think YA has become so popular - usually YA books get right to the point, are quick, and are easy enough to get through in less than a day.

Lesson: if you're going to go down the path of a plot line similar to classics such as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I'd recommend you know exactly what you're doing and know whether it will work with your target audience.


Atticus. Oh, Atticus, Atticus, Atticus. Perfect in every way. In danger of being the biggest Gary-Stu around. So why isn't he?

Firstly, the story is narrated by his daughter Scout in two ways - a) her looking back on childhood moments, and b) her living those moments as the nine-year-old. It's natural and understandable that both versions of Scout would portray him as the flawless, generous man he is in the book. A young girl often looks at her father in such a light, and older Scout might have lost her father by that stage so of course she might remember him as a better man than what he was.

Secondly, a Gary-Stu is not only perfect, but everyone loves him. That's not the case with Atticus Finch. He's attacked, abused, and ridiculed by the townspeople throughout the entire case. This invokes sympathy from the reader instead of disgust.

Both of these cases have to be included to work in Atticus's favour and to keep him from being so perfect it makes the reader close the book in disgust. They're written in balance of each other, as carefully as every gesture, word, and action is written in terms of the character himself.

Lesson: If you're going to write a character with so many amazing qualities, make sure there are (real) ways to balance out the "too-perfect" syndrome, not just one little quirky fault.


  1. That character advice is very true, and very helpful!

    1. It took a bit of thinking for me to work out why he was so darn perfect and yet not the slightest bit annoying.

      Sorry, I'm having Atticus fangirl attacks all over the place here.

  2. I love the advice about Atticus. I never thought about how I still loved him though he was flawless. Though, perhaps he is only flawless by today's standards.

    1. I think the fact he is also a single father plays a lot into it, and that he relies on the Nanny to tend to his children.

  3. I never liked this book, having had to read it for school and not enjoyment (it was our year 9 book and I did not understand it at all when I was reading it. Too slow. Too too slow. Thank goodness we also watched the movie in class or my essay would have been like HIEFLHIFDPGHCPEWFEPCBLIGSLA AND THEN THE BIRD DIES coz I probs wouldn't have read it) but I do remember loving Atticus!