Monday, March 11, 2019

Today's Literature Lesson by Peter Leavell


Grab your coat no matter the weather. You’re going to need it today for our research.

We’re going to the Yukon, and we’re reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire.

Public domain allows you to read the story free at the following link:

Notice the following tips to help your writing.

High Stakes. Life and death. While your stories don’t need to put lives on the line, the higher the stakes, the better. A lifetime of sadness or happiness in a romance is wonderful reading, but heighten the stakes. How will their romance impact others? How did Romeo and Juliet’s romance change the society around them?

SHOWING the cold weather vs TELLING us it’s cold. The frost forms ice. He spits. He can’t feel his fingers. His thoughts about the conditions equates to temperature, a number. And you’re left grabbing a coat, no matter the temperature in the room. Show, don’t tell.

Add a partner, the dog. The dog is the smart character and helps coax out the man’s foolish end, showing the man had no one to blame but himself. Adding a sane character to parallel with an insane gives the reader some comparison scope.

Unique setting? Research. Taking readers to places they’ve never been before is a highlight to a reader. But have you been to the Yukon when it’s 75 below zero? I’ve been to South Dakota when it’s 20 below zero, which isn’t close to the conditions. Not many of us have been confronted with this kind of cold. Jack London was obsessed with the Yukon, visited and studied profusely, and could write knowledgeably. You can write about a unique location if you’re ready to take on plenty of research.

Slow down the action. When the man is trying to build the fire and we know the stakes, London slows the story and gives minute details. He does this so clearly, so well, that almost every student has to read this story in high school.

Happy endings. While the ending might be sad because the egotistic newcomer doesn’t survive, the reader can take something of joy away—the dog lives. Even if you create a sad ending, allow the reader some piece of hope they can take with them.

Any observations you notice from the text that can help our writing?

*pulls out a novel called Sahara and takes off his coat

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history and currently enrolled in the University's English Lit Graduate program, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. A novelist, blogger, teacher, ghostwriter, jogger, biker, husband and father, Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at