I blog on katerauner.wordpress.com/ about the science that inspires my novels and poems. I read a lot of non-fiction, too.
In my continuing quest to understand popular science fiction, I recently read The Giver
by Lois Lowry. The book won a Newbery Medal and was made into a movie. In an author's note, Lowry relates mail she received from people who say how important the novel was for them and that some have named their own sons after one of the characters. The edition I checked on Amazon has 7,099 customer reviews and 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. That's 83% 4 and 5 star ratings which certainly qualifies as popular. (As always on Amazon, some of the poorest ratings refer to receiving a damaged book and not to the content.)
The Giver is a short book - 125 pages for the story (not counting the introduction, sample from another book, etc.) in my Epub version. My version contains the first chapter of the next book in the series and it seems to be a different set of characters in a different setting, but from Jennie M on Amazon: "I recommend reading all three books, The Giver, Gathering Blue, and The Messenger. The final book does sort of bring a finalization of these characters." And yet Natalie Martinez writes: "The next book had absolutely nothing to do with the first."
The book opens in a utopian world, following the young boy Jonas. We learn about aspects of the world that are uncomfortable and disquieting - it would not be a utopia for us. But the people in it seem content. Then, at age twelve, something unusual (almost unique) allows Jonas to learn more about his world. The book becomes a thought-provoking examination of good and bad in our own world, and what trade-offs a society might be willing to make between pain and pleasure.
The book veers off in a different direction at the end. After being primarily cerebral, the story ends in ambiguous action and (perhaps) hopelessness. One reviewer, a middle-school teacher, says she assigns her students to write their own ending, which I think would be a fun assignment.
The Giver's type of ending seems to belong to literary fiction rather than science fiction. (The movie version is called a drama/fantasy.) One piece of advice I found on Smashwords says "never mislead your readers" about the genre of a book. Smashwords offers 27 genre categories and 11 sub-categories within science fiction - "utopia/dystopia" is a subcategory.
Once again, I have learned that even the most successful book does not appeal to everyone. Keep that in mind when your own work gets a negative review.
What about standard writing tips? I don't think following or violating any of these tips figures in reviews of The Giver. But if you get a mechanical aspect of writing correct, I suppose no one will comment. Here are a few tips I considered:
Advice: Tag dialog only with "said" and maybe "ask" and nothing else. Omit the tags when it is clear who is speaking.
Lowry omits many tags. For example: "His mother agreed, smiling. 'The year we got Lily...'"
But she is not afraid to use saidisms. All these examples tagged dialog:
he went on
the attendant told him
Advice: Characters should have demographic, family, and psychological histories.
Lowry does this for Jonas and it is important to the story.
Advice: Show, don't tell.
Lowry follows this advice and provides an interesting way for the Giver to "show."
Advice: Paragraphs should be neat and utilitarian, don't use show-off vocabulary, avoid passive tense. These tips come from Stephen King.
Lowry uses all these tips.
Advice: Purge adverbs.
I found 13 uses of "very" in the first 18 pages and didn't count further. "Just" appeared 15 times in 44 pages. Words ending in "fully" (such as carefully, fretfully, painfully) appeared 18 times in 53 pages.
I haven't tried counting adverbs in other books so I don't know how this compares, but Lowry does use adverbs.
Aside: Adverbs are words that describe (modify) verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. English Club lists the 25 most common adverbs. "Very" is 13th; "just" is 4th. A more interesting list is at Grammar Revolution.
These are links to some of my other posts on writing tips: