September 14, 2009

Subject: Definitions

Composition Book

A composition book is one of a type of stock-bound notebook commonly used by writers and students. Although available in several colors, the original marbled black-and-white cover, with its generic label on the front, is the overwhelming favorite. Wikipedia.

My journal of choice is the composition book. It lies flat when open, with no spiral binding, a key feature for a lefty like me. It’s small enough to fit in a decent-sized purse yet large enough for serious notes. And it’s unassuming—there’s nothing pretentious or fancy about it, which means I never have to worry about whether my observations are journal-worthy.

But there’s something more about Composition Book. It’s not just a journal or the title of this blog. It’s also the subject of the journal. Composition: Book.

The Composition of a Book

As a novelist, I’m interested in the craft of writing, what makes good books work, and how an author brings together elements such as place, history, character and time to create an engaging story. I’m on a quest to develop my skills as a writer.

While I’m actively writing my own novels, I’m reading, reading, reading. Mostly I read other middle grade and YA novels, but I also read books about writing. (For pure fun, I read adult mysteries—my favorites are the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear and the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King.)

I go one step beyond reading for pleasure, especially now that I’m attending Hamline University’s MFA program. I also look at how a book works. I love to uncover the structure of a novel or to discover the components that make a book unique.

Here are the first nine meanings for the word composition from an online dictionary:

com⋅po⋅si⋅tion  [kom-puh-zish-uhn]


1. the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole.

2. the resulting state or product.

3. manner of being composed; structure: This painting has an orderly composition.

4. makeup; constitution: His moral composition was impeccable.

5. an aggregate material formed from two or more substances: a composition of silver and tin.

6. a short essay written as a school exercise.

7. the act or process of producing a literary work.

8. an academic course for teaching the techniques of clear, expository writing.

9. the art of putting words and sentences together in accordance with the rules of grammar and rhetoric.

In this blog, I’ll be looking at the components of novels, analyzing structure and considering the overall effect of a book using examples from my reading. Since I am also working on the second draft of a novel, I’ll also share my experiences with the writing process.


  1. Welcome to the blogosphere, Heather. I, too, buy composition notebooks (the same ones my kiddos use at school) for myself. They're cheap and portable and I don't mind writing crap in them.

  2. Sounds great Heather! I look forward to hearing bits of your novel, your composition. I also love the title and explanation of your notebooks and blog. Composition Book, especially handy for leftys! I never thought of that!

    On another writing note, I'll be adding some of Mary's poetry and writings to I've scanned the books and magazines she was published in.

    She was/is a courageous, and deep writer (as I'm sure you already know). At once she will be talking about a flower, and another moment tormentuous memories or death. I don't know what it is exactly, but her words get me, and draw me in, then send me reeling a bit. Maybe because I don't know her "younger side", only her now. And, I find it startling, yet excited, to know those words came from her.

    Best of luck with this blog! It'll be fun sharing it with the world!