Crafting a great story: deconstructing ‘These Broken Stars’

TheseBrokenStars.jpgHello beautiful cover. I think I’ll read you…

It started with the gorgeous cover, but this is a clever and crisp novel that followed through on expectations.  ‘These Broken Stars’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner was a fab accompaniment to a great holiday.

And it only got better on my second read, because it was so crafty I didn’t notice some of the cool things the authors were weaving into it until I started analysing.

‘These Broken Stars’ is the first in the successful The Starbound Trilogy. We have society girl, Lilac, and low-born army hero Tarver. Sparks fly, their spaceship fails to, and they find themselves stranded together on a planet with too many mysteries.

I loved the clues and suspense, and the gentle beauty that came from two people hiking and learning about themselves as they went. I also love hiking, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to enjoying this fab book.

So, what was great about it?

Let’s do some deconstruction… and beware the occasional (read: frequent) blatant spoiler… Here are three areas I’m going to focus on for this novel.

  1. Multiple plot themes = ongoing interest
  2. Characters and POV (I know, I sound like a broken record…)
  3. Subtle introduction of ideas so you don’t even notice you’re noticing them

Plot + plot + plot = more fun

This is something I really noticed in Kaufman’s later novel ‘Illuminae‘, the blending of multiple plot lines, the adding in of extra details. Every great book has this. Here we’re reading on, desperately wondering about several things:

  • Will they both be rescued? We know Tarver gets away, but how? What about Lilac?
  • Will they get together? Because they really ought to…
  • What is the deal with Lilac’s dad?
  • What the heck is going on with this planet?

This isn’t overloading the storyline, it’s making it more powerful because these additions are upping the stakes for the characters. Making it more of a personal struggle for them, more dangerous, with greater fallout if it goes wrong, and even immense fallout if some aspects go right… (like the getting together bit + the evil dad bit… hmmm)

The characters are real and the POVs let us inside them

I’m not going to harp on about this. The emotions were realistic, the conversations were believable, it allowed the reader to connect. There was no insta-love. A well-crafted relationship.

The POVs were the clever side of awesome – the balance between the two first person present tense POVs from Lilac and Tarver allowed for humour (how important is humour!!) and empathy, and then the use of snippets of Tarver being interviewed after the fact are brilliant.

We know he gets off the planet, but how? And we slowly gather that not only is Tarver lying about a shedload of important stuff, but his interview is more of an interrogation.

Why? Why? Why?

We have to read on.

Hint, hint, coax, coax, whammo! Something weird’s happening…

I loved the revealing and unraveling of mysteries in this book. There’s something dispiriting about a book that tells you what is happening as soon as it’s happening, or hints at something that the next paragraph becomes the biggest issue in the book. <yawn>

Not so ‘These Broken Stars’. Dudes, the hints were so tiny at first, I didn’t even register them properly until the second reading.

Let’s take a closer look at the <seriously, guys – spoilers> whispers, and how we learn about them:

p 89: The first mention of them, which we dismiss, as Lilac does, as merely because she’s unused to being in a forest.

Snatches of sound rise up from the awful, untidy forest all around me, for a moment sounding just like voice, high and distressed. He (Tarver) doesn’t even seem to notice them – clearly at home surrounded by so much dirt – and just stands there with a scowl as I turn away.

p. 101: The very next Lilac POV launches almost straight into the voices. We register this one, but we still dismiss it as normal forest noises.

The forest is full of sound and movement I can’t track, things that flicker out of the corners of my eyes, vanishing before I can focus on them. The major (Tarver) doesn’t seem to notice – or if he does, he isn’t bothered. But it’s as though the forest is whispering all around us, saying incomprehensible things in my ear. Sometimes I almost think I can hear voices, though logic insists that I’m searching for the familiar in this alien world. I’m used to being around other people, and my mind is turning the sounds of the wilderness into sounds I find comforting.

p. 111: We get our first dose of actual whispers, but we see them through Tarver’s POV so we can’t be sure what it is Lilac’s hearing. We do know for sure that Tarver isn’t hearing a thing. Is she going mad?

“Major, there’s somebody out there,” she whispers. “Can you hear? There’s a woman crying out there in the trees.”

A shiver of apprehension runs through me, and I tilt my head to one side, surprised the noise didn’t wake me.

p. 120: We finally hear a whisper through Lilac’s POV so we can be sure that something the heck weird is going on in this crazy messed-up beautiful planet.

p. 137: Another whisper from Lilac’s POV, where she still fears she’s going mad but we start to figure out there is much more than madness here because again she has a physical reaction to hearing the whispers. (And, OMG, just need to point out, how awesome is Tarver?)

From this point on there are almost constant mentions of whispers until the big doozy…

p. 159: Tarver’s POV relates how Lilac sees some dead people. And we need to see it through his eyes, because he’s the one who buried said dead people, and through him we know that she absolutely has their descriptions correct.

So we come to a change of direction. Because now we know that Lilac isn’t just hearing things, she’s hearing real things.

p. 174: Lilac saves Tarver from a cave collapse, another thing he can’t manage to explain. We’re now all certain that something on this planet is reaching out to her.

p. 180 (Halfway through the book): Finally, Tarver connects with the whispers too.

So it’s taken half the book to work through this mystery and understand there is something on this planet that appears to be trying to communicate with Tarver and Lilac. The second half is focused on what the whispers are, and why they want to chat.

These whispers are central to the trilogy, they deserved a fabulous introduction that embeds them in our minds. What I took from this is, if you’ve got a big plot arc in your book, sow the seeds small, early and increasingly often.


Looking for an engaging read that will have you guessing and has two funny and adorable MCs? Then ‘These Broken Stars’ is for you.

Looking to learn how to create realistic characters or introduce mystery? Ditto.

Enjoy, people…

2 thoughts on “Crafting a great story: deconstructing ‘These Broken Stars’

  1. Pingback: Young Adult Fiction Round up: Issue 2 – Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

  2. Pingback: AWW2018 roundup and 2019 launch! | hm waugh – writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s