What I Learned from The Help

Yes, I read The Help. It was more or less the last book on Earth I would read normally, but I did.

I mean, come on:

  • It’s a NYT Bestseller.
  • There are neither spaceships nor sailing vessels.
  • It’s about race relations.
  • It’s set in the sixties (1960’s, not 1860’s or AD 60’s)
  • It’s about women.
  • The cover is yellow and purple, and has birds on it.

Sweet Jesu. Books with any of these traits don’t find their way on to my radar very often.  But when I saw this series of posts on novel structure using The Help as an example, I decided to go for it.

So what did I take away from this adventure?

  • The antagonist does not ever have to be the narrator/POV. Miss Hilly came across just fine without taking the reins at any point.
  • Set up a character with a flaw/obstacle about which she is unaware, then have another character bring it up.
  • The incident that kicks off the plot can be subtle, but it has to be about the main character’s life changing.
  • The most interesting scene in the book from a writerly standpoint is a party in which the POV is third person, as opposed to the first person used in the rest. This is the only time in book this happens, and it works. All three narrators are present at this big do, and the one-scene switch gets the plot point across without having to chop it up or repeat it three times.

Now, I have a number of criticisms for The Help, but that’s not what I’m here to accomplish today. From a structure standpoint, the book is solid.

Ok, just one thing. I don’t know what book the movie was based on, but it sure doesn’t look like The Help. There is a very real threat of physical harm and socially-sanctioned murder underlying everything in the text – the trailer looks like a bunch of ladies having a grand old time.

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