Find 6 lessons learned from Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, that writers can apply to their own writing. If you haven't read the novel yet, we do talk about the plot and reveal things about the story. So consider this your spoiler alert.
There are some pieces of writing advice that are so common that everyone knows them. One such piece of advice is that writers learn to write by reading other writers. So let's take a look at Kazuo Ishiguro's contemporary classic novel, Never Let Me Go.
If you haven't read this novel yet, please go read it first. Then, come back and see if you agree with these lessons—or if you have additional lessons to share. Consider this your spoiler alert.
Never Let Me Go is a dystopian novel narrated by Kathy H. She's a 31-year-old carer with some prestige who works with donors and wants to share the story of her time at Hailsham and her relationship with classmates Ruth and Tommy.
Let's dive in to the 6 lessons I learned about writing from Never Let Me Go.
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6 Lessons Learned From Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Lesson #1: Engaging narrator.
For any story told in first person, the narrator has to be engaging. Such is the case with Kathy, who sounds like a very reliable narrator from the very beginning with a straightforward, unsentimental voice. She also knows how to plant seeds and move to other subjects before coming back to explaining them. This is extremely important for the narrative drive of the story, but it also mirrors the way everyone Kathy and her classmates were taught at Hailsham.
Lesson #2: Plant seeds and move to other subjects.
In the first paragraph, Kathy says she's a carer who has "developed a kind of instinct around donors." While the reader might make guesses about what these things are, Kathy plants the seed immediately but doesn't explain what they are for a long time. She lets the readers know on the second page that gets to choose donors, including Ruth, Tommy, and other Hailsham alum. As one might expect, most of the seeds are planted in the beginning with reveals throughout and consequential resolutions at the end.
Lesson #3: Creates a weird world that feels normal to its characters.
Never Let Me Go was published in 2005 and set in "England, late 1990s." A reader coming into such a story is not expecting a dystopian tale narrated by a clone raised—along with her classmates at Hailsham—for the sole purpose of donating organs for other "normal" people. From Kathy's perspective, she is normal; her world is normal; and that's what makes it most believable for readers—and what gives it so much emotional weight throughout.
Lesson #4: Story is filled with rumors and mysteries.
Kathy plants seeds for the reader, which makes for an engaging tale. But Kathy and the other characters are dealing with their own rumors and mysteries from early on. One of their guardians, Miss Lucy, finally shares their real purpose in life, but that just creates other possibilities, including rumors about possibles and deferrals.
Lesson #5: Story provides resolutions.
While they're not always the resolutions we might want for these characters, Never Let Me Go is filled with resolutions, whether it's learning the reason Madame cries when she catches Kathy dancing to a song or discovering Ruth's motives behind dating Tommy. This book is not filled with happy endings, but there is closure—and somehow that feels better than a lot of unanswered questions.
Lesson #6: Everything is essential to the love triangle.
Like many things in this story, it's not clear in the beginning what the stakes of the story are for Kathy, but it's essentially a love triangle story between her, Ruth, and Tommy. As Kathy finishes her story, it's easy to see that everything—every character, every plot point—is essential to telling the story of their relationship. This story happens in a dystopian alternate universe, but this is a story about Kathy's best friend and the love of her life. Those are the emotional stakes.
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