The Value of Reading

Yesterday I made reference to the new idea that I’m working on for Mara.  Before I explain, I need to give a touch of background.

Mara is an orphan who spends part of her childhood running with a group of street kids.  She learns interesting skills, like picking locks, that come in handy later in life.  This group is very opportunist, scavenging, running errands, and generally doing whatever it takes to survive.  Most of what they do is legal, or at least gray-area.

I already had a scene written that establishes some of this about the group, including a wealthy man paying two of them to deliver a letter.  In the existing scene, the man starts by asking the girls if they can read.  They give the honest answer, which is no, and then and only then does he pass over the letter.

The two of them heading off to deliver it is where the scene ended.  What occurred to me while I was hiking is that this is a prime moment to build some depth into Mara’s character, establishing some of the personality traits that make her successful later.  Specifically, in this instance, her curiosity, observation, and intelligence shine through, as she realizes that there is value in learning to read.

In this case, it’s specifically monetary value.  She starts by questioning why the man cared if they could read, which her companion answers simply.  He doesn’t want them to read the letter.  Unlike our protagonist, the companion doesn’t really think past that, but Mara does.  She starts to consider why someone wouldn’t want a letter read.  After much thought, she realizes that the writer must want the contents to remain secret because there are other people who would use the information to their advantage. This, of course, leads her to think that there might be a way for her to use this, if only she could read.

Most of this logic isn’t yet explained in the story; right now it’s simply her questions about reasons and then asking if they know anyone who can read.  Some of her reasoning will come out as the story continues, and some will simply be inferred, because it’s much more interesting to write it that way than to have her internal monologue walk us through the steps right away.

This also opens up some interesting avenues for me as far as the story goes, because I can now bring in a bit more of the world Mara inhabits, perhaps introduce an adult into her life, and explore the personalities of the girls around her.

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