Holes By Louis Sachar – Novel Writing and Chess

Synopsis: Stanley Yelnats’ family has a history of bad luck going back generations, so he is not too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Centre. Nor is he very surprised when he is told that his daily labour at the camp is to dig a hole, five foot wide by five foot deep, and report anything that he finds in that hole. The warden claims that it is character building, but this is a lie and Stanley must dig up the truth. In this wonderfully inventive, compelling novel that is both serious and funny, Louis Sachar has created a masterpiece that will leave all readers amazed and delighted by the author’s narrative flair and brilliantly handled plot.
For the Writer: Though frustrating, though an amateur, I enjoy playing chess occasionally. The pieces, excepting the pawns, move in distinct patterns, like the characters in a novel. The rook and knight have their eccentricities to contribute, yet the across-the-board bounder and the agile chevalier ideally must not move without careful consideration of their impact on the strategy and outcome of the game. Even the lowly pawns, who can be compared to secondary characters, could be indispensable to the player’s stratagem, to the finale. Like a novelist the chess player must keep all the characters in mind, including the pieces of his opponent, the protagonists as it were, and move all to a satisfying conclusion in keeping with the rules of the game. Why the extended analogy? Because in Holes, Louis Sachar has executed a masterful game of chess.

In Holes what seems an accident is not, what seems isolated from its historical roots is not, and characters who seem unrelated, who seem self-determined lone stars, actually form a wondrous constellation. Holes is like a well-played chess game in which dissociated characters and puzzling situations make sense as new characters and events are respectively introduced and executed. The present, which seems like a hodgepodge of scattered players, suddenly becomes explained – in the case of chess usually too late – until the last dramatic climatic scene when the omnipotent narrator connects past events to the present predicament: Checkmate!

If a novelist is looking for a fun lesson in plot development, Holes is the middle grade fiction work for her. If she were to draw a map of Sachar’s characters and add intersecting lines to illustrate their relationships, she would discover that every action, as in chess, has its reaction, ever lost thread its weave, every object its owner, and every person his destiny. This novel is so succinctly written, I wonder if Sachar wasn’t given an assignment by an English teacher to write a novel in which all of its characters, and their respective actions reverberate down through history converging in a dénouement in something as compact as a, as a, wait for it – a hole.


Have a look at the chart below to see a visualization of the inter-relationships suspended in Sachar’s mind for Holes:


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