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Monday, July 20, 2015

Beyond the Children’s Section: Writing YA (Emerald City Comic-Con 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

Another YA panel? Yes, but just as we've learned with the sex panels, each time a writer or group of writers tackles this subject, the information rendered is unique. Enjoy!

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Beyond the Children’s Section: Writing YA
Aaron Michael Ritchey, Holly Black, Lisa Mantchev, Rachel Hartman, Arwen Elys Dayton
Moderator: John Lovett

What are the characteristics that you’ve found that make for a YA market?
AD: Wrote a book and paid no attention to genre; it happens the four main characters at the centre of the story are teens. It’s a minefield that we go through in life and a very interesting part of life to examine.
RH: YA for her has to do with the themes. The time in your life when you’re stepping out, emerging, coming out and trying to figure out who you are, all the possibilities ahead of you. As opposed to adult lit where you’ve made your mess and must lie in it.
LM: Similar experience: wrote the story she wanted to write. It just happened to be YA. Now she knowingly writes YA as a theme, the coming of age story, foundation issues for a YA novel.
HB: What defines a YA novel is a teen protagonist. Certain themes and characteristics throughout, but there are outliers that don’t have those things. It really does come down to a teenage protagonist.
AR: Wanted to write YA. Yes, it’s a teen protagonist going through teenager things, but also dealing with other things.
HB: YA didn’t used to exist the way it did now. Most people just transitioned to writing adult novels. Remember that you’re competing with adult books. You’re writing the experiences of a teenager. Otherwise, they’ll go read adult books.
AR: It’s the emotional vibrancy.

We’ve talked about the characteristics of this market. Are the characters supposed to be two years older? Are the sentences longer (as per Stackpole)?
RH: It’s not our job to plan that.
LM: It may be a 10-year-old advanced reader or their grandmother who bought it for them. Lots of people read YA. Not just kids or the target audience. Syntax, etc, are editorial decisions.
AD: People are more willing these days to talk about what happened when they were teens. But don’t write down or talk down to a teenager. You don’t dumb it down.
RH: When you were young, you were used to learning new words through context.
HB: Idea of aging up the character: most of the time, readers like reading characters a little bit older than them, to tell whether they like it or not to figure out whether a character is right for them. If you get asked to age up or down a character by the publisher, you don’t have to. And making sentences shorter. YA allows for more complex sentences. MG wants more simple sentences. And when people are talking about YA, they are often thinking about MG. HP and Percy Jackson behave like seventeen year olds in a middle grade.
AD: Problem with Harry Potter – Rowling made no distinction between MG and YA. She had the luxury of working between both.
LM: She deliberately did not choose to focus on teen issues. Partly because the aspects of being teens were not important when dealing with the world-at-stake issues.
AR: What it really comes down to is the sex stuff. You can kill, but the moment you add the sex stuff. There are no rules; what works, works.

Speaking of the Harry Potter series – YA used to be Burroughs and Tarzan. How has the YA market fundamentally changed, and how do you think the Harry Potter series has influenced the YA market, and where is it going?
HB: HP is not YA. Has changed the MG market, adding younger middle grade and older middle grade. Big series that affected things: Gossip Girl, Twilight, the Hunger Games. What we see as YA has shifted. And it’s still in flux. It’s way different than it was a few decades ago. And some YA back then would be considered MG.
LM: Write what you really want to write; don’t chase a trend. The digital revolution has now found new homes for books. As YA authors it’s now limitless possibilities as for what you want to write and how you want to get it out there.
RH: Agrees that HP is MG. But it is directly responsible for YA authors being able to publish600 page books. Twilight, too. Opened doors for longer manuscripts being accepted.
AD: YA used to be less about how old you were than what you were interested in reading. Now kids have very big books. Write what you want to write; it finds the audience.
LM: Also, YA saved the industry. Parents would still buy their kids books even when the economy tanked. YA was the one category that outperformed every age group every year.
AR: One of the reasons why is that you have this emotional vibrancy in teen fiction. You get that in YA books because it is such a vibrant part of our life. And an emotional vibrancy in the fan base. Also, the coming of age story is so great because it’s such a hopeful arc. Madeline L’Engle: If you really want to write complex stories, don’t write for adults, write for younger stories.
HB: Not just page length or series length. Release dates, midnight releases, now have become a thing.
LM: This is how big it’s become.
AD: Entirely new territory.

In the context of writing a YA novel, are there stereotypes of characters and tropes you’d suggest that authors avoid? What would be the least and most successful?
RH: Use any trope you want, but you have to earn it, own it, make it yours. They’re not bad in and of themselves. You use them and think about them and be aware of when you’re doing them. Stereotypes arise from a lack of understanding. Notice how you use these building blocks, try not to fall into the traps   before.
AD: You can’t come up with something wholly original; it’s about the story, lets it grow in its own space as its own story.
LM: Just because something has been done already doesn’t mean you can’t do it better. You get your craft to the point that you know what you can do with a story. Make it worth reading. Uses TV tropes.
HB: Write a book that you the reader would truly love. Then hope other people will love that too. Try not to write nostalgically about childhood/youth. Remember what it was truly like to be there. Write for yourself then and yourself now.
AR: It takes courage and bravery to do that. Being a writer is an act of absolute courage and daring. And what you write can have an impact on a writer. Write the books that will save someone else’s life.

Audience question: What is your research process when writing a marginalized character?
HB: It’s the iceberg. You’ll have to do a lot of research that won’t show up in your work. Make sure that you do this respectfully and well. Have folks of that marginalized group read it for authenticity. You’re creating a character with the weight of representing that. One of the ways to do that well is to hopefully not have that character be the token, only person of that marginalized group.
LM: Have your ducks in a row, use beta readers to get feedback. Some will not be offended, some will be very offended. And you will still screw up. No way to write a perfect character. And you’ll still get feedback about how folks feel you represented that character. And it’s important that you do it well because kids will see themselves in that character.
RH: Whatever their backgrounds are, it’s about extreme empathy, finding the part of that character somewhere inside yourself to be able to write them. And then, when you do receive criticism, find a way to deal with it and empathize again.
AR: And be courageous. It will happen. If you start doing stuff out of the norm, you will get attacked. We have to have diversity. It’s our job as authors to show it.
AD: If there’s someone in your life that you get to know and research it that way, great. Research with love. Once you capture that you have a fairly good chance of the words coming out right, the story heading in the right direction.

When you start outlining a story, do you focus on certain parts specifically?
AR: Goes through the 14 points in Save the Cat. Has to have the beginning hook and the climax, then follows the 14 beats.
HB: All over the place. We talk a lot about plotters and pantsers and it’s very clear but experience is that most people exist on a spectrum. Even plotters don’t stick to their outlines. Everyone has the process that they’ve come to.
LM: Everyone does it differently. No one can turn in a perfect draft. Everything good in a draft happens in revisions. All of us have files of versions of the books that will never see the light of day. Also, keep your ducks in a row for book 1 so that the details for book 3 are consistent and don't contradict book 1.
RH: Process for each book is different in each book.
NG: You never learn how to write a book. You learn how to write *this* book.
AD: A method you learn is likely only applicable to the book you are working on. Updates outline to match what she’s written. If an outline helps, go with it, otherwise throw it out. Whatever gets the book written is the process that works.

When do you share excerpts with others, who do you share with?
AD: Shares it with only a few close first readers, and watches their body language.
RH: Has two beta-reader friends.
LM: Shouts ideas through the shower to husband and daughter. If their reactons are good, that works for her. Also has done collaborations with others and working together, having someone immediately looking over your shoulder that’s as invested has been very interesting, both invigorating and challenging.
HB: Mostly shares with author friends, and formal critique group when done.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fuelling Creativity: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors on Ideas (Emerald City Comic-Con 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

A 3D magnet of an open book with a quill next to it. On the book's pages is written, "Once upon a time ... on a boat." Sculpture magnet created by Laura Parcel, 2015,

Fuelling Creativity: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors on Ideas
Cat Rambo, Django Wexler, Greg Bear, Jason M. Hough, Myke Cole, Ramez Naam
Moderator: David Hulton
Is there a process to coming up with ideas, or do they hit you like a bolt of lightning with total clarity?
RN: Never a fully-completed idea. It evolves with time. It’s never fully formed until the story is written.
DW: Has more ideas to write than he can actually write, adding up faster than he can get rid of! Sometimes it’s super-clear, and sometimes it comes together easily, but sometimes it’s much weirder. (Like his Hidden Library series, came from the idea of a very creepy Dumbledore)
MC: “Writer’s need to live life like they’re hunting it.” You cannot control how inspiration strikes. You cannot control how inspiration strikes. All you can control is the work. Sit down and come up with ideas. Be okay with coming up with bad ideas. Keep doing it until you come up with a good idea. If still can’t, then construct one. Have faith. (Books: Gemini Cell: if Harry Potter went to the Navy Seals instead of Hogwarts). The point: However you come to it, control the one and only thing you can control, which is the work. Do your work. “Do it well. That’s all that you can do.”
GB: Have ten million crackpot ideas and sufficient courage to turn them into a story. When you have a whole raft of crackpot ideas, you can pull them out when you need them. Fantasy ideas often come from the mythic consciousness. SF ideas come from the same, but have to work in a different way. Ideas come from the same thing: You need pure arrogance, to believe in yourself. Surround yourself with people who give yourselves ideas. Get rid of the ones who don’t believe in you. And you must believe in your characters, too.
CR: Agrees, most writers are very arrogant. Problem is not getting ideas, it’s not paying attention to them. If you stop paying attention to them, you’ll stop getting ideas. If you get an idea, write it down. Tells students, “My unconscious mind is much smarter than I am and produces all sorts of things. My job is to pay attention to it.” Pay attention to the weird shit that your mind throws at you. There is gold there.
JH: Agrees, write it down. You don’t want to lose those things, you never know when you’ll use it. Keeps an idea spreadsheet. As for ideas that come randomly that need to be written down and captured – those are the lightning bolts. Others come from brainstorming.

Do you have any advice for writers for how to get started?
RN: Do the work. Don’t wait, don’t overthink, don’t plan, just start. Have 1) Structure and 2) Accountability. Structure: Have a place to do the work. Accountability: Have people that will follow up with you to make sure that you get the work done.
DW: You have to write. Have to give yourself permission to write bad things. Sit down in a chair and do it. A certain amount of planning can be helpful, but overplanning can kill it.
MC: Don’t just talk about writing; write the novel. Don’t build castles in the air. Knows he’s getting into the meat of his story when he’s thinking about his characters, not the world he’s set them in.
GB: Still, must understand the culture of the character you’ve put in the book. That culture will shape that character if the world is your own creation. The chars have to be changed by the world they live in. All our chars are human, but they are not precisely like us.
CR: Don’t worry about that. Just sit down and write the goddamn story. It is so much more fun to talk about writing than it is to write. “Writers just fucking write.”
JH: Exactly.

Nothing is original anymore. How do you make the writing fresh when we live in a world where so much is already out there?
DW: Nothing is original, period. Just don’t worry about that. That’s the best thing they can do. If your characters are different enough, they’ll make for an interesting story.
RN: If you read a lot in the genre you write in, you’ll notice how there’s something you want to see that isn’t there.
DW: Never do something just because there’s a market hole; by the time you finish writing it, that hole may have already been filled.
JH: If there’s something out there already like what you want to write, you may want to tweak yours. However, if you gave the same high concept to five different writers, you’d have five different books.

What’s the difference btw a good idea and a bad idea?
GB: If it sings in your head and won’t let you alone, that’s a good idea. RayB says, “You can’t chase cats; they’ll run away. But if you turn your back on them, they’ll come back to you sometimes.
DW: Sometimes a character doesn’t work in one setting, but works somewhere else.

How do you get the inspiration to go back and edit after your crappy first draft?
MC: You don’t. Difference btw professionalism and aspiration: what makes a pro writer is that the pro writer sits down and does the work even when it sucks. It’s not being unkind to yourself; give yourself a second to wallow, gather your strength, then get to work.
CR: One thing that is very helpful is to build some time away from the book into it. Try to put it away for at least a month or so. Don’t procrastinate; build time into your schedule to let it cool off.
JH: But remember, there’s no rules, only tools. He steps away from the story until it’s been two days since he hasn’t thought about the story.
GB: Go away, and when you think of how to make it better, then you can go back and fix it. Books do not look pretty right away. Learn how to rewrite. Take all the feedback that works for you, and leave the rest.
RN: For every person who’s finished a draft, there’s a thousand people who have never finished a novel. So congratulate yourself on that, too. Likes to get feedback.
DW: Process is very personal. Once you finish your novel, start a new book the next day. Sometimes you odn’t want to spend three years revising a novel, but you can’t make that judgement the next day. Most of all, what matters most is that you need to keep going. But there must be something writing related the next day. Once you stop, it gets harder to restart.

After you’ve finished that first draft and you come back to revision, do you find yourself doing massive story edits, or just grammar/spelling edits?
GB: Yes. All of those things. A lot of adding and cutting and including the sensual elements comes through rewrites.
CR: The other thing about revision: thinks of it as coase grade sandpaper; the bigger revisions first, the smaller revisions come along
DW: Depending, it may help to outline first.

How do you balance an intensive work job with writing?
DW: The secret to writing is that it goes on in your head every day. Find a time to write it down. For him, that’s first thing in the morning. But it doesn’t need to be a lot of time.
MC: Decide what you want to do with your time. But as he began to get serious about writing, he got rid of more things in his life. You must accept that there are no guarantees of success right away. Ask yourself the hard question: What do you want to do? There may be hard choices and things you want to do that you’ll have to wait for.
MC: Let the Elephants Run – the theory that the creativity is in our DNA.

How do you focus on one idea at a time?
DW: Writes things down. Dwells on them for a little while, writes it down to get out of his head, saves for later. It helps that he’s
GB: Sometimes they’re not quite related and they work together when multiple ideas come together. See what happens.
CR: You can work on more than one project at one time.

What do you do when you have multiple ideas and don’t know how to put them together?
GB: Start stories, finish stories, just plain keep writing.