Monday, June 30, 2014

You Have a Great Idea for a Middle Grade or Young Adult Book? Now What Do You Do?

So you have a wonderful idea for a book.  How can you turn that fabulous idea into a great book?  And how do other authors do it?  

Certainly middle grade novels require a bit of amping down, but with young adult, all bets are off.  You can create the creepiest, meanest, or most selfless and heroic characters you want without fear of doing so.  In fact, young adult novels have become known as “crossovers,” appropriate for teens and adults alike!

Let’s start with characters—protagonists and antagonists.  Immediately move them out of the ordinary but not too slant.  By that I mean, keep them a little bit “everyman” while making them non-ordinary.  Most of us write characters with whom we can identify—those within our comfort zone.  Get rid of that notion.  Try writing about the hapless, the flawed, those who are different than you but, of course, are still human with many of the same desires and wishes.  Hard to do?  Yes, but so worthwhile in creating a complex and memorable character.  (Think Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood.) In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood gives the Cinderella protagonist no quarter—and no handsome prince to save the day.  She’s on her own, and the readers love it!

Have your characters do—not describe, or talk the reader to death, or kill them with boredom.  In other words (and I hate to say it again but will) show, don’t tell.  Let the people you’ve brought to life on the page live, betray, love, and hate—all the time showing what they do instead of describing how they do it.

Think of gestures you or others do.  Things we’re not really aware of many times on a conscious level. A look, a non-look when one should occur, a gesture, a speech hesitation, too much speech, a realization that one knows s/he has said too much, and s/he knows you (and perhaps the whole table) knows…I could go on forever.  These human markers drive fiction, they drive the story, heck—they drive life!  Use them to your advantage.  But remember, don’t describe them, make your characters live them.

If we (and I place myself first here) can infuse our writing with such techniques, our stories will improve. They will stand out.  They will shine. They will be art imitating life.  And who knows?  They may be as true to life as life itself.

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