“Did you hear it?”
I burst through the door, looking for anyone who might be around to speculate with.
“Wait–you did, too?” my sister said, twisting to glance over the couch.
“What the hell was it?”
“It came on about five minutes ago, right? That’s when you heard it?”
“Yeah, I was in traffic and then the radio just cut out. I figured that old piece of shit grandma gave us had just seen it’s day but then the radio made this crackling noise. Was it on the radio here, too?”
“No, it came through the television.” Jumping onto the couch, I quickly eyed the TV before my sister said, “It hasn’t come back since.”
“Was there a video with it?”
“No. It was weird. Right in the middle of my movie the sound died but then…”
“Hold on. Where are mom and dad? Did they hear it?”
“My phone’s been blowing up. Everyone heard it. Even Uncle Lanny in Alaska! He texted asking if anything weird had happened in the last few minutes. I haven’t heard from mom or dad, though.”
The trembling in my core amplified. “Did you try to call?”
As my sister frantically dialed our parents, I surveyed the neighbors congregating across the street. They shouted at each other and pantomimed their excitement or concern. In a flash, I was back on my feet and out the door. “Did you hear it?” I called across the street.
“They think it went country wide,” our neighbor responded.
“Maybe the whole world,” said another.
“What did it mean?” I asked but they returned to chatting among themselves just as my parents’ Jeep pulled into the driveway.
“Did you hear it?” my sister asked from behind me.
Mom’s brow cranked upward. “Did we hear what?”
My sister and I couldn’t help but share a perplexed look. “Anything on the radio?”
“You heard it, too?” mom said.
“That thing we heard on the phone?” dad added.
They didn’t seem to notice the chatter going on across the street and casually walked to our door like the world wasn’t in a panic around them. “Everyone heard it,” my sister said.
“It came through on your phone?”
“I heard it in the car and she heard it on the TV,” I said.
“Strange,” he said to himself. “Let’s go inside.”
I held my ground and said, “What did it mean?”
A wrinkle appeared between mom’s eyes and she let a tense breath escape. “Nothing good.”
Every writing conference I attend teaches me some nugget of knowledge I hadn’t realized or put into words before. Often there is more than one light-bulb moment. The latest writer-palooza was no different and I hope some of the findings I learned will prove helpful to you all as well!
1- Openings need to change the status quo. This seems pretty straight forward when you think about, but I guess I never really thought about it! By starting your novel with the status quo, you set up the world the reader will see and by the end of the first chapter, that should be turned on its head.
2- We all know people aren’t perfect and that our world isn’t either, but for some reason we try to build perfect characters and perfect places. That needs to stop. I’m a big supporter of this one because it’s so true to life. Write people and places that reflect the individuals we know from the world we live in, flaws and all.
3- The right ending. One of the most important tidbits from the conference was realizing that sometimes the ending you write for the story doesn’t fit with what you’re actually trying to tell. What’s your message? How do you want the reader to feel at the end? Does your character’s journey reflect these things? If not, time to change the ending.
4- Every villain has their own hero’s journey. This has definitely been a weak point for me and taking this to heart started to clarify motives and desires of my earlier antagonists. They believe what they’re doing is right, and in their own terms, they are the hero – give them that journey.
5- As an author, you are also an entrepreneur. You are your own best advocate. Yes, every writer’s path is different, but on whatever road you travel you are the first and best person to champion your story. This isn’t to say tweet a billion times a day begging people to buy your book, but it means you need to put in the work (whatever that may mean at your step in the process) to help yourself achieve your goals.
If you attended this conference and want to add any other gems you heard, please feel free to comment! For everyone who didn’t attend, I hope these were helpful and I hope you keep them in mind as you continue to kick ass and take names as the badass writer you are.
Teenagers, like adults, are complex. They make mistakes. They say problematic things. They make stupid choices. This isn’t a news-flash for anyone. After all, teens [people] are flawed, nuanced, and constantly growing. In my opinion, they do and say A LOT of things very, very wrong and this should be reflected in YA novels. And I think for the most part it is.
My point for this blog isn’t about writing more flawed characters, it’s about accepting those flawed characters. We (as writers) tend to romanticize our characters and make them perfect before weaving in a dose of reality. And although we know people are flawed and our characters should be too, there’s an awful lot of judgement thrown around after the fact about how frustrating those flawed representations can be.
Sure, these teenagers were written by adults and as adults we would hope that our peers could understand the delicate nature of certain conversations or situations teens get thrown into and age-appropriately display them. I don’t know about you, but when I read teenagers making incredibly well reasoned choices in the face of challenging encounters I call shenanigans. Not on everything, of course, but generally speaking if they go with the choice any rational adult would make, I’m not sure I buy it.
Yes, there are characters who could be considered an exception to the rule. I knew and currently know teens who don’t act their age or behave like tiny professors in kids bodies. However, for every one of them, you’ll come across ten, twenty, maybe a hundred teens who are just trying to make it to the end of high school without having a total break down.
Although I find it frustrating and sometimes second-hand embarrassing, I like reading about teenagers who don’t understand the world around them. I like reading about teens who struggle to find the right path. I like reading about teens who royally mess up. Why? Because that’s what teens do! I enjoy watching a character’s evolution from saying dumb shit to finally realizing how uninformed they were. I know as a teen I struggled to connect with a lot of YA characters because they seemed to have everything together and I totally did not. Frankly, that was a factor that turned me off the category. Perhaps (and arguably) I wasn’t reading the right books, but I am glad to see an increase in flawed teens these days. It’s nice to read realistic teens and watch them stumble before finding their wings.
To expand that point, though, I have noticed while male teenage characters are allowed to make these mistakes and lapses in judgement without backlash (actually, they get a lot of cheers and laughs for their mistakes), female teenage characters on the other hand are often not allowed the same leniency. Everything gets put under a microscope and people go off the deep end about how immature or irresponsible these girls were. If they were fellow adults, sure, I’d probably be concerned about them as well, but they’re teens and giant mistakes and glaring flaws are part of that stage in life.
It’s like no where is safe for girls, even fictional girls, not to be perfect little princesses. Ugh, even writing that made me a little sick. Moving on before I have a conniption.
Since many YA readers are adults, I’d like to kindly remind that portion of the fanbase about how messy they were in their teens and how many things they said and did that were problematic. I think teen readers need to see other teens (even if they are fictional) making those same errors and growing from those choices. I think it’s really important to remove the notion teens should be perfect. Maybe we can be less critical as outsiders looking in and more sympathetic to how flawed characters might actually be a good thing for teens to read.
Something unique and special I love about books is finding the hidden hints authors weave in about the their muses, favorite people, or personally important things. Incorporating “Easter eggs” into your novel can create additional creative layers in your storytelling. Sometimes those allusions are really only for you and your inner circle, but for those in the know, it can be a great surprise to come across. If you’re wondering what types of Easter eggs you can include, here are a few:
Hint to other works- Writers do this a lot out of admiration and sometimes inspiration. They’ll have their characters read their favorite books, or quote their favorite authors. Sometimes the allusions are more subtle, like using the same character name, or having the character wear the same ionic piece of clothing.
Hint to previous works– For authors with several book babies in the world, they might also have secret references to their other novels. Maybe the characters share a favorite band or they have a certain “type” when dating. It could even be something as simple and cool as visiting the same town or shared symbolism.
Hint to writing friends- This always gives me a giggle! These Easter Eggs can be harder to locate, but can be something akin to a naming reference or the character having the same favorite pizza topping as a friend. Maybe the author’s friend always uses a specific phrase and so the character does as well. Finding these personal touches warms my heart x)
Family Hints- Much like referencing friends, the family mentions tend to center about names or personality types. As writers we all draw from experience and reality when crafting our worlds so it’s no surprise a lot of these people seep into our writing.
Pop culture hints- These aren’t always hints, per se, but I like coming across them anyway. Any fandom geekery gives me a squee, but it can be even more exciting to come across these in spec fic where such hints need to be expertly incorporated as to not draw away from the imaginary world but also keep readers from the real world engaged.
When friends books are published, first, I majorly fangirl, then I read in search of these Easter Eggs. Every book is like a treasure hunt when you think about! I love finding mentions of other writers, or books, tv, or movies they found significant. Although reading books by people I’m not close with can prove more difficult in searching for their hidden hints, sometimes that challenge can make the discoveries even more exciting! And it’s everywhere. Every writer does this in some way, whether they’re intentional hints or accidental hints–they’re there. Go pick up a book, any book, and search through for the stories hidden underneath.