Monday, February 28, 2011

Let’s do it for Johnny, man! Or, Why write for teenagers?

When I tell people, some people, that I write YA fiction, their facial expressions vary from raised to furrowed eyebrows. But the head nod remains the same. “Why young adults; don’t you want to write real fiction?” Someone actually asked me that. Apparently, they hadn’t read The Hunger Games trilogy or gone past the 3rd Harry Potter book. Young Adult fiction isn’t what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton will forever be in my top ten of all time. After all, in eighth grade, I was convinced I was going marry Ponyboy and live on a ranch. My best friend at the time, naturally, would be walking down the aisle with Johnny, once he finished the Karate Kid movies that is.  And to this day I can’t see Rob Lowe on Brothers and Sisters or his most recent guest appearances on Californication without thinking “Sodapop Curtis,” and let’s face it, the man doesn’t age. So, why do I write for young adults? I have a question of my own. Why not?

YA novels today have guts (The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins). They give you the chills (Shiver, by Maggie Steifvater), show the damage (Freefall, by Mindi Scott), exploit the sinister side of the cool and beautiful (A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray), expose the truth (Witch Child, by Celia Rees), and make you believe in miracles (If I Stay, by Gayle Foreman). Surrounded by news of a failing economy, intolerance, skyrocketing divorce rates and war, I need an escape. I want to write a world where things going bump in the night are on the page, not the news channel. Young adult books today have incredible story lines, written by talented authors who push boundaries in fiction. So maybe I'm not "doing it for Johnny. I'm doing it for readers and lovers of fiction. And if you pick up a new YA book today, you won’t be disappointed.

Welcome to Why I YA

When I was around 10 years old I told my family I was going to write books.  I was deep into Judy Blume at the time. They patted my head.  "You tell the best stories," they said. But convincing your mother you won a puppy in a school spelling bee (Yes that really happened) and actually putting words on paper, lots of words, is entirely different. Somewhere along life’s journey my first dream and reality parted ways. I started as an English major and, after much abuse from friends and family, switched to the "oh so practical" field of graphic design, earning a B.F.A from the Massachusetts College of Art. When I was laid off from my sure-bet job in what I believed was a solid field, I jumped at the opportunity to follow my first passion, throwing myself into writing with every minute unfortunately and miraculously afforded me. My “if not now, then when” moment surfaced, and I latched onto it like a life preserver. Programmed as a designer to tell stories in pictures, I had to learn how to write all over again, starting with an idea, a character, a dilemma; the possibilities were endless.  I survived writing the first novel relatively unscathed and infinitely more informed. I’m off on a journey to plot and write a sequel, as well as a whole new novel. Join me for the ride and witness just how many brain cells I might lose along the way. And if you’re in the same boat, by all means, grab an oar and let’s paddle through the process together. You know where I’m docked.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Jennifer Bosworth

What My Foray Into Screenwriting Taught 
me about Crafting a Novel

All my life I wanted to be a novelist. The idea of trying my hand at screenwriting never entered my mind until I moved to Los Angeles. Once you live here, writing at least one screenplay is practically a right of passage, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a waiter/actor, or a psychic to the stars. Everyone gets the bug at some point.
Before I moved to La La Land, I’d written two gargantuan epic fantasy novels that were basically collections of all the things I loved. Vampires, were creatures, parallel dimensions, violence, gore, sex, witchcraft, dystopia, westerns, I could go on and on. I’m telling you, these monstrosities I had created were like True Blood to the tenth power.
I was a decent writer, but I was struggling like crazy to write a book that could actually sell.
I got frustrated with writing novels, so I decided, “Hey, why not write a screenplay? It has to be easier than writing a book.”
Turns out, what I learned from screenwriting made writing a novel easier. And as soon as
I returned from my foray into screenwriting and wrote a new book using my new knowledge, that was the one that got me an agent and sold.
Here’s a breakdown of what I took away from screenwriting that helped me become a better novelist:
The notion of high concept – There are a lot of definitions for high concept, but on the most basic level, it is this: a really f#&@*$g good idea that makes people’s eyes light up when you tell it to them. Easy, right? Okay, not so much. Let’s delve. A great high concept idea is one that is generally unique, but with familiar elements. Something that is “the same but different.” That’s why using a mashup of two ideas works so well to create a high concept idea. You end up saying things like “my story is like ___ meets ___but with ___.” If a mashup comes easily to mind when you think of your story, you probably have a great high concept idea on your hands. Remember, idea is king.
Save the cat – There’s a screenwriting book called Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, which is chock full of great wisdom for storytellers of any form. Buy it. It’s worth it. But for now, I’ll talk about the most important notion in the book: your main character needs to save the cat. What this means is that your MC needs to do something early in the story that gets the audience/reader on her side. You can have a character who is secretly a cold-blooded serial killer, but if, early in your story, this killer sees a smaller kid being bullied and stops it, we’ll be on the killer’s side for the rest of the novel. A great example is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. As a character, she’s heroic, but she’s also stoic and stubborn and single-minded. But . . . she makes a great sacrifice in the first chapter to save another, and for that we will forgive pretty much anything else she does for the rest of the series.
Language is not enough – Screenplays are action and dialogue, which equals story, story, story, and they have to be 120 pages or less in most cases. There’s no room for overwriting and showoffy language. Before screenwriting, the two books I’d written were both 250,000 words. I was obviously doing some overwriting, and quite a bit of showing off. Screenwriting taught me the art of saying a lot with a little, and more importantly, it taught me the importance of placing story above language. Language is great, yes, we all love a beautifully crafted sentence or metaphor. But if all you have is language, you’re dead in the water.
Be willing to move on – In the world of screenwriting, you can’t just write one screenplay and sell it for a million and that’s that, you’re set for life. Most writers don’t ever sell a screenplay. They get assignments by studios to write them, and usually they need to show a body of work in order to get those assignments. Screenwriters can’t become so attached to their work that they never get past that first screenplay, or they’ll never get paid, and never see their work produced. The lesson I learned from this is that I should not cling to my projects. I should keep moving. Keep writing. Sharks have to keep swimming or they’ll die, and the same is true for a writer’s career. Some books can be an anchor, holding you back, pulling you under. Be willing to write something new. Lots of somethings new.

Jennifer Bosworth is the debut author of STRUCK, a story of post-apocalyptic proportions. When a massive earthquake devastates Los Angeles, teenage lightning addict Mia Price finds herself at the center of a battle between two doomsday cults, one that wants to save the world and one that wants to destroy it. And she will be the deciding factor in who succeeds at their aim. (FSG/Macmillan May 8, 2012).