More about YA writing, and series writing in particular

Here I am in New York, trying to get a handle on Victoria’s character: her life, her history, her family, her motivations.

When I was a Junior in high school, I went on a trip to London with my English class, and we toured places that were meaningful in Shakespeare’s life. We went to the Globe Theatre (which was still under construction at the time), Stratford, and Bath, and we took tours and watched plays at the Royal Shakespearean Theatre. Well, I’m doing something similar here, but this is more like the Gossip Girl tour.

I wrote a while back about how writing teens becomes more of a challenge as I get older, because things change, particularly technology, but also social norms, etc. But fashion is so important too. I was about to say that that is important to an NYC teen, but it’s just as important to Podunk Sue, it’s just a different style. It’s even important to the kids who make a point of letting you know that fashion is far from their interests – they still had to pick out those black jeans, try on those combat boots, choose just the right studded belt, and liberty spikes take way more time and energy (and product) than your average blowout. So the clothes are important.

I’m reading a lot of YA series right now, because that’s what’s selling, and I need to know why. It is getting me a lot more in touch with what I would’ve enjoyed reading when I was 12 or 13. It’s reminding me that what appeals to me as a 31-year-old, married, home-owning woman couldn’t be further removed from what drew me back when I was the girl who made cotton candy and put the rings in the ring arm at the Flying Horses Carousel. Back then, I wanted to read about boys. I wanted to read about people whose lives were different than mine, and better! People who had it figured out, or else figured it out in 300 pages or fewer.

I’m two books deep in the Gossip Girl series and I’m not going to lie – I’m looking forward to book 3. My BFA professors would surely die. But these are the same people who taught me that Judy Blume isn’t that great a writer. Well, a glance through my sixth grade Reading journal that recently resurfaced proves that either they’re way off base or it really just doesn’t matter. Having recently read Summer Sisters, I really have to disagree. I’d take Judy Blume over Raymond Carver any day, and those same profs foamed at the mouth at the mere mention of Raymond Carver.

Is the story more important than the characters involved? Well, I say JB’s characters are pretty solid too. And with series books, the success of a series relies on strong characters. Take four or five well-imagined characters, then put them in different situations for book after book, and there you have a series.

Now why series? Well, when I’m finishing a fantastic book, I don’t want it to end. With series, you go on to the next. You don’t have to bother with meeting an entirely new cast of characters, you can continue with those to whom you’ve already committed yourself. As a writer, how sweet would it be to have everything lined up so tidily? If a + b = x, and we already have a and x, just figure out a b (plot), and write. Who cares if it’s formulaic? It can be fun to write, because you start with some givens, and it is apparently enjoyable to read according to Amazon.com. Granted, most of these serieses are dreamed up at a boardroom table and executed by nameless and underpaid ghostwriters.

When I was in Jr. high, I was way into the Baby Sitters’ Club. Five girls from diverse backgrounds (not necessarily “diverse” as in multicultural, but in experience), and a set plot motivator that offers multiple character and situational scenarios, i.e., babysitting. Later, new main characters could be added simply by inviting them into the club.

So why does this matter right now? Well, it’s nice to be reminded that crappy writing (or at least what I’ve been groomed to identify as crappy writing) still sells. Plus I’m just whining. Why can’t anyone tell meeeee who my characters are and what they want and what to do with them? I guess I just need to relax and trust that the characters will tell me themselves. In the meantime, no better way to research plot ideas than to read numerous series books in which the other elements (character, setting) are already laid out. Boardrooms across America can’t be wrong.

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4 Comments »

  1. psychmum said

    I think series reads and especially YA or teen series reads are brilliant – and I won’t tell you how old I am. I read the whole Alex Rider series earlier in the year and also a Blyton series (Barnaby mysteries) that I came across in a service station, and they were both good entertaining reads, one old one new. Why don’t you just jot down an outline plot for one book you’ve read and then adapt it for your own characters and situation? I bet it would end up unique and saleable!

  2. ifyoubelievethenclap said

    Thanks for your comment! I have a lot more to say about plot, which I’ll be devoting a post to today or tomorrow.

  3. Elizabeth said

    I’m always wary of starting series. Even when I don’t really like a series (Vampire Academy, I’m looking at you!), I feel a strange compulsion to keep reading them. It’s an addiction. So for me, I’m more likely to invest in starting a single title. I seem to be unusual, though; apparently first books in a series don’t really take off in sales until the second book comes out…

    • ifyoubelievethenclap said

      I don’t think I could write with a series in mind (yet, at least). I think they are useful in studying plot, because the pace is so consistent and the plot points are set by page number. (How do they make every Gossip Girl book almost exactly 200 pages??)

      I might have to write more about this….

      Thanks for your comment! Oh, and your blog looks awesome!

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