A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘YA fiction’


One of my favorite parts* of writing is starting a new project. I love the thrill of endless possibilities, I love the rush of new ideas, I love the potential. But most of all, I love developing the characters, the plot, and the backstory.

I love backstory. Yes, I know it ought not always be included in the actual plot, but it is my favorite thing to develop. Why, you might ask? Because it all leads to the present.  It’s a twisty, turny path from the beginning of a character’s story (which in my opinion always begins with their ancestors) to get to where the character is interesting.

A couple weeks ago, I was at the beginning of working on my new YA project (title in progress). It takes place in Minnesota (though I might change that to Iowa) so it’s a little different than what I typically write, but it is still technically fantasy. One of the first things I did was develop the main characters. And then, I made the family tree.


Yes, I get a little carried away. (At least this isn’t the one where I color-coded the different generations!) I like to know where my characters come from. The past is important in shaping who they are, and almost always has an impact on the plot (at least in my stories). Beyond the family tree, I like to have a family history – where they came from, when major events happened, and even some idea of the lives of many of the ancestors.

Maybe I take it too far, but I love the part of history that deals with people. The people are what make any story, fact or fiction, interesting and that is why I take the time to learn the history of a story before I start writing.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process? How involved do you get in creating backstory?

Take care, fellow travelers!

*My other favorite part is, of course, finishing a draft.

Fiction and Real Life

Last Wednesday, I mentioned that I have started work on a pet project, and that it is YA. In my attempts to procrastinate working on various tasks, I came across some articles and posts about how certain books and TV shows exemplify and work through real life issues. Now, I’ve said this a few times before but I will reiterate: fiction, regardless of genre or medium, needs to reflect real life. This is especially true for YA, because teenagers are often struggling with issues that they keep hidden, or have no resources to help them work through it. Sometimes the only way they know that they aren’t alone is by reading a book, and seeing characters going through the same things – even if there are fantastical elements to the story.

I believe that the primary focus of writers should be to tell a good story, but I don’t think a story without a message can ever live up to the enduring prestige of those stories that say something important. There is no doubt that this belief has been influenced by my study and love of Russian literature. Many classic books (whether they are Russian or not) have important messages that echo throughout the ages. Crime and Punishment questions whether a person can do whatever they want just because they are “better” (or if some people really are better than others)While I don’t think YA books need this level of  musing, it is important to have a purpose behind writing.

Now, by no means am I saying that books need to be preachy or overtly biased in the message: it is up to readers to interpret what we writers are trying to say. I merely mean to make the assertion that there ought to be room for people to connect and interpret. The best way to explain is through examples, and so I have some for you. They are from both books and TV, and mostly from what I would consider to be YA fiction.

Many articles have been written on the real-life relevance of Harry Potter. Integral to the plot are messages about prejudice, abuse, death and immortality, betrayal, loyalty, oppression, and sacrifice. When the books first came out, I never saw these themes (I was a kid, after all), but as I grew and kept reading the books, it became obvious that they had relevance to real life. This wasn’t just the story of a boy who found out he was a wizard. This was the story of a boy determined to make a change in the world around him. He grew out of terrible circumstances and did something amazing, as did the people around him (heck – look where Neville ended up!).

The Hunger Games is another YA book series that has an incredible message. It is about children being exposed to (and forced to participate in) violence. It is about standing up for what you believe in and thinking of those you love. It is also, in my interpretation, about peer pressure (particularly in Mockingjay, book 3 of the trilogy).

The Farseer Trilogy, though not YA, deals with difficult real-life issues such as addictions, depression, and if people should always be obedient to authority.

Books aren’t the only medium in which reality informs fiction. The best TV shows and movies do the same thing. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy and her friends deal with a myriad of issues from relationship trouble to the death of loved ones to doing the right thing even though they know it will hurt to doing the wrong thing because they are in so much pain. M.E. Kinkade recently had an excellent post called High School as Hell: Buffy the Vampire Slayer about – you guessed it – how the show (at least the first few seasons) is about how rough high school can be. Stargate, a show about traveling through a wormhole to other planets and encountering other civilizations, deals with cultural issues, prejudice, and imposing one person/group’s values and morals on another person or group.

Stories – be they books, TV shows, or movies – need real life relevance. A story without something to say to me, no matter how good it is, leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

Do you think that books should have messages? Do you have a favorite book (or show or movie) with a message?

Take care, fellow travelers.

When the Going Gets Tough

I haven’t been editing Quest for Salvation

Phew, now that that confession is out there, let me tell you why. I love the story, I love the characters, and I love the world – but sometimes it can be overwhelming. Having finished another round of edits, I’ve found the amount of work I still have to do exhausting. My MC still needs more work to make her a worthwhile character, my plot needs to be tightened up a bit more, especially at the beginning (I’ve planned another rewrite of the first couple of chapters) and of course there is all of the editing for rhythm and pacing and phrasing. In short: I stopped before I got burnt out from writing all together.

I have been working on this world (almost exclusively) for four years. More than once I’ve had to set it aside (swearing that I would never come back to it because it’s a worthless idea) and I am NOT going to go through that again. I’ve learned when to let it rest. I sent the draft I have to some readers, and hopefully their input will get me ready to work on it again.

But what am I doing in the meantime? Well, I’m still writing. My new project is a YA novel* that has roots in a story I wrote with a friend in high school (though what those roots are is hard to say – there are no recognizable elements of that story in this one now).

This has been my strategy for a long time: When writing one story becomes forced, I jump to another. That way the creative juices are still flowing, but I get to completely change my point of view, tone, characters, and setting. It gets me out of the writing slumps.

How do you prevent getting burnt out? Do you have strategies to keep from getting frustrated with your work?

Take care, fellow travelers.

* I’ll be writing more about this project in posts to come, though I hope to pick back up on my series on Ibvailyn Culture soon.

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