“Why do you write for children?” My immediate response to this question is, “I don’t.” … If it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children. If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books. And words.–Madeleine L’Engle
My latest post is up at the Ploughshares blog, and this month I’m talking about judging characters by how likeable or relatable they are.
“Likeablity” is a big issue for YA writers and readers. Teen characters, especially teen girl characters, are easily judged for being ‘annoying’ or ‘bitchy’ or for making bad choices–which is how teens and people in general are in real life. We make bad choices, we complain, we say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and that’s part of what makes us human. Even more importantly, it’s a place from which we can grow and learn from these mistakes. YA is all about growing and learning and becoming the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life. Why should that always be ‘likeable?’
In the post, I include a reference to The Whale and teen character Ellie, one of the most unlikeable and most pained teen characters I’ve seen. Although The Whale is decidedly not YA, when I saw the play and heard audience reaction to how unlikeable and seemingly irredeemable Ellie is, I really wanted to have the opportunity to defend her. She’s a mean person who does/says some awful things, but all of her cruelty comes from a place of sadness and anger and grief and isolation. I hope more readers and viewers can take the opportunity to asses characters like Ellie (again, especially teen girl characters) and understand what makes them mean or annoying or frustrating.
Check out the whole post, and share your thoughts on likeability, relatability, and readability.
It’s less than two weeks to the Boston Teen Author Festival and I’m so excited!
Doors open at 10:45, and we’ll be having four amazing panels. The info has just been announced! I’ll be part of Platonic in Love: Writing strong non-romantic relationships. One of my biggest pet peeves is that YA is all about insta-love, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to talk about other kinds of love and relationships and friendships in YA with some seriously amazing authors.
Check out the poster below for all the panel/author goodness:
And click through to the Boston Teen Author Festival website for all necessary info. Hope to see you on September 27th!
A few links for your Wednesday:
- Love this quote.
- How book designers come up with just the right image to convey a story.
- Excellent post on writing for 21st century teens and why it’s more than just references to social media.
- Teens in YA with jobs.
- I would totally take a library sciences class with Giles.
- Great idea for a grant.
- For your library swooning.
- The seven steps of revision.
- A playlist for YA.
Recently, I came across this list of bizarre day jobs of famous authors. Although I think for most writers, this list doesn’t seem all that bizarre. Most of us need some source of income that’s not writing-related, and I’d wager that almost all of us have had some kind of random job in our past. (My resume includes ice cream scooping, doll selling, wrangling costumed characters, and television production.)
Writing is pretty much the best career ever, but unfortunately it’s not one that usually comes with health benefits attached. My advice for finding a writer-friendly job:
- Be honest with yourself and your needs.
Your career is writing. A day job can (and hopefully will) be fulfilling on its own, but you don’t need to feel pressured to climb the corporate ladder. Think about what kind of schedule you need, what your priorities are financially, what flexibility you might need, etc. Your day job shouldn’t drain you of valuable energy that could go toward your writing.
- Find something you don’t hate.
At one of my first jobs out of school, I was super stressed and would leave feeling like I’d just spent 8 hours doing nothing worthwhile. My current job makes me feel good about what I do doing the workday, which means I don’t get home and want to hide under the couch cushions.
- Wear your writer badge.
If possible, be honest with your employer/coworkers that you’re a writer. Not that you need to go into major detail about revisions, but try not to hide the fact that you’re actively pursuing a career in art. At my current and last couple of jobs, people knew I was a writer and were extremely supportive. If I had to hide the fact that I had another career outside of my job, I might not feel comfortable going to work everyday.
- Understand the ebbs and flows.
Even with the best day job, there are stressful times and days when you wonder, “What if I just wrote full time?” I’d love to be a full-time writer, but I know I’d hate the pressure of writing with a voice in the back of my head telling me, “If this doesn’t sell, you are sunk.” It’s okay if you have a stressful day or week or month at work. That doesn’t mean you’re not doing the right thing for yourself, your home, and your craft.
- Remember it’s not just you.
It’s easy to think that other writers make enough money to spend all day writing, but even really successful writers often do other things to pad their incomes–teaching, writing other articles, doing author visits, working 9-5 at entirely unrelated jobs, doing temp or freelance work, etc. And even if they are writing full-time, that doesn’t mean they don’t stress about bills or cut back on their budget on any given month. Just because you see someone has a book out doesn’t mean you know what their financial situation is. We’re all trying to make it work as best we can.
No matter what your writing career looks like or what other kind of jobs you have/have had, you’re not alone. Most of us need a day job, but writing is our real work, and that’s a pretty great thing to be doing–even if it’s not doing regular office hours.
Happy Friday, everyone! And happy September! Summer kind of flew by and, as you may have noticed, I’ve been a slightly delinquent blogger. Part of that was working on my WIP, which I finally finished! (Well, you know, I finished the draft, but that means diving into revisions and polishing everything up.)
But another part of that is being a little burnt out by stuff like the Friday Fifteen. Even bumping it down to five reviews a week instead of fifteen has been hard over the past few months. So I’m thinking–maybe it’s time to restructure Fridays a little. I’m toying with the idea of making the Friday Fifteen a biweekly or monthly post, and mixing in other recurring threads on the other Fridays.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments. At least for today, we’ve got a regular Friday Fifteen. Onto the book reviews in fifteen words or fewer!
2. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
Growing things takes dedication and patience. Which may be why I’m bad at gardening.
3. A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L’Engle
Not my favorite of the L’Engles. The Athenian setting stands out for me the most.
4. The Haunted House (Sweet Valley Twins #3) by Francine Pascal
Jessica thinks the new girl is a witch, is mean to her, surprising no one.
5. Good Enough by Paula Yoo
Sweet and funny and genuine. Special place in my heart for Patti’s church youth group.
“I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says…You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to—to feel that—that what—that he is—is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of—of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in…But the character’s got to be true by your conception and by your experience, and that would include, as we’ve just said, what you’ve read, what you’ve imagined, what you’ve heard, all that going to giving you the gauge to measure this imaginary character by, and once he comes alive and true to you, and—and he’s important and moving, then it’s not too much trouble to put him down.”–William Faulkner
As always, Faulkner finds the perfect words to describe the creation process. So often I feel like I just need to see in my mind what a character is doing. I can’t force it; I just have to let them walk around so I can “put down” what they say and do.