Defending Ellie: Unlikeable Teen Girl Characters

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.

Boston Teen Author Festival: Panels Announced!

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!

Links Galore

A few links for your Wednesday:

 

 

The Not-So Bizarre World of Writers with Day Jobs

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Quote of the Day

“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.

Check out more of Faulkner’s thoughts on writing here (wahoowa!) and check out more quotes on writing here.

Links Galore

Man, I am so behind on posting! Here are all the links I’ve been hoarding:

Come Find Me at Buttonwood Books Tomorrow Night!

Tomorrow I’ll be at Buttonwood Books in Cohasset, MA (just outside of Boston) for a panel and signing with my fellow 2014 debut YA author the lovely Skylar Dorset!

Come for the discussion about YA writing, stay for the signing and smiles.

The details:

YA Author Panel and Signing
August 13, 7pm at Buttonwood Books
747 CJC HWY RTE 3A
Cohasset, MA 02025

The weather is supposed to be kind of gross, but hopefully by 7pm things will have calmed down. And what better way to spend a rainy day than by hitting up a local bookstore?