You know those times when you want a YA novel that’s like a contemporary, and a historical? Here’s 5 YAs that give you both.
You know those times when you want a YA novel that’s like a contemporary, and a historical? Here’s 5 YAs that give you both.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to the beautiful, extraordinary fiction of David Almond, author of some of the most hypnotically and gorgeously written YA novels, ever.
Have you ever been in such a rush to get to the reveal in a book that you skim through the descriptive paragraphs and just focus on the dialogue? As writers and lovers of writing, we can’t really condone this (every word counts, man!), but there’s no denying that this happens, and that it’s really tempting, especially in YA or thrillers or any kind of story where you just NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT RIGHT NOW. You know how that goes. It’s easy to focus on dialogue: that’s often the strongest component of a piece of writing. Not only does it further the plot, but it also reveals more about the character who’s speaking. It shows you the characters’ dynamics with each other, as well as their perception of the world, and of themselves.
So yeah, dialogue’s kind of important.
Think of just about any Shakespeare play, and you’ll realize that in the last 400 years, the play you’re thinking of has had an unfathomable amount of actors in the role—from the Doctor to Sherlock in one particular case—and set designs that range from historical to futuristic. Every director has added something of themselves to the interpretation, and each crew, from makeup to lighting, manipulated the mood. And of course those actors all made the roles their own.
Yet the dialogue has rarely changed. Even Baz Luhrmann didn’t touch Romeo or Juliet’s lines (there’s some cutting on occasion, but the majority of the lines tend to be left alone). Because everything, from their attraction, their hope and their despair, comes through in their dialogue.
As you go through your draft, make sure you do a pass where you only read your dialogue. Make sure it gives you a sense of your characters—both those talking and those listening—your plot, and your setting/world.
In some ways, dialogue is the spine of the story. And that spine needs to be strong. Which means it needs to feel authentic and organic. Each line needs to hold up on its own. Each line needs to clearly belong to the character that said it. If you read just the dialogue, it should be obvious who is speaking, and it should illuminate who they really are.
But it’s not all about what they say. It’s about what they don’t say. Think about any conversation you’ve had recently. How much of what was said was actually unsaid (yeah, we just blew ya minds!). How surprised would you be if your boss told you that she was angry at you for misspelling her name on the presentation because her stepfather never adopted her and refused to accept her as one of his own even though she was just a baby when her mother married him?
You might wonder if she was high. No one gives you all the information when they’re not under the influence. Not just because people might prefer to be cautious with TMI, but also because not many people are that self-aware in real time. If you write a character who narrates everything like that, chances are, they won’t feel authentic (unless that’s a very, very specific character choice on your part). When you’re writing a first draft, the characters often narrate, very clearly, everything you want them to say and feel. It’s one of the key jobs in the edit to cut down that dialogue, mess it up, make it oblique, less obvious, less on the nose about what it’s trying to be.
It’s not easy. It takes a lot of practice. Even if you’re writing novels, you should read a lot of screenplays, because great screenplays are full of beautifully concise yet meaningful dialogue. It’s also important to listen to the people around you. Yes, we’re telling you to eavesdrop. We’re also telling you to start some conversations where you ask all the questions, so you can listen to how fragmented answers can be, and how rarely people directly and cleanly talk back and forth. Call your friend who literally NEVER STOPS TALKING. We all have one (what’s up with that?). You’ll hear some almost musical, free-flowing stream of consciousness dialogue. (Sometimes you need to write long monologues for characters). If socializing isn’t your bag, watch some great TV. Maybe not your everyday glossy procedurals, which lean heavily on exposition and on the nose conversations. Look for shows that are STRONG on character dynamics and revelations, shows where dialogue is a weapon, a shield, a cloaking device, an illusion. Give us some examples you say? Alrighty then.
This show is a MASTER CLASS in how characters can communicate their feelings while talking about literally anything and everything else and doing it all really really fast until the truth comes out. Did we mention the speed? Characters talk so much and so fast on this show that one of their hourlong scripts, which would usually be 50-ish pages, can often run to 70 pages or more.
Game Of Thrones
No show has more information to hand out than this one (not even procedurals). There are SO MANY old white men to remember, but through some brutal, thrilling and visceral dialogue, you can figure out who everyone is and where they’re coming from without anyone standing around listing their credentials to one of the few remaining Stark kids (too soon? Seriously, zag, Rickon!!)
This is a great example of how a character’s dialogue should define them. (And it’s also really fun dialogue for actors to tear into — that’s important). If you watch the show on mute, Jessica is just a grunge girl having a really bad couple of weeks. Volume up, she’s more terrifying to cross than the Hulk, and more entertaining in her self-loathing than Tony Stark. She’s a formidable, complex character with layers on layers on layers, and it’s all there in the dialogue (although shout-out to Krysten Ritter for her astonishingly powerful performance of that dialogue).
ANYTHING BY JOSS WHEDON
Buffy and Firefly are particular standouts, but Whedon can literally not write a line of dialogue that isn’t witty, subtly revealing, and generally staggeringly good. Whedon is brilliant at making even the most incomprehensible of creatures (i.e. the Hulk) relatable and tangible. (“That’s my secret. I’m always angry” is one of the simplest and most devastatingly powerful lines of dialogue EVER). The key to being relatable and tangible is making the character sound grounded, and like someone you could be friends with. Even the bad guys/girls. In fact, especially them. Nothing makes a villain more compelling than the fact that you almost want to root for them. (Well, nothing except a black mask and cloak and some heavy breathing). Yeah, sometimes you need the villain to be utterly, jaw-droppingly awful—(f**k you Ramsay Bolton)—but even then, some element of outrageous charm can go a long way.
So, there’s a lot to think about when you edit your dialogue. That dialogue has a lot of work to do, and it can’t look like it’s doing any work at all. That’s the challenge, but also the reward. So go talk to some people, watch some TV, read some scripts, and make your dialogue really sing.
If, like us, you LOVE you some sweet YA sci-fi, check out this list of 10 awesome new YA sci-fi coming out from now through the end of the year. This list includes the INSANELY FANTASTIC GEMINA, the sequel to last year’s INSANELY FANTASTIC ILLUMINAE, both written by the positively godlike team of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. GEMINA is some next-level sh*t. Just sayin’.
How does a desperate, passionate, hyper-Broadway fan
Deal with the daily, weekly, monthly lack of tickets
To the hottest show and the one you really want to see
How do you fix it, and learn to live without seats?
*stops clicking, weeps*
Well, this list of 5 YA novels set before and during the revolutionary war might help scratch that itch! It’s not front row seats, but on the off-chance you’re not a famous rapper and you don’t know Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’ll let you indulge your need for revolutionary fiction! And help distract you as you enter that lottery one more time…
Waiting for Doctor Who to come back (and Patrick Ness’s spinoff Class to air) got us like:
Since we’re guessing you don’t have a TARDIS, here are 5 YA novels you can read to help you cope until then!
All you have to do is take a quick look at any Tumblr account and you’ll see how influential a character can be. Characters become your friends, your mentors, your inspiration for trying something you never thought of before. They can feel closer to you, at times, than your own family.
As a writer, you never know which of your creations will click with your readers. All you can do is give each character a whole life. Even if the plot doesn’t allow for you to divulge all the details, you need to know them. It’s that in-depth understanding that will come across in every move your character makes, every line of dialogue, and how they influence the plot.
So, go through your first draft and list out your characters—describe what they look like, know the key events in their past, work out who their family and friends are, even their health. What secrets are they hiding? What do they desperately want? What scares them? And, most importantly, how did they get to be in this story? Once you have those answers, you have the beginning’s of your story’s canon. And the more familiar you are with your canon—the stronger your grasp on your characters and their world—the better your story will be.
Now go through your draft again and make sure your characters’ words and actions reflect who they are.
Giving your characters those dimensions will prevent them from being flat, a cardboard cutout that you’re moving around to make your plot work out—someone the audience will forget. Think of your last plane, train or bus trip. When was the last time you saw someone generic, that didn’t have something interesting about them? It rarely happens. Everyone always has a little something of their personality peeking through. The woman in a business suit carrying a Hello Kitty lunchbox… or the little boy in a school uniform and faded, oversized army jacket. Everyone has something different and unique about them; so should your characters. Make them shine with individuality. Make them as real as the people you travel to work and/or school with. You can do this with dialogue that reflects their quick thinking and their worldview, the way they dress, the choices they make, etc.
A quick, and possibly slightly controversial, note about your main character: While it’s okay to have them exist in a story that they simply witness and report on… let’s be honest, the best stories have a protagonist that influences events, that drives the plot, even if it’s just some of the time. It’s even better if all of your characters impact the direction of the story.
Which brings us to Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a great movie. A perfect movie. But, as Amy in The Big Bang Theory pointed out, Indiana Jones doesn’t seem to influence any of the events as they unfold. The story, as she describes it, would pretty much have been the same had Indy not been there. Now, this has been proven to not be the case—there are multiple ways that Indy influences what happens, but the point is that you don’t want the fans of your story to feel like Sheldon while he’s listening to Amy deconstruct one of his favorite movies.
It’s not true about Raiders; don’t let it be true about your story.
Give your characters responsibility and agency, a past, insecurities and hope. Give them life.
In turn, they’ll give your story a life of its own.
This is always a dark time in the calendar of any Supernatural fan.
The #SupernaturalSeasonFinale has come, and gone. The road so far is now in the rearview mirror for those long, long summer months.
OK. Let’s recap. You wrote the first draft. You’ve given yourself a break and you’re ready to look at your work with fresh eyes. That original first draft is saved, hopefully in a few locations… you know, just in cases.
Now it’s time to go through it and make sure you have the all-important plot.
Because the plot is your purpose for telling the story; it’s the glue that holds your masterpiece together.
Stories come to us in fits and bursts. Sometimes they flow, and other times they trickle, and often, the story you thought you were telling when you first started typing is a completely different tale by the time you’re done. Which means you have to go back and make sure that everything is cohesive.
Basically, you don’t want your work to be Rachel’s Thanksgiving dessert from Friends. Ground beef is fine, but not in a fruity dessert. Make sure you all your ingredients make either Shepherd’s Pie or an English Trifle, not some unpalatable combination of the two. (Genre-mashing can be great, but it has to be done smoothly!)
English foods aside, you don’t want contradictions in your plot. With your characters, it can be a good thing, even a grounding thing, as long as you give solid character-based reasons for it, but with plot it can weaken your tale. This means cutting the “ground beef” out. The old kill your darlings quote applies here. You might have a great scene or awesome character, but if it undermines your plot it’ll have to be saved for another story — the one about Shepherd’s Pie, perhaps?
Everything must serve the plot. And if you’ve done your job well, plot and character will overlap majorly. Even in a case-of-the-week TV show, the cases tie back to the main characters’ season/series arcs in some way. In the CW’s Supernatural, for example, at the exact moment Sam Winchester is facing the possibility of having to sacrifice his brother Dean for the greater good, the brothers meet a girl with a werewolf sister who is out of control.
If she can’t tame her sister, she’ll have to make the ultimate sacrifice and take her out. The episode is a tight standalone story, but it holds up a mirror to the brothers’ relationship and hints at what might be coming for them.
And remember, your plot manipulations and machinations and mechanics—and other things beginning with “m”—shouldn’t be obvious. There shouldn’t be billboards advertising “foreshadowing”… it should be subtle AND entertaining. Some of the best stories, the ones that stay with us, only reveal how it’s glued together much later in the story. (The gold standard of awesome plotting is still Die Hard, btw. Just saying).
So in this first pass of editing, focus on removing what doesn’t work. e.g. scenes that don’t further the plot or the character, or slow things down, or take your story off track in some way (no matter how much you love it), add in what’s needed to keep the plot together, and finesse each point so that the reader can’t see the working mechanics of it all. You can do this by making key plot moments funny, or action-oriented, or a major character moment… or distract the reader with flying monkeys… you’re basically being a magician and using sleight of hand, making the reader/audience see one thing, when you’re really doing something else.
For example, in the opening minutes of Die Hard, John McClane’s seatmate on the plane tells McClane that when he gets to his hotel, he needs to take off his shoes and socks and “make fists with his toes” to relax. McClane thinks this is crazy, but when he gets to Nakatomi Plaza, he does it, and it works. You think that’s the payoff… but that’s the moment when Hans Gruber shows up, forcing McClane to spend the rest of the movie barefoot (and to run over broken glass at one point). That throwaway comment was a setup to help make things very difficult for the hero later on — something all plots need to do!
It’s true that characters can change us and scenes can stay with us, but a good, tight plot is what makes us fall in love with everything in the story. No matter what type of story you’re telling, there should always be a bit of romance between the story and the reader. The plot is how you woo them to fall in love with your work.
Buckle up, it’s road trip time! We’re sending you to Barnes & Noble today.
There’s a great post over there about 8 essential YA sci-fi novels!
Great byline too😉