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NaNoWriMo Advice: Your Work Doesn’t Suck…That Badly.

2 Nov

by

Vahini Naidoo

~~~

Since NaNoWriMo has just begun, I thought I’d do a post on writing speedily and efficiently without sacrificing quality. It’s not an uncommon sentiment on agents’ blogs that NaNoWriMo is the bane of their existence. The fear (and inevitable horror) of getting inundated with masses of unedited, quickly and poorly written novels, is palpable around this time of the year.

This is probably (definitely) not without reason, since one of the most commonly bandied about ideas when it comes to NaNoWriMo is that first drafts are crap. They don’t matter. You just have to force out the words. You can suck, and that’s okay. It’s okay to suck.

I almost completely agree with this. Suckage is just about the biggest part of writing – but sometimes, I think a healthy dose of egotism goes a long way. You can’t stumble through your draft, obsessing over the fact that you “suck” and then thinking that that’s okay. There’s a distinction there, to me. It’s okay to suck, it’s not okay to be hyper-aware of the fact that you suck.

Why, you may ask? Surely being aware of your general suckitude is a good thing?

In hindsight, I think it definitely is (and you really will have to edit your NaNo novel if you want to get a good final product), but not when you’re writing your first draft. Think about it this way, if you’re delivering a speech and you’re aware you suck at public speaking, you’re going to be super nervous. And if you’re super nervous, your voice is going to quaver, you’re going to stutter and stumble, and get swallowed up in gaping, potholes of pauses.

It’s the same thing when you’re writing. If you’re too self conscious about your suckitude, then your voice will hit the page warbling and off-key. It will ramble all over the place, and fail to seem coherent and consistent. In this case, you have to write with assurance, in order to ensure that your voice, at the very least, is consistent (although half your words may be redundant, your characters may make zero sense, and that subplot about the goldfish swimming about it’s bowl may not be the most scintillating…).

Writing like this, with poise and aplomb, as if you know what you’re doing even when you don’t (especially when you don’t), is the kind of attitude that gets you through a month like NaNoWriMo. So be aware of the fact that you suck, but don’t internalize it to the point where it affects your progress. Instead, push it to the back of your mind, and write with assurance.

And onwards and upwards with your word counts!

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Happy Halloween!!!

31 Oct

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

~~~

For many of us at LTWF, Halloween is our favorite-favorite-favorite holiday! The costumes, the mythology…the CANDY!

So, in honor of one of our  most beloved holidays, we thought we’d share some of the urban legends/myths/novels that scare us the most! From ancient folklore to modern-day tales of horror, what truly terrifies us is as diverse as the LTWF community itself!

And we want to know: what stories/legends/books chill YOU to the bone?

Have a spectacularly scary (…and yummy!) Halloween!!!

~~~

 For me, the folklore surrounding Baba Yaga has always scared the bejeezus out of me. Old lady with IRON TEETH living in the wilderness, preying on unsuspecting travelers? Yikes. And her house…Oh, that house. It’s not enough for it to be a creepy-ass hut, but a hut on CHICKEN’S LEGS? Plus a fence made of human bones? Talk about petrifying. And then Baba Yaga herself is totally unpredictable–you’ll never know if she’ll help you…or eat you.

I could probably talk for hours about the symbolism of Baba Yaga and her connections to ancient religions, BUT…let’s just say that I both fear and love her (and love/fear her enough that various incarnations of her have made their way into several of my novels, including the QUEEN OF GLASS series). I can’t remember how old I was when I stumbled across Marianna Mayer and K. Y. Craft’s retelling of “Vasilisa The Brave,” but this illustration (see right…or a bigger version here) of Baba Yaga has haunted my dreams (and nightmares) for a long, long while.

-Sarah J. Maas

~~

 I know mine’s the CURSE OF CAMP COLD LAKE.

Biljana Likic

(OKAY, I (Sarah J. Maas) have to interject here. SO, when I was really young and totally obsessed with GOOSEBUMPS, my parents went to my school’s annual fundraising auction. R. L. Stein’s kids happened to go to my school, and one of the auction items was to have your kids’ names in his next GOOSEBUMPS book. And guess who won. So, me and my brother are the protagonists of CURSE OF CAMP COLD LAKE. And, in case you were wondering, I die at the end of the novel. A horrible, horrible death.)

~~

 I think Ted’s Caving Page really got me. I stayed up for hours reading that, and then couldn’t have the blinds open in my house for weeks! I still think of those pictures, and the horror of the climax. It was truly disturbing.

It also made me go on a spelunking bender, lol. Like I’ve said in writing about zombies, I’m totally drawn to my fears and try to transform them into something enjoyable.

-Savannah Foley

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 I’d have to say THE SHINING by Stephen King. Honestly – that book TERRIFIED me!

-Vanessa DiGregorio

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 I’m going old school on this one — Edgar Allan Poe. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO always scared the hell out of me.

-Sammy Bina

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 HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski.

That book scarred me for life.

Susan Dennard

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 SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, not the scariest thing I’ve ever read, but it scared the crap out of me as a kid, so of course I kept re-reading it.

-Jennifer Fitzgerald

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I think I would have to say Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Though it isn’t the “make you jump” kind of scary, it has a creepiness that has never left me!

-Julie Eshbaugh

How Should We Handle Racially ‘Diverse’ Characters in YA?

24 Oct

There’s a question mark in the title of this blog post, because I’m actually not 100% sure where I stand on this issue. Hopefully I’ll have worked it out by the time I’ve finished writing this post. Hopefully.

So, diverse characters. There’s a definite push for more diverse characters in YA, lately, but given the controversies like the whitewashing of the covers of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar and Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, it’s obvious that we’ve still got a long way to go. Of course, the need for diversity isn’t limited to race – we still need greater representation of the LGBT community in YA, for instance, and maybe even of boys – but for the purposes of this post, this is the area of diversity I’m discussing.

Lately, I think the issue with diversity hasn’t so much been the presence of it – Ari over at Reading in Color has so many fantastic recommendations – but the visibility of it and, more interestingly to me (since I’m clueless about how marketing works) the type of stories we need to tell featuring racially diverse characters. I feel as if there’s a bit of a schism in the YA community, especially amongst authors, over this. There are people who think that we need to tell stories the actively deal with issues of race, because they are still present and pressing in the lives of many teens today. And there are others who think that we need to have non-white characters whose racial background is simply another character trait.

I fall more into the latter camp than the former, but I don’t find either of these positions particularly satisfying. There’s a grain of truth in the first – yes, many teens today still face identity issues, or racial discrimination – but I find it an oddly reductive position to take. Can we truly, in good conscience, continually write characters whose every conflict, whose entire lives it often seems, are defined solely by racial politics? Surely not – for most of us (or for me anyway, I shouldn’t presume for others) – our social worlds are diverse and multicultural. Race is a thing – sometimes a big thing – that exists, yes, but it isn’t something that defines most individuals’ universes.

Still, I hesitate to embrace the second position, either. It frequently stems from, I think, from some misguided notion that, “My friend is Latina/Chinese/Indian/whatever and no one in my social circle cares! No one around me/where I live is at all racist, so race shouldn’t be a factor at all in my character’s life. It’s as irrelevant as the colour of his/her hair!” or sometimes, even more compellingly, “But I’m Latina/Chinese/Indian/whatever and no one in my social circle cares! My race hasn’t played a big role in my life at all!”. Ultimately, I don’t find these claims very convincing, because issues of race manifest themselves in several spheres of our lives so insidiously and often without our knowledge or permission.

Whether it is known to them or not – and it’s perfectly possible that it’s not known to them – most people have probably been affected by their racial background. If you want specific instances of these insidious manifestations of racial privilege and power, there was this really cool woman, Peggy MacIntosh, who drew up a list of privileges that she, as a white woman, possessed:

“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or illiteracy of my race.
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

I speak here as a writer, and as a reader, when I say that representations of racially diverse characters that do not include race as a facet (a facet, that is all, not a totality) of a character’s life and not simply a physical trait, will seem to carry a ring of untruth about them (unless they’re set in fantasy worlds, where race is irrelevant, or in future utopias/dystopias/whatever). And I think it’s really exciting that books that promise to do this are starting to emerge – for instance Sarwat Chadda’s Ash Mistry Chronicles – to let non-white people star in Harry Potter-style stories, rather than just narratives dealing with racial issues.

Oddly enough, and this is something that is never really mentioned in posts about race, I would also really like to see characters of white backgrounds also have race included as a facet, an important facet, of who they are. Whiteness is so often and harmfully rendered invisible, creating an impression that it is normative, the standard. White people are people. Other people are their racial group label.

This centrality of whiteness, or the privileges that come with it, are never examined in fiction –an author with some sleight of hand could demonstrate awareness of the issues even if their characters remained ignorant of them (and there is no real reason why all characters must remain ignorant of them). I think that as long as we champion the ‘differences’ of other races, while seeing whiteness as invisible (and therefore normative), we’re going to continue entrenching the ‘otherness’ of non-white people. It’s this mentality that has probably led to several readers automatically visualizing characters as white, or to the rampant exoticism in ‘multicultural fiction’ – I, for one, do not enjoy reading pages upon pages of description of the awesome spices used to flavor the awesome foods.

Ultimately, what I’m tentatively suggesting is that the way we should handle racially ‘diverse’ characters (and I’m including whiteness as a part of that diversity), is by incorporating race as a facet of their lives, but not the totality.
But guys, to be honest, my opinions on this still aren’t concrete. I’m open – and really interested! – in hearing other people’s thoughts, and continuing to inform my own. So how should we handle racially ‘diverse’ characters in YA?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

The Importance of Writing Unrealistically

5 Oct

Books are frequently lambasted for their failure to adhere to a realistic world view. Chances are you’ve seen a review that faults a book for just this, and it seems a valid point of criticism when the book is contemporary fiction, grounded firmly in our world. Things get slightly more confusing when the book is fantasy, or science fiction, or dystopian. Surely, you think, in a world full of werewolves who practice necromancy, realism is not of the utmost importance?

Well, it is and it isn’t.

I think often when people use the term “unrealistic” in this sense, what they really mean is “illogical” and of course, no matter what you’re reading a firm sense of logic needs to underpin the story. Or, if it’s magical realism, a shifting sense of logic that leaves the reader breathless and dazed, but not entirely confused. Sometimes, though, people really do mean, “unrealistic” and I think that’s indicative of the value we place on handling subject matter ‘realistically’.

I think this value is misplaced. There is no reason why we should have to adhere to the laws of reality while writing fiction. If, say, we set a story in London or San Francisco does our writing have to incorporate every single detail of those cities? Can we only work with what those cities have, or can we add our own elements? I would say no to the first question and yes to the second.

Only conventional realist wisdom keeps us bound to maintaining the ‘realism’ of the setting we choose – because none of the settings described in our stories are actually real. They’re a part of our storyworld. We’re using them to enhance something about our story. Sometimes, that can indeed be achieved through the sheer, realistic depiction of a place.

But, on occasion, we’re trying to do more than just sketch a place vividly. Sometimes, we resort to unrealistic language because we’re trying to personify a place. For instance in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things the months in Ayemenem are described as being “brooding” the “nights…are suffused with sloth and sullen expectation”.

Other times, we resort to unrealistic representations because we’re trying to stir up a certain emotion in the reader, by using a very particular aesthetic. It’s not my favourite technique, but the Romantic movement was famous for its use of pathetic fallacy – the mirroring of a character’s emotions in the weather. So yes, a story could be set in London during Winter, but if a character’s happy – you bet a ray of sunlight is dancing about there somewhere. Is this unrealistic? Yes. Is it bad? I don’t think so.

Fiction doesn’t aim to present the real, although some fiction does aim to present an alternate reality, in which the reader may puzzle through the problems that confound them in daily life. Fiction aims to generate emotion, to connect to something in you, through the sheer beauty (I use beauty to encompass a lot here – not just pretty language) of its aesthetic. And that goal is sometimes better served by breaking away from the purely realistic.

I’ve discussed the need to write unrealistically largely through the lens of setting, but I believe that writing unrealistically at times is crucial for the development of other elements of a successful novel, too. It’s all too easy to see why this is the case for plot – our lives don’t move in plot structures, they are not neatly tied up stories.

And while it’s somewhat more difficult to notice on the surface with characterization, it’s clear that some of the most engaging characters, some of the ones we relate to the most, are larger than life (think Chuck Bass, although I’ve only seen the TV show of Gossip Girl), or have traits that would be rare and ‘unrealistic’ given their context (think Elizabeth Bennett).

Writers adhering to reality isn’t what draws readers to fiction – in fact, it’s often our divergences from that reality that make storyworlds, both contemporary and fantasy, so enticing, our characters so engaging, and our plotlines so enthralling.

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

What do you guys think about writing unrealistically?

Please Lose Sight of Your Plot

28 Sep

I’m not a plot person. I never have been. As a reader plot is, and has been since I was a child, no more than background noise to me. If you’d asked my eleven-year-old self to summarise Harry Potter for you, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “It’s about a boy wizard,” not, “It’s about an ordinary boy who goes to this awesome magical school and is pitted against the forces of good and evil!”. For me, a character is a story in and of themselves and the sequence of events, no matter how awesome, always plays second fiddle.

As a writer, my inability to be seriously invested in the events of a story has been a bit of a shortcoming. I’ve learned to use the people around me to overcome this issue. Friends occasionally veto ridiculous, plotless story ideas of mine — the one about a boy who really, really wanted to be a tree is a good example of this, or the novel featuring a girl who sat about reading poetry all day. Beta readers and crit partners will tell me if my story wanders all over the place, adhering to no evident structure. Even in the final stages of edits on FALL TO PIECES, my editor’s asking me to cut internal monologue, or needless imagery to move the story along.

In my more recent writing, however, perhaps as a result of going through this processs, I’ve found myself doing the polar opposite: over-emphasizing plot (for me, anyway). I make spreadsheets and timelines of events. I try my best to adhere to a three act structure. This is a good thing, in some ways, because it does keep the story moving along. But plotting (I should say over-plotting) has also proved to have some vampiric tendencies, sucking the lifeblood from my stories and sapping my enjoyment of the craft.

The events that looked so awesome in my timeline are reading as completely flat on the page. The characters are reading like caricatures, whose motivations make little sense. My drafts, sometimes, read like synopses rather than novels. It took me forever to figure out that over-emphasizing plot was doing me no favors. That obsessively plotting really didn’t suit me as a writer, or the stories I was trying to tell.

I don’t think the over-plotting phenomenon is unique to me, either, based upon some of my reading experiences. Often, when I’m reading really thrilling books with plots that speed along, ratcheting up tension in just the perfect way, something will happen, something big, like a character death, and this person will not be grieved, their death will not be reflected upon. Onwards with the plot!

When authors do this (me included) they may be keeping their external plot afloat nicely, but they’re compromising the emotional core of their stories. The ultimate goal of fiction is not to take a reader from Point A to Point B. The ultimate goal of fiction is to create something with an interesting aesthetic, that generates emotion in the reader. When we fail to do that, we are really, truly failing our readers.

It’s a failure that I’ve suffering through these past few months, but have finally moved past. I scrapped the timelines and went back to focusing on meaning and characters. For me, it’s easier to get my words down and then whittle them into a plot shape, than to try and force them into a plot structure. Others work differently — plotters, I envy you your talents.

Nevertheless, for the sake of readerly pleasure I think that every writer has to lose sight of their plot. Not all the time, just now and again. Because I think it’s in those uncalculated moments that readers will truly be able to lose themselves in the story.

What do you guys think about the importance of plot?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Your Characters Should Exist in Time

26 Aug

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books with characters that have felt ever-so-slightly flat. On the surface it seems as if these characters have been constructed perfectly — they have likes and dislikes, flaws and strengths. My poor brain has been working overtime trying to figure out what’s wrong, what crucial element has been missing in these characters.

I think I’ve finally figured it out. The missing element, the thing that’s holding these characters back from truly popping on the page? Time. These characters were defined purely through their relationships to the things around them. They seemed to have near non-existent histories and were unaware that such a thing as the future existed.

I think one of the easiest traps to fall into with characterization, especially of protagonists, is to view their identity through a purely material lens. “Oh,” the clever author says, “he/she is intelligent, and must therefore own a lot of books about quantum physics!” I actually think that this kind of material characterization is okay, and in fact really good in most cases. It’s active, it involves the character doing something. Namely, reading books about quantum physics.

Characters who have material interests in the present are not necessarily bad or poorly developed. On the other hand, if the material crutch that an author leans on is, say, the kind of clothes or make up the character chooses to wear — I get a little bit more leery.

If clothing, and buying clothing is a big part of the story then that’s a-okay. It’s exactly like the earlier quantum physics example — it involves the protagonist doing something. But. If clothing is simply used as lazy characterization — a way to slot the character into a certain archetypal mold — then as a reader? I get annoyed.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t describe your characters’ clothing. It can add to characterization, can set up that initial archetype — I think for instance, Harry Potter’s skinny frame along with the baggy t-shirts and sellotaped glasses was a good initial character set up. What I am saying is that this shouldn’t be where your characterization ENDS.

I’m saying that you need to move beyond the material.

It’s hard to stop defining your character by the things that they possess, and to start defining them by the things that they do. It’s even harder to get beyond the things that they do, and hit at who they truly are. When asked, “Who is that woman?” A standard answer in our society would be, “Oh, that’s Nancy. She’s a nurse”. The conflation between what we do — job wise especially — and who we are is there on a lot of levels.

And of course, what we do does feed into who we are.

But I think there is a certain fabric beneath that exterior, a fabric of self that is defined in time rather than in things-done or things-owned. A character is not just the sum of all their parts. They’re the sum of all their parts, and all the parts they used to have but are no longer in their possession.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Say a character is presently a very, very confident person. Perhaps over confident. But when they were younger, they were a shy, self-conscious, overweight boy. That element of their past will be taken with them through their life.

It’s the same for less defining moments. Childhood trips, lame inside jokes with friends, ways of texting or speaking that seem so embarrassing to you when you’re older, modes of thinking that you outgrow. Sometimes, it’s the most insignificant things that stick with people, lingering ‘ghost’ parts of their sum.

So you need to weave your character’s past not necessarily into the story, but into your character, into the way that they approach and respond to their world.

And it’s the same with the future. The character needs to have some kind of expectation for the future — it doesn’t need to be a complex plan of any kind, it can just be a feeling “bleak” or “happy” or “bittersweet” or “messy”. Or it can be more specific like “wedded bliss” or “career security” or “ten kids” or “first woman on Saturn”.

Humans are decoders. We’re constantly trying to work this life out, constantly making both minor and major plans — not having a character be aware that there *is* a future would seem odd, to me. Let your character guess at the future, as if trying to predict an upcoming plot twist in a novel. Let what they see or predict influence them, whether for good or ill.

This doesn’t mean that your characters need to spend a lot of time obsessing about their past, present and future and how all three relate to each other. Good, rounded characters seem to display awareness of this dynamic very naturally.

For instance, in the last book I read, Hannah Moskowitz’s Invincible Summer, the main character’s story story is structured around four summers. You don’t see the time that passes between those summers, but that time bumps over into Chase, the protagonist. The pull of the past on him– those idyllic summers from when he was younger — and his absolute terror of a future  and where it will take him, and his falling-apart family, adds a lot of weight to his characterization. For me, more so than if he’d been given a whole slew of hobbies.

So, this is a post to say that our characters are dynamic beings who exist in time, who are constantly changing. I think that acknowledging this dynamic is one of the keys to creating a well-rounded, compelling character.

What do you guys think? Is time an important element of characterisation? If so,  how do you incorporate it into your stories?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

HAPPY POST HARRY POTTER!

14 Jul

A good number of you have probably seen the very last Harry Potter movie by now. (How many of you cried? Be honest!) Some of us here at LTWF have seen it, too, but a number of us are holding out until next week, when we’re going to get together and see it in the same theater :]

We were going to have a QOTW as normal today, but then we stumbled across this and thought it was more fitting to the end of the Harry Potter movie franchise…

20 Harry Potter Movie Sequels (that should never be made)

Happy Friday, folks!

-LTWF

Preaching in YA

9 Jun

When you write YA, and you’re at all connected to the online community, you often see people who are new to the genre asking questions like, “Can my main character hold a gun?” “Can my characters have sex?” “Can they drink?” “Can they have drugs?” and “Can my main character swear?”

The more experienced writers cry, “Jesus. Freaking (perhaps something less polite, if they happen to write ‘edgy’ YA ;)). Christ. Have you read any YA? Ever?”

It’s an understandable reaction (I know I react like this sometimes), but I think the people with those questions are less naive/time-wasting than we often think they are. In light of the recent WSJ article (which is horrible, so I’m not even linking to it, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, resist your google fu. It’s not worth the time. And no, this is not another blogpost about the article), it’s clear that a lot of people believe that the purpose of YA is to teach. To illuminate the right path for the youth of today.

And my question to you guys is, should YA be didactic?

The knee-jerk answer is, of course, NO. We always hear agents and editors and everyone else in the world saying, “No messages. No morals. Don’t preach, tell a good story first and foremost”. But I’ve always taken that to mean, don’t overtly preach. Theme, to me (subtly explored theme, anyway) is a huge part of what makes a book transcendental. REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly (which is awesome. You should read it if you haven’t) wouldn’t have the same flavour without the theme at the heart of it: brutality rules the world, but not necessarily us as individuals.

Beyond this, beyond me thinking that a theme is a truly important thing to have and subtly explore (it’s not like Donnelly is like, “HERE IS MY THEME, TAKE THAT READER,” every two pages), I think that there are contradictory messages even within the writing community on whether or not messages are important. I mean, there are a lot of people who want to see CONSEQUENCES to every. single. action.

They want to see the girl who drinks occasionally have something bad happen to her as a result of that drinking. If the kids have sex, even just once, there MUST be a baby. Or an STI.

If someone takes drugs, it must be made clear, clear, clear that DRUGS ARE BAD. BAD. BAD I TELL YOU. Maybe the character can become an addict and wind up in the gutter and then work their way back to being a ‘normal’ person. If a character speeds, they’re obviously going to be involved in a car crash.

I’ve seen a lot of people, within the community, argue essentially that if we DON’T show these consequences, we’re neglecting our responsibility to our audience. That we’re teaching them bad things, and they’re impressionable, and we shouldn’t do that. And that kind of attitude betrays us, because it shows that no matter what we say, a lot of us think that YA has a didactic purpose.

I disagree (you guessed it, didn’t you? It was like an overly foreshadowed plot point that you could see from chapter one) with this attitude, completely, however. Firstly because, you know, I am a teenager in real life (I know, another shoddily foreshadowed plot point. It’s in my bio and all). And I know other teenagers.

And guess what? Sometimes, we’re irresponsible. Does the kid who speeds always wind up in an accident, or get a ticket, or lose their license? No. Does the kid who drinks always wind up an alcoholic, totally alienating everyone around them, losing everyone’s respect? No. Does the kid who takes drugs wind up an addict, or have a really horrible come down, or something else terrible? No. Does sex (unprotected) always lead to a pregnancy? No.

You know, when people take risks like this? There are rarely BIG EXPLOSIVE consequences. In my opinion, it is not irresponsible to not have consequences for these actions. It’s just being honest. And as a reader, I find it refreshing when the characters can smoke and drink and have nothing too bad come of it the vast majority of the time (Looking For Alaska, The Absolute Value of -1).

I think we need a diverse range of representations of these things. We don’t always have to hammer our readers over the head with the DRUGS ARE BAD message, or the SEX IS BAD message, or the ALCOHOL IS BAD message. We can sometimes, and in certain stories (and I think these stories are so valuable, and have a place, for sure. I write them, sometimes), but it doesn’t pay for this to always be the case, because we just wind up with shelves full of didactic stories that are not true to life.

And we set off bullshit detectors.

And okay, since I’m making a habit of being more confessional in my blogging lately, I’ll admit the other reason I worry about didactic narratives: I don’t know anything. I mean, that’s not true. I know a lot of things about maths (okay, not really…) and literature and art and the way people talk to other people, and what all those facial expressions mean.

But I haven’t figured out the world, and I don’t think I ever will figure out the world — not now, not when I’m a hundred. Oscar Wilde once said, “I am not young enough to know everything” and seriously, when I’m a hundred, I think I will be truly old enough to say that I know shit all.

I don’t write from a place of moral absolutes. I don’t write from a place of knowing and wisdom. I write from a place of uncertainty. I try to write as honestly as I can, and I avoid didactic narratives, because I have nothing to be didactic about. And I give my readers what I can. Instead of offering all the right answers, I offer, I hope, all the right questions.

And isn’t that better? Even for those of us who do know things? Isn’t it better to give our audience questions, and let them think on those questions, rather than to force the answers down their throats? To let them think on those questions, and reach their own conclusions, no matter how vastly different than ours they are?

So those are my thoughts on being didactic in YA. What do you guys think?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Revisions Live Chat!

12 May

Hey guys! Remember, the chat is at 9pm Eastern Time, today. Or well, “today” here anyway… It’ll last about 2 hours, if the past chats are anything to go by, so drop by if you’re late, but we’d love to have a good group at 9, too! 😀

Click Here to Enter Chat!

LIVECHAT: May 12th 9pm ET

1 May

Heeey guys! It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve had a livechat. Maybe that’s because I missed the last one 😉

But we’re planning one for Thursday, May 12th at 9m ET. An online time-converter-y thing tells me that this actually turns out to be 1 am on Friday, May 13 in GMT. Here’s the site to help you do your own time conversions, if need be 🙂 And hopefully I haven’t messed anything up, because to be honest, I’m terrible with time zones.

I think most of you know the drill by now. On the day of the chat, a post will go up with the link to the chat room. All you need to do is click and you’re in. You’ll be a “guest,” and need to choose a name. Comments WILL BE MODERATED, so there might be a small lag between when you type something in and when it shows up.

The topic of the day will be Revising! Revising with critique partners, revising with an agent, revising with an editor, revising with yourself because it just makes you happy…etc 🙂 You guys can come ask any questions you’d like, or just hang around and chat with us about anything and everything revision-related.

In the past, the chats have usually lasted about 2 hours, and they do tend to be much busier toward the latter parts, so if you really want us to spend time on your questions, I’d recommend getting there early. Once the real chat starts, we’ll be moderating questions so they’ll be in a queue and address them one at a time.

If you can’t make it to the chat (we hope you can!!), there will be a transcript up for just about ever, so you can always read it. If you click on the Live Chat tab up top, you can take a look at our previous chats. Some are sillier than others; just a warning 🙂

Alright, I think I’ve gone on long enough. See you all the 12th!!