Saturday, 21 May 2022

Writing for the Lost Children

 

If you know me, you know I write young adult (YA) novels. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the writing industry, YA is a category of fiction written for kids from 12 – 18 years old.  I don’t write adult fiction, which is anything for readers over 18 years old. Or, at least, I haven’t yet.

It’s kind of a big deal for me to put “yet” at the end of that sentence.

Why?

Well, the greatest difference between the categories are the ages of the protagonists. Young adult books are told through the perspective of teen heroes. Adult books are told through the perspective of adult heroes. Even though I largely consume content for adults, I don’t like writing their stories. I like having adults as supporting characters in my novels, but I never want the story to centre around them.

To me, adults are boring. (Don’t worry – I acknowledge that may be because I am a boring adult. But there’s more to it than that, which I will delve into later more thoroughly. And, frankly, more personally. Consider yourself warned.)

There’s a kind of magic when you’re writing for a younger audience. When kids can be heroes, it feels like you have more options. There’s a greater suspension of disbelief, sure. Will fifteen-year-olds be smuggling cocaine across the border? Eh, probably not. But, on the other hand, there’s a larger willingness to accept that maybe they truly are The Final Girl, The Chosen One, or The Hot Trope of the Day. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I've had several ideas for adult novels. Concepts I absolutely loved. However, I would try to sit down to write them with little success. It was like I didn't know how to write adults despite being one. Have a field day with that, all of you armchair psychologists.

On the flip side, my imagination is limitless when I think of the raw experience of being a youth. Add to that the daring and fantastical adventures teens can go on, and it's the perfect creative storm. There’s a freedom to their existence that isn’t bogged down by car payments, saving up for a house, or fighting with the in-laws.

I should add that I don’t like writing contemporary fiction, which is fiction that deals with the everyday slog of existence with some drama splashed in. I know, I know. That’s severely undermining the achievements of many a Pulitzer Prize winner. But I don’t care. Genre fiction is my jam, my bread and butter, my — I didn’t realize there were so many food idioms — thing!  I love horror, fantasy, or a blend of both. And I’d love to try my hand at writing sci-fi eventually.

I adore wild, over-the-top stories with fun characters who grow over the course of a novel, and teen protagonists have some of the biggest room for growth. They can learn how to take agency, harness their strengths, and overcome their weaknesses.

But … don’t adult characters do the same?

Yeah. They do. All of the time.

So what’s so appealing to me about writing that story for kids?

This is where things get personal.

Disclaimer/trigger warning: I grew up in an extremely unstable environment and acquired childhood trauma from it. I’m not going to get into gritty details, because that’s a bit too heavy for this post. Just know that things were difficult, and it’s put me on a path to be better than the people who raised me. A low bar, but I digress.

Back to the subject at hand!

When I was younger we didn’t have a lot of money. My dad “won” a junk bucket of a computer from his work. It was really more like his job was giving them away as opposed to delivering them to an Eco Station themselves. But that’s okay. It was brought into our home, which was close enough.

I was a lonely kid. I didn’t have siblings living with me, which was for the best. I spent a lot of time with that computer. There weren’t really any games on it aside from Solitaire or Minesweeper. I grew bored of those quickly. Microsoft Paint was kind of fun, but I also became tired of that. And we didn’t have internet at the time. I was running out of things to keep me entertained.

And then I found perhaps the dullest program on the computer and opened it:

Notepad.

I saw that blank rectangle and was hit with the same feeling I am today when I see an open document — the desire to create.

I loved books back then, too. Particularly the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine. I read those books religiously as a child and guaranteed it’s why I’m a horror buff today.

So I decided to try my hand at writing my own little stories.

When I wasn’t allowed to watch what I wanted, I went into the office to write. When I was sad, I went into the office to write. When things got too loud, I went into the office to write.  When I was scared … well, you get the idea.

My stories featured kids my age, or a bit older. They were strong and independent, had friends, loving families, fought battles, and occasionally had superpowers. Not everything was horror, as much as I loved spooky stories. There was lots of magic, laughter, happiness, and hope, too.

Things I was lacking in real life.

But they were there, buried in my imagination as I sat in a dimly-lit office, typing away. Certainly, I was having fun. But the sad truth was that I was creating fiction for escapism.

As an adult, I realize that I fell under certain dysfunctional family roles. When I was a child, I was a blend of “The Hero” and “The Lost Child.” As The Hero, I tried to do my best in school and around the house mostly because I had to take care of myself. As the Lost Child, I shrunk into the background at home to keep safe, disappearing into my imagination.

Recently, I was sharing some of my experiences with a friend who has a similar past as me. He told me that he didn’t really like supernatural things. That he preferred grounded content that featured real life problems, like abuse or drug addiction.

As someone who grew up in chaos, I didn’t see the appeal.

I lived it.

Why would I want watch it? Read it? … Relive it?

Our discussion got me to thinking. And thinking. And even more thinking. Because that’s just what I do.

I suddenly realized that I’m still writing for that Lost Child. Maybe in hopes that other Lost Children could relate and find sanctuary in story like I did.

After that, something clicked.

I started thinking that maybe I could seriously write adult fiction. That it didn’t have to be boring. That I could still add whimsy, wonder, and darkness to novels for adults. That I could bridge that gap between writing the same content, but for people my own age. For myself. As I am now.

My hang up with writing adult fiction vanished.

All because I reached that epiphany.

Will I still write YA? Of course!

Am I excited to try something new with drafting adult fiction? Definitely!

But most importantly, I’m happy this Lost Child is finally out of the dimly-lit office, safe. She’s older now, resilient and capable. She’s still filled with magic and imagination, even if she does have credit card payments to make and complains about work.

Thanks for reading!

Another disclaimer: I don’t own Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, Wendy, Disney, J.M. Barrie or his remains. I especially don’t own this image. Don’t sue me. You’d have better chances getting blood from a stone.

Sunday, 17 April 2022

No Words

 

This post isn’t going to be about something like Writer’s Block. (That’s not something I believe in much, personally. You just push through it by writing. Even if it’s the utmost of garbage. You get the words down one grueling letter at a time.)

No. This is more of a personal post about not being able to get what I want to say out. At all.

I’m a writer, and an introvert. That means I’m great with words when they’re not coming out of my mouth. However, there’s a caveat to that. I can compartmentalize for work, and am in fact pretty solid at stepping up and speaking my mind there. It’s just when things get personal that I get awkward. (I won’t even get into what a mess I am when it comes to things like dealing with family, so I won’t. I might save that for another time altogether, if at all.)

Case in point: I respected how hard one of the staff members at my gym was always cleaning when COVID restrictions eased up and patrons could return. I practiced my words of gratitude in my head several times before I finally walked up to him and thanked him. I tripped over what I said repeatedly, becoming red-faced and mortified. But he seemed appreciative despite my awkwardness. Looking back, I figured it was because I was just too in my own head.

I know overthinking is a problem I have. To be fair, it’s a problem I think other fellow writers, and especially introverts, have. I also have an added layer of childhood trauma I’m trying to work out, as well. It likely ties into the weird amount of embarrassment I have over saying something genuine, good or bad.

It’s not the words that make me voiceless, but the thoughts and feelings behind them. What’s wrong with me if someone doesn’t take something the way I intend? Or what if they do take it the way I intend? Do I open the sluice gate, or keep it shut? Sometimes before I even realize that I’ve made a decision, a stranglehold wraps around my throat.

I shut down, and sometimes mask my actions (with varying degrees of success … mostly none, if I’m being honest). Doing so only causes my anxiety to spike, and then I resort to things like super intense workout sessions or burying myself in work to burn the energy off. It helps momentarily, but it’s a Band-Aid. It gets ripped off and the wound is raw again.

I think that I’m scared that if I try to be vulnerable, I’ll ruin a good thing. One of my fears is oversharing. We’ve all met an oversharer. Does becoming one mean becoming overbearing? Overwhelming? To the point where something is just plain over?

What I have is a fear of judgement now that I’m writing it out.

I actually spoke to an acquaintance I trust (oxymoron, right?) about what’s been on my mind. She helped me realize that sometimes it’s okay to think or feel a certain way and try to work through it. I haven’t done anything wrong or terrible. But I feel like I have. And that makes my overthinking spiral down into Hades’ basement. (I don’t even know what that means, but I’m keeping it.)

For anyone wanting juicy secrets, I won’t be sharing them here. I will, however, be sharing them with a professional who can actually provide me with some guidance. I think that’s the best bet, really. Because I do fear judgement, even if it’s probably a non-issue. And, well, ruining good things with good people.

After writing all of that out, I feel a lot better. Even if it was one grueling letter at a time.

If you stayed for the read, thanks for checking the post out. I hope it resonated in some way. And if not, I guess I hoped you enjoyed learning a little bit more about me.

Disclaimer: I don’t own this image. I don’t know who does, but if you do, or you’re the owner, let me know and I can give credit. Or I can replace it with a poorly-done freehand re-imagining of it in MS Paint, which sounds pretty fun.

Sunday, 20 March 2022

My Ritual for Resurrecting a Dead Manuscript

 

Back in the good ol’ days, I used to hold onto incomplete projects with the hopes that I could blow the dust off of them and pick up where I left off. It never worked. After so much time, the projects were dead, devoid of whatever spark of life used to be in them. I would eventually discard those projects, or maybe at most mine them for the good ideas buried within.

But some good things are too good to let die.

Before I took a big writing hiatus a couple of years ago, I was drafting a young adult necromancy novel. The manuscript was dark, haunting, and sinister. Not only was I having a lot of fun writing it, but I was exorcising some of my own personal demons while doing it. It was a project I didn’t want to die. Fitting, then, that I want to resurrect it.

So how can I revive it?

I think a part of it is first understanding why it died in the first place.

I stopped writing due to stressors in my professional life that spilled over to my personal. It wasn’t that I became bored of the story, or had written myself into a corner. Those two are big factors into why I would let a manuscript go. But my Necromancy WIP was well-plotted, meaning I knew what roadmap to follow, making the writing process a smoother, focused one.

Which brings me to Step 1 of this resurrection ritual:

1. Obtain the Great Grimoire

Like any writer, I have dozens of notebooks. When it comes to brainstorming and plotting a new novel, I have to do it the old fashioned way. I don’t use writing programs. I always use notebooks, simply because there’s magic when I put pen to paper.  

A blank notebook is a beautiful thing. Whenever I crack one open, a story’s potential becomes palpable. Putting a pen or pencil to crisp, white pages becomes a visceral experience as I explore ideas. At least, when I’m brainstorming. When I begin to research and plot, things become more structured, and it feels like I’m putting together an intricate puzzle.

One thing I enjoy more than structure, is chaos. Mostly because it gives me a chance to give order to it. The rush of creativity needs to be strategically reined in and formatted if I’m to do anything useful with it. The whole process makes the left and right side of my brain happy, and I just don’t get the same rush from using writing apps or programs.

Maybe it’s because I’m a tactile person. I’m not sure. All I know is the first thing I need to do is get my hands on that notebook and revisit my concepts, character outlines, and plot. I must reacquaint myself with the dearly departed, and that means rooting through their personally-assigned dirty laundry.

2. Read From the Book

My goal after familiarizing myself with the characters, world, and plot again will be to read through the first several chapters that I had drafted.

To me, the brainstorming notebook is like an itinerary. It’s full of ideas, of plot, of maps and direction. Reading the draft is more like watching the journey unfold. I want to feel out how that ride was going.

Did I like the direction I was taking?

Are the characters properly evoking what I had in mind?

Are there organic changes I made from my original plotting that I want to run with?

I know some of these things are best asked during the official editing process once a draft is complete, but revisiting what I have after so long will be me viewing it with entirely fresh eyes. I stopped writing when I was 17,000 words in. That’s not a lot if I want to go back and rework a thing a two. And what’s the point of resurrection if you can’t bring it back better than before?

3. Bring Them Back

After all of that reading, it’ll be back to drafting! That will be done strictly in Microsoft Word. I know. For all of my prattling on about brainstorming by hand being magical, you’d figure I’d be just as passionate about drafting the novel the same way.

Nope!

I prefer Word because I type much quicker than I can write by hand, and I also constantly edit. I always tend to tweak sentences to try and capture the voice of my novel. Long story short, given my writing habits, I would burn through more trees than a forest fire if I tried to draft my novel by hand.

And now that I’ve mentioned it, I most importantly want to rediscover the voice I was using for the book. Hell, or even make it stronger. For those who don’t know, “voice” refers to how the author writes, encompassing things like tone, the way sentences ebb and flow, or even points of view from different characters. Think of it like the book’s unique personality bestowed upon it by the author. It can turn the banal into the evocative. It’s the distinct difference between saying:

“John was scared of the dark walk home.”

vs.

“John pulled his coat tighter and looked over his shoulder. He swore he could see shadows trailing him. They melted back into darkness every time he squinted for a better look. He hoped it was his tired eyes playing tricks on him and picked up his pace.”

Aside from the story and characters, it’s one of the most powerful elements of a manuscript. It’s fundamentally important to have a distinct, powerful voice. Hearing the dead speak doesn’t have to be scary, but I sure want it to make your skin crawl.

Over the next month I want to see how this ritual brings my book back to life. Expect a post a few weeks from now on my adventures. I’ll let you know if I’ve brought back Lazarus or Gage Creed. Either way, it’s going to be a chilling challenge I’m up for.

Thanks for reading! 

Disclaimer: The image here isn’t mine. I don’t know who officially owns it, but this particular iteration of the Necronomicon is probably owned by Sam Raimi.