Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A WINDOW INTO YA: Q + A with 3 2015 “WHITE PINE” NOMINEES (Part 2)

Share |
Susan Hughes

Today, in Part Two of my blog, I continue my interviews with the three nominees of the 2015 White Pine awards: YA authors Tom Ryan, Ria Voros and Eve Silver.

Be sure to check out Part One of the 2014 White Pine interview!

SUSAN:

Ria, when you’re writing, how much do you keep the eventual reader of your story in mind?

RIA:

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I can’t tell if it (or the protagonist) is below or above the MG/YA marketing “cut off”. Sometimes I need to write a few drafts to fully understand if it’s better told as a young adult story or a middle grade one. In terms of who will read it, I guess I hope anyone will — I strongly believe children’s literature should be read by everyone, not just kids and teens (and parents). So in that sense, I write for me first (as a reader of everything) and hope that the book will find a varied audience.

SUSAN:

How do you all ensure your narrative voice, and the voices of your YA characters, are authentic?

TOM:

If I believe [in] the people I’m writing about, I’m less likely to write them as clichés. There are many sides to all of us, so I try not to pander, or to give in to preconceived ideas of what it means to be a teenager. When I give my characters the space to be themselves, rather than fill roles, the story always benefits.

RIA:

I try to listen to teens talking around me — on transit, in movies, in other books, because language changes so fast and the way I talked when I was in high school is pretty different from how teens talk today. That said, I also use my own experience as a teen, and the volumes of personal writing I did back then, to remind me of how teens think, because I find when I can get back into that mindset, the voices of my characters become more authentic too.

EVE:

I inhabit the character and try to feel what she feels, know what she knows. I try to see things from her point of view. It’s about seeing the world and telling the story through the teen’s eyes. The story flows from my heart and I trust my narrative voice. That said, I have an awesome backup team of young adult beta readers who let me know if I veer from the teen voice. They flag words and phrases that don’t work, and suggest alternatives.

SUSAN:

What do each of you enjoy most about writing for teens?

TOM:

Other than the fact that I love the craft of storytelling, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I get to practice it, the best thing about writing for teens is the readership. Teens are hands down the most passionate, fabulous readers out there. They will champion what they love, and refuse to mince words about what they don’t love. Meeting and engaging with my teen readers, online and beyond, is easily the best thing about this job!

RIA:

I love how the possibilities are endless: I can explore complex and nuanced themes and situations, but in creative ways that might not be as accepted in adult fiction. Adolescence is the hardest time of one’s life—at least it was for me—and I love being able to delve into that complicated time and see how to make sense of things. Maybe it’s the adult me making the teen me feel better about how things can turn out.

EVE:

EVE: Teens often respond more vocally and intensely than adult readers to elements of a story that work (or don’t work) for them. It means a great deal to truly reach a reader, to have them “get” the story, identify with the character.

SUSAN:

I wrote a YA novel several years ago, called Virginia (Kids Can) and have a new YA manuscript on the go, as I’m sure many other kid lit fans reading this blog do as well. Please — oh, please! — share some tips for writing YA.

TOM:

I don’t feel entirely qualified to give writing advice but I’ll give it a shot! As with all fiction writing, discipline is crucial. When I’m writing a first draft, I try to get 2000 words a day, at least five days a week. Once I get that crappy first draft out of the way, I can start pulling it into something coherent. I also read constantly, and there’s always a healthy dose of YA fiction in the mix. You can’t write well if you don’t read lots!

RIA:

  • Write dialogue with an ear for rhythm. Read dialogue aloud and add or remove beats when the rhythm falters. Even something as simple as taking out “he/she said” when it’s not needed can improve the flow of a scene. This is true for any kind of dialogue, but I find getting the right rhythm in my YA books is especially important.
  • Look carefully at structure. Before I wrote my first book, I picked a YA novel apart to find the three acts most novels have. It was such a useful exercise and taught me a lot about where to build or release tension, how to manage pacing, and just to have general control over the ungainly beast that is a novel. Every book I write gets plotted at some point onto a three act chart.
  • Interview your characters. I did this for some of the characters in The Opposite of Geek because even though the story is told from Gretchen’s point of view, I needed to know what James or Ashlyn or Dean would have thought about something, if only to have a deeper understanding of who they were. I often pose interview questions to my characters and “record” their responses (like this Q&A). It also helps me to nail their voices.
  • EVE:

  • Let your protagonist make mistakes and learn from them. Let those mistakes be guided by the character’s life experiences to that point. Let your character’s decisions be age appropriate, even if they aren’t good decisions. Don’t have your character make decisions that are too old for them, too adult.
  • Don’t skimp on emotion. Teens feel things intensely and genuinely. And the teen years are times of firsts: first love, first forays into building a moral code, first forays into breaking away from adult expectations and creating expectations of their own. The emotions associated with these events are powerful. Let them manifest on the page.
  • If you aren’t a teenager, get input from one. Interview teens. Listen to the way they talk. Watch how they interact with each other. Get it right.


  • End of Part 2 of 2
    Stay tuned to Open Book to hear more from Susan about writing for children and young adults!

    Related item from our archives

    Related reads