My morning routine before I start to work on my story, Moon Dance, often includes checking out blogs and forums to wake up my half asleep brain. Among my travels through the blogisphere I came across one blog called The Book Lantern that had some very interesting articles regarding the creation of YA fiction. After reading quite a few posts and mulling over what the authors said, I had to give some serious thought to what I am trying to accomplish in Moon Dance, and whether what I am writing actually matches what I am trying to say. Read on to find out how that went...
I'm no stranger to putting my characters in tough situations. In my current novel, Moon Dance, I have just hit the half way mark and shit is definitely hitting the fan. Yet I do not do this to sensationalize what I am writing.
I feel that the problems that my characters face must come out of aspects of their own characteristics. I also feel that before I put them up against a giant hot pink mushroom with octopus tentacles that I had better not their strengths, its strengths, which side will prevail, and why.
There are two levels to the above criteria, though: the physical level and the mental / emotional level. It is this second one that tends to give me a lot of trouble with Moon Dance because the events of the story are intense and happen over roughly two weeks of 'real' time.
While Moon Dance is urban fantasy / romance, it is also YA. This means that I have a rock and a hard place to deal with. The presence of magic in my universe allows me to bend or alter physical rules in favor of making my own. The new rules must be consistent, though. And they must be clearly explained in a way that makes sense. The fact that my book is romance means that the reader is going to expect an HEA -- happily ever after. At the very least, it means that I expect to be giving one, as that is what I like to read.
Its the last one -- the fact that I am aiming for my book to count as YA -- that tends to bring up a lot of challenges. When I first started writing it the question in the back of my head was always "Can I do that?". Can I say "Fuck!"? Is that combat scene too violent? Is a teen going to be able to relate to this situation? I have since gotten past this question -- at least for now -- and am knee deep writing my book the way that I want to write it. If something needs to change? That's what editing is for.
Yet as I spend more time in the YA community (I like to read others' blogs, hang out on writing forums, etc. when I take a pause from actually writing.) I am beginning to sense that there is a far larger and more imposing question. A question that makes "Can I do that?" pale in comparison.
That question is "What Am I Really Telling My Reader?". From what I am gathering the limiting -- or perhaps defining would be a better word? -- factor should not be about whether I can do something. Instead it needs to be about whether I should do it, and whether doing it is actually telling my readers what I actually want to tell them.
I'll explain by discussing the section of Moon Dance that I am trying to write today:
Sara and Kess go on a date and it ends up being screwed up because Sara's friends hold her up at the theatre making Kess think that she used him for dinner and a free movie. Kess is Kindred royalty. Kess is use to getting his own way. Kess is angry.
Halt! How do I explain the emotions of a being whose entire identity revolves around his feelings, amid a negative emotion (set?) like anger, disappointment and even a tinge of betrayal*? Am I running full speed toward having him become a member of the "Bad Boy Club"? Depending on how I show his reaction and how Sara reacts to his reaction, I will be sending a message to my reader. I have to know what message that is.
(*Kess knows from magic in an earlier chapter that he and Sara are destined. He has chosen not to tell her and to try and date her like the human she is because he believes she deserves a choice.)
This is probably the mildest issue in the chapter. Kess gets Sara back to her house and decides that he is going to return to the School where he learns magic (Hycanth House). When no one at home wants to listen to her, Sara calls her "friend" Isabelle and they agree to meet at the park.
Sara received a pair of enchanted anklets that let her run incredibly fast. She uses these and is wearing headphones with her new iPhone. She is upset and is not watching where she is going. She runs into the middle of an intersection, a car swerves to miss hitting her and (since she is using the anklets she is long gone) ends up getting hit head on by a tractor trailer because the 401 is down.
The car held one of Sara's closest friends (Cait) and her family. They all died instantly from the crash impact (needs more research). When Sara gets to the park she does not find Isabelle. She finds Kesyl. He begins to make advances toward her and she does her best to resist them. She feels it is important that they sort out what happened.
It's not really Kess though. It is Avish the Devourer, the villain of my novel, who has made himself appear to her as Kess. When she refuses the physical advances Avish takes his own form and attacks her directly. In my original outline I had him doing this as Kess. That was another "Halt!" moment that needed fixing. The events I am describing take place on Dec. 26th. The timeline for the novel ends Dec. 31st. That would not realistically -- even in 'my world' -- leave enough time for this issue to be given the weight it would deserve.
Why am I putting Sara through this? What do I want from it? Lets take a look:
(1) Avish is attacking Sara because of Cait's death. (That's another "Should I?" topic in and of itself!) She does not know Sara is dead yet.
(2) I am having him come to her as Kess because (a) altering his appearance is one of his key abilities and (b) I want her to have to consider who Kess is and what he is capable of doing. Up until this point she and Kess have had decently fair sailing as a pair. This event is the catalyst from which they are going to have to grow.
(3) Avish has been trying to get at Sara the entire novel. She should know better then to leave her home alone for any reason with a killer on the lose. If she thinks she isn't going to answer for it in a book by me? She's wrong. Act too stupid to live and gee, you just might die.
Sara is rescued by Kyden (a character who possesses many, many shades of gray that probably make my original Kess concept jealous) and Kess. Sara finds that being in close proximity to Kess is uncomfortable after what has happened. Kess realizes that if he had listened to Sara on the way home from the theatre this situation might have been avoided. She is determined to find a way to keep moving forward and get past what has happened. He is determined to find ways to better protect her from Avish -- he is now fully convinced that he is not the Devourer's primary target.
When they return to the house Isabelle is there. She tells Sara that Cait is dead. A news story comes on in the background and tells where the accident happened. Sara recalls nearly getting hit by a car there. She is suspicious that the two situations are connected, but has no tangible proof.
Avish does know that the two issues are connected, though. He was with Cait as she died. (Okay, scratch her dying instantly. Yet again, research.) His feelings? Why should Sarena be allowed to live if she is (in his mind) the reason that Cait died? The chess game between these two has become personal. The big "Halt!" issue that I know I have to find a way to resolve is this: How is Sara going to react when she finds out that she at the very least had a hand in what happened? How will she cope long term?
Am I prepared to provide realistic emotional context for my readers and if so what would the appropriate level of grief be -- loss of a good friend? Survivors Guilt? PTSD? Do I allow the magic in my world to assist in healing her spirit (which is one of the biggest focuses of my book) or do I have her reject this assistance so that I can be more true to what a reader would experience in these circumstances?
Only time will tell how I will resolve these issues. But I firmly believe that every situation in my book must come from something that went before. That means I cannot shrink from the path that my book has to take, even as I step up to the challenge of being true to the book while not betraying readers on the most basic levels of the author / reader relationship.
All I can say for now: wish me luck. No doubt I will need it.