As I head to teach at #NESCBWI19, I thought it would be a good idea to add a post to my blog about writing . . . and what it sometimes costs us as people to tell the story.
The other day, I had a fascinating conversation with another writer. We were going through her manuscript and there was a scene she’d written that just wasn’t working for some reason. I asked the most basic question that I ask of myself all the time: “Are you being true to your character?”
As she started peeling back the layers of the character she’d built, she realized that what she’d written – what she wanted the character to do – was not in line with the character’s core personality. It wasn’t in line with the character’s history, her way of thinking, and her self-esteem. The scene was corrected to follow what the character would do, rather than what the author WANTED the character to do, and the issue was fixed.
When a storyteller truly writes, they should yield control of the story to the characters they’ve created. The reason is simple: no one can ever control the emotions, reactions, and train-of-thought of another person. You can try to cheer someone up, convince them of a certain path to take, or beg them to feel better about themselves, but there is no way to actually impact what sits in their mind. If you can’t control a real person, what makes you think you can control a fictional one written to be real?
I’ve always yielded control of a story to my characters – I’m merely the one to transcribe their lives. I’m also the meddlesome twist of fate that throws obstacles in their path, but I don’t control their reaction. Ever. This is maddening in some ways – plotting finer points is basically impossible when you follow a character down a rabbit hole. What I will say, however, is that the end result is a detailed, twisted, page-turner of a novel with rich, unforgettable characters.
I’ve never had a problem slipping into the skin of a character – even the bad ones, even the ones on their death beds. I never had a problem . . . until I started writing The Coffin Crew. It was the first time my Forensic Psychology background failed me. It was the first time I could NOT understand a character’s thought process. It was the first time I started calling people and asking “HOW? How could someone do this?”
No one could go down the rabbit hole and help me slide into the skin of a Nazi scientist who worked under Josef Mengele. I could not, NOT understand how so many MANY people in WWII simply turned off any shred of humanity. It was beyond me.
I am still struggling to bring this Nazi character to life on the page. Trying to become him, makes my own heart seize and my blood run cold. I’m mentally exhausted by this book. I’m so done, DONE wanting to read a single page more of the true evil that swept through humanity in the 1930s and 1940s.
People lost their SOULS in WWII.
People became the embodiment of evil in WWII.
I can never forget what I’ve learned in researching WWII. I try to keep my sanity in check while reading, but I want to rage and cry at the same time. You can’t be unaffected by the horrors of the Holocaust and it’s so far beyond what you thought it was. It’s so much more horrific than you could ever imagine.
I won’t let these stories of survival and loss, bravery and selflessness, be forgotten. I won’t let evil slip by with the passage of time, and I won’t let the Greatest Generation simply be viewed as elderly people slumped over in their wheelchairs. I am willing to carry what I’ve learned and burrow down into the mind of a Nazi to portray him in haunting accuracy on the page. I am willing to read the documents and be forever changed by what I’ve learned.
I’m willing to write it, so that it can NEVER be forgotten, especially by the current generation.
I am willing to go terribly, terribly dark and I’m willing to show the beauty in hope and courage.
I’m willing to tell this story.
What story are you willing to tell?
The debate of “cozy crime” and what makes Agatha Christie’s novels (and adaptations) so good is covered in this read. While personally I agree with James Prichard, the chairman and CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd., that “cozy (cosy) crime” is not a correct label and that crime is meant to be something to disturb you and make you think, the opposite view is also explored. I also find it interesting to think about the “cozy crime” in the sense of television crime dramas －they are there when you turn on the TV and you can settle in and watch comfortablely. But, I think challenging this subtype of genre we can delve deeper into crime and what it says about human nature. This is also exactly why Agatha Christie’s mysteries are excellent reads. Her understanding of human nature is used in her books to make the motivations of killers realistic and a demonstration of what can, and has, happened in the world of crime. Read the full article HERE.
In this article, an overview of how technology has impacted the world of writing is provided. It is interesting to see how many ways the Internet and mobile devices have benefited, as well as impaired, the writing industry. The two most important impacts, in my opinion, are the ability to have a global connection, and therefore audience, and how short an average person’s attention span has become. This leaves writers with two things in mind; one is that their audience has become a lot larger and diverse and two is that they need to engage their reader faster than ever before. Read Laura Thompson’s full article HERE.
The future is NOW. This video discusses the developing Virtual Reality experience of “Whispers in the Night,” which is interactive storytelling at its finest. In this story, you share secrets with a girl named Lucy, in which she reacts to and remembers what you say. This is the perfect example of how the worlds of Artificial Intelligence and storytelling are overlapping to create something unique. While it is still too early to tell, it may be possible that VR will be the new branch of publishing that generates new interest in the world of storytelling. In other words, VR could be the new ebook.
See more here: https://vimeo.com/313038866
Kristine Asselin is the author of both works nonfiction and fiction. She writes both YA and children’s and is currently working on Falling for Wonder Boythat will be published through Wicked Whale Publishing. In this interview, she touches upon how she writes and the publishing industry.
Falling for Wonder Boy seems like it will represent how society is today: a busy world where kids are having to learn to balance responsibilities and relationships. What a better sport than golf to show the need for focus in today’s world. What was your inspiration for this book, was it anything to do with the added work that seemed to be placed on kids these days?
That’s a great question. This book is actually very much inspired about my own experiences as a teen. My parents managed a golf course while I was in high school and college. Golf was both my part-time job and obsession for several summers. As a girl playing golf in Central Massachusetts, my only competition was my brother (no competition actually, he WAS the phenom) and adorable preppy boys.
I’ve been working on this book for years, and over time, it’s taken on a more contemporary theme, that of focus and pressure on kids. I always thought the golf course would make a great backdrop for a young adult novel, and I hope I’ve painted a picture that both represents my childhood, as well as highlights a sport that is relatively underrepresented in children’s literature.
You have written numerous types of books, from nonfiction to short stories to YA fiction. Do you have a writing process that is the same for each kind of book? If not, how are they different and do you have a favorite type you enjoy writing?
I have had the honor of writing a lot of different genres, and I’m thankful for all of those opportunities because I think every project has made me a better writer. I’m sad to say I don’t have a tried and true process—every new book feels different. My biggest challenge is getting to the “muddy” middle and trying to push through to the end. I have so many really great starts of books that are floating around on my computer waiting for inspiration to finish them.
My favorite type of project is taking some thread of reality, some anecdote or moment, and spinning it into a scene or a hook for a new book.
You have published books through a variety of ways and publishers. Do you have a preference on how you like to publish books?
I’ve published traditionally. I’ve done work-for-hire and freelance. I’ve published with a small press. I’ve published digital-only. And now I’ve published independently. They all have their pros and cons—I loved publishing traditionally and seeing my book show up in national chain books stores. That was a dream come true. But I also love the control I’ve had with publishing independently. Especially with someone like K.R. Conway as a mentor and adviser helping along the way.
Do you have any advice on how to publish a book? Are there certain publishing routes that are suited better for different kinds of books?
I think my best advice is to write the book. “Butt in Chair,” as Jane Yolen says, and write the book. And then revise the book. Worry about how and where you’re going to publish later.
I’m a query consultant and I read a lot of queries. The most common thread with queries I see is that the book isn’t ready. You can have the best query in the world, but if the book isn’t ready, you’re not going to sell the book to an agent, an editor, or a reader. Focus on making the book the best you can, and then worry about the next step.
Lastly, are you a plotter or a pantser and why is that?
Sadly, I’m a pantser. I *wish* I could be a better plotter, and I try constantly to outline and plot. But those characters are always doing things I don’t plan on and making different decisions! I will continue to try to outline because I know I could work faster with a detailed outline!
ABOUT KRISTINE CARLSON ASSELIN
Kristine Asselin writes MG fantasy and contemporary YA. She grew up on a small, family-owned golf course in Central Massachusetts, which was the inspiration for Falling for Wonder Boy. She is also the author of sixteen works of children’s nonfiction as well as the YA novel Any Way You Slice It and co-author of the middle grade novel The Art of the Swap.
She loves being a Girl Scout leader and a Library Trustee, and volunteering with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her alter-ego is The Query Godmother and she loves critiquing queries and helping people with submission packages. She lives on the outskirts of Boston with her teen daughter and husband, and is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Drawing the line between artistic use and copyright can sometimes be quite difficult to do. Albanese’s article in Publisher’s Weekly covers this when talking about how Chooseco is suing Netflix for trademark infringement. This can be used as both a warning on monitoring your own work to see if it oversteps on copyright as well as an example of how people can create their own ideas based off of others. It is just important to ask others if it is okay to use their work in association with your own. Read the Deets here at Publisher’s Weekly: Chooseco Sues Netflix, Alleging ‘Bandersnatch’ Trademark Infringement