Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Help! Two Questions for Writers of Young Adult Novels

 I've been working hard on this summer's project. After floundering around for a few weeks, I finally hit my stride again and have been moving steadily through it and discovered something, as a writer, about the characteristics of this main character.

Basically, I had created her to be a slightly angry teen who eventually overcomes her anger and learns to trust and love the adult who she perceived to be her personal nemesis. Characters are supposed to grow and change, but during these last 20,000 words, she's developed characteristics I didn't have a clue she possessed. At first I wanted to halt things again, thought about it, and decided it would be better to forge ahead and complete the first draft no matter what she did or who she became.

 Since I have not written a young adult character in depth before, I don't know if this is normal for YA characters in novels.  These characteristics showed up when the character was presented with major conflict in her life because of the plot and the antagonist. MG characters don't have to be this complex. For those of you that do write young adult I have a couple of questions.

1. If your character has changed dramatically, do you go back and add or hint at some of these characteristics when you first presented him/her so it won't be such a big difference from the beginning?
2. Do you just let the changes take the reader by surprise the way it took you, the author, by surprise?

If you faced this in your writing, I would love to know how you handled it.


  1. Hmmm, I can't help you there. I've only attempted one young adult novel, and I didn't run into that (probably because my character arc isn't big enough). It's definitely interesting the way that characters take on a life of their own (I've had that happen in middle grade). You might need to give us a tiny plot summary and how she evolves to demonstrate what changes you're talking about :)

  2. I remember a movie, not a very good one, where this happened: the character abruptly became a different character about 2/3 of the way through. Wasn't good. You'd have to decide if the "surprise" is motivated; that is, if the reader would feel like it's motivated. If not, then you would have to add some "clues."

    Isn't it kind of exciting to have your character "surprise" you? I had this happen to me once, many years ago, when I was trying to write a novel (never finished). I thought Wow!

    Good luck. It does sound like you're making great progress.

  3. I do add subtle hints, so readers won't say, "Well, that came out of nowhere." But, sometimes, I've been too subtle and no one got my hints ;)

  4. Jess, Ann, and Tessa, thank you. You've confirmed what I need to do. During revision I will go back and add hints or subtle scenes that show that these characteristics are deep inside waiting to be harnessed. Maybe I can show that she's even surprised at her actions and personal strength.

  5. Without more details, I'm hesitant to give advice. Generally, I'd say go ahead and finish the draft, then go back and see how it reads (and be sure someone else reads it as well).
    If the change seems too abrupt or truly out of character, you'll be able to fix it during revisions.

    Glad to hear you're on a roll.

  6. Having reworked one of my YA novels earlier this year, I can say I had to go back and insert tidbits that evidenced the growth my character experienced. Change doesn't happen all at once, so it's realistic to have them take place a little at a time.

    Amazing how our characters evolve just like real folks.

  7. Joy, thank you for stopping by and letting me know you insert tidbits. I'm jotting down notes of changes that I need to address during the rewrite.

  8. I second what others have said. You don't want your protagonist to start doing things later in the novel that seem completely out of character for her, so it's probably good to hint at that potential earlier in the story. It sounds like you're on the right track, though. I love putting characters in tough situations because then you see what really makes them tick!

  9. Thanks, Anna, that's exactly what happened. Once I ratcheted up the tension, her response was totally unexpected for her. I liked it, saw the potential, and then started head scratching about "first impressions" for the reader.

  10. You've gotten some great advice so far from others.

    It always seems like characters do show their true colors when in a stressful situation. I also try to put some kind of hint of the personality in the beginning -- but it's tricky.

    But the more time you spend with your characters, you'll figure it out -- it's scary how it works sometimes.

    Good luck.

  11. This happens in my writing too, Cathy. For me it as if I just become the tool through which the character tells his story. IMO, I think it makes for a much more complex and deeper story. I find I don't have to go back and amend things much because these surprises tend to play off what has already been written. And I agree, theses character traits do seem to come out when you write your character into a corner.

  12. The comments on character development have been helpful, Catherine. Thanks for initiating this discussion.

  13. Shellie, I'll be looking to see how they play off before adding anything.

    Anne, the comments were very helpful. It's good to know other writers have had the same problem or more experience and are ready and willing to help. I now have the information I need for revision.