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The Young Adult Fiction Industry, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Working in Young Adult fiction sometimes feels like I’ve been let into a secret awesome club. It really is a community, a warm and welcoming little village of YA, comprised of authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, bloggers and readers. It’s a small world and everyone knows and loves everyone else. It’s such a great place and I don’t think any industry has quite what we have here in the YA world.

Positivity is the word that really springs to mind when I think of YA. Since I started writing it, I’ve become friends with other authors, and with editors, people from other publishing houses and divisions, bloggers who talk about my books and fans who send me emails. There’s no real divide, no “I’m an author, and you’re a (fill in the blank),” everyone is equal and friendly and we all have something in common – books.

The people who read Young Adult fiction are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Teens that read YA have SO much competition for their attention – television, video games, school (why did I make school third?), friends, family, jobs, chores. They make time to read. It’s something they seek out and pursue. Librarians and teachers love our industry because we get kids reading. There’s so much talk and debate, so much passion and deep enjoyment.

The one complaint I see pop up is about the opposite of positivity – the idea that somehow YA authors aren’t writing simple positive values-ridden books, that we write swears, and sex, and violence, and corrupt children and teens. I’d argue even the worst of these books are doing a positive thing by getting teens to read, by showing them they aren’t alone in their feelings, opening communication, promoting or even prompting discussion, and being a realistic window into the world.

Being a teen is difficult, it’s a lengthy process of challenging and changing everything you know about the world, closing a very long chapter of your life and opening a new one. These are weighty subjects. These aren’t just books to read and forget on an airplane ride, these books and characters bond with readers in ways few other books do. I see it in the emails I get, sometimes they’re a nice simple “thank you,” or “I really connected with that story”. Other times I get very heartfelt confessionals. These books matter.

That’s why I love writing YA, and why working in this industry is constantly surprising, moving, and magical. Because it’s not just an industry, it’s a living, breathing community. We all connect.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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HappyfaceWinter Town     A Coalition of LionsTarzan: The Greystoke LegacyHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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Talking About My Writing At Conferences, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

It can be really jarring being an author. It seems perfect for a quiet, unassuming shy fellow (that’s me). You sit in a room and type out words; you write stories and create worlds; you can play around, say all the things you think and live the life you want, all from the comfort of your home, maybe with a muffin and a cup of coffee. You create that wonderful book; you get an agent; you get a publisher; your book is released; and you’ve communicated with the whole world and touched so many lives, all from your computer screen.

Then you get the call: “We’ve booked you to speak at a teacher’s conference in Chicago next month, start packing!”

Speak?! Teacher’s conference?! My high school English teachers would spit out their water if they knew I was even writing a book! I have to somehow teach THEM something? Speak???

This thought process loops for weeks, getting louder, with pounding echoes. I write! Not speak! These are two exceptionally different skill sets. People who are great writers and great speakers still amaze me. I imagine if you can speak well, if you’re that social and outgoing, then you wouldn’t be the type to do the actual quiet writing part. That’s the case for myself, at least. I got just such a call. In fact, when I’d written Happyface I had to do a book release party in my hometown, an English teacher’s conference in Chicago, a librarian conference in Pennsylvania and another teacher conference in Texas. I was petrified.

I’d never been one to raise my hand in class, or volunteer to read a passage, or for any reason choose to stand in front of a class. In most of those cases, you’d be expected to talk for a few minutes. Here I was supposed to talk to a quiet room for 20, 30 or 40 minutes!

Imagine, if you will, a montage sequence, set to the music of your choosing. I’m listing every noteworthy event that happened in the creation of the book; thinking about all the conversations I had with my editor; searching desperately for any little nugget of information I can pad out a half hour with; creating any artwork I can to at least divert a few eyes off of me; and getting on a plane, sitting in a hotel room, reading over notes and timing myself.

So much of the anxiety is just getting to ‘the moment’. I guarantee you the five minutes before a speech are always worse than the five minutes after beginning a speech, and the five minutes after a speech can be near-euphoric.

One thing that bridges the ‘speaker’ and the ‘writer’ is that it’s the actual writing you’re speaking about. I never had to recite someone else’s work or talk about something I didn’t care about, and that helps. I can’t say I’m the best speaker, but each time I’ve gotten through it.

Oddly enough, those times end up being the memories I look back on the most at the end of the year. I think to myself, “I’m a WRITER, not a SPEAKER!” I just want to WRITE. At the end of a trip like that, I think back, talking with other authors, speaking about my books, traveling, signing, hearing from people who’ve read my stuff, wrapped up in a whirlwind of activity all centered around not only books but MY books, those things I spent all that time writing. I have to remember, that this is part of being a writer, or the public version of a writer. That’s when I’m in full on glamorous author mode, when being an author seems like a really cool gig. I go home after that and it takes a  few days to adjust. Suddenly everything feels kind of empty and confusing. Why isn’t anyone coordinating my travel, driving me around, ordering me food? Does anyone want me to sign something? I’ve got a pen…

At the end of the day, you write to finish your book and you talk to sell it. It’s creative; it’s a business; it’s a strange, bizarre world being an author, but you do it and you love it.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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HappyfaceWinter Town     Shock PointGenesisRaven Speak

Writing Teen Novels
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Working With My Editor, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I had a friend ask me, when I was working on Happyface, if I disliked having an editor. He couldn’t imagine someone telling him what’s good and what’s bad in his writing. I could see where some people would have issues with that. I’m not one of them. It would take a certain level of confidence that I’ve never mustered to assume that what I’ve written is the best it can be. I’ve only had great editors and I consider it an important advantage to my writing.

The books of mine you’ve read would not be the same had I worked on them alone. My editor (Connie) is great at taking what tends to be a rather personal work and finding the broader strokes of it. I’m often amazed at how she takes something I’ve written or pitched, and somehow understands me enough to say “I think THIS is what you’re trying to do here,” in a way that maintains the spirit of my words but also adds a laser focus to it. I see why I chose that, and how to burrow in deeper.

Meetings with Connie can also be like therapy. We’ve had very long conversations about my work (who else is going to listen to me talk about my fantasy lands for 3 or 4 hours?) where she can take away all the excess, all the extraneous ideas and pieces and really get at the core of what it is that I care about, what the story really is, taking it all apart and rebuilding it from the scraps.

Sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes I get pages of notes that pick apart every other sentence, she wants to cut half of the stuff I just know is good but it doesn’t fit. The truth hurts but she’s always right. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to realize it.

Stephen Emond - Lemons comic

My first draft of something can see  close to half of it cut. Essentially saying “THIS stuff is good, this stuff over here is just okay. Let’s cut that stuff and make it as good as the best parts.”

More than a few times, I’ve gotten notes like “Ew! This part is creepy!” or “Definitely cut this section.” I flush red for a few seconds and start deleting, glad those parts didn’t get any further.

When you’re writing 60,000+ words it gets very hard to see things objectively. At some point it all blends together, the good and the bad, and it just exists in it’s own world. There are times I just have to rely on someone else to read it and be honest with me. Connie reads my words over and over and over, always making interesting notes and comments. Sometimes she just knows the right questions to ask to get my mind rolling: “Why did you choose this setting? Why is this character here?”

Of course, not everyone has an editor at a big publisher to lean on. Find someone you can trust who can really be truthful and conversational and elevate your work, and who won’t butter you up and say the nice things you secretly or not-so-secretly want to hear. A good editor is completely indispensable.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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HappyfaceWinter Town     GlowShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing Stories In Different Formats, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’ve had the privilege to write for a few formats that are not novels. Namely, I got my start working on comic strips and was very entranced with that industry for a long time. I also spent a few years working in comic books, and because of my comic book Emo Boy I was given the chance to work on a feature film screenplay for a proposed film adaptation. I’ll talk here about those unique processes.

All of them are of course very different from prose writing, for teens or otherwise. While the heavy lifting of creating an airtight plot remains the same for any form of writing, and believe me that can easily be the most effort-intensive part of the process, there’s less focus on detail, generally because an artist or director will be supplying the actual images needed. Your job is strictly telling the story.

Comic strips may seem the easiest but I’ll always maintain that it’s a great boot camp for writing. You only need to do a small number of panels, usually one to four, with minimal dialogue, a small cast of characters and usually just the one scene. To do that well, to tell a full story AND elicit a laugh or a heartfelt moment, or to make someone stop and ponder something for a moment, is difficult. To do it day in and day out, week after week, year after year, you’ll understand quickly how hard it is to keep that momentum going. Every strip needs to set up who is talking, where they are, what the context is and then somehow turn that idea on it’s head by the end of the strip in a clever way. Sometimes a comic strip will have a storyline that goes on through a week or a month; Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame occasionally would play a game and see how long he could keep an idea going. Watterson is especially famous for pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the form. But through these storylines you can never assume a reader has read the previous instalments. You have to assume they’ve never even heard of your strip. So not only do you have to carry on the story, but you have to address it as if this is the first instalment of the story and find a clever or quick way to recap. Every strip is essentially a tiny standalone story.

Comic books have a bit more space to play in. You can grow from a 3 panel story to a full 3 act story. Comics generally have 24 pages to tell your story in; whether it’s a standalone story or part of a longer arc, which has become more common in the past decade or two. Comics are a very visual medium, so it’s often the artist who tells the story in terms of movement and dynamics, and the speed a scene may pass along at. The writer is generally setting up the scene and delivering the major actions and dialogue. I can draw decently, so I had written and drawn my comics. I’d usually come up with a long list of potential plots, as most of the issues of Emo Boy had anywhere from one to three short stories (Issue 11 had 11 stories). Once I had decided on a plot, I’d spend a day or two coming up with jokes, scenes and a general three act structure, and when it was time to write I’d keep those notes handy and often write the full issue in one sitting. The majority of the month I would spend doing all the art.

When I started work on the Emo Boy movie, I had to learn a lot about structure and writing a long-form work. With books and movies, that freewheeling speed and quick note jotting was no good, I needed to really sit down and put everything together like a puzzle. Theme, recurring motifs, and strong set pieces all became important. I had to really think of big visual moments that would look good in a trailer, I had to see everything on a screen in my head. I had to learn to cut for the first time, because, at 90 pages, you need a clean, strong storyline and you have to be aware of any scenes that divert from your story or don’t in any way enhance or add to the story. Real estate is precious in a screenplay: scenes are generally short, a few pages long at best, so you don’t have the freedom to stroll at your own pace the way you do in a novel. You can’t spend a page talking about the flowers your character just passed. A novel can be a thousand pages or it can be 300 pages, you set your own pace. A movie needs to hit the right beats at the right times and hit them strong.

One of the best things about novel writing is the control you have over it. There’s no space demand of a comic strip or even a movie, there are far fewer hands in the production. It’s essentially you and your ideas, particularly at the start when the blank page truly is an invitation to your own world, as large or small as you feel comfortable existing in.

There’s always an option for a writer whether to express a story as a comic, a movie, a video game, a novel, a blog, a news article… there’s always a need and a place for good writing.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

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HappyfaceWinter Town     Across the UniverseRooftop

Writing Teen Novels
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Structuring Novel Chapters, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

With Winter Town I thought of each chapter as its own mini story, paying close attention to giving each scene a three act structure and changing the values at stake between the start and finish. A common “rule” you’ll read in writing books is that if a scene starts off positive then end it negative, and vice versa. It’s really the value at stake in a scene that gets changed. Positive and negative is just a very broad way of looking at it.

A good example from Winter Town is in chapter 14. This chapter takes place early on in the relationship of Lucy and Evan, and takes place from Lucy’s POV. What I wanted to show here was Lucy’s inner struggle and inability to fully commit to something. She’s always liked Evan, she’s thrilled to be with him, but she’s self destructive and already picking at the relationship. The scene takes place in the evening when Lucy and Evan leave Evan’s house to walk downtown to the movie theater.

I divided the chapter into three main sections; Lucy getting outside and into a more cosmopolitan hustle and bustle, Lucy and Evan discussing small town life, the city, art and school, and then arriving at the theater where Lucy’s tone shifts.

It starts positive; Lucy finds a strong energy in the night, with people all around her, the downtown lights, she holds Evan’s hand, she kisses him, she can barely contain herself. The lights are reflecting on the snow, the streets are decorated, people are all out enjoying themselves, and it’s a romantic scene as Lucy and Evan go out in public as some variation of boyfriend/girlfriend for the first time.

The “second act” plays with the positive and negative. Lucy and Evan talk about a fantasy life in the city, making art. Movies, comics, teaming up and living off art and love in a creative community. This is Lucy’s dream and Evan’s fantasy. For Evan, it isn’t real. He knows he can’t leave his family, he has plans for school. Lucy doesn’t fit snuggly into his future vision.

The third act and “epilogue” of the chapter has Lucy reeling during the movie, emotional and on the verge of tears, while Evan just watches the movie. Lucy decides that Evan can’t appreciate her or art because he doesn’t know pain the way she does. He doesn’t suffer and his life is too clean and neat. The chapter ends on a negative note as the idea is planted in Lucy’s head that she is going to break his heart.

The constant shifting of good and bad, and light and dark, creates a dynamic flow and keeps the reader wondering what will happen next, and never getting too complacent with how things are. As readers, we truly appreciate the happy moments when they come from dark places and we cringe at the dark material that follows the lighter pieces. Beyond all that, it gives you a guide and purpose in your writing. Are things going too good for your character? Too bad? Try flipping the values at stake, sooner rather than later.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

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HappyfaceWinter Town     Cleopatra ConfessesBlue is for NightmaresNecromancing the Stone

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Creating Conflict For Your Character, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

In this post and the next I’ll show you how I apply some common writing tactics to my own work. Today I’ll talk about my first novel, Happyface.

One rule that I found useful when trying to think up events to take place early in the book was the idea of rocks and shields: the idea that your character exists in a world where rocks are constantly being thrown at him or her, so your character seeks shields for protection.

In Happyface, rocks come at the protagonist all throughout the book. The tragedy that starts him on his journey can be considered one such rock. Happyface and his mom move to a new town near the start of the book, leaving his father and brother suddenly absent. Happyface’s story is about reinvention and hiding from his past. These are his goals. So what are the rocks?

An early rock is the presence in this new school of Mr Mulvey, his English teacher. Mulvey went to Happyface’s old school and taught his older brother. Mulvey knows Happyface and his family story. For someone trying to hide everything he was before, Mulvey, well meaning as he is, becomes a dangerous presence.

Another rock comes from the Moon sisters; best friends of Happyface’s crush, Gretchen. They’re over-protective of their friend and intensely nosey. Happyface is constantly trying to throw them off his trail and keep himself a mystery but they want to know who this kid is and, more importantly, who he was.

The arrival of Chloe, his old crush from his old town, also ramps up the intensity and reveals a lot of holes in Happyface’s story that has everyone questioning his reliability. Happyface’s mom is also a rock, in the midst of a breakdown and wanting to keep past events in the present.

As for shields, Happyface has those too. His sketchbook is one – it’s a diversion and it keeps his story straight, it makes his fake stories real. His entire “Happyface experiment” is a shield – he fully immerses himself in this social experiment that takes up his days and nights as a way of erasing a painful past and occupying his mind. Gretchen is a shield. His head-over-heels infatuation with her is a way of avoiding reality. His obsession with becoming popular, with having friends, is all to avoid his home life. If he loses them, he loses everything; all he has is a dark, broken, sad family life to return to.

Another writing method I used in Happyface is a character web – the idea that each character in some way illuminates a different part of Happyface. Around dorky Mike, who is shades of a former Happyface himself, Happyface becomes an alpha male, and talks down to him. Around Frog and Oddly, his “fan club,” Happyface truly feels like the popular kid in school. Around Gretchen he’s vulnerable and scared. Around Misty and Karma Moon he plays up the comedian role, not a care in the world.

Each crush of his reveals one of his “masks”. Together they showcase the idea that he’s always had this chameleon aspect to his personality. The book is never about popularity or about love, Gretchen is never the actual goal of the story, but it’s a book about becoming comfortable with yourself. The happy ending is being able to take off the mask.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Glow

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

My Fiction Writing Process, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’m going to talk a little bit about what works for me when it comes to the process of writing. Everyone’s different, and no doubt you will be too, but here’s a little insight on how I work and how I came to use this process, and with any luck it can help you find your way as well.

I taught myself to write in gradual steps, by need, generally. My first ‘writing’ was my short comic strips. It doesn’t sound like much but writing comic strips is a great boot camp – every strip has a beginning, middle and end, or set up, development and punch line. You’re essentially telling a small story every day. By the time I was working on my Emo Boy comic book, I figured I’d read enough comics and watched enough TV. I knew the basic gist of how a story should look and feel. Some issues had one issue-long story and some issues had story several smaller stories. I’d generally set up the storyline, come up with some events and jokes, then wrap it all up, and if Emo Boy could learn a lesson by the end, all the better.

In 2008, I was working on two projects at once. One was Happyface, a full novel I was writing for Little Brown Books For Young Readers and the other was a screenplay for an Emo Boy movie for Vanguard Films. In 2008, I learned I knew absolutely nothing about storytelling.

The main complaint I kept hearing was: “Where’s the structure?” This was coming from both companies. Having worked on short comic strips and comic books, my stories tended to feel too episodic. Emo Boy, the movie was having multiple adventures stemming from the comic book storylines. Happyface was jumping from month to month and place to place with little arc.

I’ve since become a strong outliner – I often spend as much time, if not more, outlining a book as I do actually writing it. I start in broad strokes and break it down piece by piece. It goes something like this:

  • Have an idea.
  • Give the idea a basic arc – a beginning, middle and end.
  • Flesh those pieces out into 3 acts – so the beginning, middle and end each have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Jot out ideas, scenes, character traits and lines of dialogue. Picture a video trailer for the book. Think up themes arising from big ideas. I ask myself: what is it about this story that excites me and makes me want to write about this in particular? How do I connect with the story? I take all those puzzle pieces and try to fit them together into some kind of loose outline.
  • From there, I start thinking in chapters.
  • For each chapter, I’ll write a beginning, middle and end. I’ll add more dialogue, locations and characters.

My editor says my first draft for a chapter is always very loose, like I’m racing to the end. It’s closer to a comic or a screenplay: this person says this, that person says that, they both do this, the end. I’ll go through it again to add more observation, detail and surroundings. I’ll go through it again and add more mannerisms and movement, what the characters are thinking, sensory details like how something looks, smells or sounds. In final drafts, I pay attention to word choices, how sentences flow and the general feel of the text.

Things change a lot as I write. The outline will bend and sway, characters will reveal themselves to be far more important than I’d anticipated. So, even though I have a blueprint, I’m still discovering along the way. Some people prefer to start blind – they have a germ of an idea in mind and they start writing. I’ve tried this but I just stare at a blank page trying to think of something clever to say. It doesn’t work for me – but we’re all different. This is just my process.

In a more general day-to-day look at my writing process, I like to write outside of my home. I find I’m easily distracted at home, I have all my books there, my TV, video games and, worst of all, house chores. I also find that other places have better lighting. It makes me feel more awake. It could be a library, a cafe, a Panera Bread or a Barnes & Noble. I listen to music while I write – nothing with lyrics or too distracting – or sometime movie scores, and there are some indie bands that do instrumental music. I like jazz, anime soundtracks and, lately, I’ve added hip hop instrumentals into the mix.

Writing is hard. This is an issue for me and I know it is for a lot of people. Sometimes you know you want to write but you think, “I don’t have any ideas. I don’t know what to write.” So you don’t. It takes me a few minutes to get started. My head is racing, full of to-do lists, distractions, it’s been a long day, my brain is fuzz and I just want to tune out, but once I sit and just stare at the blank screen or notebook paper my brain will, one by one, shut off all those distractions. I start to think, one thought leads to another and eventually I’ll be lost in my own little world. Time slips away and I can easily sit there for an hour or two and not even feel it. I imagine it’s what meditation is like.

Anyone can write: you need to find what works best for you. Find that process and put your trust in it, and you’ll be piling up pages before you know it.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Night She DisappearedI Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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