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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

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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

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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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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

HappyfaceWinter Town     Across the UniverseRooftop

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Using Art In My Teen Novels, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I had always considered myself an artist and had a strong interest in comic strips and comic books, and only in writing my own comics did I come to really appreciate the art of writing.

My first YA novel, Happyface, came about after the slow demise of my comic book series, Emo Boy. I’ll admit, I went into it both bitter and refreshed. I felt like there was no place for me in comics, that my book wasn’t embraced, blah blah blah, sour grapes. Of course, the book had its fans, one of them being the editor that I ended up pitching book ideas to.

When I started working on Happyface it was a new adventure for me. It was a chance to put comics behind me and to become… drumroll… an AUTHOR! Not too far into the process my editor suggested we bring art into the project, and I made this face: :\

Art? In a book? What if it’s too child-like? What if it gets shelved with COMIC BOOKS? I’d done comics already! I was onto the next thing and strongly against the idea, and my editor was okay with that. We could do text only. If the book didn’t work without art it wasn’t going to be a good book anyway.

Then the more I thought about it, I started to come around. It was for all the wrong reasons but I was suddenly open to the idea. What intrigued me was that the story was written in a first person voice, so we could make it like a blank journal that the main character is hand-writing in. I had the absurd notion that I would hand-write the entire book, that as Happyface enters his downward spiral his handwriting would become manic and messier, that his once relaxed art would become rushed and he’d fill in all the spaces in the margins – stuff you can’t do just with typed text.

However, you can’t edit hand-written text as conveniently as typed text, you can’t simply have it translated for foreign language editions, and you can’t have sloppy handwriting. It’s not just a piece of art – it needs to be a book.

As I started drawing for it, though, I embraced the idea again. As long as we could avoid the comic book racks it could really stand out – a new frontier, a book FULL of illustrations. Not just spot art or random chapter headings but tons of art on each page, text integrated directly into the art! I wasn’t aware of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was starting to catch on as I worked on Happyface. My editor sent me a copy of the book and asked for my thoughts on it. I felt like Happyface still stood on it’s own – that it was for a different age group, and the art was more mature and more integrated. We agreed to keep going.

I initially wanted to use illustrations to make my story stand out as a work of art and not just another book on the shelf. My editor wanted to use all of my capabilities since other authors didn’t have the option. It was its own little market. What I learned after releasing the book informed why I use art in all my projects post Happyface.

I’d certainly never thought of or intended for it but Happyface became a big book for reluctant readers – particularly for teen boys, who are generally considered too busy blowing things up in video games to read books. I got emails from people saying their son had read the book three times, and that he never reads ANYTHING. I got emails from kids thanking me for writing it. A lot of reviews pointed to the art in Happyface as a bridge for teens that would generally only read comic books or find dense blocks of words intimidating.

I write for myself, generally. Then I hope my writing can find an audience. To actually build an audience where there wasn’t previously one – to actually get people that don’t read to pick up a book and read – clinched the deal. Thank goodness I used the art. I still want those manic margin-filled pages, though.

In my next article, I’ll talk a bit about how I generate ideas. Thanks for reading!

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

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAuslanderTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing Personal Stories For Teens, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I would never say that I write autobiography but I like to say that I write personal stories, because I do cull a lot from my life and from people around me and things that I see, as I imagine most authors do. It gets more difficult with each project because writers look for new aspects of their personality to mine, and usually it’s that first book that is the culmination of a life’s worth of experiences.

I was no different, as my book Happyface definitely felt like a look back on everything I’d lived before. It really wasn’t intentional. It would have been bold of me to say, “I plan to write a book about me, and the people shall love it.” Although, I may have pitched that at some point. It was an organic process, and when you’re sitting there asking, “What would this character say? Where can they go?” it’s definitely easy to answer with what you would say and where you’ve been.

In case you haven’t read it, Happyface is about a boy who suffers an unnamed family tragedy, moves to a new town and decides to start life over for himself. It becomes a social experiment and he uses it to bury pain and escape his reality. It’s a “downward spiral” story.

The genesis of the book came from a title I’d just written it down in a sketchbook. Later I wondered who Happyface was, and the idea of a kid smiling through a lot of inner pain seemed like a great character to dive into. I had his parents divorced, because my own parents were divorced. I made him kind of shy, a little geeky, because I could definitely sell that. He was an artist. That pretty much clenched it -this was going to be a personal story.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my high school years when working on Happyface. I often wished I’d kept a journal of some kind, something I’ve always felt through life but never actually did. It would have been a goldmine for material! I had moved to a new town my sophomore year of high school when my parents divorced, and I viewed it as a chance to be a new person, but this was honestly lost on me as I wrote and only after did it dawn on me that I had actually lived through that experience. I thought I’d just been coming up with interesting story points. Other things I did intentionally use. I pulled a lot of details and banter and relationship tics from my first girlfriend. I thought about the kids that reached out to me when I first moved. These girls Leslie and Emily would always talk to me in French class. They didn’t seem to realize I was an unpopular hermit, so they inspired the Moon sisters. A kid I sat with at lunch with a strong affinity for Married With Children inspired the character Mike. Much later in life, after a breakup, I met new people and had a new group of friends, and that inspired a chunk of the story as well.

This all sounds like autobiographical fiction but it really isn’t. A book starts off as an idea and usually for me it has little to do with anything going on in my life. The arc of the story, even when it involves real events, usually needs to be fictionalized. It needs closure, it needs structure, a lesson to learn, a theme, things a little more tidy than life ever offers. As I flesh it out, personal details tend to fill in the spaces, and round out the characters, and provide the little bits of wisdom and insight. Eventually, though, it also goes through my editor, and a much wider audience than myself or my friends is considered. It goes back to telling a story the right way, giving it a real structure, adding drama and taking away fluff. This is when we get rid of the 90s nostalgia, the Super Mario references, the old sitcom references. I keep adding those in, I can’t help it. This is when we search the story for those universal truths, where we find the pieces teenagers will really relate too, and we strengthen those and bring them to the front. That’s the stage where I stop writing for me, and start writing for an audience.

In my next article, I’ll talk a bit about how I use art in books – thanks for reading!

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

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection    The Night She DisappearedNecromancing the StonePrison Ship: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

I Was A Teenage Artist, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’ll dive right in and start this series of articles on teen writing by introducing myself, some of my work, and give a little insight as to how I got here, seeing as I was once a teenager myself. So, my name is Stephen Emond, I live in Connecticut, and I am a Young Adult author. My first book, Happyface, came out in 2010, my second book Winter Town came out in late 2011, and right now I’m wondering how I managed to write two books in such quick succession, because this third one is not going so smoothly! Before Happyface, I’d written and drawn a series of comic books for SLG Publishing called Emo Boy, which are collected in two volumes. And before that…

Despite having been first published in my late twenties, I’ve always thought of myself as an artist and storyteller. When I was 5 years old and sleeping over my grandparents house, I needed to have paper and crayons with me. I was always “the artist,” even when my drawings were wobbly circles with L’s for legs. In high school I’d gotten into comic books – the early 90’s were all about Image comics and Marvel comics for me, and I very much wanted to draw my own. I filled sketchbooks with doodles of my own characters and on rare occasions tried writing up worlds for them to exist in, and stories of hitting the streets to take down punks. These were not great stories.

Stephen Emond comic book art

In my senior year, I was drawing cartoons for the school newspaper, still nothing great, but I was “THE ARTIST!” now, with exclamation point! Even when I wasn’t good I had some kind of aura that said, “This kid’s the artist,” and aside from the occasional comment on how I gave everyone duck feet, it was just accepted that I was the artist. I think it was less about how well I could draw (or not) but more for the fact that I was always doing it. By graduation, as a gift for my circle of friends, I made a twenty-page book of comic strips that featured the few of us as characters. The art in these was still awful, and the characters infuriated my friend Mike with their lack of mouths and noses.

Stephen Emond - Steverino comic book art

The take away from this is that even though the art wasn’t great, I got a great joy from doing these things. Despite the brevity of your average comic strip, it was a way for me to communicate in a way I wasn’t always comfortable with in person. For me, drawing, and, I’ll add writing as a way for me to have something to draw, was a way of escape – it was a fantasy world I could escape to. But more than that, it was a bridge, a way for me to communicate, to explain who I am, what I’m like, and what I think about.

When people write to sell a hit book or make a ton of money or get famous, I shake my head. I think, more than wanting to create, you should need to do it – you should get a great enjoyment from it. Because I loved making those comic strips, and when Mike suggested I keep doing them and send them to our friends in college, I leapt at the chance. And every month for years I’d send out a pamphlet of new cartoons, new storylines, new ideas, and slowly I began to get better. Each month I struggled to learn from the last batch of cartoons and improve. I began sending my comic strips to newspaper syndicates, and as the editors there got used to my submissions, they began to watch my growth and offer feedback. Within a year or two I had communications with editors at most of the 6 main syndicates, even though I wasn’t ready for publication yet. It was all about learning and growing still.

In 1999 I won a national cartooning award, and in 2004 I had the idea for Emo Boy. By then I’d written enough comics to pull off a 24-page story. And in 2008 when I met my editor at Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, I’d written enough comics that I was comfortable in tackling a book.

I’ll close with take away #2: you’re never too young to start. It happens that occasionally someone later in life randomly decides to write a novel and has a hit with it but, for me and for a lot of creators I know, getting published is just a step on the way – and it’s usually not the first step. It’s a culmination of experiences, observations, short stories, poems, notebooks of ideas. It was for me, at least.

In my next article I’ll talk a bit more about Happyface and how else my teenaged self inspired the story. Until then!

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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 RepossessionVirus AttackBoys without Names

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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