YA Novels, Adult Fiction, Complex Characters

The Interview 
Part I

You write both Young Adult Fiction and Adult fiction, what changes for you when writing in the other genre?
Writing adult novels is in many ways, more freeing, and – dare I say it – in some regards less difficult.  In Y/A, you are faced with quite a few constraints, and it can be hard to create the book you want while staying within them.  Obviously, you must always have a teen protagonist, but it’s also necessary to use a lighter hand with some of the good stuff us writers love – more multi-faceted and layered sentences, complex themes, spreading out a bit more with pacing.  It’s a huge challenge to produce thoughtful, literary-ish fiction for a younger audience.  In my Y/A, I find myself pressing the boundaries as far as I can.  In The Secret Life of Prince Charming, for example, a story about a young girl and her sister who set out to return objects their father has stolen from every woman he’s ever been in love with, some of the passages are written in those women’s voices.  As well, my books tend to be slower than much Y/A, and more character driven.  So, for me, writing for adults is a bit like opening the gates. 
Describe your writing process.
I usually describe my process as a crazy Greyhound bus trip, where we know our departure point and where we’re going to end up, but have no clue what will happen in between.  I sometimes begin with a plot, sometimes a character, sometimes a theme I want to explore, sometimes an image.  After sixteen books (eleven published or about-to-be, five unpublished before that), you find that each is its own animal.  I begin at the beginning, and write until the end.  I don’t outline, and no one sees any part of the book until I’m finished.  Even my agent and editors and publishing houses don’t have a lot of information about what I’m doing.  It’s just me and my characters and our mutual struggle, until I’m confident that the book is as good as I can make it.  I spend a lot of time editing before it gets to my editor – sometimes as long as three months. 
Your characters have great depths, how do you make your characters feel so real and complex?
The “how do you do such-and-such” kinds of questions are always the hardest for me to answer. I’ve only taken one creative writing class in my life (when I was in college), so my writing is mostly intuitive, led by all my years of reading.  Madelleine taught me, and so did The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and so did A Farewell to Arms, and every book I’ve read in between and since. So, mostly my real answer is that I don’t know.  My years of reading guide me to a sense of what’s right. 
If you hold a brownie just out of my reach and force me to answer, though, I believe that creating a complex character is an act of compassion.  Bringing empathy to your characters and an honesty about life in general, I think, results in the kind of characters you describe. 

Check back May 15 for Part II  

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Little Willow

    Three cheers for empathy, honesty, and Deb!

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