Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Read, Read, Read...the trick to discovering your YA voice

When we were young, one of my brothers always wanted to take things apart. To see how they worked. Whether it was a watch, a toaster or a TV, if it had moving parts in its guts, my brother could not help himself. Sometimes he managed to put them back together too. And, sometimes he didn’t.

It puzzled me that there were people like him in the world. Why not just take advantage of the things around you, use them. It was up to other people to figure out how they worked, and to keep them working.

Fast forward thirty or so years, and I kind of see the logic in that kind of methodical mind that wants to tear things apart to get a better understanding of how they work. But I also kind of don’t.

Whenever I find myself with car problems, I am totally at the mercy of whatever mechanic I take my vehicle to. They could tell me that the Whositwhatsit has to be replaced, and it’s going to cost six hundred dollars to do it, and I’d have to pretend I’d know what they were talking about and give them the okay to proceed. After all, you don’t want to be driving your car with a broken whositwhatsit.

As I began to get seriously into my writing journey, I thought back to those earlier times when my brother would have all the little gears and thingmebobs spread out on the floor in front of him, with nothing but an empty shell of a watch in his hand. That’s when it first hit me that writing is kind of like that. As writers, we have all the bits and bobs and pieces spread out on the floor in front of us. We just have to trust ourselves to put them together in the right order.

Do I study the pieces closely, or do I just wing it…just throw them together willy-nilly and hope they somehow form a cohesive logic?

Here’s where I should be providing some sort of writerly wisdom. This is where I should be saying, “Of course you carefully examine each piece. Weigh your options. Think hard on how to rearrange them.”

I’m not going to do that. I’ve been writing seriously now since 2003. But I haven’t been taking myself too seriously for almost a lifetime. I don’t over-think anything.

Do you want to be a writer? Do you want to write young adult fiction? You have to start with the right pieces, but it’s up to you how closely you examine them. It’s up to you how you form your story. The most valuable thing you have at your disposal—after learning your grammar rules, of course—is books on the market. You want to know how to write YOUNG ADULT fiction, read young adult fiction. This holds true for any type of writing.

Sure, I have my writer’s toolbox. I know when to use a comma. I know how to use one of those squiggly things and when not to use an exclamation mark. I know how to dot an i and cross a t. But I certainly didn’t know how to find my YA voice. It’s not the same as writing adult fiction. There’s a particular voice that is all young adult. If you’re looking for wisdom—for me to tell you what that particular something is—you’re not going to find it here. If you were paying attention, I was never one of those people who tore the stuffing out of things to see how they worked. Just as I never lifted the hood of a car to do anything but fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir, I have never dissected fiction to see how it works.

For me, it’s a gut feeling. I looked at a heck of a lot of models. I read through a library of young adult fiction when I first discovered that it was the market I wanted to write in. I didn’t do it with a technical eye for learning the formula, though. I did it for love. If you are thinking about writing a young adult novel, you already have a love of reading. It doesn’t matter how old you are when you start writing, it’s reading that brought you to the precipice of writing your first novel. A love of words and how they form together to make a rich sound in your inner ear. That’s what brought you here. If you want to write YA, read YA. That’s my only lesson today. Read everything you can get your hands on. That’s better than tearing it apart to see how it ticks.

My brother used to pick everything apart. The guts would be splayed out in front of him until the thing he began with was virtually unrecognizable. That’s not me. I could sit and stare at the gentle sweeping of a second hand for hours, awed in wild wonder by the beauty of this thing that somebody lovingly put together with their own two hands. I didn’t need to know how it worked for it to work. That was somebody else’s job. I sometimes felt sorry for my brother. He never really appreciated a thing just for the thing. He didn’t have the faith required to just take in the beauty. When you take in the beauty—when you thoroughly digest something—you can properly equip yourself with the tools needed to replicate it.

Before you write, READ. That’s the lesson for today. Read YA for pleasure. It’ll soak in. As in the magical osmosis process, you will be preparing yourself to write. And when you eventually sit down to write, you will find that you already possess that unique voice that is young adult.



Kevin Craig is a poet, playwright and novelist. His fiction and poetry has been published internationally. Kevin has also had memoir published in such places as the Globe & Mail and on CBC Radio Canada. He is a two-time winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s Best Adult Novel Award—in 2007 for Sebastian's Poet, and in 2008 for The Reasons. Kevin is a proud member, and former board member, of the Writers' Community of Durham Region. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Ontario Writers' Conference. Kevin has had 2 plays produced by Driftwood Theatre, for their Trafalgar24 Play-Creation Festival. Summer on Fire is his first published novel. It is available from MuseItUp Publishing (Click on the book cover to be taken to MuseItUp):

1 comment:

Marva Dasef said...

And be a kid at heart forever.

Good article, Kevin.