Parametric, a member on Absolute Write, dropped by today to share about fantasy world-building, the process of revisions, and the differences (or lack of differences) between YA and adult fiction. Welcome, Parametric!
Screen Name: Parametric
Post Count: 4000+. Homework done: 0.
Favorite Forum: I’m not particularly attached to any one forum. I do have favourite threads: the Purgatory thread in Rejection & Dejection, and the Teens Writing for Teens thread in Young Adult.
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? How to tell a good agent from bad at a hundred paces. I lurked the Bewares & Background Checks forum in a seriously obsessive way — I read every post without exception for the longest time.
In real life, you are… A 21-year-old final-year law undergraduate aiming for a masters degree in publishing. I’m a major-league recluse: I only venture out for lectures and our once-a-week writing group, where we do absolutely no writing but plenty of indulging our inner geeks. I’ve written four novels of dubious quality.
Book title: IRONBANE
Describe your most current work-in-progress in 50 words or less.
Notorious general Ironbane is in hiding when her new home village is threatened. So she decides to lead two hundred civilians in defence of their homes, while hanging onto her cover as an ordinary woman — because if her cover is blown she’ll be executed.
Talk about Holly Lisle’s One Pass Revision Method, which you’ve been using on your novel IRONBANE. What are the basic ideas behind this method, and how has it been helpful in shaping your novel?
I suspect my use of the One-Pass Method may not be anything like what Holly Lisle intended, so I apologise in advance if I lead anyone astray!
The One-Pass Method is a method for revising your manuscript in one pass. You do some preliminary work aimed at identifying the heart of the story, you read through and annotate the printed manuscript, you type up the corrections. Finish.
I love the first part of this process, the part Holly Lisle calls her “discovery stage”, so much that I don’t even wait until revisions. Before I start any novel I go through very similar questions. Themes. One-line summary. One-paragraph summary. When I get to revisions, I want to be able to nail down the key story without thinking twice. (I find it’s also helpful for query-writing.)
At the moment, I’m working on the second part, what Holly Lisle calls the “slog” — editing on paper. This is a first for me and I’m enjoying it. It’s kind of satisfying to see real, tangible progress as my scribbles eat up more and more of the paper. I’m also building up a notebook of big-picture problems.
I should wait until the end to start typing up corrections, but my critique partner is very demanding! Chapters, she says. Inbox. Now. Best just to do as she says.
As a fantasy writer, you’re constantly building new worlds. Where do you find inspiration for creating these worlds, and how do you make them feel as real as this one?
Can I make a confession? I do as little world-building as possible. As a reader and writer of epic fantasy, I’m working in a genre dominated by gigantically huge series set in vast worlds with dozens of countries and thousands of years of history. I’ve choked down so much world-building I’ve come to hate the taste. I speak as a bitter survivor — I once spent three hundred pages world-building before I ever started chapter one. (I was eleven. Don’t judge me.)
So my world-building process is streamlined. First, I pick a familiar setting to serve as a base, in this case the kind of generic fantasy world Diana Wynne Jones satirises in her TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND. Then I give it a twist or three. IRONBANE is set on the edge of human civilisation, among the bones of the titular protagonist’s war, in a tiny little village at risk of becoming just another ruin. It’s a world where God is reborn every spring and dies every autumn. It’s now midwinter, and God is dead, and humanity is fighting to survive.
Also, did I mention the zombies?
You write some adult urban fantasy, some YA urban fantasy. What do you think defines the YA genre and how do the voices of your YA protagonists differ from the voices of your adult protagonists?
I’m new to YA, so I hope I can navigate this minefield without blowing anything up.
I’m not sure I see YA as wildly different from other genres. What I love about adult fiction maps directly onto YA fiction. Compelling protagonist. Fascinating character interactions. Tons of conflict. Snappy dialogue. The only distinction I can confidently draw is that a YA protagonist needs to be a teenager, perhaps fifteen to eighteen years old, and it might be best to play up the romance angle. (I’m 20k into my YA novel and there are already three cute boys.)
To be honest, I’m scared of making the wrong assumptions about YA. I’m like a guest in the YA house, and I don’t want to stomp all over my hosts in big stompy boots telling them what they do and don’t like. So I’d rather err on the side of assuming common ground. I’d love to learn about this from more experienced YA writers and readers, so I hope they comment!
In my paranoid moments I worry that there’s a trick to writing YA, some earth-shattering secret I don’t know, and therefore my first YA novel is going to be a disaster on a scale not previously known to man. Should I be making dramatic changes to my writing? Is there a secret handshake? I don’t know. This is like sailing into the Arctic looking for the Northwest Passage. Pretty soon you’ll be sending out search parties.
My YA protagonist Fox is rather crazy, by the way. I fear I will entertain only crazy readers.
Imagine you can spend a day with one of your characters. Who would it be and why?
Most characters I love to write would not be fun to hang out with. They’re crazy, or they’re obsessive, or they’re borderline evil. Everything I find fascinating in a character makes for terrible company! If I had to pick, I’d take Kate Dean from my urban fantasy THE INFERNAL FAMILY. She’s sweet, she’s cuddly, she likes people. Plus she’s a super cute redhead and I’m shallow.