Monday, 26 August 2013

Guest Post: Sarah Jamila Stevenson (Underneath)

Today I have Sarah Jamila Stevenson - author of the paranormal YA Underneath - here on City of Books for a guest post, as part of Books That Glow: YA & MG 2013!

Writing Paranormal YA: Do's and Don’ts
by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Okay. The first thing I have to get out there before I give you a few dos and don'ts is this small caveat:

I made it all up.

There. I said it. All my advice to you: totally made up.

Because that's what we writers do, right? We are some of the lucky few who get to make stuff up for a living. Stuff that has never existed before in quite the same form or exactly the same words. That's also one of my favorite things about paranormal YA (and fantasy and sci-fi, too): I get to make up some really cool, creepy, out-of-the-ordinary stuff. Having said that, though, there ARE a few rules of thumb that restrict writers from going completely bonkers and having, say, an army of unicorn-riding zombies fight a team of mutant superheroes in the unending vacuum of space. (Although I might read that…ahem.) So here are a few of the things that I try to keep in mind when I'm writing something that strays just outside of the realm of the normal.

·            DO: make it clear from the first few pages what type of story it is. This is advice I learned as a creative writing student and it's good advice. Some even go so far as to advise that your very first page include all of the seeds of the story's ending. That may not be necessary, but it IS important that your readers get a sense that they're dealing with a world that is not quite like ours, that things like ESP, or werewolves, or ghosts, are in fact possible. You don't have to give away spoilers. It can just be a hint, a mood, a bit of foreshadowing. Or you can plunge your readers straight into the action; that works, too.

·            DON'T: focus on the cool-things-per-page count. In fact, I would say keep things simple, especially if it's your first stab at the paranormal. You want your readers to be able to accept the unusual world you've created, and part of that is by doing your best writing, not by trying to wow people with weirdness. Too many cool things can be distracting. Instead, think of it as a tantalizing trail that builds smoothly until the reader is immersed. Remember that episode of Family Guy with James Woods? You want to lure them along: "Ooh! A piece of candy!" Step. "Ooh! A piece of candy!" And then BAM! They're sucked in.

·            DO: make your characters three-dimensional. Again, good advice for ANY story, but particularly important in stories where things wander into unfamiliar territory. If your reader believes in your character, they'll be more likely to suspend their Disbelief when it comes to the stuff we don't see every day. If your best friend confided in you that she saw a ghost last Saturday, you'd want to believe her. If it was some guy you only ever saw behind the Starbucks counter, you might not care. So make your readers care.

·            DON'T: worry too much about dos and don'ts until it's time to rewrite. Seriously, guys. If we start out by saddling ourselves with the crushing weight of what we should and shouldn't do, we might never finish the *&#$^! thing. It's useful to know that you have all of these how-tos in the back of your mind to rely on when the writing and rewriting gets tough, but when you're in first draft mode? That's the time to open up and spill your guts. Let yourself go. Cross stuff out later. That's why God invented erasers and the delete key, yo.

·            DO: make sure the rules of your paranormal world are consistent. This was the one I had the most trouble with in writing Underneath. I had to go back multiple times and revise just how Sunny's thought-hearing powers worked, and WHY. Even if Sunny never works it out, as the mastermind, it's important for the writer to know. If your paranormal novel has vampires, you have to know how they operate, how they're created, what their powers and weaknesses are, inside and out. If you know this, and you know your characters well, in many cases the plot will almost unfold by itself. On the other hand, if you're a plot-driven sort, knowing what has to happen in your book may well determine how the paranormal bits have to work. Either way, though, keep it consistent and it will ring true for your readers.

So there you go. Some things I made up about making things up. (Whoaa…meta.) I'll leave you with one more "Do": DO go forth and write! And thanks to Rabiah and her compatriots for this opportunity to blab at you for Books that Glow 2013 :)

Well, that was certainly some sound advice! If I were to ever write a paranormal YA in the future, I'll definitely look back on this. Thanks so much to Sarah Jamila Stevenson for taking the time out to write up this awesome guest post :)

About Sarah Jamila Stevenson:

Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a writer, artist, graphic designer, introvert, closet geek, enthusiastic eater, struggling blogger, lapsed piano player, household-chore-ignorer and occasional world traveler. Her previous lives include spelling bee nerd, suburban Southern California teenager, Berkeley art student, underappreciated temp, and humor columnist for a video game website. Throughout said lives, she has acquired numerous skills of questionable usefulness, like intaglio printmaking and Welsh language. She lives in Northern California with her husband, who is also an artist, and two cats with astounding sleep-inducing powers.

Find Sarah on:

About Underneath:

Title: Underneath
Author: Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Release date: June 1st 2013
Publisher: Flux
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal

With New Agey parents and a Pakistani heritage, it might have been difficult for Sunny Pryce-Shah to fit in. Thankfully, she had her older, popular cousin Shiri to talk to—until now. Shiri’s shocking suicide brings heartwrenching pain and grief, and also seems to have triggered a new and disturbing ability in Sunny: hearing people’s thoughts.

It’s awful, especially when Sunny learns what her so-called friends really think of her. Feeling more comfortable with the Emo crowd, she tells them about her strange talent and uses it to help cute, troubled Cody. But when his true motives are revealed, she isn’t sure whom to trust anymore. Sunny hopes to find answers in Shiri’s journal. Was her cousin also cursed with this “gift”? Will Sunny end up like Shiri?

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