Panellists: Kimberly Gould, David Laderoute, Aviva Bel’Harold, Michell Plested
Q: What language do you use?
DL: Keep your audience in mind.
MP: Look at Harry Potter. The Dursleys made him live under the stairs. That’s abuse, but it was painted realistically.
DL: Neil Gaiman thought of using homeless characters in Neverwhere, but reconsidered.
MP: Whatever you choose to portray, it can’t be gratuitous. The character and the character’s circumstances have to be essential to the story.
Q: Is there a difference between the Canadian and American YA market? I was at a Kelley Armstrong session and she said that the only thing you don’t include is boring.
AB: I don’t notice a difference myself.
DL: Some publishers may ask you to eliminate the profanity in either country. That’s okay, you’re saving words. I know kids swear, but we write dialogue that simulates reality. Real world dialogue would sound horrible.
Q: Don’t readers need to see themselves on the page, though?
MP: Yes, but a book that ends hopelessly is dissatisfying.
AB: Most teens want hope.
MP: No one wants to end up homeless, addicted, or any of the other hard things we write about. They want to know there’s a way out.
Q: Beyond a sense of belonging, do you offer solutions in your novels?
AB: Don’t set out to write a novel with a message. It can come off heavy-handed.
KG: Present options in your novel, not right and wrong.
DL: Solutions are facile. Even young readers see through that.
MP: If you offer a solution, it shouldn’t be easy. If your character is smart and capable, they’ll keep trying. The struggle is the thing.
Q: Horrible things are still happening in the world. Should we show people responding?
MP: The character may be too close to the situation to understand it, but the reader should be able to pick up on it (dramatic irony).
KG: Perspective or point of view (POV) is basic storytelling. Be honest to your story. Make it true.
DL: You can write about difficult situations. There are two books, It’s kind of a funny story by Ned Vizzini, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher that treat teen suicide respectfully. What about the topics of child slavery, child soldiers, or gangs? These are issues that should be addressed.
MP: It’s not writing the story that’s difficult, but resolving myself to writing it. The Boy Scouts are a recruiting ground for child soldiers, but how do you write about that? It’s an inherently hopeless situation.
AB: Abuse victims have similar “unseen” problems. I couldn’t address them myself. I don’t have the experience or context to do it justice.
MP: It comes down to passion. If you’re passionate about something, then write it. Don’t write it because it’s a “cool” or “hot button” topic.
Q: There are books that address difficult issues out there. Deborah Ellis writes about the third world in her books and Sharon McKay tackles child soldiers.
AB: How do we bring these subjects to our readers with sensitivity?
MP: In one of my books, I address bullying. One of the characters is a foster child and the protagonist doesn’t understand. The story is about coming to that understanding and learning compassion.
AB: I think one of the problems is that we can write great books, but kids are reading less. We have to get them back and get them reading.
DL: Can we kill characters in YA?
AB: It’s life. We should not shy away from it.
KG: You have to be careful, though. Kill the right character for the right reason. Think of The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
AB: There could be a backlash. Consider Veronica Roth and the Divergent Series.
DL: Ultimately, it has to have meaning. It has to serve the story.
Next week: Querying your YA novel.
See you on Tipsday! Now, I’m off to NaNo-land :)