Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Book, but What Your Book Can Do for You

25 Oct

(With apologies to JFK. Or his speechwriters. Whichever.)

So. NaNoWriMo starts in just one week.


Are those screams of terror, or excitement? I hear you ask.


I did NaNo last year for the first time and made it to 43k before having a minor mental breakdown on the 28th which completely derailed me. I want to do it again this year. Last year’s novel (still unfinished, though I could easily pick it up again and add another 50k to the 51k I have currently) was a steampunk-adventure-romance story for which I was percolating with ideas.

This year…the well has gone a little dry. I know what I want to do. I want to write a YA science fiction novel aimed at girls. Actual SCIENCE FICTION, I mean, not fantasy. And not all that dystopic-orphan stuff that bored me so much as a kid.

I’m kind of torn between two things. I want to write a GOOD novel, one that makes people think and changes the way they view the world. On the other hand, if I ever really want to be able to write the good novels, I’m probably going to have to also write the mass-market not-so-good novels under a pen name to support myself, or at least supplement the princely salary of a teacher…

But I don’t want to be the next Stephanie Meyer (shudder). To be perfectly frank, I don’t even think I want to be the next J.K. Rowling, much as I love Harry Potter. I would, however, love to be the Tamora Pierce of science fiction.

So I’ve been turning things around and around in my head, trying to come up with a plot and characters that I think would appeal to the average teenage girl. The problem being that I’ve never felt much like the average teenage girl, and since the average teenage girl seems to prefer stories which center on supernatural, gorgeous, so-much-above-poor-plain-little-me guys…I’m NOT writing that book. I refuse to do it. More to the point, I would be so bored out of my skull I don’t think I could do it, not without turning it into a parody.

I guess it sounds a little holier-than-thou to say I don’t like (and didn’t like) what most young women do. And clearly there are at least enough girls like me to make Tamora Pierce successful. But again–I don’t care about the Totally Hot Guy (yes, I love looking at attractive men. However, the sun does not rise and set at their behest). I like school. I get along fairly well with my parents. I deal with the snottiness and bitchiness of cliques and the like by ignoring it.

And I suppose that’s what I want in a book. Someone who feels as alienated as I always have (wooo, introversion!), but manages to find her niche in the world, her circle of good people who make her feel cared for and stimulated and give her connection. Which, come to think of it, is probably what most young adults want–someone they can identify with who finds a place where they feel they belong.

So maybe that’s the place to begin. What do I want in a book? I may have to modify my tone, the complexity of the plot, etc to make it more accessible to a general teen audience (I was reading adult books at age 9; I’m not even entirely sure I was ever an ‘average teen reader’). But surely there are people out there who look for the same basic elements I do.

What I want in a book:

a protagonist with whom I can identify. So some combination of:
—teenage to mid thirties
—thoughtful, curious, reflective
a female lead who is
a male lead who is likewise
—undergo change
a world I can sink into
—well-described without being overly flowery
—shapes & interacts with characters
—between equals
—a non-trivial part of the story
—not the main plot
—not overdone
—there should be one
—more than just a backdrop for romance
—physical/external/real-world plot connected to & impacts emotional/internal plot
—INTERESTING–either comedic caper or twisty and unexpected or something connecting to broader themes

Well, it’s a start. And I’ve still got a week to figure it out…and all of you still have a week to join in the insanity! You can find me here.

What do YOU want in a book?


What I want from my cat: to NOT sit on my stomach, between me and the laptop, while I’m running a fever and feeling queasy. Think you can handle that, little cat? No? Sigh…

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Posted by on 25.10.2011 in Writing


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