Thursday, November 6, 2014

NaNoWriMo with Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld
Photo: Niki Bern

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). has set up all sorts of tools to aid writers who want to take the challenge of writing a novel in one month. Scott Westerfeld is writing a companion for his novel Afterworlds on his Web site called How to Write YA

This week, Westerfeld posted about point of view ("POV failure is one of the most common reasons why agents and publishers cast aside submissions half read," he writes). He talks about his process generously and clearly. To give you a flavor of how thoughtfully he approaches each of his novels, here are a few highlights from a conversation I had with him for School Library Journal about Darcy, the teen novelist in his book, Darcy's love interest Imogen, and Lizzie, Darcy's heroine in the book Darcy's writing called Afterworlds.

Q: Without mentioning individual tweets between characters, you do discuss the effects of social media and the influence of the Internet. How much has social media changed the field of YA lit?

Scott Westerfeld: YA novels are a lot about identity. The way people construct and determine an identity these days has a lot to do with the way they are online. I always say the main difference between the Americans represented on television and real Americans is that in real life, Americans watch a lot more television.

In a funny way, one of the things about writing a contemporary YA novel is not getting involved in the amount of time that teens are spending online. What I was trying to do was to acknowledge the amount of time Darcy and her friends spend on it and how that shapes who they are, rather than talk about it.

Q: Tell us about this quote from Darcy: “Maybe that was the price of loving someone: You lost your grasp of where they ended and you began.” Isn’t that true not only of Darcy and Imogen but also Darcy and Lizzie?

SW: By calling the characters Darcy and Lizzie, I’m suggesting there’s a certain amount of tension between the writer and the character--also characters and ghosts. The ghosts that Lizzie sees are on the one hand not real, really; on the other hand, she has a moral responsibility to them. Writers don’t want to betray our characters and make them do things they wouldn’t do, for a plot contrivance. I wanted Lizzie to grapple with the question: Are the ghosts real people? Are they just stories? I wanted to make these same concerns parallel Darcy’s ethical concerns. Should it be a happy ending? Should it not?

Q: There’s a cutting-edge quality to all of your books. How do you manage that time and again?

SW: Probably a lot of it is taking conversations that are happening in the adult world, particularly in adult science fiction, and applying them through a YA genre filter. Most things are more interesting when you look at them through the lens of a teenager.

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