Teen Day: YA Authors Talk Writing And More During A Series Of Directed Panels

During the second annual Teen Day at the RT Booklovers Convention, readers got a chance to hear from authors during three separate formal discussion panels. The event started with “From Spark to Fire: Interactive World and Character-Building Workshop,” continued with “Feeding the Fire: Conflict and Action in YA Novels” and wrapped up with “Tending the Inferno: Series, Stand-Alones and Genres in YA.” Then attendees headed off to the fantastic Teen Day Party. But if you couldn’t join us in Chicago, today we bring you a peek inside the action with a look at the three author workshops.

In “From Spark to Fire,” a panel moderated by Melissa Marr, authors Kelley Armstrong, Nancy Holder, Beth Revis, Veronica Roth, Margaret Stohl and Cinda Williams Chima gave us a peek inside of their head and their series. So what are some of the things we learned?

Veronica Roth’s Divergent was inspired by a psych class the author attended on how to destroy phobias. Meanwhile, Margaret Stohl revealed that her bestselling series, Beautiful Chaos, which she co-writes with Kami Garcia was originally going to be called Sixteen Moons and the co-authors were splitting a pitcher of Coke at a restaurant when they came up with the idea.

Author Veronica Roth

And when it comes to the how-tos of writing, the published authors took turns sharing their experiences, really illustrating that there are many different paths authors can take. Chima suggested that you write a "crappy" first draft, just get all the way through it and then go back and edit. Holder told the audience that she knows things about her story ahead of time. And Revis also revealed that she has a head start in plotting her upcoming books. She already knows who is going to die in the book that she’s working on right now, which comes out after her popular Across the Universe sci-fi series wraps up. But don’t think that that makes her a planner, Revis was adamant that that’s something she doesn’t do. (Stohl chimed in that she, too, is a “pantser” and even showed off the seat of her pants to illustrate the moment!) In contrast, Armstrong told us that she does heavy outlining before she starts a story, but even then she sometimes has to throw things out. Moderator Melissa Marr also gave advice to aspiring authors. She said that one of the most valuable tools an author has is their writing network.

This is just a taste of what the authors shared about their methods, stories and their personal experiences in the first panel of the day.

Next up on the agenda was the workshop “Feeding The Fire.” There authors chatted about how to keep the conflict in your books fresh. Cinda Williams Chima, Kami Garcia, Richelle Mead, Alyson Noel and Aprilynne Pike took part in a discussion that was moderated by Melissa de la Cruz.

Author Melissa de la Cruz

So what are some of the things that you might have learned if you were in the room?

Well, when it comes to keeping readers’ interest in a series, Garcia coached that each installment should be important, “avoid making book two jus a ‘connecter’ story — make sure it has a conflict of its own.”

Meanwhile, Noel said that she has found her writing rhythm by keeping things surprising. Cliffhanger endings, chapter endings, short chapters, they are all part of this author's repertoire. She also recommends that aspiring authors check out Story by Robert McKee, which is a screenwriting book but that she found incredibly helpful. She said that McKee’s guide taught her, “Every scene has to count — cut out the sandwich-making scenes unless the sandwich is going to explode!”

Vincent concurred that everything has to count. In order to keep her books moving quickly, she is all about outlining plots. The author reveals that she keeps a whiteboard specifically for the purpose of helping her outline. She creates a grid, dividing the board into chapters with clear outlines of what exactly is supposed to happen where and that’s what helps her keep the plot going and clear.

Chima changed the direction of the discussion when she mentioned that when it comes to your characters, “you can’t take it easy.” The best stories are ones where big things happen to the characters, which means that as an author, you can’t always be nice to them. Chima also pointed out that there’s a lot of diversity in YA readers, who come from different backgrounds, different ages and different experiences. (Our takeaway, if you want to kill off your characters, there will be readers who that are age — and experience — appropriate for those books. It’s important to write the story that you want to write.)

And if your plot lags? Pike has a surefire way to re-capture readers attention with this easy-to-remember saying, “When in doubt, make out!” She solves her tough plot moments by having her characters kiss — as opposed to Garcia who tends to kill off people to keep the story moving. 

The third panel during Teen Day was “Tending the Inferno.” The discussion focused on writing series, standalones and different sub-genres in Young Adult fiction and featured authors Franny Billingsley, Rachel Caine, Ally Carter, Stephanie PerkinsCarrie Ryan and moderator Melissa Marr.

Author Ally Carter

RT reviewer Meera told us that it wasn’t long before every author on the panel was talking ... and answering some of the strangest questions she’d ever heard!

She reported back to us that one question that was posed to the authors’ was “What was your first reaction to Twilight?” Ally Carter responded that she had read the book in a day and a half, seen the movies and wants a sparkly vampire for her own, while other authors were not so keen on the idea.

Readers also got to learn about some of the books that have shaped each author. Growing up, Carrie Ryan’s favorite books were by Christopher Pike who was apparently “like crack” to her. Stephanie Perkins' favorite book was Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, the author revealed that this the book that started everything for her.

But it wasn’t just about the books that authors read and liked, they also shared some of their own worst ideas for books. Kimberly Derting said her worst idea was about a ghost cowboy at a dude ranch, while Ally Carter said hers was about an albino ghost who lived in the walls of Gallagher Academy and helped the main characters solve all of her problems. All Stephanie Perkins said was that she had never had a bad idea in her life!

Want to learn more about Teen Day? Check back all this week when we’ll be bringing you more moments from the event on RT’s Everything Young Adult Page and be sure to check out the entire 2012 RT Booklovers Convention coverage here.