What’s Write about Comics/Graphic Novels?

This past fall, I attended a writer’s retreat and it was suggested I study a comic book to learn how to represent the brooding teen. The suggestion was made by an editor, and I took it to heart. I don’t know if I would have ever stepped foot in a comic book store if this didn’t happen and that would have been a mistake. Now I have an obsession for comics, but I have also learned that comic writers do so much so very right. As a writer, I suggest other writers step into a comic store, because we can learn a lot about plot, characters, dialogue and voice. But we will also have a lot of fun doing so. For one thing, some comics are written and illustrated by the same person, but many are written by a team. Therefore, the writer has to leave room for the illustrator to bring that character to life. These books are not wordy with long descriptions of setting or gestures. The dialogue has to be spot on, the character’s need to stand on their own, and the voice has to shine. The first graphic novel I picked up was “Morning Glories” by Nick Spencer and art by Joe Eisma. In the first volume (sort of like a chapter), they introduce not 1, but 6 main characters to follow. They aren’t flat; they are vivid, and have their own language and interests. Each character is introduced concisely and effectively on a two page spread. That was pretty awesome to me. I realized a lot of heavy lifting was done via dialogue. I think I have been able to improve this in my own writing. From there I asked my friendly neighborhood comic store for recommendations and fell in love with “Saga,” by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples. Both the characters and emotion are awesome, and as a reader you connect to them immediately. It opens with lovers, of a forbidden kind (they are of two different intergalactic races), being hunted, as they give birth to their child. Their love is strong and the reader feels it. You will laugh out loud and it’s a real page turner. Brian K. Vaughn does great characters, check out “Y The Last Man,” too. I was told before that my own voice wasn’t unique enough; not new enough. So I researched voice. I found a lot about how it’s hard to teach, but it... read more

The Unreliable Narrator (and why you might want one)

In a recent conversation with an editor at a large-scale traditional publishing house, I had the opportunity to chat about a trend in children’s literature…that of the unreliable narrator. Now, let me clarify. Having an unreliable narrator is no new thing. However, the term itself has gained some momentum lately and has even become a “wish list” item for editors and agents. So what does it mean exactly, besides the obvious concept of a narrator who isn’t completely trustworthy? At its heart, the term encapsulates the idea that, especially in children’s literature written in first person perspective (and especially present tense format), the narrator sees the world a certain way, but it may not be the most honest representation. Through crafty writing, the author can give the audience the impression that although we may like the main character, his or her impression of the world isn’t exactly how things really are. The humanity of a the young character then comes across as genuine, because when was the last time you thought a ten-year-old had a handle on everything? It makes the main character seem his or her age. Oy. A lot to swallow? I know. So here are a few examples that may be of use… The unreliable narrator in children’s books – Aqualicious (Victoria Kann). With a kindergarten age daughter, I am now an expert on all things ‘alicious in the Pinkalicious picture books by Kann. What I love—and my daughter, too—is that Pinkalicious tells us her view of the world, but the pictures and outcomes don’t always match her statements. Not only does this create quite a bit of humor for both children and adult readers, but the illustrator can have a blast showing us reality while the character is “telling” us how things are. Genius. The unreliable narrator in middle grade – Heartbreak Messenger (Alexander Vance). One of my favorite middle grade novels to date, this gem by Vance has a pretty solid character at the center of its plot, where a middle school boy is working as a breakup messenger for highschoolers to help his mom pay the rent. The situations that arise are so funny, but it’s the character’s voice that’s the true winner. Although he comes across as a mature 12-year-old, his complete cluelessness when it comes to the character Abby (and maybe girls in general), as well as his inability to think a few things through logically, contribute to the authenticity and... read more

Romance Clichés in Young Adult

If you’ve ever read a romance novel, you know that there is a standard formula: Girl meets Boy, Girl falls in Love with Boy, Boy does something stupid, Girl and Boy break up, and, in the end Girl and Boy get back together, living happily ever after. Of course, there are always minor variations on the equation. Girl could hate boy in the beginning. Girl could do something stupid. (Although we all know, it’s always the Boy’s fault. #kiddingnotkidding) Young Adult romance is no different. They play into the same old high school romance equations and clichés. These clichés include, falling in love with the best friend, the nerdy girl falling for the high school jock, the nerdy boy falling in love with the high school prom queen, the good girl turning the bad boy good… the list goes on and on. I’m here to talk about books that didn’t play to the clichés and did it right. SPOILERS: The Hunger Games is a prime example. Katniss could have fallen in love with Gale, the best friend. Suzanne Collins played up the love triangle, which is also a cliché, but ultimately Katniss ends up with Peeta. Some people may disagree with me, but Peeta was the better choice and the unexpected choice. The Harry Potter series is another excellent example of unexpected romantic connections. Everyone thought Harry and Hermione would get together, and even J.K. Rawlings admits that it should have been that way. I, on the other hand, love that Hermione got with Ron and Harry got with Ginny. My last example is the classic, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Jo and Laurie is an obvious match. At least he thinks so when he proposes, but she turns him down. In the end, just when she believes she’ll spend her life alone, her perfect companion finds her. So remember when writing romance into any book, leave the clichés behind and mix up the math. Make your writing fresh and your romances... read more