This morning I received my agent’s notes on the second in my POLTERGEEKS series, STUDENT BODIES. Naturally it got me thinking about the quality of my writing. Agents do that, by the way. They get you thinking hard about how you can become not just a better writer but more importantly: how to become a better storyteller.
I’m relatively new at writing Young Adult fiction – I’d always assumed that teens would buy one of my books aimed at an adult audience and read it because it appealed to them. Certainly that’s what I was doing when I was a teen because YA hadn’t yet been invented. POLTERGEEKS is my first true kick at the can when it comes to writing YA and the intensive revisions process my agent had me undertake literally transformed the novel from a book about a butt kicking witch who goes out butt kicking evil for sixty thousand words to a story that needed an accurate reflection of what first love truly means to a young person – the challenge is that it has been set amid the ferocity of all hell breaking loose.
I think I’ve done that with POLTERGEEKS. I know there is an awe struck sense of wonder that someone actually loves you, though the frame of reference for what love is hasn’t yet been shaped. In Julie, there’s a massive sense of disbelief that anyone could be attracted to her and what my agent helped me do was to show how that disbelief manifested because when Julie learns that someone thinks she is beautiful, it hits her at about fifty miles an hour.
So she struggles with her feelings and yet is struck dumb by the knowledge that her best friend loves her with all his heart – and he’s been in love with her for a long time. He truly believes that he will always love her no matter what.
I couldn’t have presented the deeper meaning of first love without my agent showing me the way and the best advice she gave me was to print the who manuscript off and grab a highlighter to mark out all the romance in the book because it truly was lacking. I reached out to a local romance writer’s group in Saskatoon (they’re in the acknowledgements) and I reflected on how I felt at that age. How much I deeply wished for someone to like me – not as a friend – to be told “I like you as a friend” is the kiss of death to a teenager’s emotions in matters of the heart.
I’m no expert on writing romance and certainly not teen romance. But my agent taught me the basic need to present a sense of wonder in it all. And it really does have a sense of wonder, doesn’t it? Who cannot look back and remember that first kiss? For me it was the first time you got to hold a girl’s hand – in my case, she reached for my hand. I remember that now even though it was more than thirty years ago.
So no bad boy/good guy love triangles for me. I think that’s been done to death, lit on fire and scraped clean by better authors than me. It’s a major feature of Young Adult fiction these days and my heart tells me to write the romance without those complications. I think there’s a tremendous amount of value in trying to write about the simple fact that someone out there actually loves you with all their heart. For me at least, that’s what teen romance needs to be about in my books.
Happy Friday and thanks to my agent. Her name is Jenny Savill and she’s helping be become a better storyteller.