Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lessons from Other Authors: The YA Edition featuring Setting

If you are busy because you are working a job and such as well as trying to write a book, or maybe your time is filled with kids, homework, school, or perhaps you have very little disposable income, do not despair!

If you would love to go and hear authors speak at some type of awesome conference where you rub elbows with editors and agents and cool authors, perhaps there is even hob-nobbing (I wouldn't know, never having been to said conference), but can't find the time/cash/time/babysitter or whatever, do not despair!

You can learn TONS of stuff from other authors just by reading their books.


In the last few months, I have noticed that several books I read (most are YA arcs from ALA, but not all) did some cool things with setting.  Basically, these authors wrote their settings so strongly and with such voice, that the settings exist as almost  characters themselves.

For example:

We have some real, actual places:

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins uses Paris, lovely Paris as the third wheel in her teen romance.  Hmm, let me see....Etienne or Paris?  Which would I choose?  (Luckily, I don't have to!) Actually, Paris isn't the third wheel so much as a magical cupid's arrow that draws everything together.  You can NOT read this book and NOT want to go to Paris.  Like right now.

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard allows the badlands of Wyoming free reign throughout her compelling novel about the electric friendship between two very different girls. The desolate beauty of the badlands is ever present. Unpredictable. Extreme. And the town the story takes place in, Washokey, well, I dare you to find a town with a funner name to say.

And then there are those writers who create their own place:

From the small:

In the Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roeker, the prep school is called Pemberly Brown.  Seriously.  What a great name.  Already the place is infused with personality just by the cool hoity-toityness of the name.  Ivy covered and pretentious, what more would you expect from Pemberly Brown?

To the medium sized:

Swampsea, the town in Frannie Billingsley's Chime, is just about the weirdest, strangest, most Gothicly eerie town I have ever, EVER read about.  It defies description, just promise me you'll read it.  There are stories that you can move from one place to another and it wouldn't really matter.  Chime is not one of those stories.  Swampsea is Chime.

To the vast:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis has a setting which is both big and small.  The big being the universe and all that (and Beth didn't really create the universe) but she did imagine a fantastic ship called the Godspeed.  First off, the name is amazing (it's a pattern with me and names, I think), secondly she describes everything in such detail that you can really, truly see it.  And again, without the Godspeed, there would be no story.

So, when workshops seem impossible or far away, remember you can always use existing authors as your mentors.  I mean, they wrote the book on....well.. writing the book, I guess.

Blogger's note:  All of the books above are teen books, which I recommend for teens and up.  But if you are not a teen or above and are reading this, do not despair!  Lessons from Middle Grade writers coming soon!



erica and christy said...

I've read a couple of these and know exactly what you mean. But my ms has a town called "Vespa". It makes me laugh and also makes me want to live there. :)

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

This is very true. I find my best teachers are books. It's almost like when I learned how to paint portraits. I would look from my subject to my canvas and at first I couldn't tell what I was doing wrong and then I looked closer, back and forth and it clicked. I saw what I was doing wrong, and applied different parts as I went.

With books, as I compair my work with others what I notice right off the bat is pacing. Which is a big help in writing YA, to keep the reader interested and keep something 'big' happening all the time, turn the tables, etc.

So, yes, I could talk about this forever. Great post.

Jess said...

I've been dying to read a lot of these. You're so right about being able to learn by reading. Well-done settings are key to placing your reader in the story. I remember wanting to visit the Ozarks after reading Where the Red Fern Grows :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I haven't read any of these. Guess I'm way behind what others are reading. I'm looking forward to your post about lessons from middle grade writers.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wow, what a great idea for a post. You're right that setting can add so much to a story. This is a great selection of examples, too.
As for reading, that's where I learn the most. I love musing over what makes a story work.

Unknown said...

I haven't read any of these, though I do own one (just came last week) and other is on the way.

Setting isn't as important for my stories. Mine are more compariable to other YA novels in which the setting is just the setting. I'm jealous, though, of authors can seamlessly pull off setting as a character. I think I'm going to take your great advice and study some of these books, especially the contemporary ones.

Miriam Forster said...

Great post and great examples! The ones I have read are amazing and the ones I haven't read have gotten really good reactions. Yay books!

Anita said...

This is all so true...learn from the books themselves (and also from blogs like this one).

Dawn Simon said...

I'm going to read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS when I finish my current draft. It sounds really fun!

I agree--we can learn SO much from other writers just by reading their books! I've really been working on setting in my WIP. Some people make it look so easy!

manimage said...

I love illustrating children's book.Maybe I hope someday I'll be part of your book in the future..Nice blog.Thanks for the opportunity...and do hope to visit my picture blog too, Manimage

Myrna Foster said...

I need to read the rest of these books. I've loved the ones I've read so far. Thanks, Shelley. I teach and have three kiddos. I'm sooo looking forward to Spring Break.

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh you're the first person that's mentioned Chime, I've been waiting FOR. Ever. for another Frannie book to come out. Excuse me while I rush off to load my Kindle.

Okay, I'm back. To tell you as I read Chime, I'm going to be studying how she turns setting into character. I def. agree that Revis did this with the Godspeed and Hubbard with Washokey. And I can't help myself, everytime someone mentions Mandarin, I have to chirp - I live in Wyoming! Hubbard nailed it! Oh the dusty trophy heads! and the crazy winds!

Sorry I'm hogging commenting space. :)

lisa and laura said...

Thanks for the shout out Shelley!!!! We're honored to be mentioned with these amazing books! XOXO

Kelly H-Y said...

Fabulous books/lessons - - great post!