Wednesday, January 20, 2010


As I wrote the initial draft for WILDEFIRE, there were a lot of scenes that came naturally as I wrote them. The words just vomited out of me onto the page, for (hopefully) better or (hopefully not) worse. Others, I severely struggled with. With any luck, I won the battles with these tricky scenes in the end, but only you will eventually be able to judge that. In the mean time, I thought I’d share:


1. Tennis.

In the book, my protagonist has climbed the ranks of West Coast prep school athletics to become one of the most formidable tennis players, and the novel includes four different scenes on the clay courts. While these scenes looked fantastic on paper and eventually translated well to prose, I quickly learned that there’s only so many ways a racket can slam/swat/connect with a tennis ball before you stray dangerously into right-click-thesaurus territory. Fortunately, the final tennis scene has a twist that ups the stakes (but I won’t share in this blog, for fear of ruining my element of surprise).

2. Group Dialogue

There’s a recent it’s called “dialogue” and not “trialogue” or, in the case of three key scenes, “hexalogue.” Conversations between two people have a natural flow to them; you can omit speaker identification every few lines, because the reader can easily deduce that Character B is speaking if Character A just had a line of dialogue. Hexalogue has a whole new backpack of problems—ensuring that every character has enough to say so they don’t feel like they’re drifting on the fringe for no reason; making sure that all six characters channel distinct personalities even in their pattern of speech; and blocking in ways that isn’t repetitive. My biggest problem was finding the proper balance of participation from the protagonist without losing her supporting characters. I have a sneaking feeling as revision progresses, these scenes will require the most revision and rewriting.

3. Action

I’ve written action scenes in my time, but I vowed when I started this project six months ago not to lose myself in “commercial” writing. I conceived this novel as a visual entity first, which, to be blunt, means that I imagined first as a movie before committing it to paper. However, the issue with that is making sure that your novel doesn’t read like a screenplay, and has all the (albeit economic use of) flourishes and embellishments that accompanies good writing. This is why I’m a novelist and not a screenwriter.

4. Song

Okay, this was a challenge, but it was a fun one. Music plays as large a role in my life as writing does, so it’s not surprising that music serves as one of my literary muses. During the writing of WILDEFIRE, I used a lot of opera, a little bit of alternative rock, and also some 30s and 40s soul and big band. I was having trouble staging a scene in Chapter 6 and was listening to a traditional Christmas carol as sung by the incredible New Zealand-born Hayley Westenra. And then I had a wild idea—what if I included the song in the scene I was writing. The result? I have NEVER enjoyed writing a scene as much as I have this one, and I hope readers will enjoy the result as well… I think it’s the most moving scene in the novel.

5. Character-Driven

WILDEFIRE is a work of contemporary mythology, but I believe under the disguise of young-adult fantasy beats the heart of a contemporary realistic YA story. I fear that the fantasy genre—high fantasy, post-apocalyptic, modern—has often made character an afterthought, and has instead placed the emphasis on fleshing out the world, leaving the human element second string. In order to make sure that I avoided this literary pitfall, I made the drastic decision to read only contemporary realistic YA fiction, including authors Jo Knowles, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, and Ellen Wittlinger, to name a few.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever write a contemporary YA novel in full realism; my fascination with mythology makes it difficult to imagine switching genres at this stage of my life. But my hope is that WILDEFIRE ultimately can straddle both genres successfully enough to attract readers from either walk of life.

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