Writing Tips

Should Young Adult Books Teach a Lesson?

I was working on my WIP recently when I started talking about my book with a librarian friend. Specifically scenes where my main character fixes up an old sports car and starts racing around her country town. To my surprise, my friend assumed she would crash the car and eventually learn that this behavior is unsafe. But nope. That isn’t my plan.

My character will learn many life lessons in this book, but will she learn everything she does wrong is wrong? No.

I have literally no plans of writing a scene where her reckless driving results in a massive punishment or obvious lesson. It isn’t the theme of the book. It isn’t necessary to the story. But being a thrill-seeking teenage girl is. She will fix up a car. She will speed with the windows down and her hair whipping wildly about. She will know it’s wrong, and she won’t care, and she will get away with it. Other parts of her life, though? Not so much. There is a lot that will go wrong in her life, and she will grow from them, but I still wouldn’t necessarily call those moments a lesson.

A lesson insinuates that you plan on your reader learning something—generally the same thing from the same content. But books aren’t lessons. They are stories. If lessons or messages happen to come across, great. But I don’t believe an author should set out to write a lesson to a young reader. Sure, we have fairytales where that was the intention. (You know the ones. Don’t go into the woods; they’re wicked witches and scary animals in there!) Those certainly serve a purpose. I would even say there’s room for both kinds of books—stories that are designed to teach and stories that are just stories. That doesn’t mean stories that are just stories won’t have lessons that readers can infer in between the lines. It just means that the story did not intentionally set out to teach anyone anything specific.

To me, it isn’t the author’s job to teach. It’s the author’s job to tell a great story. It’s the reader’s job to identify their feelings about the piece. If that means they learned something, great. But it’s also fine if the reader walks away just feeling happy, sad, or simply entertained. (Not to mention that young readers are super attuned to an adult trying to “teach” them something. Spoiler alert: that’s often the worst way to teach a young person anything.)

In my WIP, my character likes to put the windows down so that she can feel the Kansas winds whipping through her hair while driving down country roads. It makes her feel alive. It puts her in the present. And when I personally think of being a teenager, it was moments like these that I remember best. I didn’t learn to slow down until I was older. My character might learn that lesson when she’s older, too, but she’s only a teenager in this WIP. That lesson simply isn’t going to happen in her life yet. The reckless driving serves a different purpose in the story. It’s a metaphor for her internal struggle. One that doesn’t completely end when the story does. Hence while she’ll continue to speed all the way to the last page. In contrast, my main character in my paranormal romance, the Timely Death trilogy, crashes his car and learns from it. So, I have written that “lesson” elsewhere—where it worked, for both the story and the character. And, of course, my main character in my current WIP will confront other life lessons throughout the piece. But in the end, I don’t expect my reader to walk away with any lessons internalized. Most lessons folks have to learn for themselves. I only want to tell them a story.

In the end, I believe that characters must learn and grow in a story, but that doesn’t mean the reader has to. And your character and readers do not have to have the same feelings/thoughts. In fact, the gray spaces are where the best stories often take place. Sometimes that means driving writing recklessly on a backcountry road with all the windows down, full speed ahead.

~SAT

Author Announcements · Miscellaneous · Writing Tips

#SATurday: Interview with Bogart, the author kitten

#SATurday: Interview with Bogart, the author kitten

First and foremost, I would like to thank The Acid Oasis for asking me to interview Bogart. I immediately knew that I HAD to do it, and today is the day I share the results. But – first – a little background on this fuzzy little (okay, he’s a bit chunky) feline.

A little over four years ago, a terribly horrible person ditched Bogart and three other black cats. In a closed box. On the side of a highway. He was two months old. Thankfully, a person who was the opposite of the first person (meaning, this next person is an amazing and wonderful human being) pulled over on that highway and saved the kittens by taking them to Wayside Waifs. Two months later, Bogart became my family, and here we are today – catlady and cat – writing stories together every day.

bogartcharacterprofile

Bogart: A lovely introduction. Thank you, Shannon.

Shannon: Well, you did help me write it. How are you doing today?

Bogart: Hungry. As usual.

Shannon: We just ate.

Bogart: I get a treat for this, right?

Shannon: (pause) Sure.

Bogart: (finally sits) Great. Let’s get this started.

Shannon: What is it like to be an author cat?

Bogart: It’s tough work! I sit in Shannon’s lap most of the day, and when I’m not in her lap, I’m next to her. Even when she doesn’t know it, I’m watching – making sure she doesn’t make a mistake, critiquing every word she types, and let me tell you, there are A LOT of words, and I keep Shannon in check.

Shannon: Why are you referring to me as Shannon when I’m right here?

Bogart: It’s for dramatic effect. (pause) And this is exactly what I mean. Without me, you wouldn’t even understand the meaning of drama. And who can have literature without drama?

Shannon: (blinks) Fair enough.

Bogart: So, as I was saying (yawn mixed with a meow), this is tough work. When Shannon makes a mistake, I jump onto her laptop. She doesn’t like it very much. I get thrown off a lot, you know? But the best partners have to have disagreements sometimes. Still, I think she knows I’m right because she ends up staring at her computer for a long while after. Sometimes, she even shuts it down altogether.

Shannon: So, what happens then? When you’re off the laptop?

Bogart: The inspiration, of course! Recently, for instance, I acquired two new friends, Boo Boo and Kiki. I’m sure you’ve seen us on Instagram. (leans in close, rubs face on recorder) We’re famous. (leans out) But Boo Boo and Kiki have been a great help. We set everything up, and the second Shannon comes into the room, we begin our masterpiece. There’s fighting and yelling and cuddling and sharing. An entire collection of emotions just for one plot, let me tell you.

Shannon: And how do I – er, I mean – how does Shannon react to these pieces?

Bogart: She loves them so much, she trips. (stretches) Sometimes, over Boo Boo, but mainly over me. I’m the star of the show, the big guy, the spark. (licks paw) It’s tough work, but the fight scenes in The Timely Death Trilogy wouldn’t be here without me.

Shannon: I thought Shannon wrote that before you two began collaborating.

Bogart: (ignores) What’s your next question?

Shannon: Ah. Right. (flips through notebook) Do you have any works of your own you’ll release? Anything by Bogart?

Bogart: Now that. (long purr) That is a great question. (sees water glass in front of him for the first time. Eyes go wide. Paw lifts up. He knocks it to the floor. Purr deepens.) I love the sound of water glasses hitting the floor. It’s the musical soundtrack of inspiration. Don’t you think?

Shannon: (stares at the mess) I need to clean that.

Bogart: Not now. Not now. (sits in lap and looks up with big, begging eyes to prevent movement) We were talking about my own story.

Shannon: (pets) Go on

Bogart: I do have my own stories. Many stories. Stories I’ve been piecing together for four long years. Stories of purr-fection and cat-astrophe and mew-tovation. But these things take time. A lot of time. And for now, I am enjoying my place – as a muse, a confidant, a kitten cat.

Shannon: Kitten cat?

Bogart: It’s a new spelling I’ve come up with – in reference to a cat that keeps their kitten qualities despite hardships – a cat that maintains their dreaming selves through adulthood, a cat that never gives up. (lifts face) I’m a kitten cat, and without me, Shannon would have a more difficult time with her dreams. Someone must encourage her – just as she encourages me with treats. (long pause)

Shannon: (throws treat)

Bogart: (eats treat) But, you see, we work together, and that’s a precious thing: an author kitten cat and his author, writing into the future. (pause) You could write a whole story on that.

Shannon: I already made a note.

Bogart: Great. We should get back to work.

Shannon: Agreed. (pets) Thank you for your time, Bogart.

Bogart: Thank you for the treat. (jumps down) Now open that laptop. We have books to write.

After the interview, Bogart and I got to work on the latest piece of fiction that will, hopefully one day, hit the shelves for readers. We worked all day and all night, only stopping for dinner, coffee, and treats. He purred and slept, but I know he kept his Halloween cat eyes on every word, just waiting for the opportunity to jump onto my laptop (to prevent mistakes, of course). When we finished our long day, we celebrated by talking some more. Bogart told me of the birds that taunted him, of the sunshine that warmed him, and of the toys he found beneath the couch. In his spare time, Bogart appears on Facebook and Instagram. He also models for donations. But he mainly looks forward to another day, full of writing and kitten cat adventures. It didn’t need to be said, but I found myself stating it anyway. I love Bogart very much.

~SAT

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 9.05.55 AMP.S. I was a guest blogger for Little Birdy Book Blog yesterday, and I talked about 5 lessons I learned since becoming an author. What was number 1? Being a reader is much more complicated now. Check it out by clicking here.