Saturday, September 18, 2010

YA Work and the Big Bad

One of the basic elements of storytelling is conflict.  Most sources list between four and six main conflict types.

  • Man vs. Self--the identity crisis
  • Man vs. Man--"duke it out" (physically or otherwise)
  • Man vs. Society--the rebellion
  • Man vs. God/Fate--big-time underdog
  • Man vs. Nature--the disaster scenario
  • Man vs. Technology--"Good morning, Dave."

As I look at young adult novels (particularly the sci-fi/fantasy variety I'm so fond of), Man vs. Man is certainly common, as it seems to be across the spectrum of genres.  Harry Potter has Voldemort.  The Mortal Instruments has Valentine.  Twilight has an assortment of "non-vegetarian" vampires.  (What's with everything starting with V?)  Even The Hunger Games, which is more Man vs. Society, personifies society as a whole in a single antagonist, President Snow.

In general, there almost always seems to be a "bad guy."  That probably explains some feedback I got recently, suggesting I introduce a more significant antagonist sooner.  I'm still pondering it.

Does the YA formula require the presence of a Big Bad?  I conceived my story as a combination of Man (or in my case, Girl) vs. Self and vs. Society.  There are a couple of antagonists, but their role (in the first book, at least) is secondary to the main character's struggle with herself and the society she doesn't quite fit into.  Is this type of struggle enough?  I don't know yet.

I like to think that for teens in particular, Character vs. Self is something they can connect with.  After all, they're at that stage where we start to decide who we are--what we want to hold onto from our childhoods and how we want to expand into new things.

It seems to work for the teens I've had test-driving the story so far.  None of them have complained about the balance of internal and external conflict.  Perhaps that's all the answer I need.  Or then again, maybe I should be working to incorporate more external factors without losing the internal struggle.

Anyone have some good examples of YA books (particularly sci-fi or fantasy) with conflict that's less about fighting the embodiment of evil?  I'm sure I've read some, but I'm drawing blanks.  It would be interesting to look at how authors have successfully handled such a thing.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Playing with Covers: Part Two

Because I don't have enough to do (?), I started playing around with Photoshop on Thursday night.  Here's the result:

ETA: Went ahead and made a matching one for Echoes, too.

These just might be my favorites so far.  See the previous versions (fronts only) here.

I still haven't decided to self-publish, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared, right?

That Aristotle Guy

Oops, kind of a long stretch since the last post.  At first, there wasn't much to say.  Then there was, but it was more of the same (four fulls and a partial out at one point = more waiting).  Finally, it was getting back to the day job, where almost everyone on campus had to relocate due to renovations.

The inspiration for today's post comes from the day job, in fact.  We had a professional development day yesterday, most of which wouldn't interest any of you.  During a presentation on critical thinking skills, though, came a moment of epiphany ... and it wasn't while my colleagues and I were trying to build a tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks.

Our presenter includes some quotations on a few of her slides, and one particularly caught my attention:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

In addition to the implications for educating my little rabblerousers, it struck me as a nice summation of my philosophy on accepting critique.  You have to be able to entertain a thought, even unpleasant ones, without (necessarily) accepting it.  Once you entertain it, you can make that decision whether it has merit you should act on or not.

This is especially applicable to me recently, as three of my four fulls came back with rejections.  One was a form rejection, so there's nothing for me to take from it.  Another was a detailed message that felt like the agent just didn't get it--we all view things through our own lens, and hers seems to be polarized at a right angle to mine.  The third was a brief but personal message that raised an interesting question.

It's that last one that has me thinking the most.  Perhaps I'll expound on it in another post.  My book doesn't follow a certain part of the YA sci-fi/fantasy formula.  I know that, and in many ways it was my whole point.  So I'm trying to entertain the thought planted by that agent without accepting it, at the same time looking for what I can take from it.

Meanwhile, I'm forging ahead--working on Book Three, receiving good news on another front (see if you can spot it in my Twitter feed, post forthcoming), and wondering if I'm ever going to hear back from Agent #1.

Oh, and keeping up with the day job.