Friday, September 14, 2012

"Each One Teach One" Interview - YA/MG author Kathleen Duey talks "World-Building"

If you're trying to create a believable fictional world in your YA or MG manuscript then you're lucky that you came by the blog today to read the interview by this week's Awesome Author Kathleen Duey. I first discovered Kathleen when I read her book Skin Hunger, the first in her YA trilogy "A Resurrection of Magic" a few years back.  I was amazed to find she's written (if I'm counting right) some 80 books for children and teens.  How could any one person ever have time to do that? 
Well, Kathleen, we're all dying to know -- with that many books under your belt, who on earth was it who helped you when you first started writing?  Once we've discovered that : ) I'd love to ask you to share tips on World-building with us today. 
Ok. When I began writing I lived on an isolated off-grid farm. I wrote at night on a typewriter, by candle light, and was a full-time mother by day. I finally sold a children’s novel, then two middle grade series to Avon Books--a paperback imprint that later merged with Harper Collins.  Once I had electricity and a computer to work on, I decided to write longer, more complex books for teens, too. My editor sent me AFTER THE RAIN, a book by Norma Mazer.  I tried to read it as a student of craft, to pick it apart and learn from it. I couldn’t.  The story was seamless and the craft was invisible and my heart was captured. I wanted to do what she did. I wanted to write books that made people forget they were reading.  

                I wrote Norma a letter and I didn’t expect an answer, but I got one.  She
                had read two of my books and liked them. We began calling each other
                and eventually met face to face and shared conference dinners
                whenever we could.  We talked about writing and I listened closely
                when she spoke, of course—but she listened to me, too. Norma gave
                me something much better than writing advice. She gave me the
                courage to believe I was a writer, that I belonged to the ancient
                community of storytellers. It was an enormous gift. I pay it forward
                every chance I get.

             Well Kathleen, I think you have learned very well how to do what Norma did
             in AFTER THE RAIN.  Your books use invisible and complicated skills of the
             craft to create stories that capture the heart.  So today I want to pick your
              brain about one aspect of those invisible skills – World-building – creating
              a believable world for your characters to live in that just seamlessly runs
              throughout the book. 

    Let’s use your dark YA Trilogy, A Resurrection of Magic, as our case study for
    this interview.

In these books you manage to create multiple areas of a magical world
that functions believably throughout multiple centuries as the story
progresses through the trilogy.  Each location and time period that you
create are not only believable, but filled with sights, smells, passion,
danger, and the complex daily life of rich and poor folks living out their
days  in villages, caves, and homes that all revolve around the main
characters.  We are drawn into the story not only because of the plot,
but because of the world. The places and problems in it feel real to us,
the readers.  From young MC Hahp hiding on the roof of his home
listening to the dogs attacking beggars below at night, to the school in
the caves, to the boys in the cage and their horrible teacher -- we
believe the world. And that world makes us believe your story and be
both horrified and amazed by it.  (For anyone who has not read
Skin Hunger, and who is not afraid of the dark, I highly recommend it! :))

 A lot of authors struggle with not knowing how to create a believable
setting, or “world” like this in a novel.  Can you give us some tips on
how to create a fictional world as complex as yours?  What should
writers think about or make sure to include when building a believable
fictional “world?”
First, thanks for the kind words. For people who haven’t read the books
(A Resurrection of Magic trilogy): There are two stories, two protagonists.
The first story unfolds over about 200 years. The second story covers
about 7 years. The first story causes the second one….. and the stories
slowly become concurrent in book #3, the one I am writing now.  

So yeah.

The venue is complicated. It has both eaten me alive and improved my

 What should you make sure to include when you build any kind of

fictional world?  I try to make things logical, integral.  If I want
characters to be part of a community of people bound by generations
of long-held beliefs, I probably won’t give them an ocean, or if I give
them an ocean, I won’t give them boats, at least not to start with. 
Sailors and explorers bring new things into old cultures—stories,
beliefs, spouses from other races, new food, clothing, words,
weapons, etc.  For me, setting, story, and character are entwined
and very hard to separate.

Imagine a boy running up an alley. He sees a limping cat an instant
before he hears shouts behind him. Does he stumble to a stop and
slide the cat into his jacket, then run? Does he kick it aside?  Jump
over it? Does he grab it, hide, throw it into the pursuer’s face and
then run again?  Whatever happens will inform the reader about
the boy, his life, and the story setting. I try hard to let the reader
see the story as it develops.   

 Wow Kathleen, that last paragraph is such a great example of
how the characters actions really do show us who they are. 
You’re so right.  With any of those actions we’d learn an awful
lot about who this boy really is and his motivations.  I love that
example!  And you’re right that when we add something to our
world it’s important for us to remember that the ocean isn’t just
the pretty waves lapping up on the shore.  It means so much
more! And so do so many other little things we’re tempted to add
into the worlds in our books without thinking about the
consequences. That’s a great point!

           So for those authors who want to create a complex world, can you give
            a suggestion about the pre-writing phase? How do you outline or plan out
           your book in a way that allows you  to continue “building the world” through
           each progressing chapter?  Or does it just grow naturally as you go along
           with the writing?

           I usually put a lot of time into imagining the place and time the story will
           inhabit I talk to the characters and I often know how I want the reader
           to feel when they close the book but not how I will get there. Once I
           know as much as I can know…..I don’t plan or outline, I start writing. For
           me, that allows logical growth in the setting. The characters will  
           notice additions/changes/discoveries that matter. They will react, and
           that will inform the reader.

I think it’s amazing Kathleen that you don’t outline! But the way you write your characters does show that you know them well. The characters are very strong and very individual.  What you say makes total sense. If you know them then the characters will behave like themselves in all of your writing.  I’m thinking maybe I need to take a few of my characters out for coffee this week and get to know them a whole lot better! J       
Meanwhile, for any readers who didn't sign up for a chance to win
Kathleen's book "Skin Hunger" by posting a comment on last week's
post, you still have until the end of September!  So take a look at last
week's post and jump on in!
Next week Kathleen  will answer more questions about world-building and research in fiction.  Thanks Kathleen! See you all then.  


Candy Gourlay said...

Thanks so much for this - I loved the first two of Kathleen's trilogy and Kathleen is an electrifying speaker ... I really really need to read the rest of what she has to say about world-building.

Mike Jung said...

Kathleen is a master at the art and craft of writing - I'm awestruck by her work - and she's also one of the most giving, supportive people in the kidlit community. She pays it forward with a vengeance, and I know I'm only one of many budding authors who've benefited from her generosity.

Janelle said...

Thanks Candy and Mike. I agree!

Lisa Fowler said...

Thanks so much for this series of questions/answers with authors. As a "beginning writer" of middle grade fiction it is extremely encouraging to hear how others have made it.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Great advice, thanks for the interview! :) e

Edith said...

Great interview, Janelle!

Linda said...

Thanks to Kathleen for "paying it forward" again. Much of what was quoted I really needed to read. Thanks, also for the interview!

Linda A. said...

This was a great interview--my favorite of this series. World building fascinated me.

Thanks so much Kathleen and Janelle.

Linda A.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Got a little education just now. Thanks, Janelle and Kathleen!

Janelle said...

Thanks Lisa, Elizabeth, Linda and Joyce! Glad you came by and that folks are learning stuff from these interviews! : )

Janelle said...

Hi Edith! Great to see you again! How are things out west?

Carol Baldwin said...

I'm in awe. To write such complicated books without an outline! Not sure if I entered the giveaway already, but if I haven't please include me now!

Liz Hollar said...

Really wonderful interview. Loved the idea of getting the know your characters separately from the plot before writing.