Friday, February 15, 2013

Author Adam Rex Talks - 1st pages & 1st Chapters

Welcome back, all!  This is the 2nd half or the interview with funny and brilliant Illustrator-Author Adam Rex (read the prior link at your own risk! Seriously!)

Adam's the author of 3 MG and YA novels - including the award-winning The True Meaning of Smekday, (which will be a movie in 2014). His recently-released a YA novel, Fat Vampire - a never coming of age, story - is a tale about an over-weight, nerdy  teen who is bitten by a vampire at age 15 and now is doomed to be a nerdy, overweight, can't-get-a girlfriend teen... forever.  Adam creates a great mix of funny and serious themes in his novels, and is currently working on a new Trilogy.  He's also the author/illustrator of 4 hilarious picture books, and he's illustrated countless books for others.  His picture book Frankenstein makes a Sandwich was a New York Times Best Seller!


Last week Adam shared great tips on characterization, and how to handle difficult themes in middle grade novels.  This week he's here to answer two final questions, and we're talking about "How to begin a book well."

Let's jump in.  Welcome, Adam!
Here on Writermorphosis plotting and organizing our novels is always a hot topic.  During last Saturday’s interview, we touched briefly on the idea of starting your MG or YA book “in the right place in the plot.”  We looked at how you did that with your award-winning MG novel, The True Meaning of Smekday.  So, today we want to talk more about that. Please tell us, when you plot your MG or YA books, how do you decide where to  start the story?  We realize that stories may “start” before the 1st page of the book (AKA: back-story) and some aspects of a story may go on after the final page, just like in real life.  So how do you, personally, decide where to jump into the plot on page 1?

Well, there's this idea floating around that you should always start your story at the latest possible moment.  As close to the rising action as you can.  And I like this idea, but I've never been terribly consistent about doing it myself.

I don't tend to plot my stories, I just jump in and start writing.  I work out plot issues later by rewriting and moving things around.  That's how I wrote Smekday, but I must have had some instinct for what the story was going to need, because the first 5000 words I wrote are still the first 5000 words of the book, with minor edits.  Same with Fat Vampire.  

I only really started worrying about pre-plotting recently, and that's because I was halfway through writing the second novel of my new trilogy and realized I had no clear idea where it was going.  And the first novel had just come out, so there was no changing that.  I'd talked through plot ideas a lot with my wife, but it wasn't until this crisis moment that I recognized that I had to put the ground-level writing aside and actually outline.

What I ended up making was not an outline per se, but rather a spreadsheet with rows for each of my major characters, and columns taking them all through a timeline.  I still refer to this, even though some of the particulars of even this plot have changed as I've written.

Thanks, Adam!  I do like that suggestion of `starting your story as close to the rising action as you can.' That does seem like it would jump the reader right into the action very quickly and keep them interested. Hmmm...

Thanks too for the explanation of your outlining "spreadsheet" that you have created! That may work for others of us who really aren't "outliners" on the front end either. 

So, as a follow up to the question of  `at what point in the plot should you start your story on page one,' can you please also tell us, in your experience what mix of action, character, or setting do you feel needs to be in a book's first chapter in order to make readers want to keep reading the whole book? (No pressure!)

I wish I knew.  I think this is something I'm really still figuring out.  At least a couple of my books have been described as slow starters, and I want to address that.  On the other hand, many of the methods by which some authors parachute the reader into high-octane action, and always end each chapter with heart-stopping cliffhangers, and cram the exposition in later with a conversation or a "He couldn't help but think about all the crazy things that had brought him to this moment" kind of segue, seem like gimmicks to me

I'm trying to find what's good in the gimmickry while not losing a handle on my own voice.

Thanks for that great honesty, Adam.  I think you're right that "voice" in most books is definitely at least as important as `high octane action.'  Perhaps we can talk more about this as we continue with these wonderful author interviews! 

Thanks so much for being with us for these past two interviews, and for sharing just a tiny bit of what you know with us!

Ha ha!  I really do love this great cover of one of Adams most recent books!

Also, for those who haven't yet had time to peruse Adam's website, it's a fun one, and a great example for other authors to follow! Click on "The True Meaning of Smekday" once you get to the site, to see on of the most "voice"-filled and fun pages for a book on an author's site, ever! Don't miss the "Smekday" video there - hilarious!

See you all next week for more author tips, right here on Writermorhphosis.


Anonymous said...

Start your story at the last possible moment. I like that. Thanks for the tips, Adam!

Janelle said...

Thanks Adam Rex, for another great interview!

And to the readers from around the world out there this week, thanks for stopping by!

I see you popping up on here this week from:

The United States
The Dominican Republic
The United Kingdom