Monday, December 6, 2010

Redwood Writers Conference: Pamela Pizzimenti and YA novels

Pamela Pizzimenti, author of the award-winning, self-published novel The River Whispers, said in her Redwood Writers Conference workshop that to write for young adults (YA) you have to travel back to that age you once were and revisit those feelings that were difficult at that time. But, she warned, you can't strictly rely on your experiences either. You must get to know the teenage population of today, which now "operates on an entirely different social realm."

Pizzimenti, an educator and mother of four, believes all teens share characteristics such as resilience, idealism and a concern for justice. As authors we must consider these commonalities when addressing our young readers. For example, by giving them characters who deal with tough subjects many teens today grapple with (gangs, bullying, peer pressure, violence, divorce, drug/alcohol addiction, concern for their futures), we give them tools to face the problems in their world.

That world is increasingly connected via social networking (both in person and electronically), so your YA plot better connect your characters as well. Pizzimenti recommended mapping out your characters and how they are related to one another. You can create a bio to understand each one, though in the final story you won't necessarily include all that information (such as why so and so divorced his wife).

Pizzimenti also discussed "edgy YA," which addresses subjects that used to be taboo, aimed at older teens. In these, it is the main character that confronts the big issues head-on: abuse, cutting (self-harm) or considering suicide, for instance. "Consider creating a younger sidekick to the main character for less mature readers to relate to, especially when addressing the tougher social issues."

Other advice includes:
  • Listen to teens talk: Keep dialogue simple--short and quick--but don't dumb down the vocabulary. Don't include jargon that can date the book, and avoid diatribes. Be honest.
  • Talk to teens: Find out their fear, hopes and dreams. Learn from them.
  • Read YA books!
  • Get involved with youth: volunteer. Pizzimenti is the advisor to the Redwood Writers Youth Writing group in northern CA.
Paranormal settings are a big draw right now, moving from vampires and zombies to the post-apocalyptic. But no matter the framework, Pizzimenti emphasized it's still about the characters' relationship to one another.

"Writing for young adults can be healing or ignite excitement for topics you love," Pizzimenti said.


soulyluna said...

i'm hooked. an infectious smile steals my face each time i notice a new post from nicole zimmerman. Your blog has such great focus and flow. i'm honored to know you!

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

Wow, thanks Tegan. You just made my day!

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