Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lewis Buzbee: The (Young Adult) Novel

On Saturday, in the midst of my weekend writing frenzy for the first submission of the semester, I attended a local workshop. Lewis Buzbee, author of Steinbeck's Ghost, The Haunting of Charles Dickens and the upcoming Mark Twain and the Mysterious Stranger, was a bookseller for 20 years and is my current professor of literature at USF. With usual wisdom and wit, Buzbee enlightened our group of Redwood Writers on writing a (Young Adult) novel with the following sage advice:

Writing Process:
  • Find the inner child or teen you were arrested at and write to that age group.
  • Write the book you need to write. Write what most moves you. Write about what's most calling you.
  • Don't write down to kids: "If we just wrote what they already knew, those would be dull, vague, blurry books."
  • Research (such as the history of the place your characters live) "leads to unexpected surprises that go into your work." At some point, put the research away. Write from memory and intuition and weave the facts back in later.
  • Describe the 'small picture'/the ordinary: the house; a room filled with things of personal meaning; who lives there.
  • Describe the 'big picture'. As Eudora Welty said: "Landscape is the backdrop against which we can judge the scale of our characters and our actions." 
  • Describe the extraordinary: What is it that draws the character(s) out of the house?
  • Follow your intuition: "No writer knows what they're doing."
  • "You have to depend upon the imagination of your reader to inhabit the world you've written."
  • "The inspiration comes not before the work; it comes through the work." Do the writing!
Novel Structure:
  • "One of the great comforts of literature is the urge to put the world back whole." Start your story in a 'broken place,' moving from the ordinary to extraordinary--think of Huck Finn running away, or A Wrinkle in Time's Meg leaving the safety of home for another dimension. When you tell the reader how the world is broken, you also tell her/him how it was whole. 
  • A character undergoes a journey of transformation, from innocence to experience--a movement toward maturity. In a short story, a character has a revelation or epiphany. In a novel, the effect of time changes the character(s).
  • Don't mistake action for drama: "Emotional urgency frees you up from the tyranny of plot."
  • Carefully choose particular images to "explode in a reader's mind." You don't need to map every single detail of an island--show one type of shell and one species of tree to stand for the whole.
  • Know the shape of the journey and where it ends. Marcel Proust said, "A novel is nothing more than a series of mistakes made by the main character until he figures it out." 
Dear Reader:
What novel are you writing or do you want to write? What advice here is new to you that you'll use?

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