With Charlie Hester
On the weekend I had the pleasure of attending Karen Foxlee’s ‘Writing Young Adult’ workshop. It was a great opportunity to meet with and learn from not only such an experienced and accomplished writer but also such a great teacher and super lovely person. Karen began by giving an overview of the genre, its history and definitions, and with statistics stating that as high as 55% of YA novels are now also being read by adults, she gave us a real appreciation and sense of the significance of the burgeoning genre – and with that, we got right into writing!
As all the writers in the workshop were spread across a wide diversity of genres and writing backgrounds, we were really provided with a chance to bounce off one another’s strengths and passions. Karen’s presentation made plenty of allowance for a wide variety of styles and approaches to writing, and the whole atmosphere of the workshop was comfortable, conversational and supportive.
Throughout the workshop I got the chance to explore many aspects of the YA genre, like building layers of character to create complexity and ‘verisimilitude’, the merits and pitfalls of writing in first or third person, methods of approaching story structure, and completing short writing exercises from prompts Karen supplied.
One of the things Karen talked about during the workshop that really resonated with me was the concept of ‘loving your story to life’. It’s an idea that I think stands true for all forms of writing (and especially in the YA genre, where having engaging and vivid characters is critical) – transferring your author’s passion for these characters, places, and their stories onto the page is what will ultimately bring them to life for your readers. Karen was vocal in encouraging us not to shy away from big issues we care about, to believe in what YA means to us, and that we as individuals, with our own emotional ‘well’ of experiences, can be the most powerful resource for creating a distinctive voice for our characters and our work.
One of the main through-lines of the workshop was the importance of ‘voice’ in YA fiction; a unique tone, an angle or perspective, an emotional mood – something that makes your writing stand out from the crowd.
Karen read out a bunch of samples that showed how quickly and effectively a ‘voice’ can be established. John Green’s “if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane” in Looking for Alaska, MT Anderson’s “we went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck” in Feed for example. She then gave us some really valuable ideas and approaches for finding our own voice; free writing and stream of consciousness writing, experimenting with perspective until finding one that fits, embracing our own ‘inner teenager’, and many more.
All in all, Karen managed to condense so much valuable information into the short space of six hours – I really felt like I made huge leaps and bounds with my writing and ideas. At the end of the day, I was left with plenty to think about, great ideas to embed into my writing and writing practice, and most importantly, with inspiration and confidence to continue my efforts in creative writing and the YA genre.