My first book was YA light sci-fi.
My second book was YA historical fantasy.
My third book (drafting now) is a middle grade fantasy.
All three are very different, but they have one thing in common: they don’t take place in the real world. Their respective worlds don’t resemble each other in the slightest, but for all three I got to make a lot of stuff up. I know, I know, all fiction writing is making stuff up, but not setting a book in the real world gives you so much freedom.
I read a ton of YA and pretty much like every genre (fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, contemporary romance, etc). I therefore kind of what to write every genre. And I’ve tried to start a couple of contemporary, realistic YA books before and they just…sucked.
Something about it doesn’t work for me as a writer (or at least, hasn’t worked yet). I start and then I think, But…but…where are the creatures? Where are the memory-readers? Where are the people with violet skin? I get stuck. Really stuck. (I did make it 30k into one idea, but that was a horrendously terrible idea that I will never speak of again.)
But then…I got this idea.
It might sound silly to say it came to me in a dream, but guys, it came to me in a dream. It was a Sunday morning, and my early-rising husband was trying to wake me up. For me, waking up is about a 45-minute process that involves periods of dozing after the initial wake-up. It’s rough. Wakefulness is not my natural state (no, seriously. I have mild narcolepsy). So on this particular Sunday morning, my husband left the room, foolishly believing I was awake for good. But I dozed.
For some reason, most of my dreams come in this dozing state. Maybe it’s just that those are the ones I remember, I don’t know. But I had a dream that morning. And toward the end of it, it became lucid, and I thought, Hey, that’d be an awesome premise for a contemporary YA book. (Well, maybe my dream self didn’t think it as coherently as that.)
When I finally got out of bed that day, I wrote. And I wrote and I wrote. I had my highest word-count day EVER (2,800 words). I was one of those crazy writers saying her characters were speaking to her. It was like I was channeling the protagonist, not creating her. And then I had to ask myself the question:
What do I do with this idea I really like? I haven’t written much of it since that Sunday a few weeks ago, largely because I’m committed to my MG fantasy and refuse to get distracted by a Shiny New Idea. But I think that I might want to write this book. The whole book. And I don’t know how.
For some reason, fantastical or otherwise non-real settings help me with plot. Or I guess it’s the other way around–I think of a premise and vague plot, and the world is shaped by that. With a realistic contemporary, that’s not the case. Even though I’ve read plenty of them, as a writer, I just can’t get my head around it. What does the character do? What plot points do I have to hit? Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to figure that out if it was a thriller or a mystery, but it’s not. It’s about relationships (romance! friends! family!). It’s about grief. It’s about a strange little habit that this girl has. But how do I build a book around that?