Vikki spoke about many topics, and the workshop was more about what YA is and what defines it, then a workshop on how to write. Which was perfect for me, as she raised many ideas I hadn't really thought about before.
She spoke about 'voice' and what that really means to her, she spoke about authorial intrusion and didactic writing, chapter and book length, pacing and scene breaks, as well as our own reading lists. She talked about the differences between adult fiction and YA, particularly how in YA fiction, your character really is your story, not your plot, not your setting, not the atmosphere etc.
She said that in YA it's important to provide readers with a character they can care about, and a character that develops (a protagonist who enters a story as an unbeatable hero and then leaves the story as an unbeatable hero isn't going to cut it!). Characters need to be fleshed out in a way that has readers believing they will live on and continue their stories long after the last page has been read.
Now that I'm thinking through everything I learned, I'm realising it was actually quite a lot!
A few topics that I really loved were:
WHAT DEFINES A BOOK AS YA?
There is a whole huge list for this topic (word count, pace, protagonist, voice, tone, emotion etc.), but one idea really struck home with me.
Vikki said that a 'happily ever after' is not required in YA, but hope itself is an essential element.
Not just tacked on at the end like an afterthought, but weaved through. Your book doesn't need to be unrealistic or fluffy with hope, but hope does need to be there, even if only the smallest seed of it.
Interestingly enough, Vikki said she at first resisted this idea, rejecting it when people told her. Yet over her years working as a YA author, she has come to believe hope truly is essential in YA.
Because young people haven't realised they're going to die yet.
The world is still utterly filled to the brim with possibilities and opportunities.
And that's a good thing.
Obviously not all young adults are lucky enough to feel this way, but hopefully most.
This idea made me think a lot.
Is this why I love YA so very much?
Because even though I am older, I still want to see the world as a beautiful and precious thing?
Why do I read YA?
Personally, I suspect I love YA so much because a major theme of every story I read, is the journey of self-discovery that the protagonist goes through. Whether a contemporary or a fantasy, a horror or sci-fi, YA seems to be about understanding yourself.
Who you are, and want you want out of life.
It is about finding your lines (the ones you will cross and the ones you won't).
It is about deciding what kind of person you want to be.
This is why I think YA still appeals to so many adults. Because even when you grow up you are still trying to discover those things. We are constantly changing and readjusting. I know I am.
But maybe adults read YA because of the hope too.
I never thought about that aspect before, but when it was mentioned, I realised just how much that element does appeal to me.
Authentic Emotion and Experience.
Vikki provided us with a list of questions (things like, 'Where was a safe place?' or 'Did you ever hurt someone?' or 'What was an experience that changed you?') and she asked us to think back to our teen years and write a few words in answer to each question.
Afterwards she asked us how we felt.
Well, taking a trip down memory lane in such a vivid way and reflecting on your past is kind of weird experience. Actually I think it leaves you feeling a little emotional (even if the memories are mostly good ones!).
I suppose it was just a different world and I was a different person back then, and so it becomes very strange to think back on it so deeply.
But of course, that was the point.
It is so important in YA.
Vikki spoke about how to add those little reflective moments of feeling we all dredged up, into our novels, and how authentic emotion is recognisable. You may experience a moment in your life that you feel you have experienced alone. Yet often, when these moments are written into fiction, it turns out that many readers can identify with those same feelings, and that authentic reflection of real life and real emotion can elevate a story. People will begin to recognise pieces of themselves in your writing.
Basically, emotional honesty is a good thing in stories.
And inauthentic feelings will stick out a mile.
When I told the story about going overseas for the first time and how that made me feel, Vikki mentioned the word 'Sonder'.
I had never heard it before.
I've looked it up now, and it hails from the 'Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows'.
Which is a thing that exists apparently.
The realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines and worries—an epic story that continues invisibly around you.
It is a good word.
That's it from me. We had to write a little scene based on one of our memories, but I will share that a different time, because this post is HUGE!
Until then... bye bye.
P.S - if you are a keen YA writer and ever get the chance to attend a workshop with Vikki Wakefield, go for it!!! It was so interesting and I learned so much!