During last night’s (3 May) Writing Race, our special guest author, James Moloney, shared some fascinating insights into how he engages with his young adult readers.
Here are some of James’s experiences and tips:
Writing for teenage boys
‘I was a teacher librarian and that was where I got a lot of the background for my boys’ stuff. The boys were a real inspiration for my writing, too. I used to imagine I was writing for specific groups of kids I knew by name.
‘I was a very sporting boy and understand that mindset, but I later became quite (quasi) intellectual and there are many boys who seek that. What got me into books after years of rejecting them as a boy was the thirst for ideas that my mind was feeling in my late teens. Ditto, there are many boys in the same boat. There is a general sense that setting texts can put kids off. I didn’t really get into books until the final two years of high school, when the books we were set, Lord of the Flies and The Power and the Glory, spoke to something inside me. Both are very masculine books, too, yet the main protagonists are vulnerable and by no means ‘tough’ types. The way we studied the texts (in an all-boys school) was instructive, too. We took the plots apart a like a car engine and looked at how the symbolism fitted together. I loved that and began to look for it in other books. That got me hooked and pretty soon I was saying, "I could do this, too."
‘I like kids and find writing for them keeps me young. I wish there was a magic formula in working out the best books for a class set situation but I never did discover what it is. For boys, though, you need to understand that boys don’t read as quickly as girls, on the whole. They simply don’t process the text as easily and therefore books that take a while to describe things and get to the point are hard work. You can talk about Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet as a classic boys’ book because it is all about what a kid has to do to survive through a winter in the forest on his own. But I think the success of this book is the brevity with which it is written and the way he has avoided going into detail about the boy’s emotions. That is not to say that book is without emotion or that it doesn’t evoke a great deal in the reader. There’s something to think about – giving a blow-by-blow inventory of a hero’s or heroine’s emotional experience isn’t necessarily the way to help a reader explore his/her own emotions. That is a personal thing experienced within the reader, and can come about with a quite minimalist stimulus from the writer.’
Writing for teenage girls
‘I do what I have always done with my stories: I try to put myself into the shoes and therefore the mindset of the character. I have two daughters and watched them through their teen years which helped and I remember girlfriends from my own youth which must also have fed into the mix. I know the simple things – that girls are focused more on relationships than what happens, but I have always been a plot-driven writer and to stop doing that would put me out of my zone. So lots of things happen in my new movel, Silvermay. I make my heroine the centre and I examine her heart’s response to some of the things she does, more than I would with a male character.
‘With dialogue, I switch to the way I hear the female voice and put that on paper. Blokes can do that if we have an "ear".’
Writing romance in Young Adult fiction
‘Where I have gone for a romance, such as in Touch Me and Kill the Possum, the relationship has been integral to the plot, a real driving and motivating factor.
‘Romance and "love scenes" among teenagers aren’t really that much different from adults. There is no plumbing, of course, unless you are courting controversy and probably won’t get published anyway. It is about the emotion and feelings of the characters and because teenagers feel things more intensely and are new to the experience of love, they tend to expect too much of others and of themselves. I haven’t yet created a relationship between teenagers that I see as becoming permanent. I think this is honest. Teenagers are lovers on training-wheels and they expect to fall off, even though they will not feel that way at the time.
‘Honesty from an adult who is writing for teenagers is paramount, so give the readers insight into the thrill and also the letdowns – that’s my view.’
To find out more about James Moloney, visit www.jamesmoloney.com.au