Nov 23rd, 2018, 01:46 PM

The Tightrope of Writing Young-Adult Fiction

By Hana Loggins
Illustration by Clémence de Varax
A peak into the process of writing a novella.

Between the ages of 15 and 18 years old, all I read was Young-Adult Fiction. It wasn't because they were filled with melodrama or passionate romance, but because I was always more attracted to the stories that felt normal. Like I could live through it. And yes, I read a lot about relationships. I was a teenager - it was the only thing on my mind besides dying my hair bright red.

I typically only read realistic stories about relationships. I read the ones that many people don't find very interesting because there aren't any fireworks going off. Those always drew me in, the idea of spending every day with your best friend, going through hard times together and laughing nonstop at 4:00 am, only to one day stop and realize, "Oh shit, I think I love this person." To me, that was the ultimate romance.

I started writing my novella When a Bird Flies when I was 17 years old. It took me about a year to finish, as I was continuously editing it. I had started out with one story-line, but while I was writing I couldn't help but change the direction of the plot at least five times. New ideas would come to mind - I could never stick to the original plan. The story, without giving too much away, is about a 22-year-old girl named Thea who has to move from Sausalito, CA to London for work. The last thing Thea wants to do is move thousands of miles away from her sister and father, but she decides that maybe it could be a good learning experience. The move is difficult; she has to completely step out of her comfort zone, learning how to be independent and outgoing along the way. Then she meets Addison, who becomes her closest friend in London and… well, that’s all I’ll say for now.

The process for writing this book was a bit unconventional. Most writers I know love to make storyboards, frameworks and plan the whole thing out. I do plan where I want the story to end up, but the path there is always a bit fuzzy. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with making storyboards and outlines if what you’re writing has lots of twists and turns that eventually may confuse the reader. For this specific story, I knew I wanted to keep things simple, like a coming-of-age-with-a-dash-of-romance kind of read. I struggled a lot with the idea that comes to most peoples' minds when they think of a young-adult novel. It has a pretty negative connotation over the past few years and I wanted to avoid getting stereotyped. So, I tried to keep it relatable and realistic without trying too hard.

Illustration by Clémence de Varax

It can be very difficult to stay completely realistic in a young-adult novel. Nothing feels realistic when you're in your twenties and in love. You could look into a stranger's eyes on the Parisian metro and fall in love with them, just to never see them again. Or run into the love of your life on the street while doing groceries. Not getting carried away with the whole falling in love part of the novella was something I struggled with - after all, I am a twenty-years-old and in love.

It is difficult for me to not rewrite my own experiences with different characters and locations. Most of the time it's not intentional. The characters in my writing will usually resemble the people that are most present in my life. At times I find that my main character in When a Bird Flies resembles myself. She's very timid, shy, and anxious at first, which I relate to a lot. As the story develops, she grows her wings. I think giving her the courage was a representation of me wanting to grow my own wings. I was young and confused and wanted to find answers. So I decided to create a character who found those answers in herself.

For the longest time after writing my novel, it was very hard for me to show anyone. I'm a perfectionist. I never really thought that it was good enough for anyone to read. At first, the only person I let read it was my mom. She loves everything I write, and I knew she'd give me a good review. Later, I realized that in order for the book to get anywhere, I needed to swallow my pride and show it to people. So I let my friends, friends' parents, family members, and even a couple family members' friends read it. I was terrified of what they'd think. I spent all my time editing the book and sending them new drafts to read before they even gave me feedback. Luckily, it was all very constructive and helped me get the book where I wanted it in order to feel like I could publish it online. When I finally did, I felt really good about what I'd created.

Cover of "Partial Credit." Image Credit: Hana Loggins.

After finishing my first novella, it didn't take long to want to write more. I haven't written as long of a story since When a Bird Flies, but I have been writing a book of short stories called Partial Credit. The style is similar to B.J. Novak's book One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. When I picked up the book, I immediately felt the inspiration to make something very similar to that. It's still a work in progress but is available to read online. It has a bit of everything in it - dramatic scenes, short stories, rants, poems, and lists. I think this book will be a continuous project - one I add on to for a long time. The goal is to have something in there that speaks to the reader.

For now, I only see myself publishing my stories online, since it is a free platform where everyone can read my work. Later on, if my writing has been noticed by many more people, I'd love to be able to sell hard copies of it. To find one of my books in a bookstore will always be a dream of mine, and I hope one day that can come true. 

If you need some free-time reading, check out When A Bird Flies here. You can also check out Partial Credit here.