The longer I write the more often I unintentionally end up with a finished product that was never planned or bears little resemblance to my original idea. Others might argue that it’s some instinctive, subconscious ability born of experience and practice. Okay, fair enough.
Regardless, it’s happened many times now. Sometimes it’s an element in a novel like the Time Library in A River in Each Hand. In another case it was an entire novel. In a previous post I still need to return to the website, I shared how Exhuming Truths was born of the intertwined backstories of two major characters in Riparia’s series.
This time around I produced a YA novel—yes, an entire novel—that wasn’t planned. The truth is, even after I’d written it, I still wasn’t certain Stealing Light was YA. Recently, I sought the opinion of someone who’s written a number of YA novels and she pointed out the reasons why it was YA.
Christina Anne Hawthorne, YA author. I didn’t see that coming.
I should have.
I’m actually not a stranger to YA. Too, there’s a twist that I’ll get to later. My journey to this place has actually been an organic one and began in short stories. My first short story back in 2015 was about a teen, but the plot suffered. Others, too, showed promise, but I couldn’t capture what I was after.
That changed with No Time, a time travel story I wrote in April, 2016. Two months later I wrote a historical Ontyre tale about Norbella that was called Mech. It remains one of my best. YA, it seemed, was starting to click, though my intent each time was to write a story, YA or otherwise.
Stealing Light, set in Pannulus, wasn’t supposed to be a YA novel. Instead, it was to be told from Vistanna’s adoptive mother’s POV (she’s thirty-three). It was working pretty well, until it didn’t. Around 40K, I stopped. It’d become obvious Vista was the main character.
New plan. I rewrote it from Vistanna’s POV. It was working great, though I was missing some of those great Tharlise scenes. I told myself some sacrifices were necessary. I flew all the way to 75K before reality kicked me.
I should have stopped sooner, but I’m stubborn. I also should have seen the problem far sooner. More stubbornness. There’s a portion of the story where Vista is unconscious for a month.
Okay, so she wakes up. No harm done. Pivotal moments had occurred, though.
How I initially got around the problem was some of the most ridiculous writing I’ve ever produced. Okay, a third tack. Vista and Tharlise both with POV chapters, but with Vistanna the main character. Gold!
Wow, does the solution seem obvious now, or what?
The problem, though, was that I had to, of course, (sort of) start over again. Being thrifty, I’d saved the old Tharlise chapters. Sorting, I chose the best chapters where there was overlap and rewrote to where I’d been. The third time was the charm. I zipped all the way to the end.
Success! Except, what did I have?
I’d begun with an adult novel, switched to a YA novel, and ended up with—what? Okay, yes, about 55% of the chapters are in Vista’s POV. Too, it’s her scenes that open the novel. Still, a lot of it was about Tharlise.
It was my next act that started tipping me towards believing I had a YA novel on my hands. Vistanna becomes a student at Thornwillow School for the Gifted where her group of seven students board together (in separate rooms). The group is integral to the series that, in theory, would follow.
That act was to write the backstory of each of the other six in short stories of over 10K each. Each of those, without a doubt, was YA. Well, as much as I know about YA. Vistanna was fifteen, almost sixteen. Just right. Except, Tharlise was an adult.
As many of you already know, the subject matter is also critical. Vistanna’s issues are mostly typical teen problems. Tharlise? Much of what she faces are also teen issues, just not hers.
And, oh, does Vistanna has typical teen problems (besides her fantasy world problems). In fact, the fifteen and sixteen year-olds who are in the group, and share the same floor in a tower, are a mass of teen problems. Four are female, three male. One is gay, another a lesbian. One is bisexual, but in denial about the fact. Lastly, one is gender spirited (trans).
Beyond that, there is anger, depression, grief, and other problems that entail trying to fit in and reach adulthood. In addition, each of the seven possesses a different gift of magic. They’re also more than just students. With a little luck, they become a team.
The twist I mentioned? Based on what I’m learning, it’s possible Stealing Light isn’t my first YA novel at all. It’s possible that honor goes to Torment Surfacing where the protagonist is seventeen. Again, though, it’s tricky. There are two other POVs and they’re both twenty-two. In addition, much of the novel is about an adventure and a plot that must be thwarted. Who knows. I don’t make anything easy. I just write what I write.
At least I can say that Torment Surfacing turned out to be exactly what I’d intended. Stealing Light, on the other hand, isn’t what I’d intended. It’s better.