Have you guys been checking out the amazing tweets with the #VeryRealisticYA hashtag? It’s a beautiful mix of things that would make terrible books (goodbye, exciting plot; hello, actual high school experience) and things that I’d love to see in more books (not everybody is white, straight, and gorgeous? MIND BLOWN).

A few of my favorites:

I mean, the random nameless town guards have been training for years, and look what the villain did to them!

For all those books that make their teen protagonists “deep” and “interesting” by making them be into classics and snooty about modern stuff.

Oh hey, my actual life.

See above, my actual (teen) life.


Yes please. More of this, please.

Would read.


“I don’t care if the government needs to be overthrown, it’s a school night and you are not going anywhere!”


Courtesy of all the girl-centric YA thrillers I’ve been reading at the gym lately, and of my amusement at this list of signs you are a YA protagonist and this list of ways to know you are in a gothic horror novel.

How to Tell if You are the Heroine of a YA Thriller

You have just moved to a new town. You moved here either to attend boarding school or to start over with one of your parents after something distressing happened to the other parent.

People react strangely when they see you for the first time. Everyone in your new town either hates you or is irresistibly fascinated by you. Instantly.

Your town is on the coast. It’s not a beachy, touristy coast. It is a gray coast composed of sharp rocks. Sharp, angry rocks.

Teen girls drown off the coast of your town at unusually regular intervals.

A member of your family has died tragically, but you don’t know much about the circumstances. A brooding boy your age might know more about what happened, but when you ask him about it, he only smolders.

Whenever you ask someone else a question, they gasp, stare at you round-eyed, and whisper, “Don’t you know?

You are practical and intelligent. Your single remaining parent is hopelessly incompetent. You basically parent them, which is difficult if you are, in fact, at boarding school.

The brooding boy seems to show up just absolutely everywhere. You are attracted to him, but also concerned that he might be a murderer.

Everyone is secretive except for you. Everyone is also gorgeous except for you. Which is to say that you do not look like the blonde, gossipy bimbos at your new school. Not that you’re judging. No, you definitely aren’t beautiful, except in the sense of your looks having character, in the sense of being classically beautiful. But in a really self-deprecating way, and you never think about clothes.

You read, but only the classics. You love to read, but not in an openly enthusiastic way. In a mature, boring way.

For a teenager, you sure don’t spend much time in class.

You don’t sleep at night. You wander around, glimpsing things out your windows that are distressing but difficult to interpret.

Seriously, is that brooding boy stalking you?

The brooding boy cannot be stalking you, because someone so handsome and interesting surely couldn’t care less about you. It is a coincidence that every vertical surface you pass within five feet of seems to have him slouching against it. Watching you. With his icy blue eyes.

You cannot stop following in the footsteps of the last person to tragically die here. You spend a lot of time looking out over the ocean, the wind whipping at your hair, which you never bother doing anything with because that would be shallow.

The killer is after you. Maybe if you could just leave well enough alone, you wouldn’t have attracted their attention.

You cannot leave well enough alone.

Happy Spring!

Joyous tidings, my kittens! As of a few days ago, I have finished the first draft of the novel I was working on. It’s a story very different from any of my others: adult instead of YA or MG, vaguely sci-fi instead of fantasy, and just generally difficult to categorize. It had been in progress for over two years, since the fateful autumn when I started it, thinking it would be a one-month NaNoWriMo commitment. (Ha! Ha! Ha!) Before that, there was maybe a year of the idea pestering me until I went from “That’s kind of neat, but I don’t know how to write that story” to “All right all right FINE!”

So I wrote it! And it was fun! Buuut, figuring out how exactly to end it has been killing me for months. (“I told you I didn’t know how to write this kind of story!”) When things finally fell into place, I went on a writing binge and didn’t stop until I hit the end. Now, everything is happy happy fun writing-whatever-I-want times! By which I mean editing The Dogwatchers, one of my completed manuscripts, which is so close to my heart that it’s in danger of being sucked into a ventricle.

Since I’m editing The Dogwatchers now, I took a scene from that manuscript to my writer’s group yesterday. This scene earned me an excellent piece of writing advice from one of the other group members, which I thought I’d share.

When the scene began, our heroine had just walked into an unfamiliar room, where she was meeting some friends. I started by describing the room, then situated the characters in it. One of the other writers said, “Oh, I do that – setting up the location first, and then kind of putting the characters in it. One of my readers recommended that I start with the characters – describe the setting through them.”

I love this advice. It makes so much sense. After all, when you walk into a room that has people in it – people you know or who are relevant to you – doesn’t your attention usually go to them first? Unless the room’s physical features are truly bizarre, I myself am probably more likely to notice the people first, and then the room as it is situated around them.

(Note that this may not hold true if the people aren’t ones connected to you in any way and/or if you’re there specifically to see the room – like if you’re touring a historic building, or if you walk into a museum and it’s full of anonymous crowds.)

Also in “handy, well-phrased writing advice,” this note on worldbuilding.

So that’s how my spring is going so far! Have you heard any good writing advice lately?

Happy New Year!

Hope 2015 has been good to you so far!

Writing-wise, I’m in limbo at the moment. The laptop I write on died in December. I knew it was coming – the poor thing had been limping along for awhile – but there’s never a great time for a computer to fail, is there? Anyway, I bought a new laptop, but the little local Mac store didn’t have it in stock and had to order it. It hasn’t arrived yet. I do have my old, faltering fallback laptop for Internet access, but it does not contain up-to-date versions of my writing files. The new one will have all that transferred over from the zombified remains of my dead laptop. Can’t wait!

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I made a list of fifteen books to read I felt I ought to have read sooner. (Fifteen isn’t a lot for me – according to Goodreads, I read 154 books in 2014. But I do regularly read and review graphic novels for No Flying No Tights, not to mention oodles of other books.) I enjoyed this, and I’ve thought about repeating it in 2015.

The main obstacle, of course, is that while 2014’s list included books I’d guiltily avoided or missed for many years (The Giver, Ender’s Game), there aren’t a lot of those left now. There are still many contemporary books I feel I ought to read. These include influential books I might not pick up without a list to make me do it, generally because they’re sad (If I Stay and Thirteen Reasons Why, I’m looking at you). And there are authors I think I should read (Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher) or read more of (Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green).

Note: When I say I “should” read something, that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t expect to enjoy it. I loved many of the books on my 2014 Shame Unreads list, when I finally got around to them.

None of the above, however, seem like things I want to make a point of reading this year. You know what does? Diverse books.

By “diverse books,” I mean books written by and/or about people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and generally anyone who isn’t already widely represented in the world of books and authors. I’m a big fan of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. I already read diverse books, and when I encounter a good one, I push it in everyone’s face. (I love being a librarian.) A few of my favorites in 2014 were:

  • Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi – Gorgeous and exciting!
  • House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle – Check it out, I CAN read adult books!
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – Fun yet touching realistic YA.
  • Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – I love me some retold classics.
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert – Thrillery and well-written.
  • The Selection series by Kiera Cass – Fluffy and fun.

In 2015, I intend to read a lot more than fifteen diverse books, and there are many that I would read whether or not I stuck them on a list and guilted myself into it. However, I want not just to read diverse books, but to be loud about reading them! Talk about them! Promote the good ones! Overuse exclamation points! And to that end, my Diverse Books Reading List for 2015!

I might read these in any old order, so I’ll just list them alphabetically. With each one, I’ll include the factor(s) making it a diverse book.

  1. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith – protagonist has epilepsy – This author is supposed to be great, and I haven’t read anything of his yet.
  2. A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis – author and protagonist are African-American – The main character wants to become a famous vegetarian chef? I’m in.
  3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – author and both protagonists are Chicano, and protagonists are both queer – I’ve heard this is a fantastic, beautiful book.
  4. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier – author and protagonist are Indian-American – A modern classic that I somehow missed.
  5. Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang – author is Chinese-American; the books are set in China and feature Chinese characters – Technically, this is two graphic novels, but they’re a set, so I’m counting ’em as one. I’ve heard great things.
  6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – author (and protagonist, as this is a memoir) is African-American – National Book Award winner, and it’s supposed to be awesome!
  7. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson – author is Jamaican; protagonist is mixed-race – A post-apocalyptic novel featuring a PoC! And also volcanoes!
  8. The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco – author is Filipina; protagonist is Japanese – I started reading this on a borrowed e-reader and didn’t get to finish it, but it’s creepy, well-written horror with cool Japanese mythology-type elements
  9. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky – protagonist is transgender – I’m thrilled when I see middle-grade books featuring LGBTQ people, as there’s a frustrating assumption by some that LGBTQ people themselves are somehow PG-13 content. Plus, I read the first page of this when it came across my desk at one point, and I didn’t want to put it down!
  10. How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle – author and protagonist are Choctaw – I liked Tingle’s book House of Purple Cedar, so I look forward to trying this one.
  11. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon – author and, from what I can tell, most of the characters are African-American – Highly topical, and I’ve heard it’s well-written.
  12. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – one of the two protagonists is gay – Supposed to be an excellent book.
  13. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper – author and (I think) protagonist are African-American; protagonist has cerebral palsy – From what I’ve heard, this is a beautiful and important book. Also, have I really not read anything by Sharon Draper? Time to change that!
  14. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan – author and protagonist are both Iranian-American lesbians – I liked If You Could Be Mine, and this one sounds good, too.
  15. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin – protagonist is a person of color – HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS. Alternate-world fantasy is my jam! And PoC protagonists in alternate world fantasy are tragically rare! And this is supposed to be a great book!

Boy, I had trouble narrowing this down to fifteen! Do you have any reading resolutions for 2015?

Shame Vanquished!

You may recall me deciding, back in January, that this year I would read a bunch of the books I was embarrassed not to have read already. I made a list of fifteen “shame unreads” to cross off this year. Most are classic or new-but-wildly-popular YA or middle-grade books. I posted an update in May, at which point I had read six of the books.

Well, as of this afternoon, I have finished the list! Nic: 15, Shame: 0! Huzzah!

First, let’s see what I thought of Books 7 through 15.

matchedMatched by Ally Condie
Reaction: A little unimpressed, honestly. I’m glad I read it, because the trilogy is super-popular with teens, but I found the world and characters a bit bland.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Just hadn’t gotten around to it.

sabrielpbSabriel by Garth Nix
Reaction: YES. THIS. Why had I not read this already? This book was lyrical, exciting, well-thought-out, even funny.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I have no idea. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations? I’d heard a lot of good stuff, and I’m already a fan of Garth Nix.

the giver The Giver by Lois Lowry
Reaction: Impressed. I’ve heard people insinuate that Matched ripped off The Giver, and I can see that angle, though Matched is different in that it focuses on romance. The Giver has spare, strong writing and an interesting concept. Not a big fan of the ending, though.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I saw it as a “school assignment” book. I’d never been assigned it, but knew lots of people who had. Also, I feared Newbery Award books as having dead dogs and no dragons.

ender's game Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Reaction: I see why so many people are into this book. It’s fascinating and exciting. I believe the twist had been spoiled for me at some point, but honestly, I’m not actually sure to what extent I’d been spoiled versus to what extent I was just able to guess the twist. It didn’t surprise me much. Still, cool book.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Mostly superficial reasons – it’s an older book, and most of the covers are terrible. Plus, I’m not usually a sci-fi person. And I’m totally skeeved by what I’ve heard about Card’s views on homosexuality. But the book is important enough to enough people that I felt I ought to read it.

hugo cabret The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Reaction: Beautiful, touching book. I like the historical tie-in. I also like that the copy I read was a beautiful object in itself – not just illustrated, but printed on heavy paper and giving every impression of quality.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Just hadn’t gotten around to it.

When_you_reach_me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Reaction: Whoooah, trippy! I like a time-travel story that’s well-planned. Plus, the quirky story and poignant character development makes for good reading all on its own.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Again, just hadn’t gotten around to it.

Daughter-of-Smoke-and-Bone-Book-Cover Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Reaction: Beautifully written. I like the characters, the world, and the plotting. It’s a quadruple-threat!
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I thought it might be just another paranormal romance, a genre in which I’ve had poor luck finding books I like, though I do keep trying.

ruins of gorlan The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
Reaction: Underwhelmed. I found the writing uninspired, the plot cliché, and the glaring near-absence of female characters unnerving. Had to force myself to finish it.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Honestly, based on its plot description and its massive following, I’d been nervous I would really like it, and would then find myself caught up in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, which is at least twelve books long, not counting spin-offs.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Reaction: WOW. This blew me away. It should be called The Book of Never Letting Go, because I couldn’t put it down. The thing’s close to five hundred pages long, but I zoomed through it. Touching, scary, smart, sad, action-packed . . . this book is amazing.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I’d heard it was intense. Which is a phenomenally accurate description. I’d also heard about one sad thing that happens. It happened, and it was sad. But the book was still fantastic.

Whew! Finished reading those just in time, didn’t I?

My favorites: Sabriel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Knife of Never Letting Go. All of these have me psyched to come back for more. I’ll definitely be continuing with these three series.

I’m not sure whether I’ll do a similar list next year. After all, I’ve now read many of the books I’d been embarrassed not to have read (*coughEnder’sGamecoughTheGivercough*). I’m thinking that maybe next year I’ll do a Diversity Read. Of course, I want to be reading diverse books every year, but maybe making a big point out of it one year would help me cement the habit. What do you think?

Your Last-Minute YA Book Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday season is here, ready or not! And in case you’re not ready, and your state of unreadiness involves indecision over what to get someone as a gift, and that person reads YA books, your friendly neighborhood Teen Services Librarian is here to help! I have personally read all of these in the past year, and recommend them all whole-heartedly.

(Course, you could always buy these books for yourself, too. You deserve it. Yeah, yeah you do.)





For the fan of drama, darkness, and stories of healing: Pointe by Brandy Colbert. Theo is a mega-talented ballet dancer. She’s also recovering from anorexia. Then her best friend, Donovan, who was kidnapped four years ago, is found, and his kidnapper caught. That’s when Theo discovers that she knew Donovan’s kidnapper. What she could say in court might make all the difference, both to the case and to Donovan and Theo’s lives.

of metal and wishes





For the fan of smart, atmospheric reboots of classics: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. It’s Phantom of the Opera, but in a reimagined industrial Asia. Instead of an operahouse, it’s set in a slaughterhouse. Grim yet beautiful, and you’ll root for capable and empathetic protagonist Wen.






For the fan of rapid-fire action and stuff that makes you go “coooool!”: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. A strange new star appears in the sky, and suddenly people are developing superpowers – and turning evil. These superpowered “Epics” quickly come to control the world. The Reckoners are a group of humans with the mission of assassinating Epics. David wants to join the group to avenge his father, but it’s not easy to get in. Good thing he has a bargaining chip – he might hold the secret to taking down one of the most powerful Epics in the world.

the living





For the fan of nail-biting disaster stories: The Living by Matt de la Peña. Shy is spending his summer working on a cruise ship, making a little money and goofing off with his friends on the crew. Then a massive earthquake strikes. Their training didn’t prepare Shy and friends to deal with tsunamis hitting the ship. Or with what comes afterward.






For the fan of rollicking fantasy adventure: The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. Maybe a little more middle-grade than YA, but this gorgeous ongoing graphic novel series appeals to everyone. Seriously, everyone.

if you could be mine





For the fan of realism with an unusual viewpoint: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. In modern-day Iran, homosexuality is a crime, so girls in love, like Sahar and Nasrin, have to be careful. And they certainly can’t get married. But being transgender is not a crime – in fact, the government will help you get sex-reassignment surgery. Sahar is a girl, and she knows it. But if she could be a boy, then maybe Nasrin wouldn’t have to marry someone else. Maybe they could be together.


I’d also like to recommend this Holiday Shopping Guide by Diversity in YA. (They also sing the praises of The Living.)

Actually Nice Guys, or, Team Peeta Forever

Real talk, y’all: I am Team Peeta for life.

I have oodles of respect for the people who respond to the whole Peeta/Gale divide with “Team Katniss!” But though I admire and like Katniss herself, when I read the trilogy, I was desperate for her to get with Peeta. I so rarely get to watch a heroine – especially a YA heroine, double-especially one in a genre other than realistic fiction – choose to be with a guy like him. A guy who’s not macho or alpha, who doesn’t seem concerned with whether his strengths and weaknesses align with those that are commonly considered “masculine.” A guy who lets the girl be the strong one in ways in which girls rarely get to be the strong one.

(Yes, I’m assuming a guy-girl relationship here. Most of the couples I’ve read about are straight, and the whole issue becomes less pronounced, or at least different, with gay couples.)

Peeta is a communicator. He’s empathetic. He has oratory skills and baking skills (baking skills are key, guys). He’s not a fighter, and in the context of the Hunger Games, this puts him at a definite disadvantage. But Peeta isn’t useless, no matter how many times he falls down in the Catching Fire movie. He’s less equipped for the arena than Katniss, and he knows this, and it doesn’t bother him.

I don’t have anything against Gale, per se. I just find him uninteresting. That is to say, he interests me as much as any other character in the world Collins has created, which is a lot, because I like her writing, but to me, Gale is a lot like the romantic interests of SO MANY dystopias and paranormal romances. (I think the guys have more of a tendency to be alpha males in those genres because the worlds they’re in are so dangerous. Maybe some authors fear that their male leads will seem weak or worthless if they can’t defend themselves, let alone their girlfriends.) He has the fighting and survival skills. He smolders. When he sees something he wants, whether it’s to kiss Katniss or to Fight the Power, he throws himself at it, even if he’s sometimes unlikely to succeed and may jeopardize himself and others in the process. He’s a Man of Action.

My YA heroine gal pals have dated Gale a lot. Together, we’ve done some swooning over his heroics; I’ve done some eye-rolling over his aggressiveness. Not that he’s not ever fun, but frankly, he’s not my type.

Peeta, though! Peeta is a rare thing. He’s a well-spoken sweetheart who is just as heroically willing to sacrifice himself for Katniss, but who would do it in a way that’s based on cleverness, not facepunching. And he doesn’t feel threatened by Katniss being a badass, so you know he’s never going to pull a Riley Finn on her.

RileyFinn 1
Not pictured: a guy worth dating.

Not that sweetheart guys don’t appear in these books. It’s just that usually, they’re the losers in the inevitable love triangles. Happily, I have found a few other YA books with romances that feature guys who I find swoony a la Peeta. (I’m not going to list realistic fiction, because I find the romantic interests there to be more varied than the arrogant-and-dangerous-alpha-hottie so common in paranormal YA or the damaged-but-smexy-alpha-hottie so common in YA dystopias. I’ll just say that for realistic fiction with a romance, my go-to is Sarah Dessen.)

Anyway, examples!

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – My favorite book of all time. Howl is arrogant and moody, but these things are more “comical flaw that Sophie can deal with” rather than “just part of his charm.” He’s also a self-described coward – but brave enough to go into danger when someone he cares about needs him. And he’s funny.

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore – A big part of the reason I like this book and its sequel so much is the fact that it’s a paranormal romance in which the guy, Erris, isn’t ooooh, so dangerous. (Nor is his role to be the protector of the girl from other things that are ooooh, so dangerous.) He’s actually less of a rescuer-type than a rescuee. But he’s kind, and his emotions feel like a real person’s rather than like the facial expressions of Batman.

The Selection and sequels by Kiera Cass – Um, spoilers? As far as which guy America chooses in the love triangle? I was so happy to see her pick sweet Maxon over pushy Aspen.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – Sam is more an artsy type than a macho type. He’s got a traumatic past, but he has the optimism to still hope for a happily-ever-after.

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill – Romantic lead Pesto is earnest, caring, and accomplished in his area of expertise. Heroine Bug is more athletic and more aggressive than he is. The fact that this doesn’t bother him only adds to his charm.

If you have suggestions for books with this kind of romantic interest, I would LOVE to hear them! Otherwise, authors of the world: more, please?

Fun with Other People’s Characters

I’ve been doing fanart!

I’ve been writing, too, of course, and reading a lot. But fanart is great fun, so I thought I’d share a bit of that. I recently read and enjoyed a YA low-fantasy novel called Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but set in a factory complex in a reimagined industrial Asia. It’s pretty great, and I had to draw some of the characters. These are, from left to right, Melik, Wen (the protagonist), and Bo:

drawing of three characters

(Also on deviantART.)

I also drew Bo with a character from another YA fantasy I love, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore. The character’s name is Erris, and in case the drawing isn’t clear, his body is made of clockwork under the shirt.

Bo and Erris have words

(Again, on deviantART.)

Nothing profound to say about any of this. I mean, I do find creating fanart to be inspiring to me as a writer, insomuch as it’s powerful to be reminded that people can create characters you care about so much that you want to play with them yourself, to spend more time with them and see them expanded. I’ve never written much fanfiction, but it’s the same concept.

Yay fanart!

Update on an Old Post

My writers’ group, a little local chapter of SCBWI, met today. Per usual, we had some good fun and batted around a few pieces of writing like kitty cats, only more concerned with character development and commas.

When we were talking about scene versus summary (the old “showing versus telling” business), I remembered that I once wrote a blog post on the topic. I had looked through a bunch of books, mostly YA and MG, and analyzed how much showing versus telling each one did in its first fifty pages. (I analyzed one book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, all the way through, and found that the numbers were similar to the numbers in the first fifty pages, so I decided that would be representative enough.)

I mentioned this blog post, and there was some interest from the group, especially in the pie charts I had made to show the scene-vs-summary breakdown of each book. When I went back just now to look at the post, though, I see that I have for some reason not included said pie charts! Happily, I still have all the work I did then, and I will post the pie charts now. Better late than never, right? And I do think they’re pretty neat.

First, a recap of how I defined the four categories that appear on the charts. From my earlier blog post:

“I’m dividing each book into four types of sections. I call them Scene, Scene* (“scene-star”), Summary, and Summary*. “Scene” means a section that takes place entirely in the moment – dialogue, a blow-by-blow description of action, even a character’s thoughts – basically, anything that isn’t summarized. “Summary,” conversely, is stuff that doesn’t tell you exactly what’s happening right now. I found the two most common uses to be description and to note time passing. “Scene*” is any section that, overall, is definitely in the moment, but includes a non-negligible element of summary – say, several sentences of description, or a introduction that describes time having passed. “Summary*” is any section mostly not grounded in the moment, but with a smattering of lines that are, often a brief exchange of dialogue. Generally speaking, “Scene” and “Summary” correspond to the “Show” and “Tell” of writing. Not every book has all four section types. Howl’s Moving Castle, for example, had no Scene* at all.”

Now, the pie charts!

First, because it’s the only one for which I looked at the whole book, let’s do Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

HP first 50 chart

HP chart

Next up: three books by my favorite author, Diana Wynne Jones. I analyzed Howl’s Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm and its sequel, Year of the Griffin.

HMC chart

Dark Lord chart

Year of chart

I also did the first two Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer.

Twilight chart

New Moon chart

Here’s the chart for a middle-grade fantasy I’d recently picked up, The Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass by Erica Kirov:

Magickeepers chart

For something a little different (but still fantasy, because yeah, okay, they kind of all are), Mort by Sir Terry Pratchett.

Mort chart

And finally, an adult (fantasy) book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

JS and MN chart

Yay pie charts! Hope you find these interesting. Any thoughts on the results?

Don’t Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

You know a story has made it into cultural canon when it’s getting repackaged and updated in different versions. This has been especially common in YA fiction lately – Epic Reads came up with a spectacular chart of examples.

When you update a tale that lots of people know, it gives you a framework on which to construct your story. You can choose how closely to follow it, but readers do tend to have expectations based on what you’re retelling. Some stories require only one or two elements for their inspirations to be identified: an all-too-human monster brought to life by a scientist, ill-fated young lovers from warring families, a death-like sleep dispelled by a kiss. If, on the other hand, you’re retelling Jane Austen, readers are going to be looking for a much closer adherence to the original plot.

As a rule, the more high-concept the story – the more easily its appeal could be summed up by one snappy sentence – the looser your retelling can be without losing its connection to the original. Note that I say “its appeal” rather than “its plot.” You could sum up Alice in Wonderland by saying “young girl finds herself in a strange world of whimsical characters and nonsensical logic.” That’s accurate as regards the plot, but does little to describe the appeal of the story, which lies in the specific characters and weirdnesses of Wonderland. If you’re adapting Alice in Wonderland, readers will want to see your take on the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen.

Retelling a fairy tale, myth, or classic story has plenty of perks . . . and a few pitfalls. And if you know me, you know that a sentence like that is a lead-up to LIST-MAKING FUN TIME!

Benefits of Writing a Retelling:

  • People familiar with the original story have reason to be invested in your story before they even pick it up. They may wonder what your version of the Beast looks like, or be curious about how you handle the darkness of a Wuthering Heights-inspired tale. If your version has a twist of setting or circumstance, this can also make readers wonder: “How will The Little Mermaid be different if it’s gender-swapped?” “What kind of wolfish nemesis will Little Red Riding Hood encounter in space?”
  • Some people will pick up your book just because they love the source material SO MUCH. (I may or may not read pretty much anything that’s based on Alice in Wonderland.)
  • If you make it clear that this is a retelling, people are less likely to grouse that you’re being unoriginal. Of course, you should still be original. If your adaptation doesn’t bring anything new to the table – new and significant – then why should people want to read it?
  • You get to play around with your own version of a setting and characters you already have feelings about. Naturally, any writer has feelings about her/his own characters, but this is different. Change an element that always bothered you in the original story, or play up and expand on your favorite parts. Explore the themes the story deals with, or push its message in a new direction.

Of course, there are also Risks of Writing a Retelling:

  • While Reader A may love Peter Pan so much that she’ll devour anything based on it, Reader B may hate Peter Pan and refuse to even try any adaptation of it. (Plus, some readers may simply get tired of an oft-retold tale.)
  • And if Reader A does love Peter Pan that much, she may balk at of the changes you’ve made. After all, whatever you tweaked could be the thing she liked best about the original.
  • You’re setting yourself up to be compared not only with other retellings of the source material, but with the original work. If you can’t write swoon and snark, for example, tackling Pride and Prejudice may be ill-advised.

What are your favorite retellings? What story would you like to see adapted more often?