I received two similar emails, so I’m going to post both and give one reply to avoid repetition:
Dear Mr. Preller,
I love your book Bystander. My teacher read it to my class for a read aloud. It was very well written. I could really relate to it since I have been bullied. I understand what it feels likes to not have anyone stand up for you. I strongly suggest you should write a sequel from the different characters points of view. I love reading and writing! Do you have any good writing tips for me? I would love to hear back from you!
Hi, I’m Jake. I’m a 5th grader. I have read Six Innings and Along Came
Spider. They were both very good. We read Bystander for a read
aloud in school. That was fantastic. Do you have any new books coming
out. Also do you have any tips for me as a writer?
Marissa & Jake,
I hope you don’t mind sharing the same response, but this seemed faster and easier for me. And that’s what we’re all about here at jamespreller.com: me, Me, ME!
(Sorry, I got excited.)
Thanks for reading my books. Marissa, when I began to dig into the research on bullying — and part of that research was about memory, looking back and really thinking about what I’d seen and experienced in my own life; that is: heart work — I realized that I could write a 100 different stories, from 100 different perspectives. Ultimately a writer has to make choices. I tried to tell one story the best that I could. But you are totally right: There’s a lot more there to be explored, more stories to be told.
Jake, I have a follow-up book to Along Came Spider coming out in August, called Justin Fisher Declares War! It’s set in the same school, and some characters recur (Spider, Trey, Ava, Ms. Lobel in minor roles), but the focus shifts to a different classroom and new characters. Honestly, it’s a light, quick, easy read — hopefully funny — and it concludes with a school Talent Show, something I’ve wanted to write about for some time. And yes, there is barf. I’m currently finishing my first true “Young Adult” novel, featuring 16-year-old characters. It’s been the best writing experience ever, I’ve learned so much, and will come out in Fall 2011. Still pondering the title.
Both of you asked about “tips” for writers. As much as I enjoy talking about writing, or at least illuminating my own writing process, I’m always hesitant to break it down into rules and quick tips. We’re all different, and all of us need to find our own way. That said, I have written about my experiences as a writer — some of the things I’ve learned along the way — in various blog posts. Here’s a few of them:
* The Reading Feeds the Writing (about how one writer reads with pen in hand)
* Writing from Memory to Realistic Fiction
* Rules for Writing (from other authors)
* Rereading The Elements of Style (notes on a classic book)
If you are really interested, just click on “the writing process” under CATEGORIES in the right sidebar column. There’s lots to explore at your leisure, and it was all written with young writers like you in mind. It’s all about transparency here at jamespreller.com and BP Petroleum. I don’t possess any magic knowledge, there are no great secrets, but I am willing to share my own fumbling, idealistic efforts at writing the best I can.
Ultimately, I don’t feel comfortable playing the role of expert, handing out a nifty cheat-sheet of tips. The obvious suggestions remain true: Read, read, and read some more. Value your own perspective, your individuality; no one else can be you, can offer up your unique observations, thoughts, and feelings. As a writer, that’s what you’ve got above all the others: Nobody else can be you. Treasure those things in your life that formed you, that in-formed you; your family, your life experiences, your secret dreams and feelings.
Like I said before, writing is heart work. And that’s where it begins.
I’ve come to view dialogue as the single most important part of writing. Maybe that’s overstatement, but work with me here, guys. In some ways, it’s the easiest to try — everybody talks! — and yet the hardest thing to get right. Dialogue crosses all genres, whether you are interested in writing about wizards or warrior rats or realistic fiction. There are always characters, and we always meet them best when they open their mouths.
So that’s my other advice: shut up and listen. Eavesdrop. Jot down notes, little phrases you hear. Listen to how people talk. Really talk. Also — and this is tricky — step back and listen to yourself. What comes out of your mouth? What do you say when you see a friend? How do you greet each other in the hallway? What’s actually said at the dinner table? Take notes in a little memo pad, even just a snatch of conversation. Later, you can add description, set the scene, write about the interior (a character’s inner thoughts and feelings) as well as the exterior (the outside world, the cup on the table).
Story is a natural outgrowth of character. Or, wait, another way: Story is character revealed. Begin with character. Add conflict. Stir.
P.S. Oh, hey, by the way: Try this “Instant Story Recipe” from the englishbanana.com just for fun! Plug in the words and it writes the story for you! Uh-oh. I just realized that soon some computer is going to put me out of a job! Oh, wait. I have one thing a computer can never possess.
The comment about writing another “Bystander” book from a different character’s point of view reminded me of the old classic (for younger readers) “A Dog on Barkham Street”, by Mary Stolz. She followed this a few years later with “The Bully of Barkham Street”. Both stories describe the same series of events involving a bully next door, one book from the victim’s perspective, one from the bully’s. They’re a great pair of books to read back to back, since the multiple perspectives show how complex the motivations for bullying can really be.