Monday, August 22, 2011

Where Stories Come From

A while ago on another blog (in a galaxy far, far away) someone wanted to know why people who weren’t young adults would be interested in writing YA. It struck me as an odd question, because I’ve never had the sense that writers were only propelled by their own demographic for their stories. But it is also a legitimate question in a broader sense, and it got me to thinking about why we write and where our stories come from.

My own theory is that our richest, most authentic stories come out of our own traumas and heartbreaks. Not necessarily in a direct correlation—I was beaten as a child therefore I will write about child abuse. But rather the core emotional issues, the wounds and scars that have shaped us will also shape our stories. And the nature of those will, in turn, help determine what age group we write for.

Stories are the psychological equivalent of pearls, if you think about it. At some point in our lives, we receive this grain of sand—some horror or trauma or huge obstacle that becomes a permanent part of who we are. And then the magic begins to happen. Time passes, we move on, we begin to heal, scar tissue forms, we begin to grow again, only this time our growth encompasses those painful experiences. And if you are lucky enough to have a creative outlet, those painful experiences cannot help but shape what you create, much in the same way the shape of your hand determines the way you play the piano or the choice of medium affects what your artwork looks like.

My childhood and teen years were my most emotionally tumultuous, one great big stewing pot of dysfunctionality. It tapered off toward the ends of high school, but it was too late. The scars and wounds I’d received in childhood were so much a part of me that they radically affected every aspect of how I viewed the world and how I interacted with people, thus ensuring high school was hard and not the glowing ‘best time of your life’ that so many adults think of it.

So it is no surprise that when I write, that is where my stories come from. That place, even though I am well, (WELL!) past being a young adult, Not only was that the most fertile for me story-wise, but the thematic issues I am drawn to explore lend themselves best to that age.

Once I hit adulthood, I got lucky, found unconditional love, got married, and had kids. My life has been pretty great so far. Not exactly smooth sailing, raising kids is never smooth sailing, but there have been far fewer traumas and upheavals, and very little scar tissue and lots of lessons learned.

Which is why I write for kids and young adults. How about you? Why do you think you are drawn to the genre you work in? Which of your core emotional themes and issues make it a perfect fit?


Anonymous said...


I had to laugh at the original comment this started from. If we all only wrote for our own age, based on the romance writers I know, most romance novels would feature AARP rather heavily...hahaha

I write mainstream (tried a mystery once because I love to read the genre, but mine was pretty bad) adult fiction. Of course there was some crazy in my family growing up, but I think my writing is affected more by always seeing myself as being a bit of an outsider socially. At least, I'm guessing that's the grain of sand that keeps me writing stories with the common theme of "outside looking in-searching for a place to call home."

Anonymous said...

I write for kids because I have never wanted to write for adults. Ever. The only idea that I've ever had for adult fiction was a short story in the science fiction genre. I wish that I could be more thoughtful and complex about it than that, but I'm afraid that a short round of navel-gazing couldn't sharpen that up.

1000th.monkey said...

I write YA too, and I agree with your post. The core emotional theme that keeps coming back in my writing is that of trust... gaining it, having it, keeping it, breaking it, not only between friends, but also family members.

...and I can definitely pinpoint a few specific instances in my teenage years that feed this...

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

A large part of the reason I write for children/YA is that I love to read juvenile fiction. (Why I tend to prefer books for kids over the books I'm "supposed" to be reading is another question... But I believe that juvenile fiction is where a lot of the most interesting themes are being explored in literature these days.) For my own writing, my big themes include integrity despite cultural pressures, and trying to solve problems creatively by making unconventional connections -- and yes, these were definitely themes in my life through middle school and high school.
When it comes to "where do the ideas come from" it's ALL grist for the mill -- or sand for the pearls.

Adele Richards said...

I'm drawn to the MG age range in large part because I'm trying to re-capture and re-create the magical times I had reading as a 7+ year old. Being taken away into the magical world of Narnia, onto flying carpets with E. Nesbit and up the Faraway Tree with Enid - the awe and the excitement you feel as a child, it was thrilling.

I loved hiding in my own world of a book and feeling that intimate connection with the author...and that experience, THAT I would dearly love to create for others.


Annie W said...

I write women's fiction that's almost always formed from my own childhood experiences and as I write, i often find solutions and different perspectives. For me, being a late-bloomer - spent way too much time pleasing others and never knew what would make ME happy - I find that I want to leave the message to other women: you can work through it all to the other side; or, perhaps, you can work through it all in order to come full-circle.

Sarah said...

I've always wanted to write for my current age group, or slightly older, as each new age/phase offers its own challenges and explorations. The common theme has always been identity: how we define it, how we sustain it. We are very fortunate that way, as writers- our creative process is not limited by our age!

Becky Levine said...

Really interesting. I've often wondered about this for myself, because I had a very calm, safe childhood and teen years. But the more I think about it, I think I lived those years WITHOUT exploring, by staying away from risks and, yes, damping down worries and fears. So I think maybe I had to get to a more expansive place in my own life before I could dip back in and then found..yay...that a lot of those things I backed away from were still there waiting for me. :)

R.L. LaFevers said...

Ha! Exactly, Melissa! And yes, that outsider thing is a powerful grain of sand!

Kristin, sounds like writing for kids is just part of your DNA…

1000th monkey—Yes! Trust is such a key issue for those teen years.

Anne, I agree that some of the most interesting themes are found in today’s juvenile fiction!

Adele, isn’t it fascinating how the books we read when we were young affected us so very much! Far more so than most adult books. And yes, that desire to create that same experience for young readers is a huge impetus.

Annie, interesting that your women’s fiction themes come from your childhood experiences. And what a great message—one we can never hear enough.

Ah, interesting Sarah. You’re the first person I’ve talked to that’s had their desire to write tied so closely to their own real age.

Becky, brilliant job of finding that grain of sand, even amongst a ‘perfect’ childhood. And I think that is one of the great values in distance, finding that more expansive and wiser place.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

I was such a huge reader as a kid (I preferred reading over TV any day of the week and was often teased for it) and I just never stopped reading MG and YA, even when I hit college and started trying to learn *how* to write, even as I scribbled all during childhood. Yeah, I read adult novels, some classics, romance, etc. but they were never as satisfying as children's literature or as meaningful. I had one of those difficult, angsty, and very grief-filled childhood/teen years. I escaped into historical and mystery and I love magical realism and the quirky way of looking at life. Which is what I'm writing right now. I've tried writing about some of those grief-filled events, but I'm still too emotionally close to it - even though, weirdly enough, it's been decades now - and I can't seem to make it work. So those manuscripts are sitting in drawers. Who knows if I'll ever go back to them since I have way more ideas than I can possibly write. But the EMOTION of those times, the FEELINGS, do work their way into my current stuff, just not the actual events.

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