Friday, November 15, 2013

YA Author ALLY CARTER on "Combining Characterization & Action scenes"

 This week is the second and half or our interview with wonderful teen spy & thief novel writer Ally Carter! Thanks Ally for being with us today!

(If you missed last week's interview with this NY Times YA Best-seller, it's definitely worth sneaking back to last Saturday's interview to read it!)

Let's jump right back in with today's interview!

(First, here is a sample snippet from Ally's Gallagher Girls’ book # 4: Only the Good Spy Young

This section of text relates to our first question for Ally today. Spoiler: For those who haven't yet read this great book, teen Main Character Cammie is narrating the passage. Zach is another teen main character from a spy school):

"…Zach was so focused on Mr. Solomon, so anxious to come to our teacher’s aid, that he didn’t see when one of the men on the ground pulled out a gun and took aim at Zach’s back.
    “No!” someone screamed, and only when the man stopped did I realize that it hadn’t been me. There was only one person in that cave with the power to save Zach – one person with the power to stop those dominoes from falling, and she was the person who turned from me and started toward her son.
    I watched Zach’s mother slam into the gunman – heard the weapon clatter across the floor.  Even without turning, I knew that no one was behind me then – that there was absolutely nothing between me and one of the tunnels that spiraled off the main floor. And yet I couldn’t move.
    Everything seemed to freeze for that one second, as Zach picked up the gun and yelled, “Now! Run!”
    But I couldn’t leave him, couldn’t run, couldn’t do anything but shout “No!” as Zach took aim at the metal box marked Warning: explosives, and mouthed the word, “Good-bye.”


1.) Ally, one thing I’ve noticed about your books is that you do a great job of balancing the character development we talked about last week, (AKA friendships, family relationships, school stuff, and teen love interests) with the life or death spy and thief action scenes that keep us all up reading late into the night. You keep both our hearts and our minds engaged!

Maintaining this equal balance between character development and action scenes is extremely difficult for many authors. What tips can you give for those of us who want to learn how to write scenes, chapters, and books that are strong in both action and character growth?  How do we maintain that important balance -- so that it's not all character and it's not all action?
Thank you! Many books ago I was working at my desk and I had this little white board propped right next to me. I was making a timeline of the novel with your usual straight line going across and the events of the book going up at an angle right over the line—you know, like we all used to make in junior high history class.
But for some reason I started writing below the line too—filling in where the character was emotionally at each step of the book. I found that REALLY helpful. I started calling this “below the line” conflict, and now it is a huge part of the way I write and think about my characters/books.  Every scene needs to take place either “above or below the line”. And the great scenes take place in both.

 2.) One final question.  Your Gallagher Girls Series about teen spies in training, and your Heist Society Novels about a group of brilliantly ethical teen thieves, are all best-sellers in the YA world.  With those two series’ you recently did what many other authors have probably wanted to try sometime but have rarely done – you wrote a story that combined characters from both series’ and made them begrudgingly work together to solve a crime!

Double Crossed is brilliant! (Read it here for free, readers!) It shows that strong characters can be moved into a new type of environment and yet we as readers still totally believe that they are still the same “people” who they were in the other books. These characters are real – they live outside of the pages.  Can you tell us what made you decide to write Double Crossed and whether you have thoughts of writing any more stories that combine both sets of characters? What other new books do you have coming out this year?

Double-Crossed was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. It came about because I was touring for the fifth Gallagher Girls book, Out of Sight, Out of Time, and at almost every stop someone would ask “will the Gallagher Girls and the crew from Heist Society ever meet”? I got this question so frequently that I eventually realized that there was no reason they couldn’t meet!
I knew I didn’t have time to do a full-fledged novel on the subject, but ePublishing has made it so easy to put up short stories that I thought it would be worth exploring. I pitched the idea to my publisher, Disney-Hyperion, and fortunately they were 100% behind the idea. My good friend, Jennifer Lynn Barnes (whose new book THE NATURALS just launched and is fantastic) made the comment that she had always just assumed that Macey (from GG) and Hale (from Heist Society) ran in similar circles in their “real lives”, so that was really the launching point for the story. That was the obvious place for the characters and worlds to intersect.
I would dearly love to do another crossover novella (or maybe even novel someday) if and when the time is right. 
Up next for me is EMBASSY ROW, the first novel in my brand new series that I’m doing with Scholastic. This is actually an idea that I had way back in 2007 but couldn’t write at the time because I had two other series under contract. It is about a girl who witnessed her mother’s murder and yet no one believes what she saw. Things get really complicated when she goes to live with her grandfather, a powerful, ambassador, and realizes her mother’s murderer is not only a very powerful man in his own right, but also has diplomatic immunity. It should be out in spring 2015

Embassy Row sounds like it will be another "stay up all night to read it" kind of series Ally! We look forward to checking it out! 

Thanks so much for sharing your clear and logical, very implementable suggestions with us these past two weeks!  We love them! Once we implement these suggestions our own stories will surely be stronger as a result!


Linda A. said...

This interview gave empowering tips to authors. It told how to use a timeline more effectively and recommended satisfying readers' interests, if possible.

Thanks Ally! Thanks Janelle! Very well done!

Janelle said...

Thanks Linda!