Saturday, November 9, 2013

YA Author ALLY CARTER talks "Building Strong Characters & Action scenes"

Ally Carter is the NY Times Best-Selling Author of two brilliant YA series' -- the Gallagher Girls series and the Heist Society Series, as well as two adult novels, and an action packed novella called Double Crossed. (Click here and scroll down to read Double Crossed for free!)

It would not be an un-truth to say that many of the teen spy books being published today reflect the authors' own experience reading Ally Carter's books and learning from her techniques.  Both the Gallagher Girls Series & the Heist Society Series are full of strong, believable characters and packed with action.

Luckily for us, Ally will be here sharing tips on Writermorphosis for the next couple of weeks.   Thanks so much, Ally, for being with us today! We have a lot to learn from you! Let's jump right in with our first question:

Let’s talk about building strong characters and creating strong character interactions in our stories.   I love the scene  in the first two pages of Double Crossed. In this passage (linked below), we meet Macey McHenry, and W.W. Hale the 5th.

By the end of just the first two pages of Double Crossed (read them here) we have learned so much about who other people expect Macey and Hale to be – and who they really are instead.  Many writers have trouble writing characters who are truly individuals with their own voices and their own complicated lives.  How do you do it? Can you give us some specific tips or strategies on how to create and describe such strong characters in our own novels? Thanks!

Thank you! I try first and foremost to think of all characters as people. The more people I meet and get to know in real life, the easier this is, of course. No one is exactly who they appear to be. Everyone has secrets and lies and hopes and fears and traumas. We are all the main characters of our own stories. And I really strive to have every single supporting character be someone who could spin off into their own series quite easily—there is that much to them.
Another nice thing about writing about teenagers is that they—even more than adults—are still figuring out who they are. They have so many doubts and questions about their own personalities! It is a fun thing to play with if you get the chance.

That's really great advice, Ally!  I am sure all of our books will be much stronger if we all start writing each character in the book, no matter how seemingly insignificant, as a character who is strong enough and unique enough, with their own clear voice, to become the main character in another series.  That's wonderful advice!

Here's our second question for today:
You write teen novels about very human yet completely brilliant teen spies and teen thieves-with-a-twist.  Your books are full of bank heists, high-speed chases, secret meetings on trains in Eastern Europe, brilliant disguises, teen girls rapelling expertly out of 80 story high office buildings, teens breaking into highly guarded museums, and even a few near-catastrophes involving helicopters and  submarines!  Are there any tips or strategies you can suggest for those of us wanting to write strong action scenes in our own novels?  Are there specific components that you always try to include?

On one hand, I love writing action scenes! On the other…I hate writing action scenes. There is a lot of logistics to them.  Who is where? What hand did he just use and where did that knife fall? So much to keep track of. But they do get the blood flowing, and I know that is part of what readers expect when they pick up one of my books, so I know it is important to deliver. 
For me, what really sets an action scene apart is location. Punches and kicks are always the same. But if you have it happening on a moving train then it feels very different—and has a different set of stakes—than something happening in a bank vault or a church or a submarine. There are new things in the background that you can play with and a much fresher take on what may be, in many ways, a scene most of us have read in dozens of books and seen in hundreds of movies.

Good point! You definitely do have some very powerful "places" in the action scenes in your books, Ally, and I love your suggestion that we use "place" as a way to increase the tension and create more reader interest in our action scenes.  Just off the top it's easy to see how locations like the roof of the school, the hidden basements of both academies, the adventurous locations of Mr. Solomon's class, and the secret tunnels Cammie always seems to find in the Gallagher Girls books, really do set the stage for perilous action!

For anyone who hasn't yet read Ally's books, I definitely recommend picking one up and sitting down somewhere comfy to read it ASAP.  In the both the Gallagher Girls series and the Heist Society novels you'll find many evocative "places" that add to the suspense and complexity of the action scenes.  Of course, the problematic location and situation taking place in Double Crossed (linked above,) is nothing to be trifled with either!

Thanks for this tip, Ally, and for the great examples that your books give us!

Now off we all go to look at our own scenes.  Is the sense of place we're portraying strong enough to increase the drama of our scenes? Is each character -- no matter how small - strong enough and unique enough to stand alone?

Next week we'll be back here again with Ally Carter, learning from examples of great writing in her books and hearing her suggestions on how to balance character development with action in our novels -- something Ally does better than most!

Thanks Ally!


Linda A. said...

What a treat for you and for us to have an interview with Ally Carter. Two great tips today. I'm looking forward to more next time. Thank you both.

Janelle said...

Thanks Linda! We'll have more great tips from Ally next Week!

Janelle said...

Thanks to those who have visted the blog this week from the U.S. France, Russia, China, Germany, Finland, the U.K. and Ukraine! I see you there! - Janelle

Carol Baldwin said...

I enjoy Ally's books. Just found this post on my phone. Enjoyed it!