Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

Professional Writing Tips from a Ghostwriter

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Embarking on a ghostwriting project? To help you out, here are some professional writing tips from ghostwriter extraordinaire, Marissa Matteo.

Marissa Matteo ghostwriter extraordinaire.

Marissa Matteo, Ghostwriter Extraordinaire.

I met Marissa when she interned at Writers House. With her dynamite personality, great writing skills, and genuine curiosity about people, I wasn’t totally surprised to find out some years after her internship that she had “made it” as a successful celebrity ghostwriter who has had seven books published by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin.  She is currently working on her eighth and ninth.  

MARISSA’S GHOSTWRITING TIPS

1) No Tape Recorders.  It makes people tighten up, which is the last thing you want.  Explain to them that you will not be recording at the beginning and why.  Try to type as much as you can as they are talking, and develop a shorthand.  If you miss anything, follow up via text, phone calls, or emails.  Explain this to them as well.

2) Hang Out.  You need to find their voice and the best way to find their voice is to do things together.  In my experience, I have always become very close friends with whomever I have been writing for and we have traveled together. That’s when the best stories come out–and that is when you find their voice.

An Infamous Hangout.

A Hangout.


3) Do Not Hold Interviews, Have Conversations.  And don’t be afraid to go out of chronological order.  You cannot get the good stuff if you are adhering to a strict set of questions and demanding someone remember their life story in a linear way.  Memory doesn’t work like that.  It’s your job to put the story in order.


4) Be Open with the Material.  I have found that the best way to write a book for someone is to let them read chunks of the book to make sure they like the voice and so they can add stories as we go along.  I think it is a better system than handing over a full-manuscript and praying they don’t freak out.  (They are going to freak out.  I have written seven books and for five of them I was the second or third ghostwriter on; in each of those five cases, the previous writer turned over the manuscript at the end, and the freak-out ensued.)


5) Be Tight-Lipped.  You are going to find out things that are extremely personal, and, especially during moments when guards are let down, you are going to find out some skeletons in the closet.  Do not tell people’s secrets.  Whether you have signed a non-disclosure agreement or not.  You are their friend and their confidante.  Act accordingly. 5189627865_51b1bc3c94_z 6) Check Your Ego at the Door.  This is their book, not your book.  Do not try to inflect your opinion, voice, or agenda in the material.


7) Be a Blank Slate.  Don’t come to the project thinking you know anything about the person you are writing for or the industry they work in.  You don’t.


8) Do Not Trust Wikipedia.  Or anything on the internet.  Of course, you should research your subject like a crazy stalker, but everything you find on your Google search, you must discuss with the person you are writing for.  And here is where you will find out that ninety-seven percent of what is written about celebrities on the Internet is pure fabrication. Print out Marissa’s tips and bring them along with you to interviews (they’re applicable to journalism, too)!

 

Tips for Adult Writers Seeking to Switch to Young Adult Fiction

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Many adult writers have decided to give young adult fiction a shot.  They come to YA with formidable writing skills, but even so, the transition can be rough. If your background is in writing for adults and you’re seeking to make a switch to YA, my tips below are here to help make your journey smoother.

1.  READ-READ-READ

When I was in grade school, I’d proudly finish a story only to be engulfed by shame, realizing the extent to which I’d imitated whatever writer I was currently most into (L.M. Montgomery, Diana Wynne-Jones, and Robin McKinley come to mind).

Much later, when I was writing my own book,  it dawned on me that my imitations were a normal step on the path of becoming a good writer and that all that reading had really been necessary for me to understand on a deep level how young adult fiction works.

Reading.

READ-READ-READ.

Reading tons of YA will help you start to internalize its rules, traditions, and customs better than any blog post.  When it comes time to write the first pages of your YA novel, you’ll be starting from an informed place if you do your reading.

2. THE VOICE

A former Writers House colleague once told me that voice was the defining difference between YA and adult.   I wasn’t quite sure what “voice” meant at that time.

Voice can be everything in YA.

Voice can be everything in YA.

What I’ve learned since: Being unafraid to express feelings and emotions.  Making jokes and having distinctive slang are often aspects of a strong, unique voice.  An example of a book with a snappy, expressive voice is M.T. Anderson’s Feed.   There can be quiet voices, though–Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time comes to mind.

And strong voice, when spoken of in YA, almost always means a first-person narrator.

Young adult readers want to really root for and identify with a narrator. A strong voice answers a need in them for human connection and understanding.  The typical YA strong voice makes personality paramount (often the writer’s personality masquerading as the narrator’s).

3. AGE IS MORE THAN A NUMBER

Britney's age confusion lament might resonate with adult writers switching to YA.

Britney’s lament might resonate with adult writers switching to YA.

 

This may seem like a gimme, but to someone making the switch, it’s not so obvious:  YA characters should be in their teens—around fourteen to eighteen.  When people approach me with characters who are nineteen or twenty-one, I recall Britney Spears’ “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman.”  And that song’s relatively mediocre charting.  The rise of NA (New Adult) addresses the fact that there is an opening in the marketplace for novels targeting this age group (roughly nineteen to twenty-five), but it’s yet to be seen if this hip, new category will survive.

 

4. BEDROOM AND BATTLEFIELD

Yes, sex can happen and so can violence, but there are tighter boundaries for what’s acceptable in young adult fiction than in adult fiction.   Sex is not going to be explicit, if it happens at all.  A lot of characters in YA are virgins.  Similarly, violence occurs in YA–Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has made that clear–but it’s not going to be very close up or gruesome, compared to adult fare.  Bethany Griffin’s Handcuffs handles teen sexuality very well, as do the books mentioned in my blog post on my favorite young adult romances.

You also might want to ask—if this were a movie, would it be PG-13 or R?  It should probably lean closer to PG-13.

Before writing a sexy or violent scene, take a moment to remind yourself of the vantage point of the character you’re writing–a huge part of writing from a teen’s point of view is incorporating the fact that she is not only experiencing something, she is experiencing it for the first time.

Potential guideline.

Guideline to keep in mind as you write.

 

5. ACTION!

Can your plot go as fast the Black Stallion?

Can your plot go as fast the Black Stallion? NO.  No one is faster than the Black.

YA fiction–whether it’s romance, sci-fi, realistic, etc.–tends to be faster paced than adult novels. You want to focus on hooking in the reader right away and getting the plot galloping along.  Writers coming from commercial adult backgrounds may feel they have an edge over their literary peers when it comes to making dynamic plots—and they may be right.  But both groups should mindful as they write that readers of young adult fiction many times would rather have characters stomping over the roses, plucking off their petals, or questing to deliver the flowers over the deadly dull activity of smelling them.

Have you transitioned from adult writing to young adult fiction?  Feel free to share lessons you’ve learned in the comments.