GLVWG’s Bernadette Sukley interviewed Jon Gibbs, an English-born, New Jersey-based author of two novels, Fur-Face, and Barnum’s Revenge. Jon lectures on creative writing at Georgian Court University and is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and FindAWritingGroup.com.
He will be presenting three sessions at the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference, Saturday, April 9.
Three C’s of Conflict, 13 Things to Think About When Writing for YA/Tweens, and Say it again, Sam – Making the Most of Dialogue
Q: You were born in another country, yet retain much of the flavor of your native land. Is it difficult to write in a different country, with a different audience, culture and language?
A: The spelling is certainly tricky sometimes, but otherwise things are pretty similar to England. I think it would be much harder if we didn’t share the same basic language. Culturally, things are almost identical – you guys even have McDonalds 😉
Some of the holidays are different though, for example: in the UK, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, or President’s Day, and what you call Independence Day, we call July 4th, or What Made Those Crazy Americans Give Up The Chance To Be British? Day.
Q: You’re giving two sessions—one is, 13 Things to Think About When Writing for YA/Tweens. Without dropping spoilers—can you give us a hint of what it entails?
A: I’ll be running through things I wish I’d known when I first decided to write for younger readers. Some of them would have helped make writing books a more deliberate process, others would have made the search for an agent and publisher a lot less painful. All of them would have saved me time. It’s basically a ‘Learn from this Idiot’s Mistakes’ session.
Q: The other session is called, the Three C’s of Conflict. While conflict is essential to every story, what’s the biggest mistake writers make when developing conflict?
A: I can’t speak for other writers, but for myself, I sometimes forget to make sure the reader cares. You can fill up every page with all manner of clever conflict, but if the reader doesn’t feel involved, you needn’t have bothered.
We all stop to listen when we see two strangers arguing at a diner, or when the teenager at the next table is trying to persuade her parents to let her take up motor racing, but we don’t really care about the outcomes. And why should we? We don’t even know these people.
In the same way, unless readers relate to our characters, they really won’t care what happens when our hero asks out his cheerleader neighbor, in front of her scary boyfriend, or whether the birthday girl’s parents buy her that pet tarantula she so desperately wants.
As writers, it’s easy to forget that the person who picks up our book doesn’t already have a strong connection with the characters inside. It’s our job to change that, to make them care, so when the hero’s in trouble, or having a bad day, the readers feel the same as if it were happening to a friend or close family member, or even themselves.
Q: Middle Grade and YA are exploding genres, how can a new writer compete?
A: I think it’s pretty much the same for any genre: Figure out how to write a great book, on purpose. Start by learning the three-act structure – for the best guide to what that is, why it works, and how to apply it to your own writing, I recommend Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT.
Read your chosen genre, a lot (in my case, that’s middle grade). In particular, read books from first-time authors who were published traditionally in the last year or so. Study their work to figure out what they did to catch an agent’s (and/or publisher’s) eye.
Join writing groups and go to writing conferences. I always say writing groups are like potato chips, because one is rarely enough. I recommend joining several, especially SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and any group which hires regular guest speakers to give presentations on the craft of writing. You’ll learn a lot faster, get to make some great friends, and have a lot more fun than if you try to figure everything out by yourself.
Q: Your books (Fur-Face & Barnum’s Revenge) center on a talking cat. Did you have to become an expert in cat behavior to write a believable novel?
A: My old gran used to say: An ‘ex’ is a has-been, and a ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure, so I don’t know about expert, but I do love cats. At one point, I had three. Unfortunately, these days we can’t have pets of any kind. Sooner or later my special needs daughters would try to take the wrapping off them, which wouldn’t end well for the cats, or my girls.
Summary of Jon’s presentation:
“The Three Cs of Conflict” Saturday – April 9 – 11:00 AM to 11:50 AM
When it comes to fiction, the right type of conflict makes the difference between a great read and a dull one, but what is the right type of conflict? How do you create it? When (and where) should you apply it? And can you ever have too much? A fun, informative, presentation on how to create all the story conflict you need to keep those readers turning the pages.
“13 Things to Think About When Writing for YA/Tweens” Saturday – April 9 – 1:40 PM to 2:30 PM
There’s more to writing for the middle grade/young adult market than just making your characters the appropriate age. What level of vocabulary should you use? What interests YA/Tween readers today? Should you write in first person or third? Which (if any) topics or situations are considered off-limits by traditional publishers? A fun, informative, presentation on what to keep in mind when writing for the YA/Tween market.
“Say it again, Sam – Making the Most of Dialogue” Saturday – April 9 – 2:40 PM to 3:30 PM
When it comes to fiction, what characters say, how they say it, and what they don’t say when they’re saying it, makes the difference between a dull read and a page-turner. Great dialogue pulls the reader into the story, it makes them care about the characters inside. So how can we use it most effectively, and what common mistakes should we try to avoid?
1: Using dialogue to show personality/character.
2: Using dialogue to pull the reader into the story.
3: Using dialogue to move the story along.
4: Using dialogue to make readers relate/empathize with characters.
5: Realistic dialogue vs grammatically correct (and onomatopoeic).
6: Dialogue no-nos eg: backstory, info dumps, and the dreaded As you know Bob…
7: Speech tags – The good, the bad, and the unnecessary
***** Jon says there may be candy *****
You can find Jon at:
Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in America, where he lectures on creative writing at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey. His humorous talk, GETTING PUBLISHED: 10 Things Every Writer Should Know, was broadcast on local television in 2012. Jon’s middle grade fantasy, Fur-Face (Echelon Press), was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. The sequel, Barnum’s Revenge (also from Echelon Press) was published in March, 2013.
When he’s not chasing around after his three children, he can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.
You can get full details and registration details at the conference link:
GLVWG Write Stuff Conference .
Also, be sure to visit the GLVWG Website for group happenings all year long.