Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, as you may have heard, SCBWI L.A.’s 2020 Writers Day has been postponed due to the Coronavirus. Please check your emails for the announcement which provides more details. Despite this news, the below interview (edited lightly following the news of the event’s postponement) provides fantastic information – so, please, read on!
Jessica Brody, author of the plotting guide Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, is slated to be a keynote speaker at this year’s Los Angeles SCBWI Writers Day! Along with several popular titles, including 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, A Week of Mondays, The Chaos of Standing Still, Better You Than Me, and the Unremembered trilogy, Jessica has also written Sky Without Stars (and the sequel Between Burning Worlds) a sci-fi reimagining of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and books based on Disney franchises like Disney Princess Lego and the Descendants.
While Writers Day has been postponed (previously scheduled for March 28), here are some great tips and tricks from Jessica!
FARRHA KHAN: We’re excited to have you join us at Writers Day this year! Your keynote on The Transformative Power of Story sounds inspiring. Could you share a bit about what you will be exploring? – Without giving away too much, of course!
JESSICA BRODY: Sure! The whole idea behind the Save the Cat! method is that an imperfect hero goes into your story and a less imperfect hero comes out. The reason transformative stories resonate with readers is because heroes are human, and as humans we’re all on transformative quests of our own. Whether that’s to become better writers, better parents, better teachers, better students, better spouses, better business partners, or just better human beings. Whatever our quest might be, we can learn from the heroes of the stories we create. And our heroes can learn from the human plight we’re all on.
FK: As the author of Save the Cat! Writes A Novel, I think it’s fair to say you’re more of a plotter than a pantser. But what advice would you give to pantsers? Is the 15 “beats” of the Save the Cat! method something that pantsers can use as well?
JB: Haha. I am a plotter, but I’m always very adamant about the fact that the book and the method are not a just for plotters. The bottom line is the structure has to get added in somewhere (either before you start, while you go, or when you’re revising your “pantsed” first draft.) So, consider the book your structure cheat sheet, ready and waiting for you whenever you need it. 😉
FK: You’ve written books based on Disney’s franchises. What are some of the challenges writing for an established IP?
JB: I love writing within existing universes. I feel like it takes a lot of the pressure off because I don’t have to figure out all the details of the world, I just get to play in it. It’s kind of like when you were little and you’d go over to a friend’s house and they’d have all these new toys that already had names and backstories and you just got to invent stories from there. The challenge, of course, is that you have very little control in the final product. You kind of have to go into it with a different mindset. “This is not my toy. I’m just playing with it. Eventually I have to give it back.”
FK: And following from the above question, your System Divine series (the second book of the series, Between Burning Worlds, released March 24) re-imagines Les Misérables. “Voice” is something we hear about all the time, but how do you handle author and character voice when reimagining a well-known story?
JB: Great question! Voice is always tricky. I think the key with retellings is to be inspired by the source material but to not try to rewrite it. Our characters Chatine, Marcellus, and Alouette are definitely inspired by Eponine, Marius, and Cosette but they also feel 100% ours and that has allowed us to give them their own voice and personality and free us from the daunting task of trying to follow in Victor Hugo’s footsteps.
FK: Along with Save the Cat! Writes A Novel, you also offer online courses. I absolutely admire that one of those courses includes Fiction for Young Writers as young authors are a wonderful gateway to new and diverse voices. What is one tip that you can share for any young writers reading Kite Tales?
JB: Don’t compare your rough draft to anyone’s finished work. The books you have on your shelf have been through massive amounts of revisions and editing and proofreading with LOTS of professional help. But I guarantee you every single one of those books started out as a messy rough draft. Writing is a process. You have to practice every day to get better at it. Like a musician practices an instrument, you can’t expect to sit down at the piano and instantly play a sonata. You have to work up to it.
If you’re interested in my online courses, check out my new online writing school: https://learn.jessicabrody.com
FK: And for those who can’t attend Writer’s Day or your workshop, do you have any other appearances coming up or upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
JB: Yes! In light of public health concerns, my co-author and I have launched a virtual author tour for the release of Between Burning Worlds (the sequel to Sky Without Stars) to replace our canceled in-person events. This will last throughout the week of March 23. You can find out all the details and book your spot at one of the events here: https://jessicabrody.com/tour
“Seating” is limited, so be sure to book soon!
Thank you so much for your time, Jessica! To learn more about Jessica Brody, her books, or her online courses, head on over to www.jessicabrody.com!
Please visit the Los Angeles SCBWI Writers Day event page for the latest news and updates regarding this event.
For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.
Farrha Khan is the Managing Editor of Kite Tales, a Los Angeles Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators board member, and a writer in the nonprofit industry. When she’s not advocating for better representation, diversity, and inclusion in the arts and entertainment, media, and tech industries, or championing everyone to tell their own stories, she writes YA and short stories. Connect with her on Twitter: @farrhak.
Author images provided by Jessica Brody. Book covers by Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, respectively.