Saturday, February 22, 2014

Anica Rissi: 7 Essentials You Need To Know About Writing Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Anica Rissi is Executive Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, where she specializes in YA and middle grade fiction. She was previously an executive editor at Simon Pulse and an editor at Scholastic. Anica is drawn to YA novels with edge and grit: flawed protagonists, boundary-pushing plotlines, intense (or doomed) romance, unexpected or dark humor, and heart-crushing honesty. She loves middle grade stories that change what the reader thinks is possible in the world. Anica’s debut chapter book series launches in 2015 with Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split (S&S BFYR). She tweets about bookish things at @editrixanica.

Anica Rissi

Anica is brimming over with advice that's pithy and pretty darn insightful, sharing her thoughts in a self-admitted "tough love" kind of speech. Having said that, there's a warmth and clarity to her words, mixing both the "love, gentleness and care" we're supposed to treat ourselves with as we're drafting our stories with the "deep tissue massage" we need to engage in when revising those stories.

She encourages us to not be afraid of showing that life is ugly, hard and beautiful, saying:
Honest fiction lifts the stigma of what it means to be another human with scars. And that's every human being, isn't it?
and challenges us to consider:

Do your details really matter or are they lazy shorthand?

She explains:

If I can tell what kind of person your character is because she has a blue streak in her hair, or her tights are ripped or she listens to Kurt Cobain to show she's unique or depressed - you have to do the work elsewhere to show those things about the characters even without those external signifiers.

What's unique about how your character shows sadness? If it's just a blue streak in her hair and listening to Kurt Cobain, dig deeper.

Anica talks about relationships in our writing, as in this discussion of the Best friend -

Why? What is it about that person that the main character gets from interacting with them that they don't get from being with other people?

"If they're really a best friend, I need to feel that chemistry."
No sidekicks or having characters in the book for the sake of being in the book - they need to be real people, with layers and shades of gray.

Some advice is not just wise, but uproarious, like

"Don't have your characters listen to 90s music just because you grew up listening to it. It doesn't make your character seem cool and retro. It just makes you seem really old."

Anica talks about so much more, including about how edgy you can go, how important it is to step back from your manuscript, and takes lots of questions - it's an amazing presentation!

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