Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Sometimes Episodic YA Novel

Now that my middle grade novel is off and sitting cozily inside Secret Asian Man's electronic reading device, I have turned my attention back to my young adult book. I wrote the first draft last August and September and have reread and tinkered with it off and on for the last year. I always hesitate to label it as "humorous" because that seems a little too self-assured. Yes, I think it's funny, but that doesn't mean anyone else will. (That last sentence pretty much sums up how I feel about this blog. Good thing I write it mostly to entertain myself.)

So let's say it's a "supposed-to-be-humorous young adult novel about a seventeen-year-old boy on vacation with his parents."* (Hyphen Alert!) It has many warts. The largest wart is that it's often episodic, especially in the early going. The family's in a car for twenty hours, and to make that part interesting, I wrote in some supposed-to-be-funny scenes that don't have a whole lot to do with anything else in the story.

So I need some advice. (Although be forewarned: I may ignore it.) Should I:

A. Take out the offending scenes and replace them with something more plotty?
B. Try to find a way to make the scenes that are already there more relevant to the rest of the story? (Most likely by adding things later in the story that impart significance on the earlier scenes.)
C. Say the hell with it and leave it as is.

And what are people's opinions on episodic novels anyway? Do they bother you? When you read, do you feel that every scene (no matter how unbelievably hilarious) must contribute something to the plot? Must every scene move the story forward? Are these expectations lowered at all for a supposed-to-be-humorous book?

And one more thing: I'll be needing readers in another few weeks. This one won't be as polished as the middle grade, but it's close to being presentable right now. I'll mostly be looking for the answer to these questions: Does this story work for you? Should I continue working on it? And because in real life, I'm actually insecure: Is it funny?

*It's about more than that, but this post isn't about my pitch.


Myra said...

Ever heard of Jean Shepherd? He made episodic work. I'm just saying.

And all first drafts are crap.

Get it out.

Fix it later.

Anonymous said...

I'm completely cool with episodic novels. Structure's not as important as entertainment to me. And on the question of the offending scenes, I'd say they're most likely fine. Humor novels usually have many extraneous scenes, but I always think it's really cool when an author brings a small, nearly insignificant point that occurs early on in the story toward the end and expands it. It adds just a touch of absurdism (usually) that is quite satisfying.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

There's definitely room in the beginning for baseline scenes, scenes that ground the reader in the story's world.

Since you have read Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger, I'll use it as an example: It has a few baseline scenes, setting up the protagonist before the first card arrives in the mail and the story really get rolling. However, this beginning part also includes the bank robbery, which turns out to be vital to the story. This is just one example that comes to mind, sure there are many more.

My suggestion is to make your opening scenes more relevant to the story. Maybe you plant something early within the comedic scenes and that something turns out to be important later. If it's a humorous story, and you think these opening scenes are funny, then leave them. As long as it's not 30 pages worth of nothing moving forward. Okay, maybe 15-20 pages.

Anita said...

I think if you're writing mysteries or thrillers, everything has to keep the book moving forward, everything has to have a purpose. But if this is a John Green ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES kind of story, then you have room to fool around and let the reader know more about your characters and what they're experiencing. I also like when things seem single layered and then another layer of funny is added to them. Did you see Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist? The gay guy gives Nora a bra in the back of the van and you think it's kind of funny, but not that funny, until the sex scene at the end, when Nick says, "Hey, so-and-so has this same bra." Perfection.

Monica said...

I'm re-reading The Time Traveller's wife right now. It's episodic, in that there's a lot of detail about the protagonists, and i have wondered how much of is really 'necessary'. That being said, i'm really enjoying hearing about all the punk bands that Henry (the time traveler) and his wife's art. I think that the purpose of those unnecessary scenes is to flesh out your characters, to maybe provide some foreshadowing, if that works out somehow. (just not tooooo obvious. I hate foreshadowing that whacks you upside the head)

I like TEW's comment, 'ground the reader in the story's world'.

and i totally agree with Adam, about entertainment being important. I love just laughing out loud to books. Like in Ben Esch's book, that had a lot of funny crap that was totally unnecessary.

MG Higgins said...

I notice you've read The Spectacular Now, my favorite book of 2009 so far. The writing is incredibly tight (every word counts) and it's very funny. If I were writing a humorous YA, that's the book I'd emulate. Not that YOU need to emulate it. I'm just sayin'.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Thanks, gang. My inclination is to leave the scenes, but see if I can't find a way to make them more relevant to the story. Right now, I'd say they do a nice job of establishing character and that's not all bad.

Lily Cate said...

Hmm. Well, I was reading a very episodic book when it won the Newberry this year.

I think episodic is very fitting for comedy, especially literary comdey. It seems harder to set up a long payoff joke in the chapter format.

I too have decided to jump up to YA while my MG percolates in an agent's kindle. But I want to go darker and (just a tiny bit) more ooey-gooey romantic.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

After being at SCBWI this year, if you write YA, you're better off including werewolves, vampires, or goblins of some kind, since they were around every corner and book table.

Then again, you can't chase the market and I don't know why you'd want to. You have to write the story only you can write.

Betty said...

I pretty much agree with everyone here I guess. Aside from mystery's and thrillers, where a lot of times I find episodic content annoying, I adore it in most other fiction.

As long as your story doesn't seem slowed down and the reader doesn't get bored, I'd say you are safe! :-)

Good luck on it!

chris said...

I'd be willing to be one of your "readers" for the YA if you like. Just shoot me an email when it's time.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Thanks, Chris.

Tina Lee said...

I'd be thrilled to read it, if you still need someone.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I do, Tina. So, Thanks. It'll be a few weeks probably.