A Guest Post By Krysten Lindsay Hager
First, focus on the thing that got you inspired about writing a book. Was it a setting that you thought would be perfect for a romance novel or mystery? Maybe there was an event that happened in your life that you felt was the perfect backstory? Or maybe a character you want to write about?
For my Star Series, I knew wanted to write a coming of age story set in a beach town (Grand Haven, Michigan) that I grew up visiting as a preteen and teen. Growing up, Grand Haven and Saugatuck (another beach town featured in the series) always seemed like the perfect places to be in the summer. I remember being a preteen and going into shops with my aunt and watching the older teen girls picking out outfits. It made me feel even younger than I was seeing how sure of themselves they were as I was always wanting to blend in with my surroundings. So I decided to create a character named Hadley Daniels who was a teen, but wasn’t at that self-assured phase yet. I had Hadley go to visit her grandparents in Grand Haven for the summer and find herself living next door to a former teen TV star named Simone Hendrickson—hence where my title, Next Door to a Star, came from. Simone is that epitome of those self-confident teens I used to see and who I want to be when I was a kid. But I wanted to take the story to where you saw Hadley struggle with trying to find her place in that group of teens and also show that Simone wasn’t always the confident girl she appeared to be. In fact, in the second book, Competing with the Star, we see she’s actually more insecure than Hadley. I took both a setting and a memory to create these books.
With my Landry’s True Colors Series, I knew I wanted to take aspects from my own preteen/middle school years. I had kept journals during that time and for some reason I have a really strong sense of recollection of those years—to the point where I can tell you the albums I listened to at that age, what my classrooms looked like, the exact names of the lip glosses I used, and what they served for lunch. I blame the fact they gave us such teensy servings of Spaghettios for lunch to explain why I make enough pasta for eight people when I cook now. So besides remembering the awesomeness that was/is the Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper Lipsmacker, I also remember the awkward cringe-y moments that I experienced in class when I got called on while daydreaming. However now I get the last laugh on that because many of those very daydreams have worked their way into book storylines, so who’s wasting their time in a fantasy world now? Ahem.
Anyway, seeing as I can recall my exact feelings of humiliation, it makes for richer and more vivid scenes as I feature Landry deal with the sweating and other…unpleasantness, when she gets when anxious. Even though I revisit all those emotional and anxious times as I write and, it’s probably causing me physical and emotional distress to go back to those moments where all my friends turned on me, I have to say those are the exact scenes I get reader reactions about. One thing about writing for teens and preteens is that they have a very strong b.s. detector. They can tell if you’re not being authentic. So when I get messages saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s me, too with my anxiety,” or, “I thought I was the only one,” I know I’ve done my job.
You can also start a book just based on a particular moment in your life by writing just one scene as you recall it and then see if you can basically write a book around it. I had someone tell me about a situation where she was made fun of and no one around her stood up for her, but they also didn’t know how to react. She shared with me how she felt and I built a scene around that for Landry in Like. In fact, it triggered a memory of mine from grade school and I ended up writing another scene involving one of Landry’s classmates getting humiliated on Valentine’s Day and another classmate being grateful that Landry went out of her way to give him a Valentine when no one else did. Memories that bring back strong emotions can really add life to a scene, so that’s an excellent way to begin.
I recommend always carrying a little notebook around with you to jot down ideas that pop into your head. Last summer we drove through a town in Dublin, Ohio, and I stopped because one of the streets reminded me a bit of two towns in Michigan I grew up visiting (Birmingham and Fenton.) I saw this one restaurant with an outdoor eating area and I just knew this was going to end up as a date setting for a book. I took pictures and made a note of it and later, when I was revising a scene in my YA novel, Dating the It Guy, I realized that should be the romantic restaurant Emme and Brendon go to while on a date. Not only was that setting fresher in my mind than the one in Michigan, but now I have pictures to post on my website so my readers can see the places that Emme and Brendon visit.
People often think writers have an entire book plotted out before they sit downto write, but that’s not always the case. Thinking you have to have the whole book ready to go when you sit down to begin can stop some people from trying to write at all. Just take one strong sense and see where it takes you. You never know where that story might end up.
Krysten Lindsay Hager writes about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, crushes, fame, first loves, and values. She is the author of True Colors, Best Friends…Forever?, Next Door to a Star, Landry in Like, Competing with the Star (The Star Series: Book 2), and Dating the It Guy. Her debut novel, True Colors, won the Readers Favorite award. Krysten’s work has been featured in USA Today, The Flint Journal, the Grand Haven Tribune, the Beavercreek Current, the Bellbrook Times and on Living Dayton.
You can Find Krysten’s books here.