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On Saturday, April 5th, I checked out the third annual Rochester Teen Book Festival. There were lots of well-known writers there giving presentations to very crowded rooms of teenagers and other fans (like me). I didn't have time to see everyone, but I saw Libba Bray (!!) and Todd Strasser, who both gave excellent talks. Libba Bray answered lots of fangirl questions from her readers. She was high energy and a lot of fun.
Todd Strasser talked about developing his stories, and although the talk involved the teens (a lot; it wasn't a lecture), I took something away from it that fascinated me so much, I want to share it with you! It's what I'm calling the Anti-Message.
Todd Strasser started with the message of his example story. The message isn't a moral. It's what your main character has to learn to change and grow within the story. Can you sum up in one sentence what your main character learns by the last page?
With my work in progress, it took me a while. I was like, well, she has a power that she can use to hurt people, but she doesn't want to. She wants to manage it. And the other characters in the book use their powers in different ways, some good, some bad. Eventually I got there: she has to learn to use her power over other people wisely. Which I think is a great theme for a tween novel, because when you're feeling insecure and powerless, it's easy to forget that you have a tremendous power to affect other people.
According to Todd Strasser, once you have the message, introduce the opposite of the message. The climax of the book is where it looks like the opposite of the message will win.
So in my case, the opposite of the message would be that people who abuse their power over others are rewarded. Which is unfortunately often the case in life, and especially in middle school. And it has the added bonus of being fun to write. I was working towards it anyway, but I feel so energized by having the climax of the arc of the novel articulated. Don't you love all those fiction writer terms I'm throwing out there?
What's your MC's message? Would you like to leave us the Anti-Message in the comments? I'd love to see your Anti-Messages. Like the Anti-Message of the Princess Bride is that the practical obstacles in the way of true love can overwhelm it. We can share our Anti-Messages and have a total goth day.
-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer