The Challenge Begins

Yes, this is June 1st, although by the time I finish typing this blog post it will probably be June 2nd.  Of course I had to pick today to start the challenge.  I’m still sick, and I still have all sorts of things to do that need to get done before I can start on the serious writing.  But I’ve started working on the YA novel.

First things first. If you want to join the YA Novel Challenge, here once again are my suggestions:

1. The challenge will run June 1st to August 31st.
2. The goal of the challenge is to write or revise a YA novel, or part of a YA novel.
3. To meet that goal, set smaller goals for yourself: words per day, pages revised per week, etc.
4. If you would like, blog about your progress. Remember that failure is as important as success.
5. Anyone can join or leave the challenge at any time. It’s always OK to start or stop.

If you plan on blogging about your progress and would like me to link to your blog, sent me the URL you would like me to link to and the name you would like me to use. I’ll link to it under YA Novel Challenge (on the sidebar). My email address is

You can already see who has joined on the sidebar, and several of the writers listed there have already blogged about the challenge. If you would like to see their posts, here they are:

Alexandra Duncan
Alexandra Wells
Amy Sundberg
Briana Dyrness
Kelly Jones
Livia Llewellyn

So what have I done today? I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked, but what I did that’s actually quite important is try to decide where my story starts. First, I took a red notebook, narrow ruled with heavy paper, from Bob Slate and made it my YA novel notebook. On the top of the first page I wrote “The Mad Scientist’s Daughter,” and beneath that, “The Athena Club: Book 1.” You can see how ambitious I’m being! Then I made a list of my main characters, with a list of possible attributes for each:

Mary Jekyll: light brown hair, gray eyes, tall, logical, the mastermind.

Diana Hyde: dark brown hair, brown eyes, short, passionate, violent, the thief.

Beatrice Rappaccini: black hair, green eyes (if that’s not too standard?), pale, beautiful, poisonous. Italian.

Justine Frankenstein: six feet tall, blond with blue eyes, gentle, strong, loves poetry. Swiss.

Catherine Moreau: brown skin, golden brown hair, golden brown eyes, scarred. Argentine. Can bite through your throat.

And then I got into that question: how to being. I’ve actually been thinking about this for several weeks. Does Mrs. Poole come and wake Mary up with a summons to Buckingham Palace? (Oh, please!) What exactly motivates her to go through her father’s papers? At first I kept thinking of the idea of being summoned in various ways, that the motivation was external. But that’s boring, isn’t it? The motivation should be internal. Mary should start going through her father’s papers for a reason that makes sense to her. She should have an internal motivation for her research.

And the book can’t start with that research. It has to start with action. So I’m thinking it starts in Whitechapel. This brings me back to what we discussed on the research panel at Wiscon. I need to get a much better sense of late 19th century London, which is where and when my novel will be set. I think. I keep considering setting it later, in the Edwardian era, but I wanted to bring in Queen Victoria. In the Edwardian era, I’d be stuck with either Edward or Alexandra, and that just doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, the gravitas I want. And I want to set the book in the era I’ve spent so much time researching, the fin-de-siècle, with all its anxieties. I want to mix real people like Darwin with literary people like Sherlock Holmes.

One of the questions I have to consider when writing this blog is how much I want to give away. How much do I want to tell you about what I’m working on? I don’t know the answer to that yet. I’ll have to think about it as I write.

So, this was the first day, and I certainly won’t write about the YA novel every day, but I did want to start off by writing about it today, letting you know what I was thinking about. Which is where the story starts. It has to start somewhere vivid, eventful. Perhaps with a corpse.

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6 Responses to The Challenge Begins

  1. I’ve started mine (and it turns out I’m writing a YA novel after all) with writing a query letter, just to set the right level of dramatic ‘She must do this’ in my head. It needs stakes and this turned out to be a good way of conceptualising them. Then I wrote a bulleted list of what plot/emotional points needed to happen, in varying levels of detail. I want to play with that a bit more, to get a better shape in my head (I’m experimenting with planning a novel before I write it, in an attempt to get something that doesn’t require infinite rounds of editing). And then onto the words, hopefully next week! Among other writing things I need to do this summer…

  2. Grey Walker says:

    All the best stories start with a corpse. 🙂

  3. Keith Glaeske says:

    Perhaps you could start it with Queen Victoria’s corpse.

  4. Kerrie says:

    Perhaps you could have Mary visiting the Queen when she was a child, with her father, either in a memory or a first scene then skip to the present, in the Edwardian era or such? Perhaps her father is summoned, and with no Mrs. Poole to take care of her (she is of course away for a well-deserved day off), he must bring Mary with him? Just a thought. 🙂


  5. Alex, if you want me to link to your blog, send me your URL!

    I think I’ve got a beginning, now. I’m just not sure it’s a good one . . .

    But that’s what this is all about, right? 🙂

  6. Debra Young says:

    Since I’ve been planning a dark fantasy YA novel since May, this is a great incentive. I’m in!

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