Y.A. author speaks to Morenci seniors 2015.11.18


The more Young Adult novels that Bethany Neal read, the more she started thinking, "I could do that."p.bethany.neal

This came after earning a degree in interior design, working in that field for four years, and then opening a photography business. 

It was that last job that gave her more time for reading and led to the decision to give writing a try.

Neal spoke to Morenci seniors Nov. 4 and let them know that it's perfectly OK if you aren't yet sure what you want to do with your life, and it's OK to change to something completely different than where you started.

"I didn't start writing until after college," she said. "And then I wrote three books before telling anyone."

Only one of her book has made it into print, "My Last Kiss," but she does spend a lot of time talking about the writing process.

"I'm very much a learn-by-doing person," she said. "Because I didn't go to school for writing, and because I learned it on my own, I learned a lot by analyzing the books I was reading and also reading some writing books. It put me in an interesting position where I could help other people who are learning how to write."

STORY STRUCTURE—Every story is broken into three acts and four parts, Neal said, going back to ancient Greek theatre. The second act has two parts.

"When you're writing, it helps to think in these four parts," she said.

In fact, it can help in a test to recognize this structure in a book for a school assignment. 

A story starts off by introducing the main character in the first act. The person is left in an "orphan state" because he or she has not yet discovered their purpose. In act two, the character reacts to a significant event that happened at the end of the first act. In "The Hunger Games," for example, it's when Katniss volunteers—a huge turning point in the story.

"Everybody knows we're in for something new and exciting," she said.

The second act brings out the reaction to her volunteering. This is when the purpose is revealed, but the character doesn't yet know what to do. She's become sort of a wanderer in the tale. She's been presented with a purpose, but she doesn't know what action to take.

"As a writer, this is a fun place to be," Neal said. "You get to have your characters debate, 'Do I want to do this? Is this a good idea?'"

Other characters in the story help the main subject figure out what to do.

In the second part of the act, the character moves into warrior mode, ready to fight for her goal.

Resolution appears in the third act and all the loose ends must be tied together. If there are questions dangling, this is the time to answer them.

"Your character is sort of in a state of martyrdom—you're willing to give up your life for a cause."

Characters don't generally give up their lives, Neal said. It's more like an emotional martyrdom—willing to give up everything that's important to you to make things right."

Neal said she generally doesn't outline a story before she starts writing.

"I like to go on the journey with the character. Your character is trying to figure out what is going on, and so are you. You’re solving the mystery along with them."

It's essential to hook your reader again at the end, to reel them in to make the reader want to read it again or look for your next story. A story needs to have tension—the one-two punch, action and reaction—so it doesn't stand still.

Finally, characters must have heart, Neal said. A reader must be able to relate to a character—not necessarily like them, but the experiences should be something the reader can relate to.

"It's heart that makes characters relatable," she said. "They can get away with anything if you explain it."

• Neal suggested three books for writers to consult: "Story Engineering" by Larry Brooks; "Plot and Structure" by James Scott Bell; and "Save the Cat" by Blake Snyder.