Writing YA Fiction That Teens Love: An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author, Lisi Harrison

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Into The Script welcomes today's guest -Lisi Harrison! Lisi is a New York Times bestselling author of several book series, most notably The Clique series which has sold over eight million copies, and popular YA series the Pretenders, as well as writing several tie-in novels to the hit children’s show and franchise Monster High. Lisi's first novel of the The Clique series was adapted to film by Warner Brothers in 2008, and has also been adapted as a series of graphic novels and a video game.

So, if you've ever dreamt of writing a bestselling YA novel that is loved by audiences both young and old - then Lisi is the woman to listen to!

1) Can you share with us what first inspired you to begin your career in this industry, and how your first ‘break in’ the industry came to be?

No one thing inspired me to become a writer. 

It was part of my default settings since I was a kid. Journaling, writing plays, creating stories and inventing characters were my creative outlets. Writing was the only way I could connect to my own thoughts. 

It helped me make sense of the world and my connection (or lack of connection) to it. It helped me untangle the ball of emotions that always took up way too much space in my head. 

My break into the industry came in my early 30s while I was working at MTV in New York. I was having lunch with an editor and we were talking about how MTV reminds me a lot of middle school. 

The desperation to fit in and be “cool”, all that stuff. He said, “You should write a book about that.”  Long story short, that became The Clique. 

2) You’re a New York Times bestselling author of several book series, most notably The Clique  series which has sold over eight million copies, and popular YA series the Pretenders, an incredible achievement that many writers can only dream of.  

What advice do you have for emerging writers (specifically YA novelists) looking to write a book series that satisfies young adult audiences in 2019?

My advice is write. It’s really that simple. 

Be patient and know that it will take several terrible versions of your story before you find the good one. And take the time to develop your characters. There are tons of character development worksheets online.

Fill one out for all of your main characters. Make them real people. 

Don’t show your drafts to a bunch of people. They will all have something to say and it will discourage you. Find two people you trust. Someone who knows the craft, like a teacher or a writer, and someone who would be your target audience. 

A friend or sibling who reads or watches the genre you’re writing for. Listen to them and yourself. No one else until it’s solid. 

Oh, and I love Writer’s Digest magazine. The articles and tips about writing are fantastic. Always useful. 

As far as satisfying readers in 2019? If you figure that out let me know. This is not a science. (If it were a science I’d be crap at it.) 

Write about the world as YOU see it, and trust that there are other people who see it the same way. 

3) Having previously worked at MTV as the Senior Director of Production Development, can you discuss what you believe transforms a mediocre story into a great and marketable concept? Can you elaborate on these elements?

I can’t speak about 'marketable.’

I have no clue what makes a hit. If I did all of my novels would be as big as The Clique. There are so many great works out there that don’t have commercial success and too many terrible ones that do. 

You have to write something you love, that you’re proud of. 

That’s really the only thing you can control.   

That’s the only way you’re guaranteed to feel good about your work. The only way you will see yourself as a success. 

The market is fickle and unreliable. It will never give you what you want. 

You write because you don’t know how not too, not because you want a theme-park. 

4) You have also written several tie-in novels for the hit show and franchise, Monster High.  Can you share how writing for this franchise (namely a younger target audience than your YA adult series) differed from your usual projects, and if you have any top tips for budding children’s authors?

The only Monster High books I wrote were the four YA books. They had other authors write the younger ones. 

I was lucky. The executives at Mattel gave me a ton of leeway to create my version of their story. I was able to make it my own. 

Otherwise I never could have done it.  

5) Can you talk about your creative process, from concept to a first finished draft, how do you elaborate on your initial idea? For example, do you get into character bios, spend a long time outlining or develop specific scenes/chapters in any particular order?

I am a freak about development. A FREAK! 

I start by fleshing out the characters. 

I have a five page worksheet (find them online) for each main character. They are filled with questions about everything from their pet peeves to what is hidden under their bed. 

I need to know these people. 

Once I do it becomes easy to figure out how they navigate life. What motivates them and what triggers them. The more “real” they are the more you will connect with them. This is huge for me. 

Then I outline. 

My outlines are pretty detailed. They go chapter by chapter. I try to put in as many details as I can. Once all of that is squared away I start writing. 

I try to bang out a chapter a day. It is TERRIBLE chapter. Like, bad. I try not to care. The goal at this point is to get the general flow on paper. 

After I complete a TERRIBLE version of the novel I go back and make each chapter UN-TERRIBLE. This is my first draft. 

I see it as building the foundation of the house. Once I know it’s solid I go in and decorate. 

6) What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given for working in this industry, and would you mind sharing with us?

Know your voice, know what you have to offer, and stay in that lane. 

In other words, don’t try to have anyone else’s career or voice or style. 

In writing, it’s all about YOUR individual voice. 

That’s what people want because no one can be you better than you. 

So know what you bring to the table and serve it up with confidence. 

Being you is the only thing no one else can do. 

Know that. 

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