Emma is the author of the Contemporary YA novel This Is Why, featuring an interesting cast of very different teenagers, and is in the process of writing the sequel, This is How. She was eager to share more about how she creates complex characters and their backstories.
How did you start writing? Can you remember your first story?
I remember the first time I wanted to write down a story. Before then, I was a huge reader and I knew I wanted to write something myself. I was about 8 years old and I asked my dad for a typewriter (because that’s apparently how I thought people typed stories back then haha). Of course, instead of doing that, my dad opened up his laptop, clicked on a Word document and let me go wild. The first story I wrote on there was called “New York The Dog”, and it was about a dog named New York and his adventures across the country. Since then, I had always loved writing stories, printing them out, and putting them in binders so it would look like a “real book” lol!
What is your book, This Is Why, about? How did the idea first come to you?
“This is Why”: a contemporary, Y.A novel focuses on four teenage friends and their real-life struggles through their first year of high school. With each going through different experiences, the only thing that can save them is themselves.
I first thought of this story a while ago, during the summer of 2015. Before this plot was ever an idea in my mind, the 4 main characters (Elizabeth Lee Piper, Noah Butler, Marvin Gideon, and Melody Ackerman) had already existed via short stories that I would post on Wattpad. I remember showing my mom some of the mini stories and immediately she said, “You should write a full book off of these characters.” It was a bit embarrassing that I’ve never thought of it before, but the second she said that, I ran to my laptop and starting brainstorming.
Which of the characters do you connect with most and why?
The characters I connect with the most is definitely Marvin Gideon and Elizabeth Lee Piper. I relate to Marvin’s stress and level-headedness, and Elizabeth’s over-worried nature towards her friends. They’re also the most calm of the four, which is what I consider myself.
How do you develop characters and their backstories?
In most cases, I usually find a bunch of different references from movies, books, celebrities, and people I know in real-life. From there, I loosely base their characteristics off of what I think works best / what I think is the most interesting. Then I’ll surf Pinterest to find pictures of physical characteristics that I like and give them to that character. Although, sometimes, (and this happened when I thought of the characters for This Is Why) the character will just come to me. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes a random idea of an interesting character will pop into my mind. Then I’ll write down it down and develop it later.
What comes first, characters or plot?
What I usually do is think of a very basic, one-sentence plot for a story. Something as simple as, “hitman falls in love with target”. From there, I like to develop the characters FIRST before messing more with the plot. When I have a fully developed character, it’s easier for me to figure out more details on the plot, especially when writing contemporary. For me, it makes things flow more smoothly and efficiently. But, of course, everyone works differently :3
What would success as an author look like to you?
The goal I have as an author is, obviously, finish the series I’m currently writing. This Is Why isn’t a stand-alone, but actually the first in a four-book series (hopefully the next book, This Is How, will be out by this summer), so my main goal is definitely finishing that lol. Besides that, I also would really like to build a community with my readers. I absolutely love these characters, and it would make me so happy if people loved them like I do. Even now, when I have readers send me art that they’ve drawn of my characters, or someone DMS me saying that they love a certain character, my heart gets so frickin happy!
What one piece of practical advice would you give to other young writers?
The advice I have for young writers is to remember the phrase “show, don’t tell.” Showing how a character is feeling by using actions, tones, and mood words is way more impactful than just simply saying “he was mad.” And also, putting “they/he/she SAID” when writing dialogue is perfectly fine. I know that your English teacher has probably told you way too many times to avoid that word (or at least…that’s what’s been said to me), but I promise that using it isn’t a writing sin.
Emma Dennin is a high school student that lives in Oklahoma City. She enjoys writing, acting, and reading. When it comes to writing, Emma likes to write in contemporary and read fantasy and thriller. When she gets older, Emma hopes to be a successful author, actress, or counselor.
Find Emma at:
Emma has also said she’d like to answer any questions you might have in the comments so feel free to ask away.
Tomorrow Olivia J Bennett, author of the thrilling survival YA book A Cactus In The Valley, will be telling us about how she writes such strong emotions effectively.