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Flynn Meaney: Writers on Writing

"If you can come up with some elaborate descriptive phrase or musical combination of words no one else could possibly come up with, congratulations. But that doesn’t mean you should use it."

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flynn meaneyYA novelist Flynn Meaney had the kind of agent-finding experience most aspiring writers only dream of. She sent out query letters one day; the next, Dan Lazar from Writers House emailed her for the full manuscript; and six days later, they had signed to work together. Lazar went on to land Meaney a two-book deal with Little, Brown, and Meany has now published two YA novels. Bloodthirsty, her first, follows a high-school guy who cannot tan because he’s allergic to sunlight; he uses this fact to convince girls that he is a vampire. Flynn’s second novel, The Boy Recession, describes a high-school girl’s search for the right guy amid a town-wide boy-shortage. Flynn’s writing – breezy and sometimes humorous first-person narratives – has been praised for its topical spin on classic YA themes.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?
Not overwriting – not letting language get in the way. When I was in high school and college, I used lots of tongue-twister alliteration and repeated sounds. It was fun to play with language, but it wasn’t always good writing. My grad school professors helped me realize that you need to choose the words that get the clearest meaning across. If you can come up with some elaborate descriptive phrase or musical combination of words no one else could possibly come up with, congratulations. But that doesn’t mean you should use it. The readers need to see what you want them to see and feeling what you want them to feel, so if the simplest words have the biggest emotional impact, use them.

How has that helped you as a writer?
Simplifying language has helped me get down to the most accurate, most truthful descriptions possible. You can lose accuracy in so many ways – language can distract you, or clichés or preconceived notions can distract you. It’s like when I would draw self-portraits in elementary school – I have blue eyes, so I would pluck the blue crayon out of my Crayola box and color the eyes in – but they never looked like my eyes. To get it right, I had to press my nose against the mirror, lean in really close, and see the flecks of brown and yellow and green within the blue. When you’re writing, you have to get really close to your subject and see the weird and unexpected “colors” in there. Even a character who’s supposed to be incredibly sexy should have flaws. Even a tragic scene should have those weird moments of humor or joy. Those little details are the rich part of your writing, and the only thing language should be doing is translating what you “see” as cleanly as possible to readers. Accuracy in language, and accuracy in general, is incredibly important in connecting with readers, especially young adult readers. Identity is such a massive part of being a teenager, so I think young readers sense immediately if the author is working on a preconceived notion of a teenager as boy-crazy or Justin Bieber-obsessed or something clichéd. And they’re immediately turned off by language or dialogue that feels false. But when you get very close to that experience and you choose your words very carefully, you make a big emotional impact on readers who connect very intensely to characters and stories.

— Gabriel Packard is the associate director of the creative writing program at Hunter College in New York City.



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Originally Published