Nic Stone: How I Write

"When I started writing, it was a way to understand my own adolescence, and what came out was a revelation about my own teenage years."

Nic Stone
Author Nic Stone. Photo by Nigel Livingstone

With her debut novel, Dear Martin, author Nic Stone brought readers the powerful story of the challenges faced by Justyce McAllister, a black Ivy League-bound teenager who’s falsely accused of stealing a car by the local police force. In an effort to process his struggles, Justyce writes a series of letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dear Martin is written largely in the third person, but the letters are done using a first-person POV, a blend that works perfectly for the narrative. Her work deftly addresses important societal issues, including racism, police brutality, violence, and injustice. In Stone’s latest novel, Odd One Out, she again masterfully writes about complex issues, including gender, race, sexuality, love, and friendship. In addition to her young adult novels, Stone also writes short fiction and essays.

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Point of view

For me, point of view follows the subject matter. Dear Martin was about racism, and all the prose chapters are written in the third person, kind of an omniscient perspective. People watch Justyce, as opposed to being all in his head. The letters are first person, which creates a separation between what’s happening to him and how he responds. With Odd One Out, I wrote three points of view because I wanted the reader to have an opportunity to inhabit each character – and thought that would be better done with a first-person point of view. I wrote them in blocks, rather than going back and forth.

Tackling serious issues

I typically use my writing to explore things in the world that I want to get a better understanding of. Racism, economic inequality, big questions. It’s fun using fiction to pick the world apart. I’m pretty sure that will continue for me. I tried to write a lighthearted book, but it didn’t work.

Why YA?

Initially, it’s what came most naturally. When I started writing, it was a way to understand my own adolescence, and what came out was a revelation about my own teenage years. I think there’s something very powerful about the ages of 12-18. Most young adult books have a compact storyline that takes a character from a distinct starting point to a distinct ending point, usually over a year at most. The fast pace of dealing with things makes good storytelling fodder.

Switching gears

It can be challenging switching between fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction is supposed to drive home a point. In fiction, you need more nuance, buried in layers. There is character development and plot, and that switch can be tricky. I really like writing short stories, and I wish they were more popular. At some point, I’m sure I’ll have an adult short story collection.

Following up on a successful debut

I wrote my second book while I was waiting for notes on Dear Martin, so I’ve always been working on the next thing. My third novel will be out in 2019, but I wrote it in 2015. I have to look at the books as totally separate things. Revising is always tough, but you have to think of them as separate mountains to climb. In 2020, the sequel to Dear Martin will be out. I should probably get to writing it.

Planning

I am an outliner who plots to death. I have to know everything before I put a word on the page. I outline each book in a composition notebook. I fill it in with notes, character names, and put it in order. I build the outline and then write a draft. But my outlines are flexible.

 

—Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.