(welcome to a guest post from author Paula Stokes as a part of the blog tour for her ground-breaking new novel, THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED)
I’m writing about the different challenges I faced while writing and revising the novel. Challenge #3 was how to best incorporate the internet. The story is about Genevieve Grace, a girl who is in a car crash that kills her famous YouTube boyfriend. When Gen wakes up from a coma, she knows that she was driving, but she doesn’t remember what happened. The rest of the world has already started blaming the other driver, and they are using the internet to call for him to be arrested for vehicular manslaughter. Many people have gone beyond this message to call the other driver a murderer or threaten him/his family with violence, or try to get him fired from his place of employment, etc. As is often the case online, most people only know part of the story and things spiral rapidly out of control.
This is How it Happened uses fictional news websites, blogs, comments, and Twitter as part of the narrative. I knew that I wanted Twitter to be the primary vehicle for the angry and abusive posts, because negative information spreads very quickly on Twitter and it’s a platform utilized by most celebrities to share information and engage with their fans.
But representing tweets in a book turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I knew that HarperTeen wasn’t going to create tiny avatars to go next to the posts of the thirty or so tweeters that inhabit the pages of This is How it Happened. Although Harper has several illustrated novels, including images in a book is time-consuming and expensive and creates additional workflow issues when it comes to formatting the e-book. The same goes for emoji. I know some YA books are incorporating in emoji these days, but that was not presented as an option for this story.
Therefore I knew my tweets wouldn’t look exactly like tweets, but I set them up using Twitter for a model so they look like this:
Shelly Webster @ericdismylove • 6m
@GenevieveLGrace OMG. I heard that our #PrayForGenevieve campaign worked and you’re back at school! Is it true??
Justine @Kadet4Ever • 11m
@GenevieveLGrace I can’t wait until you get your memory back so you can testify against #BradFreeman. He’s a #drunkdriver and a #murderer.
I honestly wasn’t thrilled about them being double-spaced, but my editor said that Harper has style guides when it comes to tweets, blog posts, etc., and that we should stick to the accepted form unless there was some strong reason to deviate. Some of the things I had to think about with these tweets included: making sure Twitter handles weren’t more than 15 characters long, making sure the real names weren’t more than 20 characters long, and making sure the entire tweet wasn’t more than 140 characters.
But here’s where it gets even trickier. When I started writing this novel, at the end of 2015, Twitter “charged” characters for the usernames you replied to, as well as charging 20 (or 25? I forget) characters if you attached an image to a post. I wrote the book with those limitations in mind, but before I turned it in just a couple of months later, Twitter changed its format so that images no longer took up part of your 140 characters. Then, right after I finished revision and copy-edits, Twitter changed its reply format so that replies no longer took up part of your 140 characters. I opted not to try to make last minute revises to account for this because the old way of replying is easier to follow on a printed page and there was no guarantee Twitter wouldn’t keep changing things.
This is actually one of the reasons I almost never use “real entities” in my books—not real companies, not real celebrities, not real social media platforms. Because TIHIH uses Twitter, I threw caution to the wind and included some other pop culture references, but if you’re a writer, consider that books often take ten months or more to be released after the author has done all the changing they’re allowed to do. But companies go out of business, celebrities die/get charged with crimes, and social media platforms are evolving all the time. I try really hard to write books that don’t become dated, and it’s hard for a book to feel current if the main character is fangirling for a celebrity who has confessed to a horrible crime on a social media platform that teens don’t use anymore.
But back to Twitter for a second—one more thing I considered was should I use handles that already exist? Some of my tweeters are meant to represent normal people who get caught up in their emotions and respond instinctively, but some of them are really gross trolls. I didn’t want to accidentally hurt anyone by using their Twitter handle for one of my trolls. So, I absolutely verified that all of those handles were not in use, and tried to make them odd enough that they probably won’t be taken in the near future.
Other internet considerations involved how to set up the news websites, blog posts, and comments. I based the websites loosely off fictional sites, so there is an official St. Louis news site, and later an independent news site, and also a couple sites that are more like gossip blogs. My editor and I discussed whether to nest the comments under the posts, another choice that adds a bit of reality, but creates potential workflow issues with the e-book. So if you have the ARC the comments aren’t nested (and you are also missing a set of comments—click here), but in the finished novel they are. (Though I took a quick scan through them and there’s at least one error—but hey, that’s authenticity right? Who among us hasn’t accidentally responded to the wrong poster? ;D)
Fun fact: Because I had to come up with names for journalists, bloggers, and tweeters, I paid homage to a couple of friends and a few fictional characters from TV shows and movies that I really love. If you know me, you know that I’m obsessed with James O’Barr’s The Crow. The first example tweet above is a tiny little reference to that. In fact, several of my books have little secret references to The Crow 😉
Want to win a copy of THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED or any of my novels? Enter the Rafflecopter below. And look for tomorrow’s blog post stop about the challenge of including romance in this story on The Book Bratz.
About This is How it Happened:
When Genevieve Grace wakes up from a coma, she can’t remember the car crash that injured her and killed her boyfriend Dallas, a YouTube star who had just released his first album. Genevieve knows she was there, and that there was another driver, a man named Brad Freeman, who everyone assumes is guilty. But as she slowly pieces together the night of the accident, Genevieve is hit with a sickening sense of dread—that maybe she had something to do with what happened.
As the internet rages against Brad Freeman, condemning him in a brutal trial by social media, Genevieve escapes to her father’s house, where she can hide from reporters and spend the summer volunteering in beautiful Zion National Park. But she quickly realizes that she can’t run away from the accident, or the terrible aftermath of it all.
Incredibly thought-provoking and beautifully told, Paula Stokes’s story will compel readers to examine the consequences of making mistakes in a world where the internet is always watching…and judging.
About Paula Stokes:
Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently This is How it Happened, Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.
You can find my review here.
Don’t forget to thank Paula for dropping by and check out the amazing THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED! What in this super cool post stuck out to you? If you’re a writer, did you learn something?