Books·How I Wrote It

'Writing is 95 per cent rewriting' — Jennifer Chen on writing her debut YA novel Super

Jennifer Chen describes how she came up with her YA novel Super.
Super is a science fiction YA novel written by Jennifer Chen. (Courtesy of Insomniac Press)

In Jennifer Chen's debut YA novel Superthe world's attentions are trained on a group of superpowered teens who make up the government organization known as the League Of Supers. Their daring acts of bravery are always caught on-camera, to the slight annoyance of Beata Bell, who is the descendent of the very first super. Many teenagers develop superpowers during puberty, but, despite her famous genetic legacy, Beata remains stubbornly normal.

Below, Chen describes how she wrote Super.

Origins of an idea

"A person was talking about their teenagers and she goes, 'Teenagers sometimes act like they're invincible. They just do all these things and they think they're invincible, but they're not.' So part of me went, 'Oh, but what if they actually were a little bit invincible?' The idea of having powers during your teenage years came into being. As I kept writing, it became an analogy for puberty as a whole — growing into yourself and the pressures that you face when you grow up. The idea of becoming a superhero is trying to achieve the ideal version of yourself, whether that's possible or not."

Plot first, write second

"The first thing I did for Super was write out every single chapter of what I thought was going to happen. Then I showed that plot to a bunch of people, asking, 'Does it work? Is it consistent? Is it exciting? Are you intrigued?' Any parts that they're said, 'Oh I don't like this. I don't understand this part.' I would change up in the actual outline before I started writing.

"It's easier to change an outline before you're too attached to the chapters that you've written. Luckily during the editing process I wasn't asked to do too much content changing, it was just small details trying to get it consistent, trying to find what works what doesn't work. But the entirety of the book was plotted beforehand and that's really the only way I find I can work efficiently."

Writing is editing

"Writing is 95 per cent rewriting. Part of me suspected that, and you hear from a lot of writers that writing is mostly editing. If you love to write, you actually love to edit. But I didn't think it would be so extensive. You go through drafts and drafts — and even when you think you have it down and and it's working as well as it could, someone comes in and goes, 'The years don't match up' and you have to go back and look at the entire thing again.

"I learned to never get attached to your early drafts. They're not going to be around for the end product. It's a very transformative process."

Jennifer Chen's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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