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Have No Secrets Between You and Your Characters

At the end of every summer, from the year I was 12 to the year I graduated high school, my two best friends and I would gather in my basement the night before the new school year started and swap stories. This was before Facebook and Twitter, texting and SnapApp, so when we went our separate ways every June, (one to summer camp, one on a months-long trip to visit family in another country, one starting a summer job with a cute boy the other two would never meet) we went from sharing every second of our lives with the others to not speaking at all. We were inseparable, (sometimes arranging three-way phone calls moments after walking home from school together), so of course we missed each other. But I think we all looked forward to the summer secrets we’d share when we were finally reunited.

Amid huge bowls of popcorn, Doritos, and pints of Rocky Road ice cream, we’d turn off all the lights in my basement bedroom. We’d arrange ourselves in a three-point circle around vanilla or cookies and cream or pomegranate-scented candles, and we’d promise that whatever secrets we revealed would stay just between us. We called these sessions kivas, which are actually underground caverns used by Hopi and other Native American groups for spiritual ceremonies, but that should tell you how sacred these meetings were to us.

Much was revealed during our kivas. We talked about our periods, shaving our legs, and applying mascara. We joked about our parents and our younger siblings and how no one would ever understand us.  We cried, a lot. We made predictions and then found out who among us was the first to be kissed (at a playground, at night, on a swing set, I shit you not). Mostly we got to know the new girls we’d become in the time we spent apart — how much each of us had changed, and how much we’d stayed the same.

So, how can this help you, a writer of a young adult love story? I often think about those kivas, and how sometimes saying things out loud to my friends made me realize things about myself I’d never noticed. How giving them advice about boys or what to do about their meddling mothers often informed decisions I made later on in my own life. How the word “secret” could mean so many different things at the same time.

A kiva can be a great way to get to know someone, and so, it can be a great tool to get to know your characters. Host one for them.  Darken your writing room, light a few candles, and imagine a world without cell phones or the internet, a world where your characters haven’t spoken in months. What has happened to them in that time? What have they been keeping secret? What will they reveal and what do those reveals say about their desires, their personalities, and their relationships with the other characters in the room?

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Ashley W.

Even though I work in marketing, I’m a consumer in every sense of the word: I love shopping, indie movies, …

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