Marie Lu, author of the dystopian Legend trilogy, recently spoke to Hypable about drafting, crafting, and putting her characters through hell.
Hypable’s interview with Marie Lu
What’s the hardest part of the novel-writing process?
For me, it’s the first draft. I am not very good at first drafts, and especially at around 30,000 words in, I hit that middle swamp, and every single time without fail it’s like sobbing in the pillow, chocolates in the night type of stuff. So once I get the words down on the page, I really love the revision process because I have something I can look at, and tear apart. But just looking at a blank page and not really knowing what happens next is incredibly scary for me.
What’s your favorite part the process?
Finding the perfect plot-twist. That is just such an amazing feeling, like you go through all the chaos of trying to figure out the plot and nothing’s working, and you take all this time off to go figure out what’s wrong with it, and then figuring out how to make things connect together is awesome. I love that feeling of solving plot-twists, so that’s a really fun to write.
Is there anything that surprises you while you’re writing, good or bad?
Oh, all the time, yeah. I’m very much a ‘pants-er’, so I don’t really outline that much – which is a totally different story for the new series I’m working on – but for Legend, not much outlining happened at all. So a lot of the stuff that happens during the book, I don’t realize is going to happen until I get to that spot, and I’m like, “Oh!” And it’s always a surprise for me every time. So I’m constantly surprised by what’s happening.
So Legend is full of villains.
A lot of villains, yeah!
And everyone’s a villain, even if they’re the hero in a way. So how do you approach writing villains who are heroes, and villains who a villains?
That was something I really wanted to play with with Legend, was to have two antagonists who were also antagonists depending on who’s side you happen to be on. I’ve always been interested in that gray area, where people aren’t really good or bad and that good is very relative, so I sort of approached it by thinking, ‘What if I put myself in the villains shoes?’ So for June, she was very much Day’s antagonist the first half of the book – and beyond, and it was interesting to try to force myself to see it from her point of view, why Day would be her enemy and why, if you happen to be in her head, he would be the bad guy even though as the reader you know he’s not. So it was kind of fun to hop back and forth through the heads of those two.
And then there’s the people who are true in Legend, and there’s a couple of them. And that can be a little bit disturbing to get into because I have to put myself in the heads of people who are essentially psychopaths. But it’s interesting to explore that darker area. I always found those more interesting to write about than really 100% good, sympathetic people.
What was your initial inspiration for Legend, the first image that popped into your head?
I got the inspiration first when I was watching Les Misérables on TV, and I thought it would be really interesting to do a teen-aged version of the criminal verses detective story line. So that was the first spark for it, and that’s what started off the whole thing.
Oh, that’s cool! Were they singing in the original idea?
They were both boys in the original idea! I was just lifting directly off of Valjean and Javert… It evolved quite a bit, but that was the original idea.
Did June and Day develop in tandem for you, or was one complete before the other? How did that work?
Day was always in my head first, because he was the protagonist of a book I’d written back in high school, which never got published. So I always had him in my head as a character, but I didn’t know what story to put him in, and it wasn’t until I got the Les Mis idea that I knew I needed to find an equal-but-opposite match for him. So that was when June came to be. But now that I’ve been in their heads for a long time, they’ve sort of become equal in my head, and I see myself from June’s point-of-view a lot more.
What was it like to invent a dystopia that still seems eerily close to modern-day American life?
I drew from real-life dystopias that have already happened and are still happening now. I’m very interested in reading about dystopia and relative it can be. So if you’re living in a dystopian world, like in North Korea – or even in the US right now, some people might see it as a dystopia and we don’t even realize it, so that was something that definitely inspired a lot of things in Legend.
You basically push June and Day to their utter limits in Prodigy, it’s hard to imagine that things could get any worse.
Oh, well… yeah….
Oh! Okay! So what is it like to approach that and be like, “Sorry guys. No, it’s not getting better.”
Yeah, I don’t really mind putting them in horrible situations! It’s sort of enjoyable to just, you know, ruin their lives any way I can. I think really, I push them because I love them, because I want to see them grow. Because I think it’s a challenge to see how they react to really difficult situation. And it’s also just fun to write about!
Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started writing Legend?
No… if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t tell myself anything, because I really like that I experienced the whole thing with new eyes. It’s all part of the process, and I think if you find out stuff ahead of time, it kind of ruins that journey. So actually no, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to know anything in advance. I would’ve just discovered it along the way. I wouldn’t want to jinx anything! To have done something different and you come back to the present world and everything’s destroyed and the rats have taken over. So I’m glad I discovered it along the way.
And last question: Would you rather be a book, or a computer?
That’s really hard! I would like to be a really long book that has everything a computer can hold – but it would be a really, really, REALLY long book! Just because, if the apocalypse happens, you’ll still be around if you’re a physical book.
For more about Marie Lu:
Marie Lu is a former art director in the video game industry, who would love to be a fighter pilot. Marie enjoys cupcakes, tea, and Christmas lights; she lives in California with her boyfriend and her dogs. You can connect with Marie on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her DeviantART page.
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