When writing my first YA novel, I threw in ideas that sounded interesting to me whether they fit together or not. Sometimes I made them fit just because I liked the quirkiness of a particular character trait or plot element. The result is that there were lots of divergences, and things now that would make me wonder: Why exactly is this even included in this story?
When I started my second YA, I got worse, not better. I used alternating first person viewpoints. Then one of the girls got kicked out of boarding school, there was a foreign exchange student, way too many cameos by characters from the first (loosely connected) novel, parents divorcing, an abusive boyfriend, one of the girls getting drugged at a party, one of them having to drive without a license because of Circumstances. And on and on it goes. Everything was so convoluted and overwhelming that I gave up on it.
The third YA manuscript? Well, that was the worst yet. One of the themes had to do with secrets and lies. I had at least two secrets for each of the three teen characters (cousins), as well as at least one for their three sets of parents and one set of grandparents. That's ten secrets! That's enough for at least three novels! Again, I got overwhelmed and gave up.
So, for my most recent one, I was determined to keep it as tight as possible. I spent 18 months going over it, writing and rewriting it to try to tie in every little thing and keep it on track. For the most part, I feel like I succeeded. I'm sure there were simpler ways to get from point A to point B that I didn't think of, but there wasn't much in there that didn't have an important purpose that I can think of.
Well, now I've decided I'd like to give YA #2 another shot. My new idea for this doesn't include any boarding schools or exhange students. I'm trying to work out what it should include.
I wanted to write a story where two sisters make a similar discovery. All their lives, they believed that these were their parents, but then discovered it wasn't quite like that. There are a few different ways I could go with this:
1. Mom was pregnant (by a guy she is no longer with. A one-night stand maybe?) when she met Dad. He married her, raised the daughter (Kat) as if she were his. Then Mom and Dad had the second daughter (Neko) a year or two later. Obviously, in this scenario, Dad knows Kat isn't his biological daughter from the start. For whatever reason, Mom and Dad chose not to tell Kat and Neko.
2. Mom and Dad conceived Kat, then split up at some point when she was an infant perhaps? Mom got pregnant with Neko by another man while they were apart. Then she and Dad reconciled. In this scenario, depending on the time frame I choose to go with, Dad might know from the start that Neko isn't his, or he might be kept in the dark.
3. Mom and Dad had Kat. Later, Mom had an affair and Neko was conceived. Here, if Dad doesn't know about the affair, he won't have any inkling that Neko isn't his. Or, it could be that he does know about the affair, he might have come to terms with it and feels like Neko is his anyway. Whatever.
Since I decided to write this story from the POV of Kat - the older sister - in some ways, I felt like maybe she should be the one who isn't Dad's daughter. You know, to give her that feeling of alienation and betrayal. But the thing is, I think she could still be his daughter and be blindsided by the lie. If, say, the fall out is big enough, Kat can feel (almost) as betrayed by the discovery of secret as Neko feels. Maybe Dad could leave the family as a result causing upheaval all around. Or there could be ongoing stress and tension that didn't exist in their household before. Or Neko might withdraw from everyone - including Kat - after she finds out the truth.
This isn't set in stone, but I'm thinking I want Neko to be the one to find out the truth. She is highly intelligent with an aptitiude and passion for science, particularly biology and genetics. I was thinking she'd figure it out through their blood types or DNA or something. It wouldn't necessarily come out because she's trying to find evidence, but maybe because she's working on a project and then makes the discovery. This means that there could be resentment on many different sides when it comes to light. For example: Kat blames Mom and/or Dad for what happened and Neko for being the one to reveal it.
Now, another part of the story I want to explore is Kat having a manipulative boyfriend (but not recognizing him as such). It can't be like, Oh, Kat has this paternity drama in her life and also happens to be dating this jerk. The boyfriend absolutely needs to be a result or symptom of the other issue. Like, had she not discovered this truth about her family and suffered whatever the aftermath might have been, she would not have been in a state to need or want this particular guy. It also means that through the course of the story, whatever kind of reconciliation or acceptance of circumstances she finds with her family, she needs to also make realizations about her relationship with her boyfriend that take her the opposite way.
I'm not sure about this, but right now, I'm thinking the big Who's Your Daddy Discovery should have been made off-screen. Maybe a year prior to the start of the story. Or maybe only several months? This means Kat will be involved with Boyfriend when the story starts. He'll seem harmless (but needy) to Kat and readers at the beginning, but as Whatever It Is That's Going To Happen happens, his true nature will gradually be revealed. He needs Kat to be alienated from her family to keep her with him. So, when she starts finding her way back to them, he'll have to try harder to keep her. (Which also brings me to the question of what is going to happen to change everything? But I can work that part out as I start outlining.)
Anyhow, those are the types of things I'm pondering right now. I have to make decisions about the aforementioned plot points before I can start writing because the details will make a big difference, not only in the backstory, but in how Kat will be feeling and what her life will be like in the present. I can't know what she's dealing with if I don't know exactly how she got to where she is.