Since I classify my novel as gifted fiction, I decided to write a blog post on what is “gifted fiction.” Until a few months ago, I didn’t know what it was. As far as I know, I’m defining it. It’s a rather organic definition since I found the definition by random luck and experimentation. When I started out writing my novel, I no idea what “gifted” was. My only intention was to write a tricky, mind-bending novel with a philosophical bent aimed at smarter teens. I anticipated that the readership would fall-off gradually as the demographics descended the capability scale. I was not intending to write a mass-market novel that was readable by everyone. Basically, I was creating a challenging puzzle for the higher end of the scale, something I couldn’t do if I was trying to reach everyone.
So, before the pen struck the paper, I had to form a picture of what a smart teen would and would not be able to read. Since this was my first novel, it was supposed to be a conscious act of design. As any writer will tell you, writing is not a totally conscious act. Books always reflect the structure of the writer’s mind to some degree, no matter what they do.
After a couple of passes of editing with a relative fixing my awful grammar, I was ready to try my first test victims (I mean teens). Several teens read the early draft and except for one of them, they all felt like they had been hit with a brick. The one who could read it was in something called a “gifted and talented” program in his school. He made some recommendations as to how to make the book more readable by teens as well as unconsciously giving me great plot addition ideas. So I worked diligently with my editor relative and we streamlined the science and took out the unnecessary hurdles. I felt good about my edits and thought this ought to be easy enough to read. As far as I was concerned, I had removed all of the “Excalibur Tests”. I conducted another trial of the book. More teens bricked. The gifted teen liked it even better. A small publisher, with a very smart editor, got a look at the book too. She made some great suggestions as to how to make the book even more engaging.
Another few months of work passed. I felt so confident about this version, I put it out for wider distribution. This early reader program (some people call it beta readers) lasted six months or so. I found that I had invented the best brick machine gun ever. The larger pool of “gifted” students were very enthusiastic (and I do mean enthusiastic) about the book. I had a few nongifted people who were able to get the book with a little help. That bit of feedback was one of many things that cemented the genre in my mind. You see, I started researching what “gifted” is. I found out, much to my surprise, that I was what you would call “an undiscovered gifted adult.” Since I live in Silicon Valley, it’s actually a pretty common thing to run into. Although most people tag gifted people as the smart or nerdy people, it’s really not about that at all. What’s important to know is that there is an actual difference how a gifted person reads books and perceives the world. Perception not intelligence is the key difference (though intelligence certainly helps). As far as my sense of normalcy, my sense of what a teen would like, was right-on for five to ten percent of the population. For the other ninety percent, I might as well be living on planet Pluto. The book indelibly had a piece of me in it and my sense of normalcy was rooted in a gifted perception of the world. Thus my perception of what teens should be able to read was, shall we say, a bit tainted. So now let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of what the perceptual difference is.
The difference in perception can be classified into two categories: Mental processing differences and cultural differences.
- · Gifted readers can take information that has not been ordered. Nongifted readers seem to need a stick planted in the present with referrals or flashbacks in time. What this property allowed me to do for gifted readers is jump around in time: (past, present, and future). It allows for a rich development in the plotline in that I can have a creature outside of time as a character that is able to look at the entire timeline. So the character is able to jump in instantly into different parts of the story. I can have characters than can know their future and know what they must do to avoid disturbing it. Or you can have the past happening while creatures in the future comment on what happened with an omnipotent reader viewpoint: there is no need to identify which context is current for the reader. In other words, the story can have a time-puzzle-like structure, which can be pretty interesting.
- · Gifted readers are able to correlate data widely and connect seemingly disconnected data elements. In a novel, this can manifest itself as disparate plot elements with discovered connections. This has two effects. One effect is that the puzzle or mystery in the plot can be much deeper because gifted readers will go to greater lengths to connect them and take joy in their discovery. One of the gimmicks I love to use repeatedly is to have a fact in the past come to the forefront and force the entire storyline to be reinterpreted from a different point of view. It’s similar to having a novel within a novel. The second effect is that gifted readers will be more patient with the novel and defer full understanding until later if necessary. This is allows a very detailed set up of the realm with a very complete pseudo-science. What I call the “IPod Effect”, having all of the plot elements of the story in the first chapter as if it is an IPod menu screen, it not required. Removing this constraint allows a much more complex plot to be developed.
- · Gifted readers track larger numbers of characters. Having more than one main character will not confuse the reader. Likewise, the characters can be a bit gray with no absolute good or bad role. The family structures can be complex and not limited to the strictly hierarchical structure of human parentage.
- · Fewer repetitions are required for a basic element of the novel’s world to be remembered. From what I have observed, two repetitions are plenty. Gifted readers seem to be able to understand things from context without an explicit definition.
Gifted readers, especially from the middle school perspective I target, seemed to empathize with characters that might seem more emotional than real life people would be. Emotions run strong in the gifted. Many of the gifted frequently experience loneliness. It’s a part of daily life. They feel they live in a world which does not understand them and that friends with a meaningful commonness are difficult to find. Many gifted have very sensitive senses and enjoy intricate puzzles. They are also dramatically more intense people. They can have more expressive gestures, nervous ticks, and lots of physical energy. What I am trying to convey is that in order for a character to easily be identified with by the gifted reader, the character should incorporate some of the unique feature of a gifted person. For more ideas check out a description of “Dabrowski’s Over Excitabilities” (OE’s) at: http://www.stephanietolan.com/dabrowskis.htm
I have really just skimmed the surface of the many possible dimensions of fiction targeted toward gifted teens. With a little reading, an author can easily learn enough about the gifted population to provide novels to this under-served segment of teens.