From Judy Blume's MasterClass

In the Unlikely Event Case Study - Part 1

Judy deconstructs how she researched her sprawling novel, which she based on series of unbelievable-yet-true events that happened in her hometown when she was a teenager.

Topics include: Use Research as Security • Take out What Doesn’t Need to Be There • Gather Shared Memories • Figure Out What’s Important

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Judy deconstructs how she researched her sprawling novel, which she based on series of unbelievable-yet-true events that happened in her hometown when she was a teenager.

Topics include: Use Research as Security • Take out What Doesn’t Need to Be There • Gather Shared Memories • Figure Out What’s Important

Judy Blume

Teaches Writing

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So I've chatted with you about how ideas usually come to me. Slowly, over a long period of time. And now comes In The Unlikely Event, which came in a flash, in a way no other book has ever come to me. No book will ever come to me this way again. So I want to share this with you too, because it could happen to you. In January of 2009, I was sitting in an auditorium in Key West during an event that we have every year, a pretty great event called the Key West Literary Seminar. And it's a seminar where the audience is almost all made up of readers. There may be some writers in there too, but it's not a learn to write. It's about reading. And the guest speakers are all writers, and it's usually around a theme. And in 2009, the theme was new voices in literature. So we had a lot of new writers there, younger writers. I'm on the board, so I know a lot about what goes on. But after lunch is usually a sleepy session, you know? People are like, ugh. There's a lot of eyes closing. And here is this wonderful, new, young writer, unknown to almost all of us then named Rachel Kushner, who has since become very famous. But then she was talking to us about her first novel, Telex From Cuba, a book that I had read already because I knew she was coming. And I liked it very, very much, so I was interested in what she might have to say. And she talked to us about how she got the idea to write this book, which was-- this is the way I remember it anyway-- stories that her mother had told her. Her mother, I think, had grown up in Cuba just before Castro and the revolution, when it was just beginning to change. And maybe her mother lived on a plantation. That's the way I remember it. Pineapples or whatever. And this book was inspired by stories that her mother told her about growing up in Cuba in the '50s. The only reason this is important is in the '50s, I heard this, in the '50s, and I swear to you, I was struck at that moment. It was like electricity went through me. In the '50s. And I had a story. I had a story that lived deep inside me that never came bubbling up until that moment. In the '50s. What a simple sentence. How many times had I said in the '50s myself? But when Rachel said it onstage, in the '50s, stories her mother told her about growing up in the '50s, this entire book came to me at once with characters and plot. And before I left the auditorium that afternoon, I knew this book the way you might see a movie. It just went right through me. I had this story. I'm a writer. I'm a writer. I've been a writer all these years. So for 40 years that I was writing then or more, I had this story deep inside me, and I never thought to tell it. Which to me is crazy, you know? How can a person who's a writer have a story like this, such a great story, and never think to tell it? Not consider it and s...

Write timeless stories

Judy Blume broke the rules. Her refreshingly honest children’s books were banned by hundreds of libraries and loved by generations of readers, who bought 85 million copies of classics like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Superfudge. In her first online writing class, the award-winning author teaches you how to invent vivid characters, write realistic dialogue, and turn your experiences into stories people will treasure.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Given me the confidence to move forward and improve myself.

Judy is fabulous. She wears her heart on her sleeve and that is rare these days. This class was very informative and narrated perfectly because it was from the heart. Well done!

I learned quite a bit from the insightful antidotes of Judy's past through her personal stories, as well as the advice given. Such as, but not limited to preventing yourself from forcing a genre or age group, as well as to be honest and true to your characters.

Judy has given me a lot to think about, and I feel encouraged to write the truth from my heart.

Comments

A fellow student

She, like she does for children in her books, is showing me that I’m not alone in some of the things I do when writing, that I’m “normal.” Lol

Ann S.

All of Judy's suggestions are useful for writing for any age. She reminded me that I have some humorous incidents from my childhood that would add a little sparkle of fun to my adult fiction and still fit in, and move the story forward. Thanks Judy!

A fellow student

I love how her voice so soothing and calm. She also reasons very good. I don’t read her books but one of my friends do. Like Judy I have a passion to write. I even created a group that creates books for my school library.

A fellow student

I am enjoying all the suggestions here. I especially like the format of Judy sharing her personal stories and suggestions for writing.

Colleen P.

What hit me most is that so many of the stories in my computer or file cabinets are based on my childhood back in the 50's. I lived in a small rural town. My friends and I rode our horses all over countryside. We had many adventures which now give me stories to tell. My problem is will the stories still be interesting when we lived in a time and place where no one locked their doors. Where if you did something you shouldn't, it got home before you did. We had party lines and there was always someone who listened to everyone's calls. I can't bring these stories into today's world. What we did and felt back then would never fit today. So I guess I need to just go ahead and tell the stories and somehow let them know when it happened. Right?

Dorothy K.

Judy Blume has opened my mind to so many childhood memories. Coming from a large family the research is through different angles. This would be quite exciting. I find after listening to her lessons my mind is whirring with collective stories. Definitely agree on the research aspect so long as it does not over take the process of the writing. It has almost done that in the past, however after today I'll look on research in a whole new way. Thank you Judy.

Mia S.

"The danger of course is you fall in love with your research, and you want to use all of it, and you can't. You'll pick up a book that's been well-researched, and sometimes it takes you out of the story. You know that this person who wrote this book has just done such a great job with research and can't bear to leave anything out; no matter how much you fall in love with it, if it's not advancing your story, you can't necessarily use it - you probably can't. But it's still wonderful and it puts you [there]. Research is positive and wonderful, gives you a sense of security when you're writing, and there's that danger that you have to be aware of, but I would say, put it all in in the beginning, and then as you read through it and continue to write, you'll take out what doesn't need to be there. You'll always enjoy it for yourself but it won't need to be there to tell your story. While I was writing the book - maybe even before - I talked to all of my friends who grew up with me and would remember that time. And from every single one of them I got some little tidbit, little piece of gold that I used in the book. Everyone had different memories, but one man who I went to school with remember that his mother had a babysitter hired to take care of his little sister, and that her son was the pilot of one of the planes. Just that little bit, she became a major character in the book, very important. All of our memories are so different, but the shared connection there of the memories... 'You're writing historical fiction.' 'This was during my lifetime!'"

Mia S.

"Three planes, for entirely different reasons, crashed in our town. I don't need to tell you the whole story, but one just a block or two from my junior high; one that almost went into the girls' high school (this plane came almost through the window, just as school was letting out, but it managed to get over the roof and crash into the neighborhood; the pilot of that plane was a local and I'm sure that he knew). You can imagine now what this is saying to the kids: junior high, high school. The third one in the middle of the night fell into the grounds of the only orphanage in town; so to the kids, they were after us. Whoever it was, somebody was after us. When I came home so excited and knowing I had to tell this story, I for the first time maybe did my research and read all of these newspapers. I never did real research for another book because I was always writing contemporary stories and I didn't have to research, but in this case I did at least three months before I ever attempted to start writing the story. My research consisted mainly of getting copies of the newspaper stories, because it was the newspapermen, the reporters who told this story. If this happened today, we'd be glued to our TV sets, the internet - this was a very different time, and people got their news from reading the papers. And the language that was used - the descriptive prose that was used then - of course no reporter would ever be using that today ('the plane fell like a great angry bird'). Many of those stories had bylines, and I just felt when I was doing this so connected to these reporters - I just felt like I knew them, they were my friends. I fell in love with the research, the process. 'I'll never write another book without research - talk about a security blanket!' My own notebook was always my security blanket, but in this case I had this much research, I was never afraid to come to work at my computer because I knew there would be something wonderful each day coming out of those stories. Indeed, many characters did come out of the newspaper stories."

Mia S.

"How ideas usually come to me: slowly, over a long period of time. 'In the Unlikely Event' came in a flash, in a way no other book has ever come to me; no book will ever come to me this way again. It could happen to you. In January 2009, I was sitting in an auditorium during an event we have every year, the Key West Literary Seminar. The audience is almost all made up of readers - there may be some writers in there too, but it's not a learn-to-write, it's about reading. The guest speakers are all writers, and it's usually around a theme. In 2009, the theme was 'New Voices in Literature,' so we had a lot of younger writers. After lunch is usually a sleepy session - there's a lot of eyes closing. And here is this wonderful new young writer, unknown to almost all of us then, who has since become very famous. Then she was talking to us about her first novel, a book that I had read already and liked it, so I was interested in what she might have to say. She talked to us about how she got the idea to write this book, which was stories that her mother had told her - her mother had grown up in Cuba just before Castro and the revolution, when it was just beginning to change. Maybe her mother lived on a plantation, and this book was inspired by stories her mother told her about growing up in Cuba in the 50s. The only reason this is important: 'in the 50s' (I swear to you, I was struck at that moment, it was like electricity went through me) I had a story - I had a story that lived deep inside me that never came bubbling up until that moment. 'In the 50s,' what a simple sentence - how many times had I said 'in the 50s' myself? But when Rachel said it onstage, this entire book came to me at once with characters and plot and before I left the auditorium that afternoon, I knew this book the way you might see a movie, it just went right through me. I've been a writer all these years - forty years, had this story deep inside me, and I never thought to tell it. Not consider it and say, 'No, I'm not going to tell that,' or 'I don't know how to tell that' or 'I'm not ready' - it never occurred to me to tell it, and it wasn't as if I had forgotten it. I went home so excited, because I already had three families, three young women, everything. I realize I didn't have everything but I had enough."

Debbie J.

I love doing research....but I probably do quite a bit more than I really need to. As for using moments and events that have happened in my past, your story has inspired me to want to do just that. Thanks again, Judy.