Charles Yu: Writing as the Story Demands

Award-winning author Charles Yu explains why his latest work is a Scribd Original and how his characters' voices help him navigate form.
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Charles Yu is the author of four books, including his latest, Interior Chinatown, which received the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction and was a finalist for Le Prix Médicis étranger. He has also been nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards for his work on the HBO series Westworld, and has also written for shows on FX, AMC, Facebook Watch, and Adult Swim. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of publications including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, Time, The Gettysburg Review, and Ploughshares. Visit www.charlesyu.com for more information and follow him on Twitter @charles_yu.

Charles Yu_credit Tina Chiou

In this post, Yu explains why his latest work is a Scribd Original, how his characters' voices help him navigate form, and more!

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Writing for online audiences is dynamic, and as technology evolves, and we learn more about how readers engage online media, it’s a good idea for all writers to continue to learn and build or refresh their skill sets.

Writing for online audiences is dynamic, and as technology evolves, and we learn more about how readers engage online media, it’s a good idea for all writers to continue to learn and build or refresh their skill sets.

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Name: Charles Yu
Literary agent: Julie Barer
Story title: The Only Living Girl on Earth
Publisher: Scribd Originals
Release date: January 8, 2021
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Elevator pitch for the story: A thousand years from now, all that’s left of human civilization is a gift shop. Jane works there, selling souvenirs to tourists refueling their spaceships, counting the days when she heads off to Jupiter to college and starts her life elsewhere. But when a couple of travelers crash land on Earth, Jane reconsiders her homeworld and what she would be leaving behind.

TheOnlyLivingGirlOnEarthCVR_final (1)

What prompted you to write this story? 

Like Jane, I was thinking about what we leave behind. What will future archaeologists find when they comb through our landfills, our warehouses, our flooded superstores? What will that stuff say about us? 

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

A long time! I wrote the first part of the story over a decade ago, as part of an anthology honoring the work of Ray Bradbury. My story, inspired by Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” was titled “Earth (A Gift Shop)” and it was just a few pages long, but after the anthology was published, I found myself still curious about Jane and the world of the story. So, I revisited it from time to time. I kept exploring, and it kept expanding until it included more characters and a visit to the theme park. 

(Where Do You Find Your Inspiration?)

Why did you choose to publish this story as a Scribd Original? 

There are places to publish short stories and even longer stories, but a piece of this length is its own kind of thing. To work closely with an editor and have design and artwork and publicity—it’s neat to be able to publish something like this and share it with readers. 

How do you decide which media (TV/film/print) to pursue for a story? 

I don’t think it’s a deliberate or conscious decision. The story dictates its own form, demands it. That said, if something starts with language, with voice, that’s probably fiction. If it starts with a premise, then probably that’s for the screen. But I don’t think I’ve actually ever successfully completed anything of the latter type—on the few occasions when I tried to write something based on a high concept premise, I haven’t gotten very far. I always ended up returning back to the voice, to the sentences.

(Footnotes: 5 Articles on Writing with Voice)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this story?

In the process of working on it with Amy Grace Loyd, my editor at Scribd, she helped me develop it a bit more and had some structural ideas that really helped shape the story, especially in how it builds toward an ending. I hope the result feels more emotional and maybe hopeful as well.

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What do you hope readers will get out of your story?

I hope they laugh, feel, and think. Not necessarily in that order, but that order works just fine. 

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

It’s probably going to take longer than you think. That’s okay. It’s not a race. Take your time.

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