Hi! I’m Chad Lucas, and my debut middle grade novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe, is out on May 11 from Amulet Books/Abrams Kids. It’s a story told from alternating perspectives: Brian Day, a shy, anxious kid whose life is upended by a family crisis, and Ezra Komizarek, Brian’s outgoing basketball teammate who wants to help but is scared of revealing his feelings for Brian. Over the course of the story, they both have to decide if they’re willing to risk trusting each other with things they don’t usually tell anyone.
Brian sometimes talks to himself—or more often, argues with himself—in rounds of what he calls Brian versus Brian. So I figure the best way to talk about writing from dual points of view in this book is to make like Brian and interview… myself.
Me:Writing a novel from two different perspectives seems like a lot of work. Why do it?
Also Me:Great question.
Me: Are you going for flattery already?
Also Me: Yeesh. To answer the question, one of the things I explore in Thanks a Lot, Universe is the difference between how we see ourselves versus how others see us. Brian and Ezra both wrestle with versions of the idea that “If I let people see the things about myself that I usually try to hide, maybe they won’t like me.” I think that’s a pretty common struggle in junior high—it certainly was when I was that age. So it fit well to have this interplay in the book where the reader gets to see Brian from Ezra’s point of view, and vice versa, and to notice how it contrasts from the way they see themselves.
Me: You go deep on identity, huh? That sounds heavy.
Also Me: It is, at times. And poor Brian goes through a lot over the course of this story. But another thing that writing from two perspectives let me do is balance the heavy moments with lots of humor. Ezra and his friends are pretty funny. There are some hilarious mayo-related jokes in this book.
Me: We’ll let readers be the judge of whether your jokes are funny. But getting back on topic, what’s the biggest challenge of writing dual perspectives?
Also Me: For me, the biggest challenge was making sure each character has a distinct voice—so that Brian always sounds like Brian, and Ezra sounds like Ezra. They have very different personalities, they have unique mannerisms and favorite phrases, and they notice different things about the world around them. But going back and forth between those contrasting voices was also one of the most fun parts of writing this book.
Me: What sort of things did you do to make sure they sound unique?
Also Me: When I was revising—and I revised a lot—I’d often work on just Brian chapters or just Ezra chapters for a while, to stay in the groove with one voice. And I used some stylistic techniques to set them apart. Brian’s an introverted internal processor; he thinks in lists sometimes and second-guesses himself a lot. I incorporated that in the way I wrote his chapters. Ezra’s more outgoing and engaged with a close group of friends, so there are more texting conversations and snappy dialogue in Ezra’s chapters.
Me: In scenes when Brian and Ezra are together, how did you decide which character’s perspective to focus on in that moment?
Also Me: I usually went with whoever had the most at stake, or whoever was feeling something most deeply in that situation. For example, there’s a scene late in the book that’s a big moment for both characters. I start from Brian’s perspective, and then something happens (which I won’t spoil here) where I knew I had to break and show the rest of the scene from Ezra’s point of view.
Me: Any other good reasons to have more than one narrator?
Also Me: One of the other great things that writing from two perspectives can do is heighten the tension. Sometimes the reader knows what one character is thinking or feeling, but the other character hasn’t figured it out yet, and that can build anticipation for the reader toward that moment when they finally clue in. It also lets you show both sides of a story, literally. Most of us have been in situations where we’ve maybe read too much into one little thing that someone else said or did, and we end up misinterpreting or looking for meaning that isn’t there. Or maybe we’ve been on the other side and said or done something that seems small to us but ends up having a big impact on someone else, for better or worse. Writing from two perspectives lets you dig into those dynamics in some interesting ways.
Me: Last question: Did you always plan to feature both Brian and Ezra’s points of view, or did that evolve as you were writing?
Also Me: I had both from the early stages, but it did evolve. In earlier versions I had a Brian section, then an Ezra section, then a third part with alternating chapters. I have to credit my excellent editor, Emily Daluga, for pushing me to alternate points of view all the way through. In the end that really brought out Ezra’s character more and balanced the story better. Plus, it let me add even more brilliant jokes.
Me: You really think you’re funny, huh?
Also Me: Listen, this book is objectively hilarious, when it’s not making people cry. There’s a little something for everyone.
Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family in Nova Scotia. His debut novel Thanks A Lot, Universe, which Kirkus Reviews called “tenderhearted and bold” in a starred review, releases from Amulet Books/Abrams Kids on May 11.