Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Newly minted PhD, professor, pop culture junkie, voracious reader, and author of the Raised By Wolves series, Every Other Day, Nobody, and More

Anonymous asked: is the book the naturals realistic fiction?

The answer to that question depends on what you mean by “realistic fiction.”

If you’re asking whether the book has any science fiction/paranormal/fantasy elements, then the answer is that no, it does not. It’s completely realistic, in that the abilities that the Naturals have are simply at the extreme end of the kinds of abilities we see in the real world.

There is nothing “unrealistic” about what Cassie, Dean, Michael, Lia, and Sloane can do, any more than, say, what Sherlock Holmes does. They’re simply cognitive outliers, who—through a combination of genes and the environments in which they were raised—have some pretty incredible skills. Their abilities are based in real-world psychological research, which you can read more about here:

And here:

But if by “realistic,” you mean “requires no suspension of disbelief,” then I think it might be more accurate to call The Naturals “unrealistic realistic fiction,” which is a term my friend Ally Carter invented to describe her books about teenage spies and thieves. The NATURALS books are realistic, in that they’re set in our world and there’s nothing in them that’s even remotely magical, but they still require readers to be be willing to go along with the basic premise—in this case, the idea that the FBI has a unit that uses gifted teenagers to solve cold cases.

Plot, Originality, and the Value of Ideas


My short answer to the question is: no, I don’t check to see if another book has a similar plot. Because chances are very good that another book does. There are, after all, millions of books out there. And television shows. And movies. And honestly, even if there isn’t another book/movie/TV episode out there that is highly similar YET, by the time my book is released, there will, without fail, be at least three other books with freakishly similar set-ups.

At the end of the day, I believe that ideas—be they premises or general ideas about how your plot might progress—are cheap. I think that, when you start writing, there’s a tendency to put this premium on the IDEA. How cool the idea is, how original it is, and so on and so forth.

Value Placed on Idea vs. Execution Early in My Career


Over time, however, I’ve come to do that less and less. And the less emphasis I’ve placed on the ideas behind the book (the premise, the general idea of the characters, the idea of the plot), the less I’ve worried about “being original” and the more I’ve concentrated on the particular alchemy between the premise, the characters, and the plot.

Value Placed on Idea vs. Execution Now


For me as a reader, the important thing is not that a plot feel original, but that it feel organic to the characters and the world of the story I’m reading. I try to take that same position as a writer. Do the characters’ emotions make sense? Do their actions fall out of complex and interesting motivations? Does the conflict I’ve selected give me maximum mileage for exploring who my characters are as people? Is there, inherit in the plot, a large number of highly emotional moments/crises/confrontations? Am I putting my characters through things that will force them to grow and change in interesting ways?

It is my opinion that in the best books, premise, plot, character, and world do not exist as individual elements. Rather, they are integrally interwoven with each other. The world your character grew up in affects who they have become. Who they are affects how they will react in the face of conflict. The conflict and stakes fall out of the characters’ actions, or are designed for maximal effect on those characters. Everything is PERSONAL, and everything is tied together.

In my day job, I study the science of fiction. Philosophers and psychologists have spent a good deal of time debating why it is that some people like to re-read, why it is that some people like spoilers, why it is many of us repeatedly consume fiction within genres even after we know, quite well, the conventions of that genre. Why read at all, some philosophers ask, if you already (on some level) know what happens?

One answer that has been proposed is that story and genre conventions actually help guide readers through the story, as a sort of cognitive puzzle. Another answer is that we like seeing the way that pieces of fiction both conform to AND defy genre expectations—a mix of predictability and the unexpected may actually be more satisfying than a work that is wholly one or the other. And a final answer may be that there are simply many, many reasons to get involved with a story that have nothing to do with finding out what happens.

Perhaps the most prominent psychological theory, currently, about why we like fiction so much—why it’s so pervasive and why we invest so much time and money and emotion in something we know is not real—is that fiction taps into a more general interest, built into the human brain, in PEOPLE. Some scholars suggest that fiction co-opts a preference for gossip. Others think that fiction actually serves to hone our abilities to read social situations and social others. But the thing that is constant across these theories is that fiction is essentially social. It is about characters and their relationships with each other and their emotions and their thoughts and beliefs and desires and personalities.

Viewed from this perspective, I’m not sure it makes sense to really stress about whether or not your plot is original. A better question might be whether it FEELS real. Whether or not someone else has done it before, in my opinion, matters far less than whether or not the plot keeps the book moving and the characters changing. The surprising twist at the end of a book is only as good as the emotional whammy it carries with it.

Or at least, that’s what I try to tell myself!

For my day job (as a psychology professor who studies fiction), I’ve been reading Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins.

It’s a fascinating read so far. This bit, in particular, jumped out at me:

"The fans’ transgression of bourgeois taste and disruption of dominant cultural hierarchies insures that their preferences are seen as abnormal and threatening by those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of these standards" (17).

I would be lying if I said that I did not read this and immediately think of certain recent articles bemoaning the popularity of YA and/or the romance genre.

Jenkins goes on to say that it’s not the surface-level reading of popular texts that threatens the self-proclaimed arbiters of high-culture, but rather, readers applying to these works “reading practices (close scrutiny, elaborate exegesis, repeated and prolonged re-reading, etc.)” that said arbiters typically reserve for Serious Literature (whatever their definition of serious literature may be).

The thing that some people find so scary isn’t the idea that YA or romance or fill-in-the-blank-genre might truly be “mindless” reading; it’s the idea that we might read popular fiction in mindful ways and that the pursuit of deriving meaning from literature might be seen as extending beyond the kinds of works that the self-appointed gatekeepers of high culture deem acceptable, thereby bringing into question the special status of both those works and the arbiters of high culture themselves.

In related news: how awesome is my day job?


FANCAST: The Raised by Wolves trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Chase: Munroe Chambers
Bryn: Isabelle Fuhrman
Devon: Colin Ford
Lake: Chloe Grace Moretz
Ali: Kayley Cuoco
Callum: Jake Gyllenhaal

Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it. That doesn’t mean that she’s averse to breaking a rule or two. 

But when her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Chase, a new teen locked in a cage in her guardian’s basement, and witnesses him turn into a wolf before her eyes, the horrific memories of her parents’ murders return. Bryn becomes obsessed with getting her questions answered, and Chase is the only one who can provide the information she needs. 

But in her drive to find the truth, will Bryn push too far beyond the constraints of the pack, forcing her to leave behind her friends, her family, and the identity that she’s shaped? 

Raised by Wolves fan cast! :)

Anonymous asked: How do you know when an idea for a book is "The One"? The one that can make it all the way to a finished draft, the one you love enough to oursue despite its challenges, the one you can see yourself commiting all your time to, the one you know you won't tire of halfway through?

I have a rule for myself, and that is this: I can play around with as many ideas as I would like, but if I get to 20,000 words on a book, I have to finish it.

I’ve broken this rule a couple of times, but by and large, it works for me, and the reason is this: for me, the middle of a book is ALWAYS a lot of work. It is ALWAYS tiring. Starting a new book will ALWAYS be more appealing for me than doing the actual work of finishing the book I’m working on. Pretty much the only way I ever get books written is that, once I’ve “committed” (around 20,000 words), I don’t allow myself to start a new book until I’ve finished the old one.

All of which goes to say, if you’re having trouble finding “The One,” it might be because there isn’t one. Eventually, no matter how awesome the idea, finishing the book is going to be a lot of work, and it’s highly likely that at some point, you won’t want to do it, because starting a new book would be so much more fun. This is normal—at least for me.

Having said all of that, how do I know which of any number of ideas to pursue? I have a few different litmus tests. First, I look for ideas where I’m really excited not just about the premise of the book, but also about the plot. One of the biggest revelations I ever had as a writer is that premise and plot are not actually the same thing, and it is entirely possible to have an “idea” for a book without having a plot at all.

(For example, when I sat down to write RAISED BY WOLVES, I knew I wanted to write a book about a human girl who had been raised by werewolves. I loved the premise—but that is not, in fact, a plot. I had to actually figure out the conflict and stakes and what the book was about, beyond the idea).

For me, having a plot that I’m excited about is often tied to character. For example, for each of the books in the NATURALS series, I ask myself how I can make the case the team is investigating PERSONAL. How can I make it matter to the characters? How can I make it devastating to them?

For me, the ideas that are most worth pursuing are the ones in which I’m truly excited about the premise, the plot, AND the characters, and where all three interact in potentially interesting ways.

But even then, halfway through the book, I will still feel the siren call of shiny, new projects that are so much easier than finishing the one I am on…

Anonymous asked: Hi! Just out of curiosity: while writing a sequel, did you ever regret something you wrote in the previous book because it caused problems you struggled to resolve in the next one? (Adeline C.)

Yes. A million times yes!

Over time, I have learned to put only things that NEED to be in book one in book one, because a throwaway line that doesn’t really need to be there, or a random world-building choice that you put in because it “seemed cool” can really come back to bite you later!

For example, in the Raised By Wolves series, it was established in the first book that werewolves can smell lies. That played almost no role in book one, but then I got to book two, which is all about deception and trickery and political maneuvering in the werewolf world… all of which was made a million times harder by the fact that no werewolf could lie in the presence of another werewolf without everyone knowing they were lying. I’m not sure I *regret* the choice, because I like the challenges it made for book two, but I certainly didn’t anticipate them when I made that rule in the first book.

evilqueenofmarvel asked: Finding out that you had a PhD inspired me to make that a goal for myself eventually. I guess I just used to think that women don't really get PhDs but I thought it was really cool how you had one, and so I decided that I want to get the highest degree available for whatever career I choose, because PhDs aren't offered for every career but thank you for inspiring me and challenging my beliefs about what women can and can't do.

Thank YOU for this lovely note.

I didn’t go to college planning to get a Ph.D.—I actually thought I would probably end up in law school, but by my sophomore year, I’d fallen in love with research, and the idea of getting to spend five years in grad school designing and running experiments and talking science with smart people was too tempting to turn down!

I was lucky enough to have some wonderful mentors, including the lovely Laurie Santos (my undergraduate advisor and one of my grad school advisors as well), who led by example and made it so that I never questioned whether or not this was something someone like me could do. The most rewarding part of my job as a professor is getting to do for other people what Laurie did for me.


Fan-cast Jennifer Lynn Barnes “The Naturals”

Dean - Douglas Booth

Cassie - Sophie Turner

Michael - Drew Van Acker

Lia - Krystal

Sloane - Evanna Lynch

Another fan cast for THE NATURALS. I love these!

I looked back at Dean: Light hair. Dark eyes. Open posture. Clenched fists.

I cataloged the way he was standing, the lines of his face, the dingy white T-shirt and ratty blue jeans. His hair needed to be cut, and he stood with his back to the wall, his face cast in shadows, like that was where he belonged.

Why wasn’t it nice to meet me?

“Dean,” Michael said, with the air of someone imparting a fascinating bit of useless trivia, “is a Natural profiler. Just like you.”

(Source: duncanmortimers)