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Posts tagged ‘Australian author of teen novels’

Developing Characters For My Teen Novels, by Kate Forsyth

One of the most mysterious aspects of a writer’s craft is building characters. I get asked all the time how I do it.

I usually try and explain that I don’t so much invent the characters in the book as discover them. It’s a process of getting to know them. I usually begin with ‘seeing’ them in my mind’s eye. More often than not I see them very clearly right away but sometimes their face and form may be a little shadowy. If so, I just keep on looking and wondering and imagining until I see them clearly.

Emilia and Luka, the 13 year old protagonists of The Gypsy Crown came dancing and singing and laughing into my imagination as if they had always existed.

The face of Hannah, the heroine of The Puzzle Ring was also very vivid in my mind’s eye right from the very beginning.

I’ve had to spend a little bit more time with other characters. This will only usually take me a day or two though. I have a very visual imagination and so for some reason I find this a very easy and intuitive process.

Once I begin to see them clearly I give them a name. Finding the right name might take weeks. I’ll pore over baby name books and Google keywords like ‘medieval Welsh girl’s names’. I write up lists of names and their meanings and play with them to see how they fit.

One of the first inspirations for Luka and Emilia, the protagonists of The Gypsy Crown, came from my desire to write a book that both my son Ben and my niece Emily could read. They were cousins, three weeks apart in age, and loved to invent games inspired by the books they read. So I made Luka and Emilia cousins as close as twins as well, and turned Emily’s name into the gypsy-like name of Emilia. But there was not much I could do with Ben - it was resolutely un-gypsy-like. So I borrowed the name of the son of one of my favourite Australian fantasy writers, Kim Wilkins. Her son’s name is Luca - I simply changed the spelling of it a little. I then went on and named many of the minor characters after the children of Australian fantasy writers. Readers in the know can play a game of spot the name.

Hannah in The Puzzle Ring was Anna for a while - I knew I needed a palindromic name but Anna didn’t seem quite right, while Hannah definitely was. It took me ages to find the name of the boy who becomes her best friend. At last I settled on Donovan which means ‘dark prince’.

Once my characters are named, I begin to write character sketches for them. I think about when their birthdays might be, what their childhoods might have been like, what they want out of life, what they fear the most and so on. I think about their greatest strengths and weaknesses. Are they hot-tempered, impulsive, pig-headed or shy? What do they like to eat, wear and read? I gradually begin to know them as people. I’ll begin to write my story, listening all the time for their voices. The writing is much easier once I know how they sound.  Sometimes I feel as if the book nearly writes itself.


Kate Forsyth’s author website:

Kate Forsyth’s bio page


United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     Cleopatra ConfessesThe Night She DisappearedSpark

Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (February 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its second month of articles for 2013, from this year’s line-up of novelists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Historical Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:

- provide a handy list of links to the articles for the past month, then to

- relate some of the content of these articles to my own novel writing to help novel writers and other interested people discover the month’s content and gain some insights into ways the month’s content can be engaged with in a practical context.

Articles for February 2013

5 Things Writers Of Teen Novels Should Know by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Plot, Character And Hooptedoodle In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Setting In Teen Novels by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’ And What Makes A Good Teen Novel by Beth Revis

Writing Personal Stories For Teens by Stephen Emond

Writing Novels For Teens Versus For Adults by April Henry

Writing Series Fiction, by Anne Cassidy (guest article)

Writing My Novel ‘The Gypsy Crown’ by Kate Forsyth

Are Teen Novels Literature?  by Bernard Beckett

The Novel Writing Process by Lish McBride

What Makes Great Young Adult Fiction?  by Sam Hawksmoor

Writing Characters In Historical Novels For Teens by Carolyn Meyer

In Praise Of Copy Editors: Masters Of Accuracy by Monika Schroder

Using Imagery In Your Novel Writing by Kashmira Sheth

Coarse Language in Teen Novels by Paul Volponi

Underdog Characters In Teen Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

Choosing And Voicing Characters For My Teen Historical Novels by Pauline Francis

Overcoming Writer’s Block by Andy Briggs

Narrative Drive Is Not Related To Literary Merit (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

This months articles and writing my teen novel

Bernard Beckett wrote: To write for teenagers is to be classified as a genre writer: to dwell on that small, slightly shabby shelf, near the back of the store. From this vantage point there is a question that naturally arises: are we writing literature? […]But is such a distinction valid, and how effective a filter is the genre/literature divide?

Amy Kathleen Ryan wrote: Setting isn’t just a place and time. Let’s imagine that Jane Austen and Stephen King have both visited the same Georgian era house, and both felt inspired to set a scene in the attic. In addition to the quaint sewing table and a smoky fireplace, Austen’s setting would include a rigid set of expected manners, an even more rigid English class system, and probably a whole regiment of charming rogues out to ruin the honor of vulnerable yet spunky young women. King’s setting might include a chainsaw with a bit of human hair caught in the gears, a menacing creeping mist, and a universe of bizarre magical beings just waiting for our blue collar hero to prick the membrane between our world and theirs.

Diane Lee Wilson wrote: To be an appealing character, an underdog simply cannot be miserable all of the time. Readers want to hear a story of a person overcoming a difficult situation. She doesn’t have to gleefully sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” on every other page, but she must vibrate with an inner strength.

Monika Schroder wrote: Copy editors must surely be patient and just a bit wise. I am sure that they often shake their heads at mistakes we writers make. These people who work through a manuscript with such thorough attention to detail have my full admiration. It is thanks to them that a clean and accurate manuscript finds its way to the printer.

Writing my teen historical novel, set in 1939 Poland (and discussed in my January Month In Review post), is a matter of creating a compelling story which is also the product of in-depth research. A teen novel in which storytelling takes a backseat to the historical setting is not going to cut it with a lot of teen readers and a historical novel in which in-depth knowledge takes a backseat to plot is not going to cut it with a lot of historical novel readers. The secret to managing this balance well cannot be fully explained in the space of this article. It requires a range of storytelling components to work together to create an overall story experience, which has to work in different ways for different readers.

The answer to Bernard’s question about whether teen fiction is literature depends on the definition of literature being used. If you take literature to encompass all written fiction then teen fiction (that is,  fiction intended primarily for teenage readers or with one or more prominent teenage characters, that is age-appropriate for people aged 13-19 years) then of course teen fiction is literature. Various people will differ in exactly what they mean when they say teen fiction or Young Adult fiction, and many people may not have thought much about some of the finer details of what does or does not fall under the term in the sense that they use it. If literature is taken to mean quality fiction, then I think most people would agree that some teen fiction will match that description and some teen fiction will not. However, the problem would then become deciding what is quality fiction and what is not.

Writing a novel suited to teenage readers does not automatically make it any more or any less worthy than one suited to adult readers – and there is plenty of crossover readership between each kind of novel. As Amy and Diane demonstrate, the nuances of setting, character, and so on, and how they are conveyed to readers is something that authors of teen novels and authors of adult novels consider and work into their writing. As Monika discussed, teen novels also benefit from the input of copy editors – as well as general editors and other publishing professionals – to arrive at the book readers will experience . As with adult novels, different novels will receive different levels of attention from skilled publishing professionals.

The 1939 Poland setting is an important aspect of my novel-in-progress but, as Amy touched on, more important is how I handle the setting in telling the story of my characters. My main character could be considered an underdog, as a teenage boy in the city of Bydgoszcz in western Poland at the time of the German invasion and occupation, but more important than the obstacles standing in his way is what he does in the face of such obstacles. All the storytelling components must come together and work in unison to create a good novel; from the big picture concept to copyediting to the subtleties of characters’ personalities and relationships.


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

You can connect with Steve Rossiter on Facebook or on Google+.


Writing Teen Novels

Writing My Novel ‘The Gypsy Crown’, by Kate Forsyth

The idea for The Gypsy Crown came out of the blue like a lightning bolt. This is how it happened.

When I was a little girl, I used to go and visit my Great-Aunt Bobby, an elderly and rather eccentric lady who always gave us tea out of fine bone china cups with violets on them.  She had an old charm bracelet, passed down through the family for generations, and I used to like to look at all the charms and hear the stories behind them. Some of the charms were very old. The oldest of all was nothing but a small brown pebble, smooth from years of being rubbed for luck. It had been picked up from the banks of the River Thames by my great-great-great-great-grandmother, before she left England to travel the long and dangerous journey to Australia. I loved to hear this story, and wanted a charm bracelet of my own, one in which each charm had a story behind it.

Many years later, my great-aunt died and the charm bracelet was inherited by my mother. I remember having lunch with her, and she showed me the beautiful old bracelet, heavy with charms, and I remembered how much I had loved it as a little girl.

Then I thought to myself, imagine if a bracelet like this was broken and someone had to go on a quest to find all the lost charms. What an amazing quest story it would make.

Each charm could have some kind of meaning … each could be won only after some kind of adventure, the overcoming of obstacles, the payment of some kind of cost …

All the hairs rose on my arms. I felt a jolt of electricity run down my spine. It was a good idea, I knew it at once.

But who and where and when and why?

These are the key questions I always ask myself when a story idea comes to me. Sometimes it takes a long time to answer those questions. But in the case of The Gypsy Crown, the solution came to me at once, in a flash.

I had always wanted to be a Gypsy, ever since my grandmother had told me – perhaps jokingly – that there was Gypsy blood in our family. As a girl, I used to pretend to be a Gypsy all the time. I’d dress in a long, layered skirt in all different fabrics and a white embroidered blouse with puffed sleeves, and put on lots of gold bangles, and imagine I was travelling the roads of the world, barefoot and fancy-free . Sometimes on the weekend, in summer, my mother used to let my sister and brother and me light a campfire in our back garden and we’d camp out under the stars and cook sausages on sticks.  I pretended I could play the violin so people could not help but dance, and that I had a pet monkey that caused all kinds of mischief.

I remembered this childhood fascination of mine, in what felt like less than a second after thinking of writing a story about a quest for a charm bracelet. Gypsies used to believe in charms and talismans, I thought. Surely they wore charm bracelets?

In my mind’s eye, I saw at once two Romany children – a boy and a girl – with flashing dark eyes and black curly hair, dressed in ragged, bright, old-fashioned clothes. The girl was laughing and dancing and clapping her hands, tattered skirts swirling about her dirty bare feet. The boy was playing a violin, a tiny monkey passing around her hat for coins. A grumpy old dancing bear danced too, a ring through her nose. From the shadows, a man with a sword watched, meaning them harm …

I wrote the first book, or section, of The Gypsy Crown in only three weeks, the fastest I’ve ever written a book. It just seemed to leap from my fingers.

(In Australia, The Gypsy Crown is the first in a series of 6 books. In the UK & the US and other territories, the series was published in a condensed version as one single book).


Kate Forsyth’s author website:

Kate Forsyth’s bio page


United States (and beyond)


United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Shining City (Rhiannon's Ride)    GlowAcross the UniverseProject 17

Writing Teen Novels

A Different Set Of Eyes: Getting Feedback On Your Writing, by Nansi Kunze

Grab the nearest book and open it up. Go on! No, it doesn’t matter what the book is – just pick one. Right. Now hold the page right up to your face, so close that your nose touches the paper. Can you read it like that?

Writing fiction is a lot like reading it: the closer you are to it, the harder it is to see it clearly. If you’re only writing for yourself, that doesn’t matter. If you’re working on a YA novel in the hope that someday it’ll be published, however, then you’ll need another set of eyes to help you. Those eyes usually fall into one of three categories: friends and family, manuscript assessors and editors.

Most people start with friends and family as their readers. Friends and relatives are easy to access, can be pestered to finish your manuscript if you think they’re taking too long, and don’t generally expect to be paid. The drawback, of course, is that (unless you’re particularly lucky) they aren’t professionals. That doesn’t invalidate their feedback, though. You can make the most of this kind of reader by picking them carefully. This means choosing someone who fits the same demographic as your intended readership, or someone who’s well-read and critical, rather than lovely Aunty Shirley, who’d tell you anything you wrote was wonderful. You can also make their feedback more useful by giving them specific things to comment on; a response sheet with a few straightforward questions (such as which characters they liked best or least and why, or whether there were any parts of the story they found confusing or improbable) is one way to do this.

Manuscript assessors will read your work at most stages of development, but they’re often the next step for aspiring writers after showing a manuscript to friends and family. As professionals, they can tell you stuff your nearest and dearest may not be able to: what the state of the publishing industry is and where your novel fits into that, how well that hard-to-define spark known as ‘voice’ comes across in your work and whether your themes need to develop further within the story, to name a few. Of course, they’re great at checking for typos and plot-holes, too. Reputable manuscript assessors charge for this expertise, but it can be well worth it if you’re serious about your writing.

Having publishing house editors read your work can be terrifying – after all, they’re the ones who’ll get to decide whether your manuscript becomes a book or not. But, like manuscript assessors, they have the experience and the training to give you invaluable feedback on your writing. An early reader of mine once said, ‘Oh, I hope the editors don’t mess about with your manuscript too much – I thought it was perfect!’ It was lovely to hear, but there were two things wrong with that statement. One, there’s no way my first draft was perfect – no one’s is. Two, editors aren’t there to ‘mess about’ with authors’ work. If you’re fortunate enough to receive any detailed feedback from an editor, remember that editors have your novel’s best interests at heart. Yes, editors’ opinions are subjective, and no, I don’t make every single change my editors suggest, but I do follow the majority of them. Those suggestions give a polish to my stories that I could never achieve alone.

If all this has you thinking, ‘Uh … getting feedback sounds too scary. Maybe I’ll just re-read my manuscript myself,’ pick up that book again and hold it up to your face. Even the most experienced and revered writers have overlooked gaping plot holes, or left fans furious when their protagonist does something completely out of character. Oh, and if your answer to that question at the start was yes, ignore everything I’ve just said and go find yourself a good costume. That’s some superpower you’ve got there, kid.


Nansi Kunze bio page

MishapsDangerously PlacedThe Elements of StyleThe First Five Pages: a Writer's Guide for Staying out of the Rejection PileGotham Writers' Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing SchoolCode Name VerityNo Alarms


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