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Using Movies And TV As Inspiration For Novels, by Beth Revis

I love movies. Unreservedly. I think movies are a great place to look for inspiration, particularly when you’re writing for teens. Teen literature needs dynamic characters (i.e. characters who change) and a fast-paced plot – two of the main ingredients that work for movies.

When I find myself knocking on the door of inspiration, there are a few movies and TV shows that I tend to go straight to.

Firefly/Serenity

I owe this television series-turned-movie by Joss Whedon so much. It has everything: changing characters, snappy dialogue and a tight plot that is perfectly structured. Honestly? We probably can’t be friends if you don’t like Firefly.

Doctor Who

This is a great show to go to for ideas. Seriously. It has so. freaking. much. in it that you’ll definitely be able to come up with some of your own ideas just by watching it. In the average Doctor Who episode, there are about ten more plot twists than are needed – take one of those and develop a whole story from it.

Veronica Mars

Dialogue. Dialogue. When you need to make your characters sound right, watch an episode of Veronica Mars. Runners-up: Gossip Girl and Tangled.

How To Train Your Dragon

This animated movie might be easily overlooked, but don’t. It’s brilliant. I love how smart the whole story is, from showing the growing relationships (as opposed to telling), developing character growth and just telling a great story. You need to see this one.

Becoming Jane

I feel obliged to include a James McAvoy title. This is a great one to remind you that you shouldn’t make everything perfect in your story. Don’t be afraid to show that happily ever after don’t always happen. Runner-up: Roman Holiday.

Penelope

Here’s another James McAvoy title, just for you! I love this one for sheer delight but, as a writer, I also appreciate the world building here. You have a character, Penelope, whose life and world are directly connected in a very real way. When you need to make something odd fit into your story, look at how Penelope did it. Runner-up: Shrek.

What are some of your favorites? What do you learn and discover from movies?

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    Code Name VerityWinter TownKeeping CornerTarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Techniques For Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Beth Revis

Writer’s block is a common malady – or is it? I always struggle when people ask me what I do for writer’s block, because I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it. I’ve gotten stuck, yeah, but I’ve not gotten truly blocked. So, on this subject, my first instinct is to analyze what’s wrong. I think, however, being blocked or stuck is individual to each author. For me, when I’m stuck, it means I’ve gone down the wrong path in writing and I need to backtrack and figure out what the story should be. So, the first step is to figure out what your individual problem is. In most cases, however, what’s needed to get over writer’s block is a few simple steps.

1) Identify the problem: In some cases, being stuck means you’re just bored. Find a way to spice the story up – if you’re bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it. In other cases, being stuck means that your characters have come to an impossible situation – or just the wrong one. Solving this will mean backtracking, possibly restarting the whole novel. Really sit down and brainstorm where things started to go wrong – then you can identify how to fix it.

2) Change methods: I usually write on my computer, but when I get stuck, I switch to a legal notepad and a good pen. Something about switching the method in which I write gets the words flowing. Sometimes I just write out a “mind map” – just ideas, linked with arrows. Eventually, I start writing the scene – and when I get to the point where I can’t write fast enough by pen, I can go to the computer and pick the story back up.

3) Change location: This is my other secret to success. If I’m not writing well, I change location. At home, I tend to write either on the couch or at my desk. If I peter out on the couch, I move my laptop to the desk, and vice-versa. But if I’m really stuck, I will often leave the house entirely – a coffee shop is a safe bet, or, if the weather’s good, I’ll go outside. Going somewhere else to write puts you in the mindset that when you get there, you need to write – and so you do.

Stop writer’s block before it starts: A lot of time, for me, I get stuck because I’m lazy. This is usually when I’m at a hard part to write, or when I feel tapped out. In order to stop myself from getting to that point, I do these two things:

1) Use a timer: When the going gets tough, the tough get a timer. This is a trick I picked up from PJ Hoover, author of Solstice. I use just a simple egg timer – I tend to set it for about an hour. During that hour, internet’s off. The only thing I can do is sit in front of my computer. Stare, if that’s all I can handle. But usually, that gets words going.

2) End mid-scene: Another trick I picked up from someone else (but I can’t remember who!) is to stop writing for the day before I run out of steam. Don’t end the chapter or scene you’re working on – leave it a little bit before you finish. Then you can easily pick back up the next day.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StorySaraswati's WayDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Angel Dust

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Hooking Readers With The First Chapter Of A Teen Novel, by Beth Revis

One of the things I’m really happy about with my own writing is the first chapter of Across the Universe (which you can find online at www.acrosstheuniversebook.com). Before and since, I’ve made it something of a habit to look at first chapters, paying special attention to what makes them tick.

1) Empathetic characters

Empathy doesn’t mean that you feel bad or good for a character; it means that you understand what the character is feeling and why. In my own novel, my main character, Amy, watches her parents undergo a painful medical procedure. This is something that anyone can empathize with – we know how we would feel if our own parents or loved ones underwent a painful procedure. This immediately puts us in the picture with the main character. Possibly the most important thing you can do as a writer is create empathetic characters. Think of Katniss and her love for Prim in The Hunger Games - that was chapter 1. Think of Bella meeting Edward in Twilight or Harry Potter becoming an orphan. These are things with which we can empathize.

2) Sympathetic situation

While your characters need to be empathetic, it’s good to start the story with a sympathetic situation. You have character who you can almost visualize as yourself – you understand where they’re coming from and who and why they are. Now put them in a situation we wouldn’t want to be in. Make us feel bad that these characters we identify with are in a bad situation. This is the Hunger Games and Harry’s cupboard under the stairs.

3) It is what it says it is on the cover

You should also definitely give some hint of what the book is. You’re giving readers a taste of the whole book in the first chapter. If it’s a sci fi novel, as mine is, you need a spaceship or cryogenic freezing. If it’s a survival story like The Hunger Games, have Katniss shoot her bow. Harry mentions magic. Elizabeth Bennet’s mother in Pride and Prejudice mentions marriage. Whatever your story is overall must have a hint of it here, in the first pages. I should know what genre you’re writing not from your cover or your back jacket description, but from your first chapter.

4) Immediate conflict as a foreshadow to future conflict

Writers are often told to start their novels with a bang – but that can often lead to overly dramatic (and melodramatic) first chapters. Instead, try to mirror a larger conflict within the first chapter with something smaller. In my novel, Amy watching her parents being cryogenically frozen mirrors how later, when she wakes up, she has to make tough decisions without them. For The Hunger Games, Katniss’s hunt in the first chapter mirrors the battle for survival that the whole book revolves around. For Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia it’s the way her brother Edmond treats her.

It’s hard to identify exactly what it is that makes a first chapter work. However, analyze some of your favorites and I think you’ll see the things I’ve listed above.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

***

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United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    GlowThe Night She DisappearedMy Brother's ShadowThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

First Person Present Tense Narration In Teen Novels, by Beth Revis

The first YA book I read that used first person present tense was Libba Bray’s epically beautiful A Great and Terrible Beauty. I don’t think I really noticed it until one of the characters “says” something rather than “said” something, and once I noticed it I couldn’t un-notice it. It was definitely something new to me, and I found it fascinating.

Many novels, including my own, have been written in first present – including, notably, the Hunger Games books. In fact, it wasn’t until I read The Hunger Games that I realized the real power that first person present tense can have.

There are two features of first person present tense that we have to consider: the appeal of a first person point of view and the appeal of present tense.

First person: This is a point of view that lends itself ideally to YA literature. Most teens – most people, honestly – want to escape into a novel. They want to experience the world of the story along with the characters. By using the first person point of view, the characters have more immediate accessibility to the reader. You’re not reading about Katniss shooting the arrow, you shoot the arrow as Katniss. Ultimately, what a first person point of view gives to the reader is accessibility.

Present tense: This is a tone of voice that also lends itself ideally to YA literature. The key here is immediacy. This is what brings a whole new appeal to high-stakes stories such as The Hunger Games - rather than telling the reader what happened in the past you’re letting the reader experience what’s happening to the character as it is happening. Additionally, when you’re dealing with a life-or-death situation with the characters, you have the additional fear that the characters won’t make it to the end of the story. In a novel told in present tense, the characters – particularly the narrating character – might not survive to the end. If you want to see just how powerful that underlying fear can be in a novel, check out Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner’s These Broken Stars.

In the end, first person present tense is so often used and so popular among teens because of the two simple traits of accessibility and immediacy. That’s one of the things that makes YA literature stand out – and one of the things that keeps the reader turning the pages long into the night.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeDark Hunter (Villain.Net)Code Name VerityHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Unreliable Narrators In Teen Novels, by Beth Revis

In my first published novel, Across The Universe, one of the things I particularly wanted to do was create an unreliable narrator. I’d just read a wonderful book – Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief - and was blown away by the brilliance of her unreliable narrator. Several other books have used the unreliable narrator to great effect, from the recent Liar by Justine Larbalestier to the famous play Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.

Perhaps because it’s a trope in literature I love so much, and therefore have my eye on, I’ve noticed more and more titles are using the unreliable narrator in YA literature.

It’s important to realise that every first-person narrator is, to some extent, unreliable. Much like history is written by the victors, the narration of a first-person story is written by the hero of the story. It’s important to realise that a truly good book means that the bad guy would be the hero of his story, if the book was told from his point of view. Of course, the hero of the book you’re reading is going to be unreliable to the point that he believes that his actions are good and true – but the villain of the story obviously disagrees. Neither is right or wrong – it’s a matter of perspective. Therefore, any first-person narrator is, in essence, unreliable, as he will add his or her own personal bias to the story.

But for a truly unreliable narrator you have to have a lie. The narrator has to lie to the reader, and the discovery of that lie must be crucial to the story – whether or not the truth is discovered isn’t as important as the discovery that the narrator has been lying.

One reason why I think an unreliable narrator is becoming so popular in YA literature is because of the audience – teens. When you’re a kid, you tend to believe what adults tell you. When you’re a teen, you realize how much of your life – from Santa Claus to “don’t worry, everything will be fine” – is a lie. Discovering the extent of lies is a powerful thing and therefore features prominently in teen literature.

Of course, the best literature recognizes not only that people lie to us but that we are also liars. Mankind is brilliant at lying – especially to himself. A good story turns the act of narration onto the reader. The point of an unreliable narrator in a story isn’t to tell us that everyone lies – it’s to remind us of the lies we tell ourselves.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    My Brother's ShadowAngel DustThe Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteGenesis

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

What I Did Wrong And What I Did Right On The Way To Becoming A New York Times Bestselling Novelist, by Beth Revis

As some of you know, I wrote ten novels, over the course of ten years, before I wrote Across The Universe, the book that started my career as an author and changed my life. They were…not good. I had to learn how to write, and then I had to learn how to edit and rewrite. And I’m a slow study.

But by the time I got to my tenth novel – the one before Across The Universe – I figured I’d learned enough. I’d been writing professionally for a decade. I’d joined SCBWI. I’d been to conferences, paid for critiques, did everything right. And by God, I was going to get published.

The first thing I did was study the market. I was well read in the genre. I knew what sold. I needed a love triangle. I needed magic. Not vampires – I decided to write witches. And it’s always good to set the story in school, right? Everything I did with that novel was calculated. I needed a mythical creature – not dragons, that was overdone. A chimera, then. I was clever.

Too clever.

That book was the book I wrote with the intent of doing everything right—and the result was that I did it all wrong. That book had no soul. I made the whole thing in an effort to write to the market, to make the perfect book—the book that would sell millions. I did everything right. And that was the worst possible thing I could have done.

After that, I queried the novel. And it was rejected soundly. So I sat down and decided to write something else. Something different. I didn’t care AT ALL about whether it was right or wrong. I only wanted to write the thing that I cared about writing.

I wrote a sci fi novel. It was weird. I wrote in first person present—a POV/tense structure I’d never written before. That was weird, too. And in the end, I realized that I had zero chance of selling this book. There was no market for a weird sci fi. By all accounts and purposes—by my own careful analysis of the market—I’d done everything wrong.

And that ended up being the best possible thing I could do.

That was the book that sold. That was the story that changed my life.

If I can only say one thing to you, it’s this: make mistakes. Do the things you fear. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Care more about the story than the market. Okay, that’s a lot of things. But it all comes down to this: be true to yourself.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    Deadly Little Secret: A Touch NovelGlowThe Night She DisappearedHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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