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Posts tagged ‘Beth Revis’

Writing What You Know, by Beth Revis

Probably the most clichéd and oft-used phrase for any writer is the old adage, “write what you know”.

So how did I end up writing a novel that takes place hundreds of years in the future, on a spaceship populated by genetically modified people heading to a planet that might not really exist? It’s definitely not something I “know”.

Typically, we don’t really “know” our stories. Or, at least, I don’t. I’ve never been the youngest person on a spaceship, but I do know what it’s like to not fit in. I’ve never had my parents cryogenically frozen, but I still remember that moment when I realized that I’d grown up and was no longer under their safe protection.

Many times, it seems that people who aspire to write teen fiction are more focused on writing teenagers than on writing characters who behave realistically. They will often do research on the outward appearances: clothing, slang, mannerisms. Very often, this is where they trip up, because that’s not the important stuff. Focus on the stuff you know – the stuff everyone knows. We have all experienced the same things every teen has experienced: first love, first heartbreak, betrayal and fear, joy, sorrow. This is what the writer must know – and if the writer knows this, then everything else: the characters, the plot, the world – will fall in place.

Find the beating heart of the story. Invention is a wonderful thing – a necessary thing when it comes to writing. You need to have invention but, somewhere beneath everything that you create, you also have to write what you know.

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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)    In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StorySaraswati's WayThe Night She Disappeared

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Why I Write Young Adult Novels, by Beth Revis

Eventually, someone always asks me, “Why do you write YA? When are you going to write an adult novel?”

I try not to snort too loudly in their direction.

The thing is, it’s not like it’s an accident that I write Young Adult novels and it’s not like I’m just going to quit. YA is not the training wheels of adult literature.

In fact, if I may get on my soapbox for a moment, it’s my opinion that what makes YA a genre actually has little to do with the main character’s age. It is, in fact, the least important aspect of the genre. What makes a YA novel YA is: a fast-paced plot, dynamic characters and a character who is discovering his or her place in the world (this is where the age of the character tends to come into play).

These are the things I love in the books I read. I want a page-turner. I want excitement. The key here is a character who changes and, for the first time, sees his or her place in society.

An author friend of mine, Alan Gratz, defined the difference between YA and middle grade novels as this: in a middle grade novel, the main character still sees the world as it directly relates to him or her. The novel will focus on the main character’s family, for example, or perhaps the community – but the focus is pretty tight within those constrains. A YA novel, on the other hand, may start in a close location, but the main character must realize who he or she is in the world. This can be as simple as first love, or as complex as saving society (alternatively, it can also be as simple as saving society and as complex as first love).

In all honesty, I constantly question myself in my world. Is what I am doing important? Can I make a difference? Should I just give up? In all honesty, I hope I never quit questioning myself. I don’t have all the answers. I’m still trying to find my place in the world.

That is why I write YA – and why I will probably only ever write YA.

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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)    Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyWinter TownGlowDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Where My Ideas For Novels Come From, by Beth Revis

Probably one of the most asked questions I have at events is, “where do your ideas come from?”

Honestly? I don’t know.

The ideas for my novels tend to come from a wide variety of places – but mostly a combination of real-life oddities and excellent books and movies.

Really, I guess the answer is: my inspiration tends to come from two words. The two most important words to a writer: “What if?”

I was recently at a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. There are several of these across America. I happened to be in the one in San Antonio. It was filled with lots of weird, true-life things. Every single thing in that museum has a story. When I can’t get to a wacky museum like Ripley’s, I tend to search online – Cracked.com and io9.com are both good places to go for weird-but-true stories. Wikipedia can sometimes also give me the fun info I need, even when I’m not actively searching for a new idea to write, I go to these places and websites and cram as much knowledge into my brain as possible – you never know when you can use a random tidbit or detail to make an existing story better. In my latest novel, Shades of Earth, I used info from my elementary school history class as a reference.

Another great place to go for inspiration is books. I read the types of books I want to write. Not every author agrees with this idea, but I live by it. Do you want to write fantasy? Read fantasy. Do you want to write romance? Read romance. When you read something you love, think about why you love it. You shouldn’t emulate it. You should find the heart of what you like. If you read something you don’t like, think of what would make it better. One of my best short stories happened because I didn’t like the end of a book I’d read – so I rewrote a story that did what I would have done in the ending.

There is no one source of inspiration. A writer doesn’t just turn the inspiration on and off. Instead, constantly seek inspiration. Find out as much as you can about everything that interests you. Stories arise from a fertile mind, nurtured with real life.

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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)    The Night She DisappearedSparkRikers HighTracks

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

***

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)    Code Name VerityWinter TownKeeping CornerTarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Bringing English 101 To Your Novel, by Beth Revis

I love finding meaning in literature. It’s like a puzzle for me – piecing together the symbolic clues the writer has left in the text. My favorite classes in high school and college were the literature interpretation ones.

That said, a lot of times people hate those classes. Some people hate all those literary devices and all that analysis (I don’t know why!).

The thing is, a lot of those things we learned the definitions of in English 101 are really essential to a story. Some of it’s vital and some of it contributes to what I call the re-readability factor, when readers only see the depth of that part of the story on a second read-through of the novel.

Here are some of my favorite literary devices to read and write:

Foreshadow: This one is so easy. I fall into the Kurt Vonnegut camp. Something from the first chapter should reflect the rest of the story. More than that, you should think about making it work for the whole series if you are writing a series. Consider JK Rowling: minor mentions in early books have huge importance in later ones (polyjuice potion, anyone?).

Symbolism: Do not place too much emphasis on this. Nothing kills a story like heavy-handed symbolism. The story is the most important thing here. A few subtle details and symbols can really help make a story important. Think about the movie The Sixth Sense: the color red was subtle, but tipped the viewer into a whole new understanding.

Homage/Easter Eggs: This is my favorite thing to add to a story: little nods and details to other books or movies. They don’t change the story but they can make a reader sit up a little straighter when they notice. For example, in my novel Across The Universe, Amy is frozen in cryogenic chamber #42: a nod to Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

Circular Structure: Essentially, circular structure is when the story comes full circle. JRR Tolkein did this in The Hobbit - Bilbo starts the novel at the hobbit village and ends the novel there. Of course the characters changed – but there’s a parallel, circular aspect to the story. When thinking of your own novel – particularly if it’s a series – see if you can use circular structure to bring the reader back to the beginning.

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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)    The Night She DisappearedBlack Storm Comin'GenesisHurricane Song

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

Sci Fi Novels For Teens, by Beth Revis

When I first finished Across the Universe, one of the first things I did was head to my local bookstore and ask for comp titles (titles that I could compare to my own). My bookstore had only a handful of examples to show me – The Host, Ender’s Game, and… that was it. Fortunately, Young Adult science fiction (or YA sci fi) is definitely changing and is certainly on the rise.

If you’re like me and always on the look out for new YA sci fi, here are a few recommendations to get you on your way:

  • These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner. This is one of my favorite reads of the year, and it’s stunningly gorgeous. This novel is told from multiple points of view, alternating between a teenage war hero and a pampered rich girl, both of whom are stranded on a planet after an interstellar space ship crashes. With a brilliant twist at the end that made me nearly fall out of my chair, you won’t be able to put this one down.
  • For Darkness Shows The Stars by Diana Peterfreund. This is my only recommendation today that still takes place on Earth – a far-into-the-future Earth where mankind’s recovering from its own destruction. And the best part? This one’s based on Jane Austen. I bet you didn’t see that coming! Be sure to check out the sequels, which are picking up other stories from the past and putting them in a modern, sci fi world.
  • Black Hole Sun by David McInnis Gill. This is definitely a sure bet for any teen boys and reluctant readers in your life. This novel is all about the action – on a different planet, in a world that will appeal to fans of Firefly.
  • Starglass by Phoebe North. This debut novel will definitely make you think. I’m still in love with a scene near the beginning where main character Terra finds a message carved into a tree – a tree on the generational spaceship in the middle of space.
  • If you’re more into short stories, there are two dystopian anthologies out now: After, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, and Shardes & Ashes, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong. While not strictly sci fi, these anthologies do have some sci fi stories (and all the stories incorporate a futuristic, dystopian world). With a large variety of stories in each anthology, you can’t go wrong.
  • There are also my own space sci-fi books, the Across the Universe trilogy.

As you can see, there’s a wide array of sci fi on the market now – it’s one of the fastest-growing genres in the YA field. Be sure to check out these and many more titles.

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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)    SparkDark Hunter (Villain.Net)The RepossessionCode Name Verity

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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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

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