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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
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Mistakes I’ve Made As A Novelist, by Bernard Beckett

The spark for a particular novel can come from many places and arrive in many forms. For me, sometimes it’s an idea that’s puzzling me and the writing of the novel is a working through of my own confusion. Other times there’s a plot element, a particular ending perhaps or an opening that intrigues me. Other times it’s a character. The trick is taking this starting point and weaving it into a successful and satisfying story. The trouble is that the path from starting point to finished product is not at all clear. There are any number of paths to take and the great majority of them will end in failure. This, by way of illumination, is a story or one of those failures – my novel Home Boys.

The starting point was unusual for me, it began with my father telling me the story of a man who lived in the same small town as him. The man in question had been sent out to New Zealand post World War Two, as part of the scheme meant to offer new starts to children whose lives had been ripped apart by the war. Like so many of the children, this man’s story was not a happy one. He was signed up to the scheme by an older brother and didn’t know he was on anything other than a day trip until the boat was out to sea. He ended up on a farm where he was essentially used as slave labour. I went and interviewed the chap and was captivated by his story, and by his resilience. In the way of his generation, he seemed to have simply shrugged and got on with it, and looking back, held no bitterness or regret.

My plan was to use the first half of his story (being put on the boat, ending up on the farm, then running away) and then fictionalise the rest. The trouble was, I didn’t exactly know what that rest was. And because I had such a solid start, there was an opportunity to start writing without really thinking about it. The first bits came easily, the character developed, along with the sense of place, and I figured I could probably just follow my nose from there and something would work out.

As I approached the point of departure into pure fiction, I began playing around with new ideas. Another runaway down the road becomes a mate and suddenly we’re into Huckleberry Finn territory. Feeling confident, I threw in some disturbing dreams (always a mistake) that hinted at the possibility of the supernatural. I brought back an Italian prisoner of war, who by strange coincidence (no worries, I’ll solve it later) reappeared and then, following my nose, ended up at a small fishing village and a love triangle at its apex. I think there was even mention of a mysterious cave in the bush from whence no man had returned. I was, it was fair to say, having fun. And the writing, for me, wasn’t half bad. I was enjoying getting the sense of time and place. It was the geography of my own childhood, I knew it well, and loved the challenge of getting that landscape into the paper.

In hindsight, I can see that I was absolutely seduced by the process of putting more and more balls in the air. The idea was that somehow I’d nail the catching as well, that they’d land in my hand one by one in a satisfying succession of plops, and I would bow to the standing ovation. I was caught up in the feeling the reader would also have, that somehow this mad mix of myth, dream, history, lust and coincidence was going to weave itself into an astonishing ending.

The trouble, clearly, was that I had no ending. I didn’t even have a feel for the what the ending should do, what the satisfactory completion of Colin’s character arc would look like. The book was coming to an end, the options were closing in, but there was no place to jump to that would tie it all up. At that point, what I should have done is taken a deep breath, gone back to the beginning and tried to work out what it was I was really trying to achieve. Instead I cheated and threw in a non-ending with the two boys sitting on the back of a truck, having hitched a ride, heading into the city. It was supposed to be symbolic, I suppose, but it was no such thing. It was just a case of not knowing how else to end the story, because this particular story didn’t have an ending, making it not a story at all, but rather a collection of ideas and events and people and places that I really loved writing about. Less a novel, more an extended creative writing exercise.

Looking back on it now, I still love reading from Home Boys, for exactly the same reason I enjoyed writing it. In my head, it’s hugely alive, maybe more than any other piece of my writing. As such it must be filed under ‘ones that got away’, a book where I got caught up in the telling and lost sight of the story.

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Bernard Beckett’s author website: www.bernardbeckett.org

Bernard Beckett’s bio page

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GenesisAugustNo AlarmsRed Cliff     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Red is for RemembranceRooftop

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On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

People often ask me what inspires me to write.  The answer is that inspiration comes from all over, especially if you’re open to it: stories you hear about, snippets from the news, a really dishy reality TV show, an argument that you overheard at the local coffee shop, fortune cookie messages, dilemmas without answers, a person you encounter at the supermarket, a situation that occurred at the gym…

The point is that ideas are everywhere.  Pick one that gets your creative juices flowing.  Don’t write about a topic because you think it’s popular or timely.  The market is ever-changing: blood-thirsty vampires today, vegan-loving serial killers tomorrow.  Plus when you consider that once your book gets accepted for publication it’s often a year or more before it comes out, who knows what the market will dictate then.

Here’s how inspiration struck for some of my teen novels:

Blue is for Nightmares

The inspiration:  My readers

I was inspired to write my first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, because I wanted to write a book that would have appealed to me as a young person, namely one that had a blending of suspense, romance, drama, and dark humor.  I wasn’t a big reader as a young person, and so I wanted to get reluctant readers excited about reading.  Blue is for Nightmares was the product.

Bleed

The inspiration: A theme that interested me.

I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday – even the smaller ones – can affect others in ways we may never even consider: the decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone’s house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach; and how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people’s lives… including the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend’s boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

Project 17

The inspiration: A news article.

I sold Bleed in a two-book deal with Disney/Hyperion Books for Children.  Time was ticking and I needed an idea for the second book – fast.  One day when I was flipping through a local newspaper, I came upon an article concerning the controversial teardown of one the nation’s first mental institutions, which was considered  to be a historic landmark – one that was also rumored to be haunted.  I imagined a group of teens breaking in to the hospital on the eve of the demolition to film a movie.  The idea inspired me to write my novel Project 17.

The Touch series

The Inspiration: Past success and my love for series books.

Following the success of my Blue is for Nightmares series, in which my main character is plagued, and then empowered, by her premonitions, I wanted to continue working in the supernatural/paranormal genre.  Like in my Nightmares series, I wanted to explore the idea that we all have our own inner senses and intuition, and how with work we can tap into those senses and make them stronger.  I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power to sense the past or future through touching objects.  The concept fascinated me, so I wanted to bring it out in a character and show how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

In my series, Ben, the new boy at school, is rumored to have accidentally killed his ex-girlfriend.  He ends up completely reclusive as a result, getting home-schooled by tutors and not leaving his house.  Flash forward two years and Ben wants a shot at normal life again, despite his powers.  He enrols at a school a few hours from his hometown, where no one knows him or his past.  Then everything goes awry when he accidentally touches Camelia, the main character, and senses that her life is in danger.

My current work-in-progress

The inspiration: A nightmare I had.

I rarely have nightmares but I had one that felt so real and scared me to bits.  I didn’t talk about it for several days afterward.  When I finally felt able to share it, I told someone who immediately said that it needed to be a book.  I agreed and sold it to my editor last year.  I’m currently working on the draft.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Blue is for NightmaresBleedProject 17Deadly Little Secret    Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyAngel DustBlack and White

Writing Teen Novels
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Developing The Story For My Novel ‘The Puzzle Ring’, by Kate Forsyth

One idea is not enough to begin writing a novel. I usually find you need three which seem to have some kind of electrical charge between them.

I got the first idea for my book The Puzzle Ring while flicking through a jewellery catalogue while waiting in a doctor’s surgery. At the back of the magazine was a brief article about the first ever puzzle ring. The story went something like:

‘Long ago, there lived an Arabian king who was madly in love with his young and beautiful wife, and tormented by jealousy she might be unfaithful to him. He challenged the court jeweller to make a wedding ring that would show if the ring was ever taken off his wife’s finger. After many attempts, the jeweller invented a ring that would fall apart into separate loops if removed from the finger, and could only be put back together again if you knew the secret of the puzzle. Of course, the wife did take the ring off one day… and was promptly killed by her enraged husband.’

I thought at once, in an idle sort of a way, what a great thematic device this would be for a quest story… a desperate search for a puzzle ring that had fallen apart. When I got home, I wrote down a few simple words in my ideas book – ‘Quest for a broken puzzle ring’ – which eventually became a novel of 100,000 words.

I would continue to wonder about it in idle moments. Who would be searching for a puzzle ring? Why?

Questions lead to wondering, which lead to imagining, which lead to story.

One day, sometime later, I was browsing in a second-hand bookstore and discovered an old book called The Book of Curses. When I sat down to look through it, the page fell open, of its own volition, at a chapter about the famous Scottish curse ‘The Seaforth Doom’. This is a very chilling and creepy story about a warlock called Kenneth the Enchanter who was burnt to death in the 16th century by a jealous and vengeful woman, Isabella Mackenzie, the Countess of Seaforth.

Kenneth had a magical fairy stone, or hag-stone, and the countess had asked him to look through his hag-stone and tell him what her husband was doing. Kenneth had laughed, and then told her “Fear not for your Lord. He is safe and sound, well and hearty, merry and happy”.

Angrily she demanded to know why he had laughed and, when he would not tell her, threatened him with a terrible death. At last he confessed he had seen her husband on his knees before another woman, kissing her hand.

The countess was so furious that she ordered Kenneth to be thrust headfirst into a barrel of boiling tar. As he was led out to his execution, the warlock lifted his hag-stone to his eye and cast a terrible curse on the Mackenzies of Seaforth.

My own family heritage is Scottish; my grandmother’s grandmother was called Ellen Mackenzie. And so this famous curse seemed almost as if it was directed against my own family. And I thought to myself, what would you do if you found out your family was cursed? Wouldn’t you set out to break the curse? But how?

Perhaps, I thought, you’d need to find and fix a broken puzzle ring…

And so I got the first two ideas for my novel The Puzzle Ring.

The next idea came fast on the heels of the second idea. Because my own family was Scottish, and I’d been inspired by a famous Scottish curse, I decided to set the story in Scotland.

A modern-day girl called Hannah discovers her family is cursed, and so persuades her mother to visit their ancestral home in Scotland in the hope of breaking the curse. Once in the Highlands of Scotland, she makes friends with three local kids … and they soon discover the only way to break the curse was to travel back in time to the dangerous days of Mary, Queen of Scots…

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

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The Puzzle Ring   

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The Puzzle RingThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)     The Empty KingdomThe Forgotten PearlA World Away

Writing Teen Novels
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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).

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

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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
www.writingteennovels.com

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