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Posts tagged ‘group blog for Young Adult novelists’

Month In Review (August 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its eighth 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.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November, 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

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

Articles for August 2013

Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels by April Henry

Creating Teenage Characters For Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

My Journey Of Writing And Publishing My First Novel by Mandi Lynn (guest article)

Not Treating Teenage Years Merely As Preparation For Adulthood In Your Novels by Bernard Beckett

The Importance Of An Authentic And Unique Voice In Teen Novels by Monika Schroder

Bringing English 101 To Your Novel by Beth Revis

Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

Three Act Structure For Novel Writing by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Characters And Story Development For Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

My Writing Process For ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ by Kate Forsyth

Writing ‘Evil’ Characters In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Overcoming Writer’s Block by Lish McBride

Writing Dialogue In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Sustaining A Plot With Obstacles And Sub-Goals (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Getting Story Ideas And Writing Them Into Novels by Pauline Francis

Writing Stories In Different Formats by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

The Benefits Of Taking A Break When Writing by Kashmira Sheth

On Age Ranges For Novels by Andy Briggs


‘Month In Review’ Updates

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


Writing Teen Novels

Developing An Idea Into A Complete Story, by Andy Briggs

It all starts with a sudden explosion of thoughts and concepts that rebound from one another until they start to form the kernel of an idea. It is this precious idea that is going to consume months, if not years, of your life as you nurture it into a story. It’s that tiny idea you thought of on the train, in school or walking the dog that is going to make you get out of bed each morning and hammer away at a keyboard.

So it better be good.

How does this idea evolve into a book? You will start working out the beginning, middle and end – the core three acts that bond your story together. Most of the time, these will be utterly wrong and you will find yourself rewriting your opening, reworking the middle and having no idea how it is all going to end until you get there. Having a notion of where the story might go is enough. Your characters will begin to develop from this. You’ll find yourself bending and twisting the story to fit their needs – try and resist this. You want the story to be a challenge for the characters to navigate, so don’t be concerned about their health and safety.

Now your characters are forming, your plot is also falling into shape. A couple of key scenes will probably have sparked into existence; jot them down and keep them for later.

With the raw elements of characters and rough plot you have reached a fork in your evolving quest. Do you sit and plan the story as best you can, so you know what information each chapter has to convey and what turns your story will take? Or, do you jump in and start writing with no clear idea on where your story is going? Both methods are equally valid, and it often comes down to the individual’s personal tastes. I like to plot – I think this comes from starting my career writing movies. With scripts, you need a solid structure and have a finite number of pages to play out your story. For the novelist, at this moment in time, you have a blank canvas and infinite pages.

Whichever path you have taken, your story will unfold and you will begin to find the characters are not behaving quite the way you want them to. This is because you are giving life to them with each sentence, and no matter how well you think you know them, you don’t. It will feel as if they are taking you in a different direction from what you originally intended. I feel it is pointless trying to change their minds, you may as well go with the flow – but remember, you are the Creator. Don’t let them get away with leading you down an unplanned path. When this happens, I throw down a challenge within the story to derail them and bring them back on the course I plotted. People say you should love your characters – but drama comes from conflict, and you should be causing as many problems for them as possible.

As you plough through your story, you may discover those brilliant plot twists or scenes you dreamt up no longer fit the story. Don’t try to force them in, otherwise your story will seem disjointed. New scenes will evolve from the problems you have thrown at the characters. Rather than force a great idea into an unyielding story, set it aside for another book. Good ideas will have their moment; just remember their moment may not be now.

After navigating through writer’s block, casting misfortune on your characters and typing until your fingers are numb, you finally have a book. You may suddenly realise the ending was not what you had in mind, or, on the lucky occasions, have an ending that surprises you. You may also discover that your beginning doesn’t set the right tone – which probably means you have entered the story at the wrong moment. Try other entry points to see what works.

The most important point is that you now have a complete story: pages of drama and tension that all came from a random idea. As a writer, there is no greater thrill than reaching that moment.


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Writing Teen Novels

The Good Thing About Bad Writing, by Lish McBride

As much as we hate to admit it, not every word we write is gold. Some of them wouldn’t even qualify as a precious metal. We all have off days and no matter where you are on the publishing spectrum, you’re still learning. One day you’ll write twenty pages of what you’re sure is the Best Thing Anyone Has Written, Ever, only to read it the next day and realize it’s total drivel.

Sometimes the “total drivel” response is just that little critic voice in your head. Ignore that voice. There are plenty of people on the planet ready to line up and tear apart what you’re doing. I see no reason why you should actively help them. Other times, though, it’s not the voice. Some pages just don’t live up to their potential and they have to be cut.

Don’t cry over this. Editing, cutting, slashing and burning are natural parts of the process. As a writer you are like a sculptor, cutting away at the blank marble until something wonderful emerges. But I want you to listen, my writer friends. The next thing I’m going to say is very important. Don’t throw everything away. Even bad writing has its purpose.

This is especially true for you young writers out there. You might never do anything with that heart-felt poem about your feelings. You might never do anything with that ‘zine you made with your friends, or the Harry Potter fan-fiction you just wrote. That’s okay. Keep them anyway, because you’re going to grow up and get old and maybe grow a moustache and learn how to play bridge. It’s a natural part of the cycle.

You’re going to forget some things about being young. Not everything. The big things stand out. Some of you, like me, will actively try to forget some of them. This is why keeping your writing is so important – it’s a snapshot of the teenage you. (I can’t take credit for this idea. I read it in Gail Cason Levine’s writing book and honestly it’s some of the best advice ever.)

There are other good reasons to keep snippets around. Sometimes you can salvage things. It’s like a mechanic having a yard of junker cars. Sure, the engine is shot, and it won’t move, but the carburetor is almost brand new. So you pull that sucker out and put it in something else. You can salvage your stories, too. Maybe you have a good line in there or a great character. Yank them and put them in something better. I have a history of stealing characters out of short stories and putting them into other works. My character Ashley is an example of this at work.

There are times, too, when you look back on a dud story and realize that you suddenly know how to make it work. One good overhaul and that sucker will shine like gold. I have a few duds in my pile that I have hopes for.

Lastly, they’re good benchmarks for you. I don’t like competing with other authors. I think it can create a toxic environment and honestly, it’s just not a good thing to do to yourself. I could go crazy trying to battle some of my writer heroes with words. Especially since some of them have had whole lifetimes to become awesome and I’m just getting going. I do, however, compete against myself. I don’t need to write a short story better than Mark Twain. I just need to write a short story better than the last one I wrote. There are days when I look at old stories that I’ve written and I think, “Okay, so I’m not great, but I’m better than that. My writing is so much clearer than it used to be. If I work hard, it will be even better tomorrow.”

It’s fun to watch yourself grow as a writer.

Homework: Dig something out of your pile. What element sticks out as a keeper? What can you do with it? If you don’t have a pile, start one.


Lish McBride’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

How To Find A Literary Agent, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Based on the writers I’ve known, there are four basic ways to find an agent:

1. Query an agent through Literary Marketplace, or another reference book that lists agents who are accepting solicitations. Write up a very polished letter, no more than a page or so, in which you describe your book, say why it has commercial appeal, tell the agent why you are contacting her in particular to show you’ve done your research, and if that agency says you can do so in their submission guidelines, send in the first chapter of your book. Repeat a few dozen times until you find an agent who wants to take you on. This is how I got my first agent, who managed to sell my first book before we parted ways for mutual reasons, and though the partnership didn’t last, I’ll be forever grateful to her.

2. Go to a writing conference and pitch your book to an agent. This is how I got my second agent. I met her in person, we had a certain simpatico, I showed her the first paragraph of something I was working on, and she said she’d be willing to look at my work. I sent her my novel and she accepted me as her client. The nice thing about finding an agent this way is that most writing conferences aren’t going to invite bum agents to their gig. They want only reputable agents from competitive agencies, so you can be fairly certain that an agent at a conference like this is going to be a real professional. (This isn’t an excuse not to do research of your own, though!)

3. Go through a writer friend you know. If your friend has a good agent and doesn’t mind sharing, you can ask him/her to put in a good word for you. Then write an excellent query letter, and send in a fabulous piece of writing that doesn’t make your friend look bad to her agent. The only problem with this approach is that it can be really hard to get turned down by a friend’s agent, and unless you are super-cool about it, your friendship can be affected.

4. Sell your first novel yourself, then hire an agent to negotiate the contract for you and represent you thereafter. I know two different writers who found their agents this way, but I think this is getting harder to do these days and fewer publishing houses accept un-agented manuscripts.

Finding an agent can be time consuming and difficult, and the task is so daunting that some beginning writers want to skip this step. They do so at their own peril, because if they can’t find an agent who wants to represent their book, they’re going to have an even harder time finding an editor who wants to publish it. In other words, if your work isn’t good enough for an agent, it’s definitely not good enough for an editor. Yet. So if you’re going to put in all that work to make your book good enough, you might as well find someone who can be your business partner and defender. It’s tough out there; it’s good to have someone you can rely to always be on your side.


Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

10 Tips For Becoming A Good Novelist, by April Henry

1. Read, read, read. Try well-reviewed books in genres you wouldn’t normally read – fantasy, historical novels, even westerns. Don’t be afraid to put something aside if it’s not working for you – but first try to pinpoint why it’s not working.

2. You don’t have to write what you know. Write what interests you. Do I know much about kidnappings, murders, drug dealers, being blind or assuming a dead girl’s identity? No. But I’ve written books that have gotten starred reviews, awards and have hit the New York Times bestseller list.

3. You can write a book in as little as 20 minutes a day. I know because I’ve done it. Make writing a habit. Don’t wait for inspiration. Once you are published, you’ll need to make deadlines. Write every day or, at minimum, every weekend. If you don’t know what to write about, start by getting a book with writing prompts, like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg or What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

4. You can always edit crap. You can’t edit nothing. Sometimes you have to force yourself to write. Sometimes you’ll find your back against the wall when you need a solution or a resolution to the story. Make yourself write something. Anything. And often what you come up with turns out to be surprisingly good.

5. You don’t have to outline – but you can. If you don’t plot in advance, just keep raising the stakes for your characters. Set up initial goals, throw some obstacles in the way, and see if your characters sink or swim. If your characters do swim, send a few sharks after them!

6. Tenacity is as important as talent. Many fine writers have given up after getting a few rejections from agents. I still think about Jane and Tom, people I took a writing class with about a decade ago. They were the stars of our class, far better writers than I was. I was just one of the drones. Both Jane and Tom gave up after getting a few rejections from agents. If they had persevered, I think they would have been published.

7. Show vs. tell is something most writers struggles with. In movies and on TV they can’t tell you anything – at least without on-screen text or voice over. Everything is audio-visual, which means they have to show you. How do you know someone is upset, angry, happy, sad, frustrated, etc.? Watch movies and TV and write down facial expressions, movements, actions, gestures, etc. Use these to describe your own characters when you’re writing. This is a good way to learn how to show emotion instead of telling it.

8. Revision has gotten a bad rap. It can actually be the most fun. Most of the hard work is done – so you just polish things up, cut things down to size, make characters a little larger than life, and reorder your ideas. The best way to start a revision is to let the book lie fallow for at least a week. A month is better. Six months would be ideal.

9. To really see what needs fixing, read it aloud. Yes, all of it. It’s even better if you can read it to someone, even if it’s a toddler or your cat. Or imagine an editor or agent is listening.

10. Go to readings at bookstores. You’ll learn something from every writer you hear. You’ll see that published writers aren’t some exotic species. And they’ll be glad to see you even if you don’t buy a book.


April Henry’s author website:

April Henry’s bio page


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Writing Teen Novels

Creating An Underdog Character (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

This post, I believe, reveals one of the most important secrets in harnessing narrative drive. If you only do this one thing, it will go a long way to creating enough pace and tension to see your character through most of the story, without losing your teenage reader. It is a common enough ploy. It’s the cliff in the cliff hanger, the drama in melodrama, the thrill in a thriller.


The Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 5

drum roll…  tada!

Stack the odds against the main character 

Why will stacking the odds against the protagonist help create character empathy, ensure page turning and enthral your reader? Here’s why:

  • People dislike unfairness.
  • We root for the underdog.
  • We despise villains and overlords.
  • We’re naturally wired to rebel against tyrants.
  • The more unfair treatment is ladled out to our heroes the more we care about them and want them be free of their oppressors.
  • The braver the underdog the more we are hooked into their story.

Fair enough?

If the reader has already invested empathetically with the protagonist, then stacking the odds against them will help readers care about your character  and what happens to them.

How you can use this secret?

  • Treat your character unfairly
  • Put them in jeopardy Injure them, if appropriate
  • Don’t let up on them for more than a page
  • Don’t rescue them.

Can you think of how this device is used in novels you’ve read?  What about The Hunger Games - just try to count the ways that Katniss is:

  • Treated unfairly
  • Put in jeopardy
  • Injured
  • Not let up on
  • Not rescued.
  • Tricked
  • Oppressed
  • Hunted

Need I say more?



Sarah Mussi’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

On Character Development For Novelists, by Kate Forsyth

Why is it that some books you read linger in your heart and mind for the rest of your life, while you have trouble remembering much about another book only a few days later?

It is because some books have characters that seem to leap off the page, vivid and alive. These characters have a story to tell that moves and challenges you, making your pulse hurry and your throat thicken, making you turn the pages faster and faster because you so desperately want to know what happens next.

How do we, as writers, create characters who sing and dance and leap? How do we tell a story that makes someone we have never meet sigh, laugh out loud and weep?

To me, character and plot are the most important cogs in the well-oiled machine that is a working story. It is also where many writers fail.

Let’s start with character, the mainspring of any story’s mechanics.

Character building is, I think, one of the trickiest parts of writing a novel, and the one factor that can transform a mediocre book into a marvellous one. Usually our favourite books are the ones in which we wish the main character was our friend.

When writing about the books of Edith Nesbit, Noel Streatfield invented what she called the ‘bus test’: ‘One way of gauging the aliveness of a family in a children’s book is to ask yourself “Would I know them if they sat opposite me in a bus?”’

I think this is a test for all characters in all books - could you, for example, recognise Jo March and her sisters? Would you recognise Harry Potter or Miss Havisham? What about Sherlock Holmes? Scarlett O’Hara? Peter Pan?

Sometimes characters just appear in your imagination with a strong voice all of their own.

Sometimes you need to build them painstakingly from the ground up and wait for them to come to life.

I often find it takes about the first quarter of the first draft (around 20,000 words) for my characters to really begin to move and talk naturally. So don’t worry if you find it takes you a while to really connect - this is quite normal.

William Faulkner said: ‘It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands upon his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.’

Character 101

First, let’s consider what exactly a ‘character’ is.

Characters are the people who populate your story.

Characterisation: the process by which a writer makes those characters seem real to the reader.

Protagonist: the hero or heroine; the primary character or point of view with whom the reader connects and empathises

Antagonist: the character or force that stands directly opposed to the protagonist and gives rise to the conflict of the story.

Foil: character whose behaviour and values provides a contrast to the protagonist in order to highlight their personalities i.e. weak to strong, quiet to talkative

Antihero: protagonist who has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero. He may weak and ineffectual; or greedy and cruel. It is much harder to build empathy for an anti-hero.

Static character: does not change throughout the work and the reader’s knowledge of that character does not grow.

Dynamic character: undergoes some kind of change because of the action in the plot. Usually the protagonist of a story is a dynamic character and their growth towards self-realisation and wisdom is the true narrative arc.

Flat character: embodies one or two qualities or traits that can be readily described in a brief summary.  Can sometimes be:

Stock character: embodies stereotypes such as the ‘dumb blonde’ or ‘the cruel stepmother’ and so forth.

Round characters: more complex than flat or stock characters, and often display the inconsistencies and internal conflicts found in most real people. They can grow and change and ‘surprise convincingly’.

Showing and Telling: Authors have two major methods of presenting characters: showing and telling. Usually authors use a combination of both.

Showing: allows the author to present a character talking and acting, and lets the reader infer what kind of person the character is.

Telling: the author describes and evaluates the character for the reader.

Characters can be convincing, whether they are presented by showing or by telling, as long as their actions are motivated.

Character Tags:  everyone has certain individual mannerisms such as chewing their nails, sitting with one foot on top of the other, playing with their hair, etc. Try to find one or two that will help define each character i.e. a nervous girl who chews her bottom lip, a confident man who stands too close. A character tag can evoke the personality of a character far more powerfully than whole paragraphs of explanation. However, be careful not to overuse them.


Kate Forsyth’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

Endings And The Novel Writing Process, by Bernard Beckett

I recently read an interesting piece of research that suggests that the crucial thing when it comes to recalling and assessing an experience is the way it ends. So, for example, people asked to rate the nastiness of a painful experience (they used submerging the hand in unpleasantly cold water) leaned more heavily upon how it felt at the end (whether the water was slowly warmed again or not) than the duration of the pain.

This brought to mind a university job I once had helping to run a children’s holiday programme. The young chap I was working with (now a bishop, of all things) explained to me that the key thing was to end the day with your best activity. Just so long as, when the parents came to pick them up, their little darlings were buzzing with enthusiasm, the reports would be positive and they’d all be back the next day. The movie industry is well aware of this effect. The cliché-spouting executive is quick to tell you it’s the way the person feels as they leave the film that will determine whether or not they recommend it to a friend. Hence the constant reworking and second guessing of Hollywood endings and the almost pathological aversion to stories that don’t ultimately affirm.

As a reader, few things infuriate me more than a novel that misses its ending. No matter how much I’ve enjoyed the preceding pages, if the ending is mishandled I feel like I’ve just been subjected to a long joke without a punch line. I find myself asking: why exactly did you want to tell me this? (I once heard that there is a special word in German for the person who tells long and pointless stories – we need such a word).

Yet, as a writer, I’ve messed up a fair few endings of my own. Endings should complete the story. They should make sense of all that has gone before. Not necessarily in the tidy, tied up, artificially resolved way of Hollywood. I’ve nothing against ambiguities and uncertainties. What I strive to avoid though, with varying degrees of success, is the ending that fails to fulfil the novel’s implicit contract. If a novel presents me with a murder on page one, I expect to find out the who and why by the end. If it introduces the love struck hero, facing impossible odds, then by the end I’d like to know if he’s succeeded, or failed, or simply fallen out of love. What I don’t want, is to have that left unresolved. If that’s the method you’ve used to maintain reader interest throughout the story, then I think you’re obliged to give them the payoff.

If I think about the times I’ve failed with endings, they are consistently stories where I was confident I would find the ending when I got there. I was enjoying the characters, building the situations, turning and twisting the plot, and somehow I believed, so long as I put my faith in the world I was creating and followed the characters where they took me, an ending would emerge. I’ve read of writers who operate this way and produce remarkable endings. So it’s not impossible. But looking back on my ten published novels, that’s never worked for me. Never once did I embark upon a story not knowing the ending and then find it. I found an ending, sure, but not the ending, the one that lets you close the back cover and feel that the story has finished.

So, for me, I’ve worked out rather belatedly that I need to know how the story ends before I can begin it. That doesn’t just mean I know the how of the ending, that character x discovers the letter he threw into the sea was from his father, but also the why, by which I mean the emotional context. What does the revelation of the ending tell us about the main character? How does it make us feel? How does it allow us to reinterpret or package all that has gone before? So endings have both a narrative and emotional dimension, and to know the ending is to know both of these. (Recently I worked on a novel where I knew what would happen at the end but not how I wanted the reader to feel about it. After two years, the book was discarded).

Although I know the ending of a novel before I start writing, I won’t necessarily have much idea of the in-between. I don’t plot incident by incident, or even chapter by chapter. Part of the thrill of writing, for me, is watching the thing wriggle into life on screen, and the more thrilling that feels the more likely it is that I’m on to something. I make sure I’m aware of the destination in a meaningful way because the ending is, in so many ways, the reason you’re telling the story in the first place. It’s the thing that compels you to take a stranger by the arm and say, ‘Hey, listen to this.’ If you do that when you don’t have much to say, well there’s a word for that in German.


Bernard Beckett’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels


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