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Posts tagged ‘how to write a teen novel’

Plot, Character And Hooptedoodle In Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

I think that one of the strong characteristics of teen fiction, as opposed to adult fiction, is that it is plot-driven.  Middle grade fiction is too, but teen fiction offers the author the opportunity to bring in all kinds of adventure and excitement and angst that isn’t appropriate for a younger readership.  I feel like Young Adult fiction offers me the best of both worlds as a writer – I can write about mature themes and at the same time I can tell a good story.

But I don’t come up with a plot idea out of the blue.  I find that my plot-driven fiction is really character-driven.  What starts me off is a good character.  Once I get the idea for the hero (or sometimes the anti-hero) of the book, that person usually sets the plot going.  In The Sunbird, Telemakos’s aptitude for sneakiness gets him recruited as a child spy.  In Code Name Verity, Maddie’s interest in mechanics leads her into aviation, and her level-headed reliability and discretion draws the interest of the Special Operations Executive.

Being plot-driven, there’s not a lot of room for what John Steinbeck calls ‘Hooptedoodle’ in YA fiction.  Hooptedoodle is a foray into purple prose.  It can be a linking passage between action scenes, or a description of landscape to set the scene, or maybe just the author waxing lyrical and enjoying the sound of his or her own voice.  I am a very literary writer and I like writing hooptedoodle.  I have to be tricky about working it in, because the general assumption is:  1) it does nothing for plot, and 2) teens get bored quickly if your writing is too flowery.

I think that both these assumptions are incorrect.  I think that YA readers, who are still forming their own literary tastes and styles, can be just as hungry for mature and beautiful writing as they are for action.  Certainly it was during my own teenage years that I read and wrote the most poetry.  If anything, my ‘juvenilia’ was more florid than anything I’ve written since.  Obviously I am a sample population of One, but that also means that in an ideal world I’m writing for myself – I’m writing what I would have liked to read as a teen – and indeed, what I still like to read.

As for furthering the plot, well, that’s just a matter of your skill as a writer.  The first half of Code Name Verity is really one lengthy coded message, all of which comes clear in the second half of the book, and a lot of the ‘hooptedoodle’ in Part 1 is there on purpose to disguise the message.  There are other important things Verity’s lyrical passages do: they are an outlet for her despair (she is a prisoner of the Gestapo as she tells her story), they describe her past, they help to show her commitment and loyalty, and they help her survive – so when Verity (or me, as the author) describes the landscape of her childhood, the passage is doing any number of things to help define the characters and to set up the plot.

So there’s my recipe for a great teen read – tight plot, engaging characters and a dash of hooptedoodle!


Elizabeth Wein’s author website:

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page


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United Kingdom (and beyond)


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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     Sektion 20Tarzan: The Savage LandsGirl, Stolen

Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (January 2013)

The Writing Teen Novels 2013 line-up was launched on January 1st with a diverse range of novelists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand as monthly contributors. Each monthly contributor now has their first Writing Teen Novels article online.

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

The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:

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

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

Articles for January 2013

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

Some Themes For Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Why I Write Mysteries And Thrillers – And Read Them, Too by April Henry

I Was A Teenage Artist by Stephen Emond

Voice In Teen Novels by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Why I Write For Young Adults by Laurie Faria Stolarz

On Finding Story Ideas by Kate Forsyth

On Story Development by Andy Briggs

Teen Fiction: A Definition? by Bernard Beckett

Getting ‘Great Ideas’ For Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Combining Personal Experience And Imagination For Writing Novels by Kashmira Sheth

Why I Write Young Adult Novels by Lish McBride

What Is The Appeal Of Teen Dystopian Novels? by Sam Hawksmoor

How Reading Berlin Newspapers From The Fall Of 1918 Helped Me Write ‘My Brother’s Shadow’ by Monika Schroder

Why I Made The Switch To Writing Young Adult Novels, by Catherine Ryan Hyde (guest article)

On Creating Conflict (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Choosing The Right Story For Your Teen Novel by Paul Volponi

Historical Teen Novels: Fact, Fiction And Friction by Pauline Francis

Writing Narrative Point Of View In Teen Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

Approaching the writing of teen novels

Beth Revis wrote: “Do the things you fear. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Care more about the story than the market.”

Elizabeth Wein wrote: “I don’t write teen novels. Most of my novels are about teens, but I have never once in my life set out to write a ‘teen novel’.”

Guest contributor Catherine Ryan Hyde: “It helps to remind myself that when I was 14, my favorite book and movie was Midnight Cowboy, though my parents didn’t know it. That’s how I assess the reading level of a teen.”

Laurie Faria Stolarz wrote: “I knew that I wanted to target readers that were like me as a young person – those who found themselves getting discouraged by reading, whose minds tended to wander as soon as they got bored on the page. I wanted to create high concept, page-turning books that would grab the reluctant reader and get them excited about reading.”

Lish McBride wrote: “The writing coming out of Young Adult and Middle Grade sections makes my imagination burn and my heart glow with pure, unabashed joy. There have always been writers and editors that take writing for kids seriously, but now they’re being let onto the playing field. It makes me happier than you can ever know to be part of that team.”

Paul Volponi wrote: “After having written 10 novels for young adults, I believe that the most challenging aspect of writing a YA novel is choosing the right story. Why? You’re probably going to live with that story every day for a long while. In my case, it usually takes me anywhere from 10 months to a year to complete a novel. Then, following the initial writing process, there will probably be several more months of working with the editor representing the publishing company, making modifications on the novel. So there is little doubt that you need to choose a story that inspires you.”

I am currently writing a teen historical novel set in western Poland in 1939. The basic premise is that a teenage boy living with his family in Bydgoszcz in western Poland discovers at the outbreak of WW2 that he was adopted and his biological parents want to take him to Berlin, but he has different ideas. The story follows him as he tries to bring his family in Bydgoszcz back together amidst the German invasion and occupation.

I live in Australia and, like Beth Revis recommends, I’m not being like everyone else; writing a teen historical novel set in wartime Poland is not an attempt to hitch onto market trends and be just like the current bestsellers. It has originality but can also fit firmly into genres such as teen novels, historical novels and wartime novels. Like Elizabeth Wein, I am writing about a teenage main character but not necessarily writing a ‘teen’ novel in the sense of following criteria to fit a specific idea of what ‘teen’ novels should be. The novel I’m writing is intended for teenage readers and adult readers. The subject matter means I would not be actively promoting the novel to pre-teen children, given the setting in the opening months of WW2 Poland and being written for teen-adult readers in mind, but, as Catherine Ryan Hyde indicated, many young readers read above the recommended age-range. I first read one of Stephen King’s adult horror novels when I was 9 and enjoyed it because it didn’t talk down and overly simplify things like many of the novels I had read that were recommended for my age. Whereas Laurie Faria Stolarz has an emphasis on catering for reluctant readers, my natural emphasis for teen readers is probably more toward creating something which will entertain and intellectually stimulate Honour Roll students and intelligent adults, while still being accessible and emotionally engaging for more reluctant readers. As Lish McBride pointed out, there is a lot of sophisticated and entertaining fiction available to teen readers now. My approach to my novel-in-progress is not to focus on a simplistic action-adventure approach to war, nor a simplistic anti-war morality tale, or something similar, but a story about things like family, friendship, courage, responsibility, joy, sorrow and striving against adversity. Another key aspect of my approach for this novel is in-depth research; I want my depiction of the setting to stand up to expert scrutiny as well as the story being entertaining and intellectually stimulating for teen and adult readers. All this amounts to a story I am happy to write, revise and edit over a long timeframe then discuss with people over an even longer timeframe.

Teen readers deserve novels which are not a simplified version of adult novels but sophisticated and entertaining novels created with as much effort and attention to detail as adult novels.


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


Writing Teen Novels


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