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Posts tagged ‘novels for teenage readers’

Planning And Writing A Novel, by Monika Schroder

It has been said that there are those writers who plan and those who ‘fly by the seats of their pants’. I am part of the second group and before I began working on my novel, My Brother’s Shadow, I only had a rough idea of who Moritz, the main character, was and what would happen in the story. But already in the first few pages I encountered a surprise. Moritz was telling his story in first person and used the present tense! Hadn’t I read in many books about writing that the first person, present tense point-of-view was a most difficult choice for a writer? My first two novels were told in the voice of third person omniscient narrators reflecting back on past events, and I had no intention of changing this ‘winning formula’ by writing in first person and in present tense.

I rewrote the beginning in past tense but couldn’t force Moritz to tell me his story in hindsight. He was adamant and stuck to the immediacy of present tense.

The story was set in 1918 Berlin. I needed to convey a lot of background information. It seemed such a daunting task to introduce the reader to starvation and despair in Berlin as well as the anticipation of military defeat without the omniscient perspective of third person POV. In the first chapter I needed to set the stage, let Moritz introduce himself and his family and find an intriguing ending to the chapter that would entice readers to go on. Moritz came to my rescue. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper he could read the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby inform the readers of my novel of the state of affairs in Germany, October 1918.  The newspaper became a vehicle to disseminate information about the setting without interrupting the flow of the narrative. On the first page Moritz reads an official war report, knowing that the government is not allowing the truth to come out. He also meets Herr Goldman, a journalist who works for the paper and who takes a liking in Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfil his dream to become a reporter like himself.  Through their conversations Moritz is able to tell the reader about the most pressing and newsworthy current events. Apparently there was a way for me to write in first person, present tense and still give the reader a sense of the setting.

About half way in, the story took an unexpected turn and once again I had trouble letting myself deviate from my original plan. Moritz had met a girl who had completely flummoxed him with her wit. Granted, it was not so unlikely that a 16-year old boy would take an interest in a girl, but I had not anticipated a romance! I had never expected to write about young love. Now here was Rebecca, the smart daughter of a Jewish bookseller who attended the same political meetings as Moritz’s mother and sister. After their first encounter on the train, it was clear that they had to meet again. Yet, the book takes place in 1918, so they wouldn’t go ‘all the way’. I was able to braid his discovery of love together with the story of Moritz’s relationship with his brother, who returns from the trenches a maimed and bitter veteran and it worked at the end. Rebecca’s appearance even gave me the opportunity for a hopeful conclusion leaving the reader satisfied after Moritz’s intense final confrontation with his brother.

Writing My Brother’s Shadow has taught me to trust the process along the way. A quote by E.L. Doctorow showed me that I am not alone with this approach: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Hurricane SongDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)

Writing Teen Novels
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Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

I don’t think there is any conscious process for differentiating between a teen novel and adult.  Clearly in one the young adult must be forefront and in the other, adults.  Obviously adults can figure in both, but as my editor and the writer Beverley Birch says, one must give prominence to the young adult – never lose sight that it is about them.

I know from my own teaching I had one particular student who insisted upon populating her children’s novels with many, many adults.  I used to say constantly who is the story focused on?  Whose story is this?  The kid or the adults?  Never allow that confusion to arise.

I learned this the hard way.  I have a novel out there called Mean Tide, written under a pseudonym, which concerns a child who has had chemo and is sent to live with his psychic grandma by the river in Greenwich.  He meets another kid there, who is silent because of various traumas. The book is populated with adults, all with incredibly rich lives and opinions. To be honest this book straddles adult/children’s fiction and falls between two stools.  I couldn’t see it when I was writing it, as logic would dictate that when a kid goes to live with adults you have to show the adults and bring them to life.  Perhaps I added too much colour.  If your main protagonist is only twelve – there is only so much you can do with a young kid before it becomes unbelievable. Nevertheless as a writer you learn. (One hopes)

Writing for teens you can concentrate on their lives and reduce the impact adults have on their day-to-day existence.  Adults usually act as a restraint on the excesses of teens so the less they are around, the more that can happen.  S F Hinton’s The Outsiders featured this.  This was about teens getting into mischief without constraint and led by a semi-adult teen who did not have anyone’s best interests at heart.  Stephen King’s Stand By Me totally had this focus.  Not just about the kids but also about their perspective on life, the world around them and the risks they take.  It’s important to remember that these novels are written for teens and not adults (even though adults will and can enjoy them).  Kids know by the time they’re 12 that there is no justice in this world. Bullies get away with murder,, people lie, you lie, you haven’t yet formed your own opinions about things and you have doubts about everything.  Somehow you get up and carry on.  The whole world is a critic. You most likely suck at sport or math, and no one but Alice likes you and you don’t like Alice.  This is the teen world.

My approach to adult fiction is to have the plot or situation down first.  If based on a true-life story then it’s about fleshing out the characters, thinking not just about who they are but about their weaknesses and strengths. I like it when a readers connects enough with the character that they start to consider what they wear, eat or say on their own (until that starts to happen organically for me as a reader, I’m not truly in the zone).

With teen fiction, it’s the same process but with the added spice of knowing that kids won’t always take the logical step that may seem more obvious to an adult.  A boy or girl won’t instinctively know that the one they love is bad for them – even if others are saying so.  They have no experience to go on.  This is fresh to them.  All their mistakes are first time mistakes.  As a teacher I used to see girls suffering heartbreak, yet it was clear to me their affections were misplaced.  Now I see break-ups dealt with by text or on Facebook and how cold and heartless all that seems.  You are left to cry on your own I guess without the confrontation.  It can go the other way – irrational hysterical behaviour in the classroom when one girl discovers another is seeing her bloke and all three are in the class before you seething…

Adults generally don’t seethe. They might want to get revenge but the older you are the more numb you usually feel about things.  Kids are NEVER numb.  They can be unfeeling however.

Take Natalie Portman’s character in the movie  Leon.  She is entranced by the slightly simple hitman who protects her from Gary Oldman’s evil cop.  She is excited by the idea of becoming a hitwoman.  She isn’t thinking about moral considerations here.  She’s thinking about revenge, and Leon is simply showing her his one and only skill.  It’s not a kid’s movie but has a kid very much at the forefront.  She is what I remember.  Her pain and heartache and her loyalty.  This would be teen fiction now I think. Capture that intensity and bottle it.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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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.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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Choosing Character Names For Novels, by Paul Volponi

In my house, one of our great joys is the naming of a new pet. We have dogs, cats, and even a bearded dragon. My choices of names usually lose out to those of my wife and daughter (personally, I thought Barkley was a great name for a dog), but there is one place where I get to actually see my name choices come to fruition – in my Young Adult novels.

My inspirations for names come from a variety of places. Some come from students whom I have taught, some come from names I have seen across the back shoulders of sports jerseys, some come to me while listening to other people’s conversations in the street (it’s not that hard with everyone on cell phones these days), and some even arise from classic literature (I named a poker player Huck because the final card in Texas Hold’em is called ‘the River’). I keep a running list of names that I like and may one day want to use in a novel.

I also use a dictionary of names – and no, it’s not cheating. I enjoy hearing the meaning of names in dictionaries, sometimes matching them to a character’s qualities (in Hurricane Song, the preacher is named Culver, which means “dove”). Did you know that Shakespeare coined the name Jessica for a female? Previously, it had only been seen in the masculine form.

Are there any rules for naming characters? Well, obviously not. I do tend to stay away from very common names, such as Jim, John, Jane, and Mary. I also don’t want characters in the same book to have names that are too similar, such as Mr Johnson and Mrs Jones. Sometimes my characters, even really important ones, are simply referred to by their roles, instead of their names. For instance, in Black and White, a prominent character is referred to as Marcus’ mother, rather than by her actual name.

You should feel satisfied with the character names you choose. Don’t settle. I suppose some writers, without a concrete name in mind, can begin to write scenes, perhaps using a dummy name or ***** in its place. To me, that’s counter-productive. The names of your characters can stand for your ideas and represent them in a memorable way to the reading public. I want the main character’s name to have an intimate connection with the character’s development. For example, in Rooftop, the main protagonist is named Clay, because he will be moulded into a man in the pages to come. In Hurricane Song, the protagonist with a long journey ahead of him is named Miles. I can’t say for sure that readers in general pick up on those things. I’ve had a few teens bring those images/names up to me, wanting to discuss their origins. I do feel that they make an impact on a deeper, subconscious level.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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Writing Novels Teens Want To Read, by Diane Lee Wilson

Today’s teens have a lot of options for entertainment: YouTube videos, social media, surfing the internet, computer games and even old-fashioned movies (whether watched on DVDs or downloaded). Where does reading fit in? How do you keep a teen turning the pages of a novel when the entire world is vying – via beeps and chimes and ring tones – for his attention? That’s a tough challenge for today’s authors of teen novels.

Content is what comes to mind first: content that piques teens’ interest and then, once they’ve opened the book, pulls them along through every page with a vivid, fast-paced story. The key is figuring out what will pique this teen’s interest. It can be the genre of the moment – such as the ubiquitous (but perhaps now fading) vampires and werewolves – or one that’s on the horizon: dystopian novels have been earmarked by some literary experts as the next predominant theme. Or it can be – if well-written and well-presented to a publisher – a genre that hasn’t been visited for a while. When JK Rowling wrote the first book of her Harry Potter series, wizards and sorcery weren’t a popular theme. Many publishers turned her down but she had the foresight and the writing skills to craft a story that captured the imagination of teens (and adults) around the world.

Despite the success of the Harry Potter series, I think that most teens are averse to tackling thick books. I think most teens want a book they don’t have to make a huge commitment to read. Shorter chapters are one way to entice teen readers to give a long novel a try. If you break it up into smaller servings, teen readers can get through a chapter or two with ease and perhaps, feeling that they’ve made progress, might hang around for a few more chapters. (This isn’t limited to teen reading habits. I have a good friend in her sixties who reads daily and says she loves books with chapters that may be only two or three pages long. That way she can sneak in reading whenever she gets the chance and feel as though she’s making progress.)

I think authors of teen literature have be on their game if they’re going to attract and keep the attention of teen readers. The opening lines have to be barbed hooks. The writing has to be vivid, crisp and smartly paced. The main character must meet and overcome one hurdle after another and not indulge in too much introspection. Conversation is always good – it’s easy to read and keeps the pages turning.

No matter what competition arises to tempt teens from reading books, stories will always be told. Good writing will always have an outlet. When I hear people talk about blending video and audio into books – creating video-books – I get excited. I think it would be very cool to read a story on a tablet that incorporated judicious use of sounds and artwork to enhance the story. (I say judicious because I don’t want it turned into a movie, just an extra sensory element.) It’s one more way to grab teen readers and get them to spend time reading.

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Making Time To Write Your Novel, by Lish McBride

I dislike the phrase “finding time to write”. It implies that this precious time can be just stumbled upon, like maybe one day you might move the couch and find a whole pile of it and think, “There you are, you clever rascals!” Now, I don’t know how busy you are, but I feel like playing hide-and-seek with writing time might not be the best way to go about things.

Most people I know are really busy. If you’re a teenaged writer, you probably have school, homework, sports, drama, choir, chores, a job, friends and so on to juggle. If you’re an adult writer, your list is just as long, though obviously with a few changes. Waiting to stumble upon time just isn’t going to happen and quite frankly I think it sets up a bad habit. If you wait for time to arrive and the muse to strike, you’re never going to finish your novel.

I know what you’re thinking. “But if I just get published, everything will get so much easier. I’ll have so much writing time that people will have to move it just to sit on my couch! I’m going to write a million novels!” (Apparently, I’m obsessed with couches today.) I get this thought process; I really do. I had the same ideas. I’d like to say I’ve never been more wrong but, really, I’m wrong about a lot of things.

When I was trying to write my first novel in graduate school, I kept thinking about how hard it was to juggle school, writing, work and family, and how much easier things would be if someone bought my novel. I had this amazing fantasy of what my writing day would be like. I’d wake up after a great night’s sleep. I’d have breakfast and drink my coffee and ease into the day. Then I’d head to my office where it was quiet and maybe there was a window for me to look out of while having my deep thoughts. (My deep thoughts mostly consist of things like, “What would a pygmy chupacabra look like? How much swearing is too much? Can I work an obscure 80’s reference into the plot?) I would drink tea and write in an oasis of books, notes and tiny post-its.

Man, wouldn’t that be nice? The thing is, I just seem to be getting busier. I have a full time job, as many writers do. Unless you’re independently wealthy or marry someone who is, you will probably have to have one as well. If you’re lucky, it’s not forever. Most of us aren’t lucky. I volunteer once a week at 826 Seattle. I have an eight-year-old, which means school lunches need to be packed, soccer games attended and a lot of driving time in between. That’s already a lot. Then I have writing time and editing time. Plus I do a lot of extra things like blog posts, interviews and manage my social media like Facebook and Twitter. I consider these sorts of things part of the job. I like reaching out through the internet and talking to readers, bloggers and librarians but it does take time. I answer emails – which takes longer than you might think – and talk on the phone a lot. Then there are bookstore, library and school events. Some of these things may not seem like much. It only takes 5-15 minutes to reply to an email, but what if I have thirty emails that I absolutely have to reply to today. It adds up and you end up nickel and diming yourself to death, so to speak.

I’m not even going to get in to my to-read pile.

I don’t have days off; not really. Now, I’m not trying to whine. I choose to volunteer and I can say no to some of these things, and I do. I can’t do everything. So I have to be very careful with my time and choices. I don’t have an office (I live in an apartment) and I certainly don’t get to ease into my day. I do, however, get coffee. So while the quiet office oasis is an ideal, a far-off wispy dream that I am working toward, it is not yet a reality.

What I’m saying, my writing friends, is that you have to take a hard look at your life and prioritize. What must stay? Work pays your bills and feeds your stomach but you have to feed your mind and soul too.  It’s hard to create and write when the tank is dry. You’re not going to stumble across a pile of free time. You have to make it happen.

When I was struggling over my novel/thesis, I was trying to figure out how other writers did it. I remember checking out Kelley Armstrong’s website because she is very prolific and I knew she had kids. She basically stated that you have to schedule time to write. Treat it like an appointment, something that has to happen, like going to the dentist. Give it importance. I still think that it was a wise thing to say.

Don’t fight yourself. Know what will help or hinder you. I often get distracted at home, so I go out. I have regular writing dates with friends. We hold each other accountable. If you can’t afford to do the coffee shop thing, find a free space like a library or a friend’s kitchen table. Sometimes my friend Brenda will organize a writing day where we’ll all bring food and hang out all day and work. It’s great.

I have wonderful family and friends who support and understand what I need to do. Whether that means my partner might take on extra house/kid duties or a friend might babysit so I can get an hour or two of editing done, every little bit helps. It’s hard to make time happen. I know it is. Even if you can only get thirty minutes a week, that time does add up. When you get it, attack it. Fill those few, precious minutes with as many words as you possibly can. In the end, it all comes down to you.

Homework: Think about the times you were successful in getting some writing done. What made those times a success? How can you replicate it? What gets in the way of your success? How can you weed out these things?

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Writing Novels For Teens Versus For Adults, by April Henry

I had published five books for adults before my first teen book came out. In fact, when I wrote it I thought it was a novel for adults that just happened to have a 16-year-old main character. But my agent, who represents a lot of Young Adult writers, broke the news to me: I had written a Young Adult book.

Since then, I’ve had a foot in both worlds. Every year, I usually write one book for adults and one book for teens. So what’s differente and what’s the same?

Writing

Teens

• All POV (point of view) characters must be kids (unless a very short walk on, like

the cop in Hoot).

• Parents or teachers cannot save the day; teens must. This is why you will so often find kids who are orphans, or who have a dead mom or non-functioning parents.

• YA lit has great built-in obstacles: cliques, coming of age, finding out who you are, peer pressure, family dynamics, dealing with parents divorce, prom, homecoming, falling in love for the first time, etc.

• Many YA books are in the first person, to help the reader more readily identify with the character.

• The books usually take place over a shorter period of time, usually no longer than a year.

• Books are typically much shorter- 50,000 words is common, versus say, 80,000 to 90,000 for adults (although fantasy is often longer).

• It’s okay to have swearing or fairly graphic sex, but it might limit how many teachers will assign your book to readers in your intended age group, or the age group you can appeal to, in hardcover (when kids don’t usually buy their own books). Graphic violence may even be a harder sell.

• An “issue-oriented” book, like a book about being a teen-aged father, or a book about having a sibling with leukemia, may garner a lot of librarian support. And librarian support is key to success in the YA world.

Adults

Pretty much anything goes.

Getting published

Kids

• You don’t necessarily need an agent, especially with books for younger readers.

This is more common for older writers who have developed relationships with editors.

• Editors still accept things from people they meet at conferences

• It’s tougher to get into children’s magazines, and there are fewer of them than magazines for adults.

• And in order to get a short story in a children’s anthology, you pretty much have to have published elsewhere.

Adults

• You have to have an agent for fiction.

• It’s possible to not be agented for non-fiction.

• There’s a great deal more opportunity for poems and short stories to be published in literary journals for adults.

Fans

Teens

• Your readership changes every few years as the readers grow up. They read your books only for a brief time period, say middle school, then move on to adult books. When these teens reache adulthood, they might not care about your next YA novel. That makes it very hard to develop a following. That’s one more reason why librarians are so important, because if they like your books, they will recommend them to each new wave of kids.

• At the same time, if you have a lot of books out there, kids will devour them and not care if they were published this year or five years ago.

• Kids have big emotions about everything, and their feelings about writers are no exception. They will pour out their stories to you, friend you on Facebook (and think you are really friends), hand you poems they wrote and ask what you think, and even ask you to sign their hands.

• Teens ask what adults secretly want to know “How much do you make?”

Adults

• When you write for adults, each book that is released supposedly increases your readership. If readers like your work, they will buy all your future books and your career builds on itself. A fan may stick with you for thirty years.

• Some adults will come to signings just to get your signature, because they see your book as collectible.

• Adults are cool and dispassionate.

Success of a book

Teens

• For children’s literature, there are more “professional” review options, like Hornbook or VOYA, than there are for adult books.

• Reviews trickle in for months after the book is published.

• Librarians are vital to success.

• There are many more opportunities for promotion in YA – libraries, schools, conferences, online, etc – opportunities that aren’t necessarily available to writers of adult books.

• Your publisher gives you a longer time to prove yourself via sales.

• It’s not unheard of for a picture book to be in print for 15 or more years.

• Your book might be named to one of the important library lists a year after publication (such as YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)

• Your book might be named to a state list years later (states like Texas can result in tons of sales)

• Either of the above can mean the sale of many copies over time.

• There’s a better chance you can actually make a living.

Adults

• Reviews come in much sooner for adult books.

• You have about 6-8 weeks to show success in hardcover.

• After that, most of your books are returned for credit and the new hard covers take their place.

• Librarians aren’t as important to the cycle.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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Teen Fiction: A Definition? by Bernard Beckett

Mostly, I write teen fiction. It’s often referred to as YA (for Young Adult), which isn’t a label I love. Calling a teenager a young adult strikes me as patronising, in the way that calling a forty year old an ‘old teenager’ would be. Nomenclature aside, I’m often asked what makes a book YA, and beneath this question there sits a curious and unnecessary concern. The assumption seems to be that this is a difficult thing to define (it is) and that this difficulty poses some sort of a problem (it doesn’t).

Essentially, defining is the art of lumping. Some vehicles we add to the pile of things we call cars, others trucks and so forth. My two and half year old boys have, over the last twelve months, got the hang of this. The first part of language to develop is naming, which goes hand in hand with the foundational intellectual skill of comparing and categorising.

Almost always, we can find examples which are very easy to put in a pile, and examples which are vexing. Even something as simple as colour throws up this problem. It is mostly very easy to distinguish a red object from an orange one, but at the boundary we find examples of reddish orangey things that don’t fall comfortably into either pile. (If you’ve ever looked at a rainbow and tried to identify the indigo/violet boundary, you’ll have seen a particularly striking example of fuzzy boundaries. In fact, any sane person would have stuck with six colours, red, orange, yellow, green blue, purple, but Isaac Newton, believing seven to be a more auspicious number, insisted on an extra boundary).

So, we know what cars are and we know what red is, even though it is impossible to precisely define either. Yet, we don’t get too worked up by this difficulty. Interviews with people who design, fix or race cars don’t return with boring monotony to the question ‘yes, but what makes a car a car?’ Mostly cars have four wheels, but not always. Mostly they have combustion engines, but not always. Mostly they have two rows of seats, but not always. Mostly they have an engine at the front, but not always. Mostly they have a roof, but not always. You get the idea.

Any attempt to define YA literature will surely encounter the same flavour of mostliness. Mostly YA fiction centers around characters who are themselves teenagers (but not always). Mostly it will be read primarily by teenagers (but not always). Mostly it will deal with those concerns that typify the teenage psychology (but not always). Mostly the author will have written it with a teenage audience in mind (but not always). And of course, mostly we’ll know it when we see it (but not always).

For me, writing for teenagers and writing for adults are very different processes. First, there’s the issue of assumed knowledge. If I’m writing for an adult, I can assume a store of experience that I can’t when writing for a teenager. An adult is much more likely to have experienced being a parent for example, being married, or having worked in a full time job. A different range of images and associations are therefore available. It’s not that we can’t write about these things for teens, but we should anticipate a different response, purely because of the reader’s frame of reference.

Second is assumed interest. Consider a story centered about a man in his seventies, with failing health, looking back over his life and wondering why he was never able to stay close to the people he loved. I find that a pretty interesting concept, but automatically assume a teenage audience won’t. Different stages of life tend to support different fascinations. Having sex for the first time is a more likely focus for a teen novel than an adult one (but not always, On Chesil Beach is an excellent counter-example). Every story I’ve ever written for teens has at heart involved the teenager confronting for the first time a complexity in the world that they’d previously had no sense of: a complexity demanding a response that is neither easy nor obvious. It’s not true that all teen novels must confront this question, but it’s what I’m personally drawn to writing about.

Third, there’s the end user to consider. Just as all car owners have different needs, and this defines the limits of what we might mean by the word car, so too the readers of teen fiction are anything but homogenous. The ten year old reading teen fiction for the first time is a very different beast from the seventeen year old just looking for something that is neither juvenile nor centred about an aspiring author’s mid-life crisis. The introverted, living-my-life-through-books teen, is after something quite different from the sometimes-read-when-there’s-nothing-else-to-do-or-people-make-me’s target. Some teens are tremendously smart, with searing curiosity and vocabularies that exceed their horizons, others not so much. Hence we don’t write for teens, so much as for a subset of teens. Most often, this subset closely reflects the teens we ourselves once were (and, as with those who choose to teach, the backgrounds of those who choose to write tend to cluster about a false norm).

Finally, and most positively, there’s a sense of possibility, of freshness and urgency, that defines the teenage audience, and in a perfect world this will infect the writing. The very best writing for children manages to capture that magical aspect of childhood that the adult reader instinctively understands is lost to them, and makes the reading of such books a bittersweet experience. So too, the finest teen writing should fill the adult reader with a sense of loss and longing (and the teen reader with a sense of celebration). YA fiction should exist not because there’s a market for it, but because it can tell stories that no other genre can. If we can’t make that true, then we have no business writing it.

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

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Voice In Teen Novels, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I get asked a lot in my classes on writing how I make the voice for the teenager ‘authentic’. I think my answer is frustratingly esoteric, but it works for me: I don’t try to sound like a teenager at all. I don’t try to include current slang, or fads, or anything that actually separates me from teens.  I’m a generation older than they are and there isn’t anything I can do about that. Their youth, their teenaged rambunctiousness, their clingy jeans and their weird hairstyles — if I get bogged down in all that, it alienates me from them too much. In other words, I can’t be really authentic in my YA voice if I think of teenagers as the “other”.

Instead I try really hard to get down to the basics, and simply imagine a young, inexperienced person stuck in the situation I’ve created for them. I focus on creating a real, whole character who behaves in all the unexpected, strange ways people behave when they’re confronted with the challenges of life.

Some writers have a totally different take on this question, and they’re not wrong. Many YA writers I know spend time with teens just so they can listen to the way they talk, notice their clothes, and their many changing fads. This can be a good approach too, but I would suggest that even writers who are observing and studying young people, when they’re in the task of writing, are still thinking of their teen characters as people first. Probably all those anxieties about linguistically masquerading themselves fall into the background when they’re drafting.

My only caveat with this approach is that if one tries too hard to sound “current,” one could end up with a book that doesn’t age particularly well. Imagine reading a book written during the 1970s when all the kids were saying, “Far out,” and “Groovy.” Do you want to read that book now? I’ll bet you if you take a look at the books that have endured over the decades, you’ll find that none of the characters sound like the cast of The Brady Bunch.  If plain old lovely English is good enough for the likes of Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle, and Katherine Paterson, it is certainly good enough for me.

Besides, there’s so much more to voice than shallow, faddish verbiage. If you get the concerns of a young person right, their frustration with the limits to their own power, their inexperience when dealing with oftentimes adult issues, their very human fears about not being strong enough or pretty enough or smart enough… If you hit all these notes right, the voice takes care of itself. The concerns of a teenager are, in the final analysis, not too different from the concerns of an adult. Where do I belong? How can I be happy? How can I find love?  Who am I? The older I get, the more I realize that we are all like children, continually bewildered by a random, unpredictable, chaotic world, no matter how old we happen to be. If a writer remembers that, s/he can create believable characters of any age.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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