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Posts tagged ‘storytelling for novels’

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.


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.


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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Writing Teen Novels

Writing Suspenseful Novels, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I endeavor to write page-turners.  I love a book that has me so absorbed I will stay up late to finish it, knowing I’ll be tired the next day. I love the tension, the high stakes, the furious pace that makes me deliciously dizzy and frantic all at once. I am forever in awe of writers who can write them, because even if the page-turner is often considered a “commercial” book rather than a “literary” one, there is a world of skill involved in creating one.

Not everybody can be Stephen King, but everybody can learn a few tricks writers use to make their books hard to put down. Here are a few I’ve accumulated along the way.

Judicious use of cliffhangers. If you examine a page-turner, you might find that every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. If the endings of your chapters are too “pat,” you give your reader a natural place to stop reading, and they might not be so eager to pick the book back up again. If you end a chapter with your protagonist in a death embrace with a giant squid, your reader will have no choice but to keep going.

Be succinct. In the history of the universe, there has never been a verbose page-turner. Use details, use setting, use dialogue, write beautifully, but waste no time on words you don’t need.

Let the reader know more than the characters know. If you have a sweet little waif walking up a hillside, and your reader has no idea there is a lecherous troll waiting for her behind a boulder, there isn’t much suspense there. If the reader knows that she’s walking into a trap, you’ve made the reading experience much more harrowing and a lot more fun.

Have consequences. You know how you kind of fall in love with your characters, and you think they’re really great people, and you’d buy them a cup of coffee and have a nice chat if they were real? And you know how you don’t want anything bad to happen to them? Betray them. Torture. Maim. Destroy. Page-turners don’t tend to be sweet little flouncing stories, unless you’re Jane Austen. If you can’t torture your beloveds, forget the page-turner and write a romance, which has its own attractions. Whatever you do, have your character solve his or her own problems. Nothing kills tension faster than a clunky Deus Ex Machina.

Don’t outline. Plenty of people will disagree, but I find when drafting I do better if I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen. Many times I have gotten to the end of the novel with no idea I was going to kill off a particular character. If you know everything that’s going to happen before you write it, you’ll miss the little breadcrumbs your subconscious is leaving for you about the surprises lurking in the forest. Follow the breadcrumbs. Be willing to stumble off your path, because if you surprise yourself, your reader will be surprised too.

Use the dramatic three act structure. This structure is a bit more involved than the simple ‘Exposition, Climax, Denouement’ we all learned in middle school. I’m leaving a more thorough discussion for my next post, but if you can’t wait, it’s available all over the web in myriad forms.

Perhaps some of you will have noticed other traits of the page-turner. Feel free to leave your ideas about it in the comments. And have fun with your writing!


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Writing Teen Novels

The Process Of Writing My Novel ‘My Brother’s Shadow’, 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. I encountered a surprise in the first few pages. 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 difficult to write? My first two novels were told in the voice of third person omniscient narrators reflecting on past events, and I had no intention of changing from what I knew by writing in first person and in present tense.

I rewrote the beginning in past tense but couldn’t force Moritz to tell his story in hindsight, so I stuck to the immediacy of present tense. The story is 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 in October 1918.  The newspaper became a vehicle to disseminate information about the setting without interrupting the flow of the narrative. In the first page of the novel, 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 with the paper who takes a liking to Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfil his dream to become a reporter.  Moritz is able to tell the reader about the most pressing and newsworthy current events through his conversations with Herr Goldman. 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. Rebecca’s presence even gave me the opportunity for a hopeful conclusion to leave readers 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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Writing Teen Novels

Plotting A Novel Versus Winging It, by Diane Lee Wilson

I began my first novel not really knowing what I was doing. In a burst of inspiration, I scribbled a few opening sentences on a piece of paper and gradually turned that into a short first chapter. Then I started a second chapter. And it went on from there. Whenever I finished a chapter I would ask myself: What has to happen next? I was never quite sure. I wanted to move the story along and I had a vague idea where I wanted the story to end up, but the middle was unknown territory.

Did that work? Yes, I’m happy to say that it did. With the help of my agent I sold that novel to a respected publishing house. Soon after, about the time I was doing my rewriting based on my newly assigned editor’s comments, I came across a book entitled The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler. In this book, Vogler mapped each stage of a well-constructed novel or film. Oh, no. What if I’d done it all wrong?

I read the book cover to cover and loved it, happy to find that I’d intuitively followed the basic structure for good storytelling. And I recommend this book to aspiring novelists. It shed new understanding on the roles played by archetypal characters and explained the different “acts” inherent in most stories. I also adopted a few tips for making future stories stronger.

But here’s where I slipped: When I began my second novel I didn’t follow my intuition. I used Vogler’s outline to create a “perfect” story arc. I sat on my living room floor and, with an idea in my head, filled out 3”x5” cards with sequential segments of the story. I then slavishly followed those cards to write my story. And when this novel was completed I felt it was somewhat lifeless. In my opinion, it lacked the spark that arises from seat-of-your-pants inspiration.

Each of my subsequent novels has been conceived and written like my first one. I’m aware of classic story structure and the archetypes that appear in most stories, but I rely more on my intuition to keep my reader turning the pages. At times, if I’m stuck in my progress, I might pick up The Writer’s Journey for a little inspiration. I’ll be reminded of the tension created when a hero fails a few times, or the suspense lent by a “shapeshifter” character. Then I’ll set the book down and return to my writing.

I’ve spoken to authors who have found success writing from a detailed outline but that doesn’t work for me. I simply begin each novel introducing a teen character with a problem. I know where he or she needs to end up; I just don’t know how that will happen. I also don’t know how much the character will change or develop over the course of the story – and that’s part of the fun of writing without a map: I wake up in the morning wondering what will happen in the story today!

So my words of advice would be: familiarize yourself with good storytelling, whether that’s through studying manuals or just reading the works of accomplished authors, but then sit down and tell your story YOUR way, the way you see it in your head. That’s when the magic happens.


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Writing Teen Novels

Narrative Drive Is Not Related To Literary Merit (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

I started this series of posts by observing that getting teenagers to read is a tough job, and that we writers of young adult fiction needed all the tricks of the trade we can learn when taking it on.

I therefore pledged to disclose some of the many secrets I’ve learned over the years that have helped me hook young adult readers and keep them craving more.

And the biggest secret of all is how to harness the energy of Narrative Drive.

As I wrote in my first article, Narrative Drive helps create spellbinding stories. It keeps the reader glued to the pages. So let’s get straight on with…

The Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 2

drum roll…  tada!

  • Narrative drive does not necessarily have any literary merit.

This is an odd one and when I first discovered it I thought: OMG, surely not! All good writing should aspire to having literary merit. But after close reading of very many non-put-downable texts, and avid viewing of endless totally addictive TV dramas, I discovered that it is quite true. Just like all those yummy sweets that disappear one after the other from the bag and are definitely not good for your waistline (and even more disastrous for your teeth), so too the truth is: Narrative Drive only has to create a compulsion to carry on reading in order to work.

True Narrative Drive that will keep your readers glued to the pages only has to have:

  • the ’wait a minute; I just have to finish this chapter’ compulsion, and
  • the ‘I must find out what happens next’ appeal

And if you doubt my words, you only have to think of a second rate TV soap opera. Nowhere is addiction to narration more evident and empty of substance.

So how can you use this secret?

  1. Focus on the battle of forces between the protagonist and the antagonist.
  2. You don’t have to worry about ‘depth of meaning’ until a compelling interplay of forces is planned out.
  3. Make sure your story idea has strong conflict.

We have many examples of stories with little ‘literary merit’ in fiction and in film that nevertheless hold people’s attention.



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Writing Teen Novels


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