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Posts tagged ‘teen fiction blog’

Narrative Point Of View In My Teen Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Once I’ve had a great idea, fallen in love with my characters and have a sense of the direction the story will take, the question becomes: whose story is it and how will I tell it?

Will I stick with one character’s point of view or shift among characters? Will I use a first-person or a third-person narrator?

Recently I worked on a four-book series called Hotline with a contemporary setting and four main characters; each teen takes a turn as the central character of a book with the others in secondary roles. This was my first experience with handling multiple points of view, and it wasn’t difficult as long as I remembered to keep my mental camera focused on one character at a time. Mostly I prefer a single point of view with the main character as the focus – frankly, it’s easier.

Choosing first person (I) or third (he/she) is a separate issue. I sometimes struggle to find the emotional core of my story and to convey that to teen readers. When I wrote The True Adventures of Charley Darwin I was steeped in the novels of Jane Austen, popular in Darwin’s time. Like Austen, I tried writing the story in third person, but my editor thought my narrator was “too distant” and would not connect well with teen readers. So I started over and let Charley tell his own story, as I have in most of my historical novels.

The most straightforward approach to first-person narration is the style of a memoir or autobiography. In Cleopatra Confesses I elected to write in first person: “I, the king’s third daughter, called Cleopatra, sit alone in my quarters….” Present tense gives a sense of immediacy, but could just as well have been in past tense, by changing sit to sat. It could have been told in third person: “Cleopatra, the king’s third daughter, sat in alone in her quarters…”

The perspective of the first-person narrator has to be considered. In the prologue for Cleopatra Confesses Cleopatra looks back, telling her story while she waits for the arrival of the enemy who will take her prisoner. In The Wild Queen Mary, queen of Scots, is also looking back and narrates her tale on the night before her execution. In Victoria Rebels Victoria begins by grumbling about the evils of her mother’s friend, Sir John Conroy, as she prepares for her sister’s wedding; she’s not looking back, but peering ahead.

Another option is to construct the story as a diary. Writing Anastasia: the Last Grand Duchess, as part of the Royal Diaries series, was harder than I expected. There couldn’t be long descriptions or even much dialogue – just short, crisp scenes. The writer of a memoir knows how her story ends because she has already lived it. The fictional diarist does not know what lies ahead and how her story will end – she has no idea throughout the story that she will be murdered but it was up to me as the author to move the plot inexorably toward that end.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Cleopatra ConfessesThe True Adventures of Charley DarwinVictoria Rebels     VibesAngel DustFirehorse

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My Fiction Writing Process, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’m going to talk a little bit about what works for me when it comes to the process of writing. Everyone’s different, and no doubt you will be too, but here’s a little insight on how I work and how I came to use this process, and with any luck it can help you find your way as well.

I taught myself to write in gradual steps, by need, generally. My first ‘writing’ was my short comic strips. It doesn’t sound like much but writing comic strips is a great boot camp – every strip has a beginning, middle and end, or set up, development and punch line. You’re essentially telling a small story every day. By the time I was working on my Emo Boy comic book, I figured I’d read enough comics and watched enough TV. I knew the basic gist of how a story should look and feel. Some issues had one issue-long story and some issues had story several smaller stories. I’d generally set up the storyline, come up with some events and jokes, then wrap it all up, and if Emo Boy could learn a lesson by the end, all the better.

In 2008, I was working on two projects at once. One was Happyface, a full novel I was writing for Little Brown Books For Young Readers and the other was a screenplay for an Emo Boy movie for Vanguard Films. In 2008, I learned I knew absolutely nothing about storytelling.

The main complaint I kept hearing was: “Where’s the structure?” This was coming from both companies. Having worked on short comic strips and comic books, my stories tended to feel too episodic. Emo Boy, the movie was having multiple adventures stemming from the comic book storylines. Happyface was jumping from month to month and place to place with little arc.

I’ve since become a strong outliner – I often spend as much time, if not more, outlining a book as I do actually writing it. I start in broad strokes and break it down piece by piece. It goes something like this:

  • Have an idea.
  • Give the idea a basic arc – a beginning, middle and end.
  • Flesh those pieces out into 3 acts – so the beginning, middle and end each have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Jot out ideas, scenes, character traits and lines of dialogue. Picture a video trailer for the book. Think up themes arising from big ideas. I ask myself: what is it about this story that excites me and makes me want to write about this in particular? How do I connect with the story? I take all those puzzle pieces and try to fit them together into some kind of loose outline.
  • From there, I start thinking in chapters.
  • For each chapter, I’ll write a beginning, middle and end. I’ll add more dialogue, locations and characters.

My editor says my first draft for a chapter is always very loose, like I’m racing to the end. It’s closer to a comic or a screenplay: this person says this, that person says that, they both do this, the end. I’ll go through it again to add more observation, detail and surroundings. I’ll go through it again and add more mannerisms and movement, what the characters are thinking, sensory details like how something looks, smells or sounds. In final drafts, I pay attention to word choices, how sentences flow and the general feel of the text.

Things change a lot as I write. The outline will bend and sway, characters will reveal themselves to be far more important than I’d anticipated. So, even though I have a blueprint, I’m still discovering along the way. Some people prefer to start blind – they have a germ of an idea in mind and they start writing. I’ve tried this but I just stare at a blank page trying to think of something clever to say. It doesn’t work for me – but we’re all different. This is just my process.

In a more general day-to-day look at my writing process, I like to write outside of my home. I find I’m easily distracted at home, I have all my books there, my TV, video games and, worst of all, house chores. I also find that other places have better lighting. It makes me feel more awake. It could be a library, a cafe, a Panera Bread or a Barnes & Noble. I listen to music while I write – nothing with lyrics or too distracting – or sometime movie scores, and there are some indie bands that do instrumental music. I like jazz, anime soundtracks and, lately, I’ve added hip hop instrumentals into the mix.

Writing is hard. This is an issue for me and I know it is for a lot of people. Sometimes you know you want to write but you think, “I don’t have any ideas. I don’t know what to write.” So you don’t. It takes me a few minutes to get started. My head is racing, full of to-do lists, distractions, it’s been a long day, my brain is fuzz and I just want to tune out, but once I sit and just stare at the blank screen or notebook paper my brain will, one by one, shut off all those distractions. I start to think, one thought leads to another and eventually I’ll be lost in my own little world. Time slips away and I can easily sit there for an hour or two and not even feel it. I imagine it’s what meditation is like.

Anyone can write: you need to find what works best for you. Find that process and put your trust in it, and you’ll be piling up pages before you know it.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Night She DisappearedI Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

Writing Teen Novels
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Editors: Working With You To Make The Best Book Possible, by April Henry

My first book was published in 1999, so I’ve had a lot of experience working with editors. In fact, I’ve had five of them, plus an unknown number of copy editors and proofreaders. The amazing thing is that, in my experience, each editor has a different approach. What one editor is passionate about may not even be on another editor’s radar screen.

My five editors

My first editor loved characters who were quirky, whacky or eccentric – and if she felt they weren’t quirky, whacky or eccentric enough, she often asked for them to be enhanced. Sometimes her comments were cryptic. I still remember staring at one notation scribbled in a margin. It said, “Pump up the mystery!” I had no idea how to do that and I was too scared to call her. I’ve since learned that just as an email sometimes lacks the emotional nuance that would allow you to completely understand a message, so too can editorial letters and hand-written notes. A simple phone call can go a long way toward making things clear for both writer and editor.

My second editor was a legend in the business. She was in her 80s and everyone loved the idea that she was still working full-time. Dozens of famous authors had been edited by her over the course of her long career. I think she worked right up until she died. Her editing was much more broad-based and she wasn’t nearly as much of a detail person as my first editor was.

My third editor was famous for being able to write an 11-page editorial letter for a 12-page picture book. He used brown stickies to mark changes he had pencilled in green on the manuscript. One draft I got back bristled with so many stickies it looked like a porcupine. For Christmas that year, I gave him a brand new green pencil, figuring he had used one up on my manuscript. One thing I learned from him was that sometimes when an editor asks for a specific change, he or she may be right that something is wrong. However, the writer can often make a different sort of fix than the editor requested and still come away with both parties happy.

My fourth editor writes thoughtful editorial letters that I dread. Why? Because she is skilled at finding flaws I haven’t noticed. Flaws that require lots and lots of thought before I can fix them.

My fifth editor is both a big picture editor and someone who notices the smallest details. She’s pointed out words I tend to overuse - words I wasn’t aware of until she had checkmarked three or four uses of the same word in a single page. Once or twice, she has questioned the veracity of things I write, asking if it’s really true or possible. I welcome that. So much fiction, especially mysteries and thrillers, is riddled with errors about police procedure, weapons or investigative techniques.

The process of editing

Editing used to take place on paper, and you, the editor and your agent would send bulky manuscripts back and forth. I still have some unused manuscript boxes in my basement. They fold up neatly and have a little tab you insert into a slot. It’s probably the equivalent to holding onto a buggy whip. Now manuscripts get emailed as attachments, to be read by agents and editors on e-readers, and to be edited by line and copy editors on computers and then emailed to you with tracked changes. Many editors will still print out a paper copy and mark that up, at least to a degree, although I wonder if that will change as a generation who started on paper retires.

Line editors may make suggestions as to how to burnish the story and are big picture people. Copyeditors are more focused on the details. For example, they make sure that a character who has blue eyes on page 19 does not have gray eyes on page 319. They know the difference between flout and flaunt. They do a certain amount of fact-checking, making sure that, for example, you don’t spell Cheez-Its incorrectly. Oddly, I have had the same freelance copyeditor work on several of my YA books even though they were put out by different publishers. In a further twist of fate, she grew up in Portland, where I base most of my stories.

Both main editors and copy editors have saved my bacon many times. It’s hard to see your story clearly: you always need at least one more set of eyes.

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

April Henry’s bio page

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenShock PointThe Night She Disappeared    ResponseHappyfaceA Coalition of Lions

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How To Tell Good Literary Agents From Bad Literary Agents, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

In my previous post, I discussed why a novelist should have an agent. What follows is a step by step process for how to tell the good agents from the bad.

A good agent doesn’t ask for money up front. Every book and magazine on being a writer will tell you this. Everything agents earn from you comes out of sales of your work. Most agents make about 15% on domestic sales and 20% on international sales. I’ve heard some agents are asking for a bit more but this is the basic guideline. Many good agents will also deduct some expenses from your take home pay, for example any travel, postage and long distance costs that were incurred during the sale of your manuscript. My agent does this and I’m okay with it. If someone asks for a “reading fee” or charges you for their editing services up front, I’d be very wary.

A good agent has a list of recent sales to reputable publishers and is capable of landing a decent advance. Most agents will list their clients on their website and you can check there for recent sales but the best way to determine an agent’s negotiating prowess is to buy an inexpensive subscription to The Literary Marketplace, where almost every sale to a publisher is trumpeted with a little code key for how much money the author landed for his/her manuscript. If an agent has gotten a “Significant Deal” or a “Major Deal” for a client within the last few years, you know this agent is capable of successfully running a bidding war. This doesn’t guarantee a bidding war for your work but at least you’ll know it’s a possibility.

A good agent gets good reviews from their clients. Before signing an agency contract, you can ask for references for your agent. I believe most agents are very willing to have current clients speak with prospective clients. You might want to ask things like how long it takes for the agent returns the author’s phone calls and emails, how long the author had to wait for the agent to submit their first book, and how the author would describe the agent’s communication style. I would caution you not to be too stringent with the way you evaluate these answers. A good agent will have a lot of clients and can get very busy, and might not always return calls/emails as promptly as you might wish. Also, I had to wait about six months for my agent to submit the first book I sold with her but I’ve never had to wait that long since. In other words, sometimes a good agent is worth waiting for. Only you can decide how long you’re willing to spend waiting for your agent to get around to you.

But how do you get an agent in the first place? My next post will answer that question. Stay tuned!

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

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Zen and Xander UndoneVibesGlowSpark    The CircleShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)Code Name Verity

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Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (April 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its fourth 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.

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+.

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 April 2013

First Person Present Tense Narration In Teen Novels by Beth Revis

Teenage Characters And Responsibility In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Does A Novelist Need An Agent? by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Tools To Develop Productive Novel Writing Habits by April Henry

On Story Ideas And Developing A Novel by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone by Paul Volponi

Plotting A Novel Versus Winging It by Diane Lee Wilson

The Process Of Writing My Novel ‘My Brother’s Shadow’ by Monika Schroder

Plotting My Teen Historical Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Making Time To Write Your Novel by Lish McBride

Crafting Your Novel’s Plot And Characters To Sustain Story Momentum Throughout The Middle by Sam Hawksmoor

Writing Novels About Teens For Teen Readers by Bernard Beckett

Using 5 Senses In Your Novel Writing by Pauline Francis

Using Characters And Setting To Situate Your Story In Another Culture by Kashmira Sheth

Creating Empathy For Your Characters (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Characters And Story by Andy Briggs

Developing Characters For My Teen Novels by Kate Forsyth

This month’s articles and writing my teen novel

April Henry wrote: Do you ever find yourself polishing the same paragraph over and over, moving a clause here, changing a verb there and not ever actually adding any new words?
Sometimes even experienced writers have trouble making progress. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Paul Volponi wrote: What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

Elizabeth Wein wrote: One feature that I feel is characteristic of teen fiction is the divide between young people and adults.  It can show up as a contrast – between the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles.  Or it can show up as a simple lack of understanding between the adults and the teens in the novel.  Where I find this divide most interesting, and probably most disturbing, is when it’s part of a power play.  This is the kind of conflict that I find myself most often describing in my own novels.

Bernard Beckett wrote: When writing a piece of fiction, we try to do something more than achieve an external description of the world. We want to engage with it in a way that feels like a depiction from the inside. We’re digging, if you like, towards that which is essential. If you write about teenage characters for a teenage audience, you are backing yourself to be able to tell them something both fresh and authentic about their own experiences.

Different novelists approach their writing in different ways but it is typically a good idea not to stop and start, breaking off to research or edit, once you start drafting. Most novel writers find it much more productive to familiarise themself with their subject matter, and maybe the general design of their character development and plot, then to write a draft from beginning to end before going back over what they’ve written and revisiting their research to get the finer details right. It’s often not until a writer has finished a full draft that they really understand in detail how they want their story to work, so the best time to spend hours painstakingly polishing the fine details is typically after you have a full draft. Otherwise changes which are necessary to make your story work better could result in having to change or cut large sections that you have rewritten and edited for many hours needlessly. As April wrote, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” when drafting.

As Paul pointed out, writing a little bit regularly adds up. If you ‘wait until you are inspired’ and write 3000 words in a day once per month it will take you two years to write a full draft of a 72,000 word novel. Keep in mind that this is just the first draft, which might be half, a third, a quarter, or less of the work you do before submitting a novel to an agent or publisher (or self-publishing). Then an agent or publisher might only be interested if you do a major rewrite. If you write 500 words a day every day while drafting you will complete the first draft of a 72,000 word novel in 144 days, which is a little under four months. Writing 750 words a day, five days a week, will get a 72,000 done in 96 writing days over 134 days, which is three and a half months. Writing regularly will also help you keep the story together in your head to maintain continuity in your story and consistency in how you’re writing the story.

Many have speculated about what makes teen novels so popular with both teens and adults. One major factor is “the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles” that Elizabeth wrote about in her article. Adults don’t have to get stuck in prescribed roles but many do. Many adults have lost touch with a sense of having an unfinished, dynamic personality – which is the nature of people throughout their whole life, whether they take full advantage of it or not – to a large degree and reading stories about teenagers can help adults rethink their own attitude to life and rediscover the possibilities still available to them.

Writing my own teen novel, set in 1939 Poland, it has been crucial to do in-depth research before drafting to avoid stopping and starting to do extra research while drafting or writing an under-informed draft which would require major cuts and rewriting later. I find that having an in-depth knowledge of my subject matter and resources at hand to double-check any details I might need to confirm along the way allows me to write with confidence, enjoy the writing process and be inspired by the real-life context of what I’m writing about. Even if you write fantasy novels, and can therefore make up a lot that other writers might need to make sure they get right, some initial research relevant to your story can go a long way to creating a rich, coherent foundation for your novel and tangible real-world details to draw readers into your story-world.

My novel-in-progress is set in a time and place where characters’ plans are disrupted by the outbreak of war and they have to re-invent how they live their lives. As discussed, teenagers tend to do this naturally and many adults would benefit from being more open to re-invention. The ‘unfinished, dynamic character of the maturing teens’ in the novel should carry with it appeal for teenagers who identify with the characters’ personalities, by ‘telling them something both fresh and authentic about their own experiences’, and for adults who remember their own teenage years and the sense of possibility and opportunity that they either still have or have let go of to some degree. The characters face extraordinary circumstances which will hopefully inspire readers to realise that, if the characters are capable of doing what they do in their difficult circumstances, then the reader is also capable of great things without the obstacles faced by the characters.

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

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

You can connect with Steve Rossiter on Facebook or on Google+.

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Writing Teen Novels
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Using Characters And Setting To Situate Your Story In Another Culture, by Kashmira Sheth

The most challenging part of writing a story set in another culture is making it feel authentic and relevant. It is like building a brand new house that perfectly blends with the century-old neighborhood. It should have the same weathered feel as the other homes. To write a story that feels realistic, the author should think of two critical parts, characters and setting.

Characters:

Start a story with the main character and build her (or his) personality. Do it in such a way so that the readers can relate to and empathize with the protagonist. The character must have habits, likes and dislikes, and certain physical attributes. For example, she may like to wash her hands obsessively, he may hate the idea of his father’s waking him up at four to help him on the farm, he may have a big mole on his hand or she may bite her nails. These kinds of details help us create an image of our character in readers’ mind no matter where they are from.

Give your character’s personality a strong sense of believability. A childhood adversity, such as money problems, may drive your character to start a lawn-cutting business while still in high school. A shocking event in his early life (eg. a sibling’s accidental death) may cause him to have nightmares into adulthood. Life-changing events that shape him make his behavior believable, his motivations clear, and his journey plausible in the reader’s mind.

Setting:

A place with sensory details is also critical to a story. If the story is set in an unfamiliar place the setting is as important as your main character. Using all five senses brings the place alive and keeps the story grounded. When a writer can establish a character in a setting that seems unique and yet natural it adds depth to the story.  To achieve this, the writer can use a familiar place (contemporary novels) or build it up from imagination (fantasy novels) or from extensive research (historical novels).

The last step is to bring the character and the setting together in an intertwined fashion. If your protagonist lives by the ocean, the tide may have some special significance to him. On the other hand, if he lives by the mountains, he maybe fond of hiking along a trail to clear his mind.

Another way we can do this is to let your character use dialogues as well as body language not only to convey his thoughts and feelings but to ground him in the place. These gestures must be culturally specific and relevant to the story though.

What if your protagonist, who lives by the ocean, opens a window, sees someone, and shivers? Is it because of the cool ocean breeze or because he sees his arch enemy walking up? This kind of reaction to a setting can serve dual purposes for your story and make readers want to keep on reading.

Once the setting and character are well established readers can identify with the protagonist easily. Then the details you provide from another culture, tradition or time become just as engrossing as the ones the reader is familiar with.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Saraswati's WayBlack Storm Comin'Code Name VerityWinter TownTarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

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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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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     Code Name VerityAuslanderIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryTracks

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On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone, by Paul Volponi

Over the last 14 years, I’ve written 10 Young Adult novels. I wrote the first one, Rikers High (originally entitled Rikers), without even knowing I could write a novel. Before that, I’d written mostly sports articles. I attempted the novel because HBO was pondering the idea of taking a newspaper article I’d penned on teens attending high school in jail and turning into a movie. I knew they’d change things plenty, running with it in any direction they wished. So I wanted a novel to reflect my actual experiences, with my name on it.

What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

That was probably the best writing advice I’ve ever received and my only real interaction with a writers’ group. Living in New York City, I casually know several accomplished Young Adult novelists. A few of them meet regularly in a writers’ group, bouncing ideas off of each other and showing pages of their new material. Do I think being part of a similar group could help a fledgling YA novelist? I absolutely do. It’s fantastic to get feedback on your plot-lines, characters, dialogue and key scenes.

How come I don’t do that? Lone wolf syndrome, I guess. I like to work early in the morning, then re-read and rewrite in the afternoon. I work every day without fail. At night, I spend time with my wife and daughter. I prefer not to go out to meet with other writers. I do, however, have several first-readers who look at my early versions of things – usually well before my editor ever sees it. It’s a small readership of people whose opinions I respect.

Obviously, every writer is different. It may be very hard to even find good advice or a supportive group, let alone make meaningful connections with other YA novelists, but I do believe that getting feedback from somewhere can help a writer immensely and should be sought.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Tools To Develop Productive Novel Writing Habits, by April Henry

Do you ever find yourself polishing the same paragraph over and over, moving a clause here, changing a verb there and not ever actually adding any new words?

Sometimes even experienced writers have trouble making progress. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Here are some tools that have helped me:

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is great for big projects like novels. (Its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, named it after a timer shaped like a tomato, or, in Italian, a pomodoro). It has helped me be more productive by making me focus.

1. Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Let nothing – not the doorbell, not the phone, not the ping of an email or a text – interrupt you. Stop as soon as the timer goes off. You’ve just completed a pomodoro.

2.Now set the timer for five minutes and do something that isn’t work. Go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, check those emails or texts. But you only have five minutes and you must stop as soon as the timer goes off.

3.Repeat the first two steps until you’ve completed four pomodoros. Now you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

Want to know more? Go to www.pomodorotechnique.com

Freedom

Freedom is a program that won’t let you go on the internet until a set amount of time (as long as eight hours) has expired. I resisted using Freedom for a long time, basically because it cost $10. I figured I was an adult, which meant I should be perfectly able to set limits and stick to them. For example, I should be able to write on my laptop without taking a peek at the Internet every five minutes for “research” or to see if I’ve gotten any important emails.

Then I gave the free trial a whirl. The first time, I only set the time-out period for 15 minutes. I realized I probably would have clicked on the internet a dozen times if it wasn’t for Freedom.

Now I use it in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique.

You can find out more at: www.macfreedom.com

Write or Die

Writers often get stuck. I think that largely stems from the fear that what you write will suck. That’s where Write or Die can help, by forcing you to stop overthinking and just write. Write or Die is a free program on the internet. (You can also purchase it to use on your desktop or iPad.)

You set how many words you want to write and you set the amount of time you want to write them in. You also set consequences, which range from gentle (pop-up reminder) to kamikaze (keep writing or words start disappearing). When you’re done, you save the text by selecting it and then coping and pasting into your own word processing program.

Now I make a running list of ideas – scenes, characters – that I could take to Write or Die. And at least once a day, I set the time for 15 minutes and the number of words for 500. It works best if you don’t over think it – or even think at all. Instead, write as fast as you can and describe the brightest colors, the softest sounds, the way something feels under the character’s fingertips. What are your characters saying? What are they feeling and not saying?

I won’t end up using everything I write on Write or Die, but often I’ll come up with something unexpected and wonderful.

You can try it for yourself at www.writeordie.com (scroll down if you don’t see it).

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

April Henry’s bio page

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Does A Novelist Need An Agent? by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Beginning writers often ask me if they really need an agent, and my answer is this: “Unless you’re really great at promoting yourself, and you’re willing to spend hours learning contract law, and you’re very good at negotiating for more money… you definitely need an agent.” There are very few writers who represent themselves successfully. I’ve heard too many horror stories about writers who were willing to sign any contract thrown at them, with very little knowledge of the business, and ended up regretting it years later. Believe it: A bad contract can have financial implications for you that can last a lifetime. Unless a person has a lot of experience analyzing lots of publishing contracts they can, and probably will, miss the little things that can add up BIG TIME.

I look at some of the stuff my agent does for me and I am amazed and incredibly humbled and grateful that I found her. She is a brilliant negotiator. She’s managed to get publishers to quadruple their initial offers mostly because, I say with humility, she believes in me as a writer. If she gets a whiff that my publisher is about to give my book short shrift as far as marketing goes, she’s on the phone with them straight away convincing them of why they need to rethink their strategy. Somehow, she almost always gets what she wants. She is my champion. Compared to her gladiatorial level arbitration, I’d be Oliver Twist holding out my bowl of porridge and saying in a meek little voice, “Please sir, can I have some more?” I know in my heart of hearts that I could never do what she does, on my own behalf or on the behalf of anyone else.  Few could.

Not only that but whenever I am out in the world hobnobbing with editors and they ask me who my agent is, I tell them and they often raise their eyebrows and say, “Oh! Well tell her to submit your work to me.” That’s because even if these editors don’t know who I am, they do know who my agent is. They know she has a reputation for excellent taste and they assume by association that they’re going to like my writing.

So yes, you need an agent – but you need a good one. My next article will be about how to find a good agent.

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

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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