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Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (March 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its third 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 Historical Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:

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

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

Articles for March 2013

Are Teen Novels ‘Genre’ Fiction? by Elizabeth Wein

Using Art In My Teen Novels by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing ‘Unlikable’ Characters In Teen Novels by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Selling Your Teen Novel Manuscript by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Unreliable Narrators In Teen Novels by Beth Revis

My Novel Writing Process by April Henry

Editing A Novel: The Necessary Evil by Lish McBride

The Process Of Writing And Revising My Novels by Monika Schroder

Finding A Good Literary Agent For Your Novels by Paul Volponi

Research For My Teen Historical Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Developing The Story For My Novel ‘The Puzzle Ring’ by Kate Forsyth

What Is At Stake For The Characters In Your Teen Novel?  by Diane Lee Wilson

Voice In My Teen Novels by Kashmira Sheth

Why I Love To Set Novels In British Columbia by Sam Hawksmoor

Setting Up A Suspenseful Plot (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

On Novels That Are For-Teens-By-Accident by Bernard Beckett

Beginning Your Novel With A Great First Chapter by Pauline Francis

Getting An Agent And Publisher For Your Novel by Andy Briggs

This month’s articles and writing my teen novel

Sarah Mussi wrote: A strong opening must promise the reader that something worthwhile is going to happen because this will make the reader feel it is worth carrying on reading. This sounds simple but it’s a bit more tricky than it seems.
Firstly, ‘something worthwhile is going to happen’ should not be confused with curiosity. Mere curiosity, or not knowing something, is not enough to stimulate the interest of the reader over the course of a novel. Secondly, the willful withholding of information in order to ‘arouse interest’ or ‘create a surprise’ can be extremely annoying.  Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to read a book like this knows the feeling. It’s counter-productive. It’s BOOK DEATH! So you have to be very cunning.

Monika Schroder wrote: Once I have finished a full draft it goes through numerous revisions and each of these revisions focuses on a different aspect of the manuscript. In an early stage when I revise for plot I tweak and streamline the events along the story’s arc. I cut scenes or write them more tightly. Another revision focuses on the character development, making sure that I have kept his or her development clear and the character’s traits are consistent throughout the story.
After the larger structural problems are fixed it is time to improve syntax and word choice.

Kashmira Sheth wrote: Our inner world is colored with our outer world. The physical surroundings, including weather, seasons, terrain, plants, animals, and people have a profound impact on how they express themselves. For example, a character living in a desert might use a spiky cactus to describe a prickly personality, while a character living near a rocky beach may compare it to sharp rocks. A character’s profession will also shape the way they talk and think.  A poet may describe a sunset differently than a scientist, even though they are both watching the same sunset at the same time and same place. The metaphors and similes our characters use or don’t use reflect their environment and their backgrounds. This makes up part of their voice.

For my own teen novel in progress, set in 1939 Poland and discussed further in the January and February Month In Review Updates, my approach includes going back to revisit the first chapter as part of the editing and rewriting process to ensure it performs the important role of effectively introducing readers to my main character and drawing them into the story. As Sarah has suggested, there is a difference between skillfully crafting a sense of anticipation and story momentum by raising unanswered questions in readers’ minds as part of a satisfying story experience versus simply withholding information you would otherwise provide in the belief that withholding this information will create suspense.

Of course, while the first chapter of a novel holds a special place as readers’ entry point into a novel, it is not just the first chapter that can benefit from being re-shaped with the benefit of the big picture context gained from of a complete draft of the novel. With this big picture context in mind, the essence of each scene and the contribution it makes to the story (eg. revealing character and dynamics between characters, and showing character-change and changing dynamics between characters) can be fine-tuned so the components of the story work in unison to more effectively convey a satisfying reading experience.

Kashmira’s point that ‘our inner world is coloured by our outer world’ is something I have considered, and continue to consider, in relation to my novel. My main character, as a teenager in 1939 Poland, does not have day-to-day familiarity with contemporary things like computers or the internet, television, rock music, mobile phones (or even widespread access to home phones) and other electronic or communications devices, passenger aircraft, widespread access to motor vehicles, widespread commercial use of plastics, the United Nations, the Holocaust, the outcome of WW2, nuclear weapons, the Cold War, satellites, space travel, and whether there was intelligent life and societies on neighbouring planets. This means many concepts which could come to mind for a contemporary character cannot come to mind for my character in 1939 Poland. Day-to-day concepts which come to his mind may have more to do with things like agriculture, livestock, horses and horse-drawn carts, railway travel, communicating by posting letters, the outcome of WW1, instrumental music, folk songs, books and paintings. Contrasting a contemporary character with one from the past provides a clear example of how a character’s ‘inner world is coloured by their outer world’, but this applies equally to different characters within the setting of a novel. Each character in a setting does not experience the absolute entirety of that setting, just as no person experiences the absolute entirety of the planet, country, region, state, city, street or even the house where they live, due to the physical limitations of only being in one place at a time. Each character will experience different parts of their setting and have different thoughts than other characters, which will influences which parts of the setting they subsequently experience and what they then think, and so on, building up in each character a unique ‘inner world coloured by their outer world’.

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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
www.writingteennovels.com

Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (February 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its second 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 Historical Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:

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

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

Articles for February 2013

5 Things Writers Of Teen Novels Should Know by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Plot, Character And Hooptedoodle In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Setting In Teen Novels by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’ And What Makes A Good Teen Novel by Beth Revis

Writing Personal Stories For Teens by Stephen Emond

Writing Novels For Teens Versus For Adults by April Henry

Writing Series Fiction, by Anne Cassidy (guest article)

Writing My Novel ‘The Gypsy Crown’ by Kate Forsyth

Are Teen Novels Literature?  by Bernard Beckett

The Novel Writing Process by Lish McBride

What Makes Great Young Adult Fiction?  by Sam Hawksmoor

Writing Characters In Historical Novels For Teens by Carolyn Meyer

In Praise Of Copy Editors: Masters Of Accuracy by Monika Schroder

Using Imagery In Your Novel Writing by Kashmira Sheth

Coarse Language in Teen Novels by Paul Volponi

Underdog Characters In Teen Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

Choosing And Voicing Characters For My Teen Historical Novels by Pauline Francis

Overcoming Writer’s Block by Andy Briggs

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

This months articles and writing my teen novel

Bernard Beckett wrote: To write for teenagers is to be classified as a genre writer: to dwell on that small, slightly shabby shelf, near the back of the store. From this vantage point there is a question that naturally arises: are we writing literature? […]But is such a distinction valid, and how effective a filter is the genre/literature divide?

Amy Kathleen Ryan wrote: Setting isn’t just a place and time. Let’s imagine that Jane Austen and Stephen King have both visited the same Georgian era house, and both felt inspired to set a scene in the attic. In addition to the quaint sewing table and a smoky fireplace, Austen’s setting would include a rigid set of expected manners, an even more rigid English class system, and probably a whole regiment of charming rogues out to ruin the honor of vulnerable yet spunky young women. King’s setting might include a chainsaw with a bit of human hair caught in the gears, a menacing creeping mist, and a universe of bizarre magical beings just waiting for our blue collar hero to prick the membrane between our world and theirs.

Diane Lee Wilson wrote: To be an appealing character, an underdog simply cannot be miserable all of the time. Readers want to hear a story of a person overcoming a difficult situation. She doesn’t have to gleefully sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” on every other page, but she must vibrate with an inner strength.

Monika Schroder wrote: Copy editors must surely be patient and just a bit wise. I am sure that they often shake their heads at mistakes we writers make. These people who work through a manuscript with such thorough attention to detail have my full admiration. It is thanks to them that a clean and accurate manuscript finds its way to the printer.

Writing my teen historical novel, set in 1939 Poland (and discussed in my January Month In Review post), is a matter of creating a compelling story which is also the product of in-depth research. A teen novel in which storytelling takes a backseat to the historical setting is not going to cut it with a lot of teen readers and a historical novel in which in-depth knowledge takes a backseat to plot is not going to cut it with a lot of historical novel readers. The secret to managing this balance well cannot be fully explained in the space of this article. It requires a range of storytelling components to work together to create an overall story experience, which has to work in different ways for different readers.

The answer to Bernard’s question about whether teen fiction is literature depends on the definition of literature being used. If you take literature to encompass all written fiction then teen fiction (that is,  fiction intended primarily for teenage readers or with one or more prominent teenage characters, that is age-appropriate for people aged 13-19 years) then of course teen fiction is literature. Various people will differ in exactly what they mean when they say teen fiction or Young Adult fiction, and many people may not have thought much about some of the finer details of what does or does not fall under the term in the sense that they use it. If literature is taken to mean quality fiction, then I think most people would agree that some teen fiction will match that description and some teen fiction will not. However, the problem would then become deciding what is quality fiction and what is not.

Writing a novel suited to teenage readers does not automatically make it any more or any less worthy than one suited to adult readers – and there is plenty of crossover readership between each kind of novel. As Amy and Diane demonstrate, the nuances of setting, character, and so on, and how they are conveyed to readers is something that authors of teen novels and authors of adult novels consider and work into their writing. As Monika discussed, teen novels also benefit from the input of copy editors – as well as general editors and other publishing professionals – to arrive at the book readers will experience . As with adult novels, different novels will receive different levels of attention from skilled publishing professionals.

The 1939 Poland setting is an important aspect of my novel-in-progress but, as Amy touched on, more important is how I handle the setting in telling the story of my characters. My main character could be considered an underdog, as a teenage boy in the city of Bydgoszcz in western Poland at the time of the German invasion and occupation, but more important than the obstacles standing in his way is what he does in the face of such obstacles. All the storytelling components must come together and work in unison to create a good novel; from the big picture concept to copyediting to the subtleties of characters’ personalities and relationships.

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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+.

***

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

When I was an aspiring novelist I went to listen to a talk by an author of eighteen (wow!) novels. He was giving advice on how to write a novel and one of the first things he said was, “Don’t write in first person. It’s too difficult.”

Gulp. I’d already begun a novel, had about four chapters finished, in fact, and the way I heard the story in my head was clearly in first person. I didn’t find it difficult. Hmmm.

Lesson learned: What doesn’t work for another author may work for you. Each writer has different strengths; some are great at characterization, some can keep their stories going at breakneck speed, some use the language beautifully. Do what’s right for you. For me, I like first person and I think it’s particularly good for teen novels.

A story told in first person is intimate; you’re inside this person’s head, observing the world through his or her eyes. Thus it’s natural for a reader to form an empathetic bond with the protagonist. Since teens, especially, want to know what other teens are thinking, putting your teen novel in first person is a natural draw for them. They’ll envision themselves in the main role, and enjoy the power or the adventure or the romance offered in the story. No doubt your protagonist will put a “teen spin” on things and that will further engage the reader.

Writing in first person also allows you, the author, to get to know your characters better. You’ll find that once they come alive and begin speaking, they’ll reveal more and more of themselves each time you sit down to write. I’ve been surprised by some of the deep-seated issues my characters have brought forth onto the page. They’ve come up with past hurts or long-repressed desires that have added an extra note of realism to the fictional story. This is part of the magic of writing, and I’ve never spoken to any author who hasn’t had at least one character take hold of a story and begin to direct its course. It’s often the main character’s personality traits, in fact, that help determine just how the story’s crisis will be resolved.

Tension is another benefit of writing in first person. Because the reader is seeing the world only through the protagonist’s eyes, he or she is discovering it right along with the hero. There is no omniscient narrator saying, “A thief lurked behind the door.” The protagonist can only note misgivings, or acknowledge an eerie feeling: “Had the door moved slightly with the wind or was that someone’s breathing? I knew I shouldn’t have come here alone.”

Wrapping yourself in the skin of one of your characters, listening to another’s thoughts and feeling their emotions, is for me one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing. It’s a free ticket to experiencing the world from a different vantage point. And when it’s over you get to introduce that character to readers and share with them an enriching story.

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

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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