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Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels, by April Henry

Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years about writing page-turners:

Act first, explain later

Many writers mistakenly think the reader needs to know all the backstory at the beginning of the novel. The problem with this approach is that it makes the real “now” of the story feel less important. Or writers think the reader will like the characters only if they spend a lot of time showing their normal, everyday lives. The problem with this is that the reader feels no urgency to continue. It’s much better if a novel starts on the day that everything changes.

Create a ticking clock

In a mystery or thriller this can be a literal bomb that the reader can’t stop worrying about. It could also be an ultimatum. Other ticking clocks could be the scheduled execution of an innocent man, the day the ship is supposed to land on Mars, the approaching prom, summer ending and the girl going off to college, the hurricane forecast to land in three days, or the lead actress for the big show coming down with mono leaving no one to play the part.

Play on common fears of readers

Common fears include: darkness, wild storms, something crawling on the skin, objects that cover other objects, a small sound when there should be silence, being alone, being helpless or unable to act, something under the bed, closed or partially open doors, hallways or tunnels that lead to the unknown, cramped spaces, basements, attics, heights, crowds, disease, death.

Give characters specific phobias

Give your characters phobias or fears – and then make them face those fears. Afraid of heights? The final confrontation should take place on a rooftop. Afraid of repeating the same terrible mistake? Give them the opportunity to get it right.

End each chapter with an unresolved issue

Have a character open a door, answer the phone, be confronted by someone with a gun, receive a mysterious letter, or make a decision not revealed immediately to the reader.

Cut filler

Look for passages that describe the weather, the landscape, the aftermath, travel, characters eating meals or drinking coffee, a character just sitting and thinking. Then cut them – or at least cut them back.

Hurt a main character

Hurt a main character early so the reader knows no one is off limits. Even better, kill the character – preferably a likable character. Readers will be on the edge of their seats, knowing that anything at all – even something very bad – could happen.

Make choices painful

Force the character to make a choice between two things she wants or to choose the lesser of two evils. Two loves. Two people to save (when only one can be). Addict/temptation. In a relationship/temptation. Maybe the main character knows brother will keep killing, but if she turns him in, he’ll go to death row.

Raise the stakes

Our main character was already nervous about singing in class, but now he has been asked to sing at the stadium. Or for a more mystery-related example, not only will someone die if our main character doesn’t catch the serial killer, but the next victim could be his girlfriend. Or it’s not just a child who will die – it’s a whole kindergarten! Ask yourself, “What could make it worse?” And then make it happen – even if you don’t know how your character will get out of it.


April Henry’s author website:

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The HuntingProject 17

Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review (July 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its seventh 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+.

Articles for July 2013

Why I Write About Children In Times Of  War by Monika Schroder

Plot Is The Backbone Of All Page-Turners by April Henry

Writing Teen Novels With Timeless Appeal by Diane Lee Wilson

Writing Suspenseful Novels by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Handling Novel Writing Deadlines by Paul Volponi

Mistakes I’ve Made As A Novelist by Bernard Beckett

Writing Teen Novels About Pilots And Flying by Elizabeth Wein

Techniques For Overcoming Writer’s Block by Beth Revis

Finding The Right “Voice” For Your Novel by Carolyn Meyer

Pacing A Novel by Lish McBride

Creating A Realistic Story World by Andy Briggs

Plotting A Novel by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Working On My Novel With My Editor by Sam Hawksmoor

Narrating Your Story In A Lean Style by Kashmira Sheth

Writing Prophecies In Fantasy Novels by Kate Forsyth

Structuring Novel Chapters by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Researching For My Teen Historical Novels by Pauline Francis

Maintaining Suspense Throughout Your Plot (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi


‘Month In Review’ Updates

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


Writing Teen Novels

Pacing A Novel, by Lish McBride

Pacing is often the bane of my existence. My beginnings are never fast enough, my middles are squishy and my ends need to be slowed down. I’m three novels in and this has become a comforting pattern. The great thing about pacing is that it can be fixed. The bad thing about pacing is you have to fix it, which means editing, which always makes me incredibly whiny.

So now that I’ve proved to you that I have issues with pacing, thus invalidating anything I say after this, I’m now going to give you a quick and dirty run down on how your novel should be paced. Just because I can’t seem to follow the rules it doesn’t mean I don’t know what they are.

Beginnings are important, so your first page has to be shiny and wonderful. When I pick up a book in a bookstore, that first page makes it or breaks it for me. You could have the best synopsis in the world, but if that first page is boring or sloppy I lose all hope for the rest of the book. Great books have snappy openings – I know how both Moby Dick by Herman Melville and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens begin and I haven’t even read those books. Yet. I used to have the opening to The Thief of Always by Clive barker memorized. Openings are important.

So how does one make their opening a winner? Well, I can give you a few pointers. First, you should immediately ground the reader. They need to know exactly what kind of world they are stepping into. What tone do you want to strike? Which senses do you wish to invoke? Which character do you want to start with?

The best way to get things going is to start in medias res, which is a fancy Latin way of saying “into the midst of things.” Basically, you want to jump right into the narrative or plot. Don’t bog the story down with twenty pages of immediate back-story. Don’t dilly-dally, friends. Jump right into that sucker. Look at the opening you’re working on. Do you start in the right place? Does the reader leap right into your story? If not, cut some things.

You should never be afraid to cut away the fat (just save and back up EVERYTHING). Things can always be added back in later if you change your mind, or that necessary snippet can be moved elsewhere. You have a whole novel. Stretch out a little bit and enjoy the space. My middles always need to be trimmed down. They wander and slow down, and it’s just no fun. I have to edit them to death. Part of that is because I always have a firm sense of where the story starts and ends but my middles are always a little hazy. That’s okay. I don’t mind cutting. The trick is to figure out what to cut. This is where beta readers or editors come in. They are great at pointing out which spots were slow and clunky. If you don’t have access to such people, read through it yourself and think, “Is this part really necessary here?” or “This page goes on too long – what can I cut? What can I condense?” Sometimes mapping/outlining the chapters help. As always, read it out loud to yourself. That’s the best way to catch mistakes.

Stories generally follow an arc. You know, the whole ‘beginning, middle, boiling point, resolution’ thing? Yes, that. Well, characters should have their own arcs, and if you’re doing a series, it usually has it’s own arc too. Keep that in mind.

Your endings need to live up to the promise you made at the beginning of the book. This means it needs to be just as strong. Your characters should be at the end of their arc and should be changed (if they aren’t, you need to make sure the reader is clear on why they haven’t changed). Conflict should be resolved – or if you’re leading up to another book, resolved enough to satisfy. It needs to be memorable. Like the beginning, you have to re-establish tone, senses and imagery. You need some sort of emotional bang. You might not get it on the first try but, again, that’s what editing is for.

Homework: What part of novel writing is tricky for you? Beginnings? Middles? Ends? Think back on your favorite novels and think about what worked in their beginnings, middles or ends. How can you apply those things to your own work?


Lish McBride’s author website:

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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     TracksAcross the UniverseThe Raven QueenThe Final Four

Writing Teen Novels

Hooking Readers With The First Chapter Of A Teen Novel, by Beth Revis

One of the things I’m really happy about with my own writing is the first chapter of Across the Universe (which you can find online at Before and since, I’ve made it something of a habit to look at first chapters, paying special attention to what makes them tick.

1) Empathetic characters

Empathy doesn’t mean that you feel bad or good for a character; it means that you understand what the character is feeling and why. In my own novel, my main character, Amy, watches her parents undergo a painful medical procedure. This is something that anyone can empathize with – we know how we would feel if our own parents or loved ones underwent a painful procedure. This immediately puts us in the picture with the main character. Possibly the most important thing you can do as a writer is create empathetic characters. Think of Katniss and her love for Prim in The Hunger Games - that was chapter 1. Think of Bella meeting Edward in Twilight or Harry Potter becoming an orphan. These are things with which we can empathize.

2) Sympathetic situation

While your characters need to be empathetic, it’s good to start the story with a sympathetic situation. You have character who you can almost visualize as yourself – you understand where they’re coming from and who and why they are. Now put them in a situation we wouldn’t want to be in. Make us feel bad that these characters we identify with are in a bad situation. This is the Hunger Games and Harry’s cupboard under the stairs.

3) It is what it says it is on the cover

You should also definitely give some hint of what the book is. You’re giving readers a taste of the whole book in the first chapter. If it’s a sci fi novel, as mine is, you need a spaceship or cryogenic freezing. If it’s a survival story like The Hunger Games, have Katniss shoot her bow. Harry mentions magic. Elizabeth Bennet’s mother in Pride and Prejudice mentions marriage. Whatever your story is overall must have a hint of it here, in the first pages. I should know what genre you’re writing not from your cover or your back jacket description, but from your first chapter.

4) Immediate conflict as a foreshadow to future conflict

Writers are often told to start their novels with a bang – but that can often lead to overly dramatic (and melodramatic) first chapters. Instead, try to mirror a larger conflict within the first chapter with something smaller. In my novel, Amy watching her parents being cryogenically frozen mirrors how later, when she wakes up, she has to make tough decisions without them. For The Hunger Games, Katniss’s hunt in the first chapter mirrors the battle for survival that the whole book revolves around. For Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia it’s the way her brother Edmond treats her.

It’s hard to identify exactly what it is that makes a first chapter work. However, analyze some of your favorites and I think you’ll see the things I’ve listed above.


Beth Revis’s author website:

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    GlowThe Night She DisappearedMy Brother's ShadowThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))

Writing Teen Novels


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