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Posts tagged ‘US YA author’

Writing Description In Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Writing description is like writing a dream. As you search for words to capture the sense of where you were, what you felt and what you saw, you try to visualize the way it was. When I describe my characters, the space around them, the way they move, their gestures and their tone of voice, I imagine myself present in the story.

The more information you have about your characters and their lives, the easier it is. When you’re writing for teens, you must imagine the location in great detail: the schoolroom, the playing field, the horse-drawn carriage or the car. You won’t use all the details, of course. It’s like exploring the prop room backstage at the theatre: you go in, take what you need and leave the rest.

I found the dream world of Victoria Rebels easy to access. Queen Victoria kept a diary and drew pictures of herself and people around her. Artists painted her portrait against vivid backgrounds. Far more challenging was Beauty’s Daughter, a novel about Hermione, the daughter of Helen of Troy. Hundreds of years passed before the Greek poet Homer dreamed his two great epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, describing the Trojan War and its aftermath, on which my novel is based. Descriptions of bloody battle scenes offered no help in telling the story to teen readers. Shards of ancient pottery present stylized pictures of ladies in long gowns playing lyres, weaving on looms and drinking from goblets, but those are meagre sources on which to build the dream world.

Occasionally I’ve had the rare chance to see for myself the details that bring the dream to life. When I visited Shrewsbury, England, where Charles Darwin grew up, I made a cold-call from a payphone to the owner of the house where teen-aged Charley courted his sweetheart, Fanny Owen. The owner graciously met me at the bus stop in a nearby village and drove me through his “patch” of perhaps two thousand acres to Woodhouse, a splendid white mansion on the brow of a low rise, overlooking thickly wooded grounds. Four massive Greek columns supported the grand portico. It wasn’t hard to imagine Charley arriving on horseback, entering the great hall with tapestries and paintings covering the walls and a broad staircase leading up to a gallery.

But it was the library that most interested me. This was where Charley intended to propose to Fanny before he left on his journey on the Beagle, asking her to wait for him but having no idea when he’d return.

Painted the soothing green of moss, the room smelt pleasantly of leather and tobacco. Books bound in leather and stamped in gilt lined shelves reaching to the high ceiling. Fanny sat down on a bench covered in yellow silk and patted the place beside her, smiling up at me. I was too nervous to sit.

“Will you wait for me, dearest Fanny?”

“Your future is so unclear! How can I promise to wait when I’m not sure what I’m to wait for?”

I had everything I needed. I was in the dream.


Carolyn Meyer’s author website:

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page


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The True Adventures of Charley DarwinIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryVictoria RebelsWhere the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker     The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGlowHappyface

Writing Teen Novels

The Process Of Writing And Revising My Novels, by Monika Schroder

I like to revise. Truth be told, I prefer revising to writing the first draft. I do not belong to a writers’ critique group, nor do I employ ‘beta readers.’ But every writer needs another pair of eyes to read her manuscript to provide feedback. My husband is always my first reader. As a former high school English teacher he provides me with valuable feedback, and he is honest. I usually give him a first draft when I am about two-thirds into the book. At that stage in the process I like to hear what works and what doesn’t. Also, as I am about to draft the climax and ending of the story it is good to know if the story stands on solid legs.

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. Here I also rely on my husband’s keen eye. He combs through the manuscript and notes suggestions for improvement on the margin.

My last book has many characters and many different settings. When describing the interior of a room I placed a chair “under the window” in several scenes. Apparently, whenever I imagined a scene that took place in a room I placed one piece of furniture under the window. The same happened in my description of men’s clothing. Frequently, I dressed them in dark suits causing my husband to write, “too many dark suits!” on the margins of my manuscript.I appreciate my husband’s attention to these details and hope to avoid these repetitions in the future.

Mark Twain said: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

I know that I should avoid most adverbs but I really need to cut back on my use of the word “quickly.” I cut it 35 times in my last manuscript and have pledged not to use it again. If Joe walks somewhere or stuffs something in his pocket the reader doesn’t need the speed of the action accelerated by adding ‘quickly.’ It is always better to pick a strong verb and let it express the action precisely and speak for itself.

In the unrevised drafts I also use the adverbs ‘cheerfully’ or ‘disdainfully’ too often. An example: “I don’t think I can do this,” Joe said disdainfully. If Joe says something full of disdain it has to come out directly in his words or the circumstances of the situation. I need to clear up those adverbial taglines, quickly.


Monika Schroder’s author website:

Monika Schroder’s bio page


United States (and beyond)


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Australia (and beyond)

The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Keeping CornerBlack Storm Comin'Glow

Writing Teen Novels

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

I am not one of those writers who believes that my characters have to be likable. If you focus too much on likability you can lose out on creating an interesting character arc. I want my characters to be flawed, unpredictable, sometimes weak and sometimes cowardly, because eventually I want them to rise above all these flaws to become something greater. If I’m always asking myself if a character is likable I hobble myself as a writer.

Granted, not every reader wants to read about deeply flawed individuals. Some readers prefer fairly bland characters who almost always do the right thing, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But if you want to write about a kid just getting out of juvie for setting his girlfriend’s car on fire, I say go for it. If you write this kid’s story well enough, the reader will still end up rooting for him to get his act together and stop being such a tool.

Readers will invest their time in a story about a troubled character if you give him a reason for his problems. An arsonist probably isn’t going to come from a loving home, for example. Maybe his mother abandoned him to the care of a drug-addicted father. Maybe his feelings about his girlfriend are confused with his rage at his mother. Maybe he never really meant for the car to go up in flames; he just threw a lit cigarette on the floor in a fit of anger and walked away, never imagining it could lead where it did.

As the story unfolds around this difficult-to-love character, sympathy for him should develop too, especially if he is on a mission to redeem himself in some way. If he realizes, maybe at the beginning of the story or maybe halfway through, that even if burning the car was an accident he’s still responsible and he needs to take a look at his problem with anger or his life will never get on track again.

I believe the kids with impulse control issues, the kids with pent up rage, the kids who have been abandoned and rejected all deserve to read stories about people like themselves. They deserve to see a character rising above their terrible circumstances to grasp at something greater.  If we only tell stories about ‘likable’ kids doing noble things, how many rough and tumble kids will give up on reading and, worse, fail to recognize their own good hearts? If you feel the pull to write a story about a troubled kid don’t worry about likability. Worry about making him and his difficult journey real. Your story might not speak to everybody but it might speak to someone who really needs it.


Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website:

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page


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GlowSparkVibesZen and Xander Undone    The Dog in the WoodResponseAugust

Writing Teen Novels

Rewriting and its Strange Parallel to Project Runway, by Alane Ferguson

Okay, I admit it. I LOVE Project Runway, especially when they require their poor contestants to make an outfit out of some ungodly product, like lettuce or garbage or maybe chicken soup.  For the uninitiated, Project Runway showcases up-and-coming designers who have yet to break into the fashion world.  The show begins with a dozen or so designers/contestants, and week by week the judges whittle that number down to a lucky three.  The final trio goes on to compete in the very prestigious New York Fashion Week, after which the judges crown an ecstatic winner.  So how does this relate to me as a writer and the act of revision?  Believe it or not, the parallel is a strong one.  I’m thinking in particular of the infamous ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, which consists of the contestants removing their jeans, skirts, shirts, jackets – whatever they happened to have on when the challenge was announced – and then remake those materials into something new and amazing.  It’s hard, painful work, and yet, when they are finished and their models walk down the runway, the transformations are incredible!  The new creations are almost always better than the original.  And that reminds me an awful lot of something that is the backbone of what we writers do: revision.

Right now, I am deep into a revision for The Dead Giveaway, the fifth book in my forensic series.  With my editor’s notes at my side, I’ve spent day after day with the equivalent of a seam ripper, that small, pointed tool that cuts through a garment’s threads.  Like the Project Runway contestants, I take my metaphorical ‘ripper’ and unstitch scenes I’ve previously sewn together, line by line, word by word.  My chapters are like pieces of fabric scattered across the floor, just waiting to be re-stitched into something better.  Sometimes, scenes end up getting tossed completely.  As an example, I just (sob) cut an entire chapter out of my novel because I found it to be redundant. So far, in this revision, a new character has been introduced, forty-plus scenes have been rearranged, and a new ending has been sewn (I mean, written) in.  Do I like this part of the writing process?  Honestly, in a word, no.  But it is essential, because it is my job as an author to listen to my editor, who has a fresh eye, and then make my work the best that it can be.

It’s a given that my writing makes sense to me, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into clarity for my reader.  All professional writers know and accept this.  So I weigh my editor’s words very carefully.  Most suggestions are incorporated, some are not, but a revision always takes place.  Like the Project Runway designers, I take the individual pieces of my novel and re-form them into something tighter, and, hopefully, something better.  It’s exactly like the ‘clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, except that mine consists of scenes instead of cloth, words instead of thread.  When I send my novel down the proverbial runway, I always hold my breath with the hope that the judges (in this case, my readers) will like the finished product.  The published novel represents a lot of work, lost sleep, and creative blood.  To all of you who would like to write your own novel someday, remember that this, too, will be part of your job.  When you face the daunting task of reworking your words, don’t despair.  Take a look at ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge and see the possibilities.  Then roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to work!


Alane Ferguson bio page

The Christopher KillerThe Circle of BloodThe Angel of DeathWolf Stalker: A Mystery in Yellowstone National ParkFear: 13 Stories of Suspense and HorrorThe Broken BladePandemonium (Delirium (Hardcover))


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