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Posts tagged ‘writing a novel for teens’

Beginning Your Novel With A Great First Chapter, by Pauline Francis

I want to tell you about the night before I sent off my first teen novel, Raven Queen, to a new agent. I had already been published for younger readers and writing a full length novel was a challenging new skill.

My novel was ready to be posted (I mean at the post office, because my agent wanted a double-line-spaced hard copy. Now I email). Raven Queen has two narrators, Ned and Jane. The manuscript I was about to post began with Jane, as she was my main protagonist. Ned’s story intertwines with Jane’s.

I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. Deep down, I knew that the first chapter wasn’t strong enough to open the novel – and I knew that it was the first chapter that had to seduce my agent. It was a good chapter – and is now the second chapter.

I tried to ignore that little voice that stopped me going to sleep. I knew what was wrong. Jane is watching a boy hang. Watching is important sometimes in a novel (there’s a brilliant novel called The Watcher by James Howe) but it is also passive. By midnight I knew that I had to write a new opening chapter because I had no intention of submitting this to my agent, who was expecting my manuscript the next day.

I got up, made a strong pot of coffee and wrote the chapter that now opens the novel. It’s narrated by Ned who is on the point of being hung for stealing bread, at a country crossroad gallows, noosed and standing on the back of a horse. Written in the first person, it’s a powerful account of his last seconds alive and ends with the horse being kicked away to leave him hanging as he calls out ‘Mother!’

It took three hours to write.

That chapter changed my life. I had a telephone call from the agent the next day, offering to take on the novel because of its powerful beginning. It’s still the chapter that I read when I talk about this novel and it always moves the listeners.

What would have happened if I’d stayed in bed or listened to that voice that told me to go to sleep? I’ll never know.

So if you know that something isn’t quite good enough, take the trouble to put it right. Be brave enough to ask for extra time if you can have it. Be brave enough to ask a friend to comment if you can’t work out the problem.


Paulines Francis’s author website:

Pauline Francis bio page


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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     VibesShock PointThe HuntingDeadly Little Lies

Writing Teen Novels

Why I Write For Young Adults, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

As a child, before I knew how to write – before I could even put pen to paper – I loved telling stories.  I’d go out into the neighborhood and tell the other kids about the time I went into the meadow and battled with a mountain lion.  And the time I wrestled a boa constrictor from around my neck in the fields behind our house.  My stories, of course, were lies, but I didn’t hesitate passing them off as truth.  I got a bigger reaction that way, which encouraged me to create more vivid details to heighten the tension and up the stakes.

When I got a little older and actually could write, I’d draft scripts for my Barbies and have them star in my plays and movies.  In elementary school, whenever I was asked to write about my summer or holiday vacations, I never thought that my own life was interesting enough, and so again I made things up.

You’d think that because I loved writing so much, I’d naturally enjoy reading.  But the opposite couldn’t have been truer.  I remember being in elementary school, reading pages and pages of text, and nothing sinking in.  As soon as I got slightly bored, my mind would wander and I’d have to start all over again.  I remember getting assigned to read certain novels in junior high and high school, staying up late at night, trying to absorb the words on the page.  But, so often, even though I was physically doing the assignment, mentally I was someplace else.  My eyes would scan the words, I’d flip the pages at the appropriate time, but by the end of a chapter, I’d have retained very little.

This reading phenomenon followed me to college, where I’d be assigned to read textbooks on things like microeconomics and statistical analysis.  So anxious that I wouldn’t be able to grasp what I was reading, I’d stop myself at the end of every paragraph and then summarize that paragraph in my own words (in writing), in the margin.  If you looked at any of my college textbooks now, you’d see that the margins are full of my ink.

When I graduated college with a degree in Business (because Business was “safe”), I knew that I wanted to give my dream of becoming a writer a try.  I ended up pursuing a graduate degree in Creative Writing with the full intention of writing for young people.  Those years of young adulthood are full of such angst: emotions are heightened and life is exciting and miserable at the same time.  I knew that there was so much opportunity for a writer.  But, even beyond that, I knew that I wanted to target readers that were like me as a young person – those who found themselves getting discouraged by reading, whose minds tended to wander as soon as they got bored on the page.  I wanted to create high concept, page-turning books that would grab the reluctant reader and get them excited about reading.

I remember the second week of graduate school;  I was in a class called “Writing the Young Adult Novel” and we had to go around the room and discuss what our first novel was going to be about.  Students in the class had these amazing, ground-breaking ideas for young adult literature.  But, when it got to my turn, I only knew one thing.  “I want my novel to be juicy,” I told the class.  And juicy to me meant I wanted my character to be relatable.  She couldn’t be the prettiest, the most popular, or the smartest.  She had to have drama with her friends and a rocky relationship with her parents.  I knew I wanted her to be in love with her best friend’s boyfriend (juicy). She had to have a lot of secrets (super-juicy).  And (the juiciest) the novel had to have a stalker, thus propelling it into the suspense/mystery genre, which is what I tended to gravitate toward as a young person when given the choice about reading.  And so I wrote a novel for my teen-self.  Blue is for Nightmares was the product; it was my graduate thesis, and so far it’s been my best seller, spawning a five-book series, a publishing imprint, and a potential TV series.  It’s also been translated into numerous different languages and has appeared on many different award lists, including the Top Ten Teen Pick List and the Quick Pick List for Reluctant Readers, both through the American Library Association.  But, even after all of the novel’s success, the thing that excites me most is when a young person writes to me saying that he or she used to hate reading, but that my work has since inspired him or her to read, because that is exactly what I set out to do.  I feel so grateful to be able to do this for work.


Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website:

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page


United States (and beyond)


United Kingdom (and beyond)


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Blue is for NightmaresWhite is for MagicSilver is for SecretsRed is for Remembrance    Shock PointCleopatra ConfessesCode Name Verity

Writing Teen Novels


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