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Posts tagged ‘writing a teen novel’

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.


Carolyn Meyer’s author website:

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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

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


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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

Writing ‘Issues’ Novels, by Kate Gordon

My first book, Three Things About Daisy Blue, featured a protagonist who was suffering from an eating disorder. Daisy  was obsessed with counting kilojoules, restricting her food intake and reducing her size. She was already thin but, when she looked in the mirror, she saw a plain, dumpy girl looking back at her. And Daisy didn’t want to be plain. Daisy wanted to be thin and beautiful, so she’d be liked and accepted by her peers.

Daisy’s story isn’t an unusual one. In the “real world”, survey after survey tells us that body image is the number one concern for young people today. Panicked parents and “experts” direct blame to celebrities – praying-mantis-like models and scantily-clad pop stars. They hold up airbrushed magazines and billboards featuring near-naked women as examples of a culture that is damaging their children; making them look at their bodies more critically, and placing unrealistic expectations on their appearances.

There’s no denying that the media and pop culture plays a role in teenagers’ perceptions of themselves. But these are not the only culprits behind poor body image. However, Anorexia and bulimia existed long before Photoshop was invented. To place the blame for the so-called eating disorder “epidemic” solely on the shoulders of media and magazines is naïve and even dangerous.

The cause of Daisy’s eating disorder appears, at first, to be an obsession with pop culture and the beauty ideal put forward by media outlets. In reality, her problem goes much deeper than that. While Daisy may seem, at first, to be a chaotic, spontaneous personality, in reality she is seeking for a semblance of control over her life; a life she feels she has never held autonomy over. She is yearning for the attention of her busy speechwriter mother. And she is desperate to avoid being lonely. She is desperate to fit in and she believes being thin and pretty is the solution to doing this.

Every young person who suffers from an eating disorder, body dysmorphia or simply low self-esteem has manifold reasons for their situation. To ascribe the entire blame for this increasing problem amongst teenagers to the media alone neglects to examine the real causes and, in doing that, provides only a surface solution.

So what has all of this got to do with YA novels? Well, as writers of YA we have a responsibility to portray young people with honesty. We have a responsibility to examine the issues that concern them thoroughly and without laziness. Like it or not, the young people who read our books take what we say to heart. Teenagers invest so much in the books they read. There are books I read as a teen that still live inside me; that still inform the way I live now. If we choose to write novels that examine issues facing young people, it is so important that we do this with sensitivity and with our eyes wide open; that we don’t respond to sensationalism. That we treat our protagonists as if they were real people with complex reasons for their actions and behaviours.

Very few girls with anorexia suffer from the disease solely because of Rihanna film clips.

Not every boy with body dysmorphia suffers from this disorder because of Taylor Lautner’s “buff” body in twilight.

One of the most disappointing moments in my writing career was hearing that a parent refused to let her young daughter read Three Things About Daisy Blue because she believed Daisy presented a negative role model. She thought that it would be damaging for her daughter to read about Daisy’s eating disorder and body image obsession. I wanted to ask how she intended to tackle the issue of body image should it come up with her daughter. Would she demonise Photoshop and Lady Gaga? Would she tell her daughter that people with eating disorders are shallow and weak-minded? Of course, it was that mother’s prerogative to withhold my book from her daughter, but I hoped the girl was able, one day, to read books that examined honestly problems that she would probably face in her young life. Young people need to see themselves reflected in literature. Whether they’re being bullied, or having problems with their schoolwork; whether they’re being abused at home or victimised online, it helps them to know they’re not alone.

It’s our responsibility to populate our books with true, real characters who keep them company through their dark times. And to make certain that those characters are not stereotypes informed by a hysterical media.

We might never know how important our words will be in the life of a teenager.


Kate Gordon author website:

Three Things About Daisy Blue (Girlfriend Fiction)ThylaVulpiGirl Saves BoyDustDon't Call Me Ishmael!Beautiful Malice


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