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Month In Review (October 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its tenth 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.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

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 October 2013

On Creating A Distraction-Free Writing Environment by Bernard Beckett

Research For Writing Novels by April Henry

On ‘Killing Your Darlings’ When Revising A Novel Manuscript by Monika Schroder

Where My Ideas For Novels Come From by Beth Revis

Dealing With The Idea Of Writer’s Block by Paul Volponi

Maximizing The Potential Of Your Writing Group by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson

Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Worldbuilding When Writing A Novel by Lish McBride

Plot Structure In Novels (Part 2) by Kate Forsyth

Talking About My Writing At Conferences by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing Description In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

On Creating Interesting Characters For Historical Teen Novels by Pauline Francis

Why I Write Teen Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

Developing Good Writing Habits by Kashmira Sheth

Challenging Your Protagonist (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

On Writing Self-Contained Novels In A Series by Andy Briggs

Inexpensive Ways To Market Your Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

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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.

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Writing Teen Novels
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Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel, by Diane Lee Wilson

Composing the first sentence of your novel can elicit screams of agony. It can be a difficult task because so much depends upon those few words. Will a prospective teen reader, already distracted by a myriad of electronic devices and entertainments, glance at this sentence, yawn and set your book down? How do you manage to entice such a fickle reader along to a second sentence and then a third?

As a practical matter, I have always liked starting my novels in the middle of a highly charged scene, ideally with one short sentence that hints at intrigue: “On the morning of September 16, 1860, my pa shot me.” “The little thumbnail moon gave no light at all; a friend to the thief.” “Better that you’d never been born.” Homicide, thievery, banishment – all themes that hint at an exciting tale.

In venturing to the local library, I found strong openings of varying lengths in many critically acclaimed teen novels. Robert Cormier’s classic, The Chocolate War begins simply, “They murdered him.” Laura McNeal introduces a mysterious character in the very first words of her lyrical Dark Water: “You wouldn’t have noticed me before the fire unless you saw that my eyes, like a pair of socks chosen in the dark, don’t match.” Then there’s Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which starkly states, “Here is a small fact: You are going to die.” (Okay, those aren’t the exact first words but they’re in bold type and centered on the page so that’s where your eyes go.)

With a first sentence as strong as any one of these, a prospective reader (and innately curious human) simply cannot resist continuing to the second sentence and then a third. Now he or she is like a fish following the bait. So you keep writing, keep tossing out interesting tidbits, not yet revealing the whole story. Remember that most teens have short attention spans – at least until they’re hooked! – so you’ve got to move things along briskly. Think of this challenge as crafting one sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next paragraph.

Admittedly, there are times when I can’t think of a good opening for a novel I’m starting, so for inspiration I’ll revisit favorite books that have hooked me early on. I’ll scan the first few paragraphs and try to decipher just how the author pulled me in. Was the protagonist in immediate danger? Was there an unusual setting? Was there an urgent problem to be solved? On occasion, the unique tone of a book or the author’s voice will pull me in. I highly recommend studying those authors that have mastered the art of the “tease”.

If I continue to be stuck on my opening, however, rather than yank out my hair and switch careers, I attack the book from a different direction. I just start elsewhere in the chapter. I pick a scene that I am passionate about and that I can easily visualize, and I write it. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the first chapter without having created a strong beginning. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the novel. What I’ve learned though, is that a strong beginning often reveals itself only upon the book’s completion. Once you’ve spent time with your story, once you’ve come to understand and love your characters, you’ll know how to begin their story in the strongest way possible.

So, in composing the first sentence of your teen novel, keep your teen reader firmly in mind. You’ve only a brief period to hook him, so rely on novelty and human curiosity. You’ll soon find yourself writing with confidence, with readers fully engaged.

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

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Raven SpeakTracksI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeBlack Storm Comin'     The Night She DisappearedTarzan: The Greystoke LegacyHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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Developing An Idea Into A Complete Story, by Andy Briggs

It all starts with a sudden explosion of thoughts and concepts that rebound from one another until they start to form the kernel of an idea. It is this precious idea that is going to consume months, if not years, of your life as you nurture it into a story. It’s that tiny idea you thought of on the train, in school or walking the dog that is going to make you get out of bed each morning and hammer away at a keyboard.

So it better be good.

How does this idea evolve into a book? You will start working out the beginning, middle and end – the core three acts that bond your story together. Most of the time, these will be utterly wrong and you will find yourself rewriting your opening, reworking the middle and having no idea how it is all going to end until you get there. Having a notion of where the story might go is enough. Your characters will begin to develop from this. You’ll find yourself bending and twisting the story to fit their needs – try and resist this. You want the story to be a challenge for the characters to navigate, so don’t be concerned about their health and safety.

Now your characters are forming, your plot is also falling into shape. A couple of key scenes will probably have sparked into existence; jot them down and keep them for later.

With the raw elements of characters and rough plot you have reached a fork in your evolving quest. Do you sit and plan the story as best you can, so you know what information each chapter has to convey and what turns your story will take? Or, do you jump in and start writing with no clear idea on where your story is going? Both methods are equally valid, and it often comes down to the individual’s personal tastes. I like to plot – I think this comes from starting my career writing movies. With scripts, you need a solid structure and have a finite number of pages to play out your story. For the novelist, at this moment in time, you have a blank canvas and infinite pages.

Whichever path you have taken, your story will unfold and you will begin to find the characters are not behaving quite the way you want them to. This is because you are giving life to them with each sentence, and no matter how well you think you know them, you don’t. It will feel as if they are taking you in a different direction from what you originally intended. I feel it is pointless trying to change their minds, you may as well go with the flow – but remember, you are the Creator. Don’t let them get away with leading you down an unplanned path. When this happens, I throw down a challenge within the story to derail them and bring them back on the course I plotted. People say you should love your characters – but drama comes from conflict, and you should be causing as many problems for them as possible.

As you plough through your story, you may discover those brilliant plot twists or scenes you dreamt up no longer fit the story. Don’t try to force them in, otherwise your story will seem disjointed. New scenes will evolve from the problems you have thrown at the characters. Rather than force a great idea into an unyielding story, set it aside for another book. Good ideas will have their moment; just remember their moment may not be now.

After navigating through writer’s block, casting misfortune on your characters and typing until your fingers are numb, you finally have a book. You may suddenly realise the ending was not what you had in mind, or, on the lucky occasions, have an ending that surprises you. You may also discover that your beginning doesn’t set the right tone – which probably means you have entered the story at the wrong moment. Try other entry points to see what works.

The most important point is that you now have a complete story: pages of drama and tension that all came from a random idea. As a writer, there is no greater thrill than reaching that moment.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Tarzan: The Savage LandsRise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Keeping CornerThe Empty Kingdom

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

I always imagined that I’d write contemporary fiction. When I decided to write for teenagers, I wrote a full-length novel about a young girl with anorexia. It was good - but it lacked a strong voice.

What is the secret of a good character? Why can it take so long to discover what it is?

I felt like an alchemist in search of the great secret: how to change metal into gold. I followed all the rules. I read and read and read (I was a children’s librarian at the time, so I knew what appealed to readers). I was involved in writing abridged classics (Fast Track Classics) for younger readers, so I knew most of the great English and American Classics and why they’d become classics.

But I still didn’t know how to make my fiction better.

I read and re-read my favourite teen authors; Witch Child by Celia Rees, Apache by Tanya Landman, The Road of Bones by Anne Fine (2006) and Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (2003).

They all have one thing in common - they are historical novels.

I came to understand the author’s voice. …that special ingredient that makes the magic. It’s ME - the author - who must be emotionally part of my writing and that without it, my narrative will be as dull as a base metal, whether historical or contemporary.

I asked myself: what had made me tick emotionally when I was a teenager?

I disliked being a teenager. I felt trapped in a difficult situation - wanting to study and go to University but with a father who believed that girls shouldn’t be educated. I was a rather shy and very thin child, and my family thought I was too serious and hated to see me reading. They believed in lots of fresh air and healthy sport. Lady Jane Grey came into my mind. I knew her from my school history. The little written about her wasn’t very flattering. She was shy, short and very thin – and preferred reading to hunting. Her parents disapproved of her, preferring her beautiful and outgoing sister, Catherine.

You can see where this is going.  I resisted the urge to write about Jane for a while because I’d never planned to write historical fiction. Then I gave in. I decided to make Jane the subject of my first novel because she echoed how I felt as a teenager.

It was unbelievably easy to write about Jane. I understood what made her tick.

She was sold into marriage by her ambitious father to the son of an equally ambitious father-in-law. They both sought power through this fifteen year old girl, because she was close in line to the throne of England. She was manipulated onto the throne and died for it.

I’m sure that my voice echoing through Jane made it the novel it was.

I chose Elizabeth for Traitor’s Kiss because she had to draw on enormous resources as she grew up - and make difficult decisions as I did. She had few people to guide her and this was her great attraction for me.

Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was the second wife of Henry VIII. He had her executed for suppose adultery when Elizabeth was only two. Everything that belonged to Anne was banned and burned. Her name was never mentioned.

What would it be like to grow up, knowing that your father had killed your mother? What would the gossip be like? As  Elizabeth grew into womanhood, spirited and swarthy skinned like her mother, she attracted attention from men who wanted power (she was third in line for the throne) - especially her step-father, Thomas Seymour. He flirted with Elizabeth. She flirted back. They were seen kissing. Like mother, like daughter? Elizabeth was only fourteen, but banned from court. As her step-father tried to gain power, he was taken to the Tower of London and Elizabeth, by association with him, was interrogated for six weeks.

Elizabeth used all her resources to outwit her interrogators - and to live to be Queen. Although none of these events happened to me, I recognised the kindred spirit in a young girl forced to draw on her own resources.

In between these two novels, I wrote another called A World Away, based on the first British colony to be established in America. It has been well-liked, but it is the least popular of my novels and I think it’s because the voice of my characters doesn’t reflect me.

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Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Victoria RebelsRaven SpeakRed is for RemembranceAngel Dust

Writing Teen Novels
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Writing Characters In Historical Novels For Teens, by Carolyn Meyer

When you start to write a novel, you’re signing on for the long haul. It’s a marriage, or at least a long-term relationship. For at least a year, maybe longer, you’re going to live with your characters, sleep with them, dream about, walk and talk with them. So you’d better love them – especially the principal characters – a lot.

You can write about a historical event, such as the French Revolution, in which the main character is fictional, but I usually tell the story through the eyes of a historically important person, and I begin the story in that character’s youth. When I wrote The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette, I focused on the young teen who much later supposedly said, “Let them eat cake.”

The main character, real or fictional, must be sympathetic, while other characters help her or impede her. If she doesn’t have problems to deal with, if she doesn’t grow and change, you don’t have a story. Marie’s mother provides the early conflict. When Marie leaves Austria at fourteen and arrives in France, a nasty countess makes her life miserable. The hapless French prince she marries condemns her to unhappiness, and the handsome Swedish officer she meets when both are eighteen offers romance and temptation. The events of history and her own flaws propel the story to its tragic conclusion.

I knew that this girl would arouse my sympathies, lead me to despair, and finally bring me to understanding and forgiveness. Marie was a spoiled teenage princess, but the more I learned about her, the more I discovered a character I could fall in love with – and could make my readers understand and forgive her, too.

But how much of it is “true”? I don’t change known facts, but I do invent scenes and dialogue, and sometimes I create a character -a friend or a servant, say – to help tell the story. When I was writing Mary, Bloody Mary, about the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, I invented servants, a female friend, and the boy who was her falconer. In Cleopatra Confesses I created a cast of minor characters, because so little is known about her early life. Not a single soul needed to be added to the cast of Victoria Rebels, or of The Wild Queen, about Mary, Queen of Scots.

You can’t know too much about your characters, but it’s possible to say too much about them. I learned a lot about Victoria’s childhood, when Papa died and left her German Mama alone and penniless. I got caught up with those difficult early days – far more than my teen readers would be – and my editor prodded me to cut the first 30 pages. That was painful, but it improved the story. And I was much more sympathetic to the 12-year-old Victoria than I would have been if I hadn’t gotten to know her so well when she was much younger. The solution is to put everything in your first draft and then be absolutely ruthless and take most of it out. Your characters will survive the surgery, and your teen readers will fall in love with them just as surely as you did.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Victoria RebelsMary, Bloody Mary     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)My Brother's Shadow

Writing Teen Novels
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To Write Better, Read More, by Diane Lee Wilson

I believe that every novelist strives to become a better writer, and I find that the craft of writing is improved by reading. So with that in mind, here are a few suggestions:

Read Literature. I’m VERY particular of what I read for pleasure while I’m working on a novel—especially if I’m just starting out and still trying to identify voice and mood and pacing. That’s because I find that whatever I’m reading at night invariably influences my writing the next morning. If my chosen author uses long sentences with many descriptive clauses, I find myself fitting more words between my periods. If the mood of my previous night’s read was somber then my characters tend to mope a bit. So, as peculiar as this may sound, I now go so far as to select for my personal reading a literary quality novel that A) is told in the same viewpoint as the one I’m writing; i.e., first-person narrative if I’m writing in first-person and so on; and B) one that is written in a style to which I aspire.

Now, I know that I am not going to create a Pulitzer-winning novel with my current work, but I’m happy to be inspired by one. Beautiful writing and great storytelling move me to produce. We write, after all, because we love language and stories, right? So choose to read the best books that you can and hope that osmosis works for literary talent.

Read Everything. Stay creatively inspired by reading anything and everything. You never know where you’ll find inspiration for your teen novel. It might be a newspaper article about a rising teen athlete and the challenges he/she combats. An essay in an historical magazine might prompt you to research an interesting teen from an earlier time. A random quote in an on-line publication might prompt you to say: My character would think that same way, and that might send your story in a different direction.

Also read for style. Personally, I love reading any column by a talented sports writer. In a limited amount of space I’m presented with intense drama, vivid language and fascinating personalities. I once again fall in love with the art of writing. I also enjoy perusing essays on the opinion pages of my newspaper where I’m reminded how to write passionately as well as succinctly.

Read Aloud. Sometimes hearing your words voiced helps you critique your work. So, when you’ve finished a chapter and polished it to your very best, let it sit for a day or two, then pull it out and read it aloud. And listen—hard—as you’re reading. Is the magic there? Are you drawn into the story? Are there places where you could improve the writing? Be hard on yourself; where can you make it better?

Read with a Group. Sharing your writing with a group of fellow writers isn’t effective for everyone, but I’ve been in a small group (just three of us) for fifteen years and I find value in two ways. First, I’m accountable. I have to produce. Typically my group meets every two weeks for about ninety minutes. We each email the other two members a chapter (or more) a day or two in advance of the set meeting. Then, after a short “catch-up chat” over coffee, we begin critiquing each other’s work. And here’s the second value: I receive two independent opinions of what I’ve written. Those opinions aren’t always aligned, but I can trust my two co-writers to be honest, and to keep me on my game. I’ve sometimes presented a chapter that I thought was pretty darn good, only to have them both tell me otherwise. Harsh reviews are never easy, but it’s much better to receive them in the early stages of a novel rather than to send a completed manuscript to an editor and have it rejected. Reading my work with my group makes me a better writer.

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Diane Lee Wilson author site: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson bio page

Black Storm Comin'TracksRaven SpeakFirehorseKeeping CornerDeadly Little GamesMy Brother's Shadow
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