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Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (April 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its fourth 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 Historical Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:

- provide a handy list of links to the articles for the past month, then to

- relate some of the content of these articles to my own novel writing to help novel writers and other interested people discover the month’s content and gain some insights into ways the month’s content can be engaged with in a practical context.

Articles for April 2013

First Person Present Tense Narration In Teen Novels by Beth Revis

Teenage Characters And Responsibility In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Does A Novelist Need An Agent? by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Tools To Develop Productive Novel Writing Habits by April Henry

On Story Ideas And Developing A Novel by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone by Paul Volponi

Plotting A Novel Versus Winging It by Diane Lee Wilson

The Process Of Writing My Novel ‘My Brother’s Shadow’ by Monika Schroder

Plotting My Teen Historical Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Making Time To Write Your Novel by Lish McBride

Crafting Your Novel’s Plot And Characters To Sustain Story Momentum Throughout The Middle by Sam Hawksmoor

Writing Novels About Teens For Teen Readers by Bernard Beckett

Using 5 Senses In Your Novel Writing by Pauline Francis

Using Characters And Setting To Situate Your Story In Another Culture by Kashmira Sheth

Creating Empathy For Your Characters (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Characters And Story by Andy Briggs

Developing Characters For My Teen Novels by Kate Forsyth

This month’s articles and writing my teen novel

April Henry wrote: Do you ever find yourself polishing the same paragraph over and over, moving a clause here, changing a verb there and not ever actually adding any new words?
Sometimes even experienced writers have trouble making progress. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Paul Volponi wrote: What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

Elizabeth Wein wrote: One feature that I feel is characteristic of teen fiction is the divide between young people and adults.  It can show up as a contrast – between the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles.  Or it can show up as a simple lack of understanding between the adults and the teens in the novel.  Where I find this divide most interesting, and probably most disturbing, is when it’s part of a power play.  This is the kind of conflict that I find myself most often describing in my own novels.

Bernard Beckett wrote: When writing a piece of fiction, we try to do something more than achieve an external description of the world. We want to engage with it in a way that feels like a depiction from the inside. We’re digging, if you like, towards that which is essential. If you write about teenage characters for a teenage audience, you are backing yourself to be able to tell them something both fresh and authentic about their own experiences.

Different novelists approach their writing in different ways but it is typically a good idea not to stop and start, breaking off to research or edit, once you start drafting. Most novel writers find it much more productive to familiarise themself with their subject matter, and maybe the general design of their character development and plot, then to write a draft from beginning to end before going back over what they’ve written and revisiting their research to get the finer details right. It’s often not until a writer has finished a full draft that they really understand in detail how they want their story to work, so the best time to spend hours painstakingly polishing the fine details is typically after you have a full draft. Otherwise changes which are necessary to make your story work better could result in having to change or cut large sections that you have rewritten and edited for many hours needlessly. As April wrote, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” when drafting.

As Paul pointed out, writing a little bit regularly adds up. If you ‘wait until you are inspired’ and write 3000 words in a day once per month it will take you two years to write a full draft of a 72,000 word novel. Keep in mind that this is just the first draft, which might be half, a third, a quarter, or less of the work you do before submitting a novel to an agent or publisher (or self-publishing). Then an agent or publisher might only be interested if you do a major rewrite. If you write 500 words a day every day while drafting you will complete the first draft of a 72,000 word novel in 144 days, which is a little under four months. Writing 750 words a day, five days a week, will get a 72,000 done in 96 writing days over 134 days, which is three and a half months. Writing regularly will also help you keep the story together in your head to maintain continuity in your story and consistency in how you’re writing the story.

Many have speculated about what makes teen novels so popular with both teens and adults. One major factor is “the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles” that Elizabeth wrote about in her article. Adults don’t have to get stuck in prescribed roles but many do. Many adults have lost touch with a sense of having an unfinished, dynamic personality – which is the nature of people throughout their whole life, whether they take full advantage of it or not – to a large degree and reading stories about teenagers can help adults rethink their own attitude to life and rediscover the possibilities still available to them.

Writing my own teen novel, set in 1939 Poland, it has been crucial to do in-depth research before drafting to avoid stopping and starting to do extra research while drafting or writing an under-informed draft which would require major cuts and rewriting later. I find that having an in-depth knowledge of my subject matter and resources at hand to double-check any details I might need to confirm along the way allows me to write with confidence, enjoy the writing process and be inspired by the real-life context of what I’m writing about. Even if you write fantasy novels, and can therefore make up a lot that other writers might need to make sure they get right, some initial research relevant to your story can go a long way to creating a rich, coherent foundation for your novel and tangible real-world details to draw readers into your story-world.

My novel-in-progress is set in a time and place where characters’ plans are disrupted by the outbreak of war and they have to re-invent how they live their lives. As discussed, teenagers tend to do this naturally and many adults would benefit from being more open to re-invention. The ‘unfinished, dynamic character of the maturing teens’ in the novel should carry with it appeal for teenagers who identify with the characters’ personalities, by ‘telling them something both fresh and authentic about their own experiences’, and for adults who remember their own teenage years and the sense of possibility and opportunity that they either still have or have let go of to some degree. The characters face extraordinary circumstances which will hopefully inspire readers to realise that, if the characters are capable of doing what they do in their difficult circumstances, then the reader is also capable of great things without the obstacles faced by the characters.

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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.

You can connect with Steve Rossiter on Facebook or on Google+.

***

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (March 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its third 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 Historical Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:

- provide a handy list of links to the articles for the past month, then to

- relate some of the content of these articles to my own novel writing to help novel writers and other interested people discover the month’s content and gain some insights into ways the month’s content can be engaged with in a practical context.

Articles for March 2013

Are Teen Novels ‘Genre’ Fiction? by Elizabeth Wein

Using Art In My Teen Novels by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

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

Selling Your Teen Novel Manuscript by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Unreliable Narrators In Teen Novels by Beth Revis

My Novel Writing Process by April Henry

Editing A Novel: The Necessary Evil by Lish McBride

The Process Of Writing And Revising My Novels by Monika Schroder

Finding A Good Literary Agent For Your Novels by Paul Volponi

Research For My Teen Historical Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Developing The Story For My Novel ‘The Puzzle Ring’ by Kate Forsyth

What Is At Stake For The Characters In Your Teen Novel?  by Diane Lee Wilson

Voice In My Teen Novels by Kashmira Sheth

Why I Love To Set Novels In British Columbia by Sam Hawksmoor

Setting Up A Suspenseful Plot (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

On Novels That Are For-Teens-By-Accident by Bernard Beckett

Beginning Your Novel With A Great First Chapter by Pauline Francis

Getting An Agent And Publisher For Your Novel by Andy Briggs

This month’s articles and writing my teen novel

Sarah Mussi wrote: A strong opening must promise the reader that something worthwhile is going to happen because this will make the reader feel it is worth carrying on reading. This sounds simple but it’s a bit more tricky than it seems.
Firstly, ‘something worthwhile is going to happen’ should not be confused with curiosity. Mere curiosity, or not knowing something, is not enough to stimulate the interest of the reader over the course of a novel. Secondly, the willful withholding of information in order to ‘arouse interest’ or ‘create a surprise’ can be extremely annoying.  Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to read a book like this knows the feeling. It’s counter-productive. It’s BOOK DEATH! So you have to be very cunning.

Monika Schroder wrote: 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.

Kashmira Sheth wrote: Our inner world is colored with our outer world. The physical surroundings, including weather, seasons, terrain, plants, animals, and people have a profound impact on how they express themselves. For example, a character living in a desert might use a spiky cactus to describe a prickly personality, while a character living near a rocky beach may compare it to sharp rocks. A character’s profession will also shape the way they talk and think.  A poet may describe a sunset differently than a scientist, even though they are both watching the same sunset at the same time and same place. The metaphors and similes our characters use or don’t use reflect their environment and their backgrounds. This makes up part of their voice.

For my own teen novel in progress, set in 1939 Poland and discussed further in the January and February Month In Review Updates, my approach includes going back to revisit the first chapter as part of the editing and rewriting process to ensure it performs the important role of effectively introducing readers to my main character and drawing them into the story. As Sarah has suggested, there is a difference between skillfully crafting a sense of anticipation and story momentum by raising unanswered questions in readers’ minds as part of a satisfying story experience versus simply withholding information you would otherwise provide in the belief that withholding this information will create suspense.

Of course, while the first chapter of a novel holds a special place as readers’ entry point into a novel, it is not just the first chapter that can benefit from being re-shaped with the benefit of the big picture context gained from of a complete draft of the novel. With this big picture context in mind, the essence of each scene and the contribution it makes to the story (eg. revealing character and dynamics between characters, and showing character-change and changing dynamics between characters) can be fine-tuned so the components of the story work in unison to more effectively convey a satisfying reading experience.

Kashmira’s point that ‘our inner world is coloured by our outer world’ is something I have considered, and continue to consider, in relation to my novel. My main character, as a teenager in 1939 Poland, does not have day-to-day familiarity with contemporary things like computers or the internet, television, rock music, mobile phones (or even widespread access to home phones) and other electronic or communications devices, passenger aircraft, widespread access to motor vehicles, widespread commercial use of plastics, the United Nations, the Holocaust, the outcome of WW2, nuclear weapons, the Cold War, satellites, space travel, and whether there was intelligent life and societies on neighbouring planets. This means many concepts which could come to mind for a contemporary character cannot come to mind for my character in 1939 Poland. Day-to-day concepts which come to his mind may have more to do with things like agriculture, livestock, horses and horse-drawn carts, railway travel, communicating by posting letters, the outcome of WW1, instrumental music, folk songs, books and paintings. Contrasting a contemporary character with one from the past provides a clear example of how a character’s ‘inner world is coloured by their outer world’, but this applies equally to different characters within the setting of a novel. Each character in a setting does not experience the absolute entirety of that setting, just as no person experiences the absolute entirety of the planet, country, region, state, city, street or even the house where they live, due to the physical limitations of only being in one place at a time. Each character will experience different parts of their setting and have different thoughts than other characters, which will influences which parts of the setting they subsequently experience and what they then think, and so on, building up in each character a unique ‘inner world coloured by their outer world’.

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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.

You can connect with Steve Rossiter on Facebook or on Google+.

***

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

“So, how do you start a novel?” by Nansi Kunze

There is a wise saying amongst YA novelists: ‘The journey of seventy thousand words begins with a single letter.’

Oh, all right, I’ll admit it – I just made that up. But it does make a point (of sorts). See, the thing with novels is that they’re really big. When I was doing my Honours year at uni, I remember thinking that writing a fifteen thousand word thesis was going to be really tough. Ha! These days I look back on that and chuckle at my own naiveté; even fifty thousand words sounds short to me now that I write half as much again for a single manuscript. That doesn’t mean I don’t find starting a novel intimidating, though. Many other writers, both aspiring and experienced, do too.

“So, how do you start a novel?” is a question I’m frequently asked at author talks. “Cautiously, and after a very long time,” would probably be the most accurate answer. That’s because I’m a Planner. Essentially, what this means is that I have a very strong idea of where I’m going with a piece of work before I begin writing it. Many writers approach their work in a completely different manner, plunging headlong into their work and allowing it to take shape as they write, often being surprised by what they find along the way. Writers who work like this are often called Pantsers. (The term ‘Pantser’, by the way, comes from the expression ‘to fly by the seat of one’s pants’. You may want to explain this to people before you use the word; only last month I shocked a fellow author by referring to her as a Pantser without considering how risqué that would sound to the uninitiated.) As a Planner, my preparation method goes something like this:

Step 1: Spend inordinate amount of time looking for a recycled-paper notebook with lots of pages to plan in. Convince self that cover design is of great importance, since the beauty of it will directly affect the quality of upcoming novel. Finally manage to choose one. Gaze admiringly at cover in gratuitous display of procrastination.

Step 2: Get out pencil (pen is too permanent for this kind of thing). Write working title and date on top of first page in planning book. Jot down basic premise of novel: things like the protagonist’s name and age, what kind of trouble she’s going to get into in the book (going on work experience at a virtual office and then becoming the main suspect when her boss is murdered, to use the example of my most recent novel) and what she’s up to in the very first scene.

Step 3: Add lists of characters and settings with short descriptions for each. Note down ideas for humorous one-liners, sight gags and embarrassing situations. Try to identify some of the themes to be explored in the story.

Step 4: Write down main plot, using the words ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ every second sentence. Realise it’s full of holes. Spend weeks researching ways the protagonist could actually solve the mystery, the villains could actually achieve the crime, the imaginary technology could actually work and so on. Draw mind-maps and timelines to help solidify plot structure.

Step 5: Intersperse research with more notes about characters, settings and style. This will involve much crossing-out, lots of stream-of-consciousness writing (‘Okay, so obviously R needs to find out about the crime before C does. Problem is, wouldn’t H have told C about it on the first day? What if C was blah blah blah …’) and scrawling things like ‘Needs more glamour!’ at the top of pages.

Step 6: Many weeks and around fifty pencil-covered pages into planning book, open up a new Word document and begin typing at last.

As you can see, it’s a loooooong process, but it works for me, because I need to feel that I’m really well prepared before I can muster the confidence to start a novel. Of course, you may be more of a Pantser; a sticky-note with a couple of names scribbled on it might be enough for you to start your manuscript with. Whether you’re a Planner or a Pantser, though, that ‘journey of seventy thousand words’ thing still applies. In the end, the only way to start a novel is to type the first letter, and then the second, and then the third. Do whatever you need to do to find the confidence to begin, and keep on going. See you on the other side of those seventy thousand!

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Nansi Kunze bio page

MishapsDangerously PlacedRuinedA Coalition of LionsThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))GlowWriting the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-on Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed

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