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Posts tagged ‘YA writing blog’

On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

People often ask me what inspires me to write.  The answer is that inspiration comes from all over, especially if you’re open to it: stories you hear about, snippets from the news, a really dishy reality TV show, an argument that you overheard at the local coffee shop, fortune cookie messages, dilemmas without answers, a person you encounter at the supermarket, a situation that occurred at the gym…

The point is that ideas are everywhere.  Pick one that gets your creative juices flowing.  Don’t write about a topic because you think it’s popular or timely.  The market is ever-changing: blood-thirsty vampires today, vegan-loving serial killers tomorrow.  Plus when you consider that once your book gets accepted for publication it’s often a year or more before it comes out, who knows what the market will dictate then.

Here’s how inspiration struck for some of my teen novels:

Blue is for Nightmares

The inspiration:  My readers

I was inspired to write my first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, because I wanted to write a book that would have appealed to me as a young person, namely one that had a blending of suspense, romance, drama, and dark humor.  I wasn’t a big reader as a young person, and so I wanted to get reluctant readers excited about reading.  Blue is for Nightmares was the product.

Bleed

The inspiration: A theme that interested me.

I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday – even the smaller ones – can affect others in ways we may never even consider: the decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone’s house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach; and how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people’s lives… including the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend’s boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

Project 17

The inspiration: A news article.

I sold Bleed in a two-book deal with Disney/Hyperion Books for Children.  Time was ticking and I needed an idea for the second book – fast.  One day when I was flipping through a local newspaper, I came upon an article concerning the controversial teardown of one the nation’s first mental institutions, which was considered  to be a historic landmark – one that was also rumored to be haunted.  I imagined a group of teens breaking in to the hospital on the eve of the demolition to film a movie.  The idea inspired me to write my novel Project 17.

The Touch series

The Inspiration: Past success and my love for series books.

Following the success of my Blue is for Nightmares series, in which my main character is plagued, and then empowered, by her premonitions, I wanted to continue working in the supernatural/paranormal genre.  Like in my Nightmares series, I wanted to explore the idea that we all have our own inner senses and intuition, and how with work we can tap into those senses and make them stronger.  I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power to sense the past or future through touching objects.  The concept fascinated me, so I wanted to bring it out in a character and show how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

In my series, Ben, the new boy at school, is rumored to have accidentally killed his ex-girlfriend.  He ends up completely reclusive as a result, getting home-schooled by tutors and not leaving his house.  Flash forward two years and Ben wants a shot at normal life again, despite his powers.  He enrols at a school a few hours from his hometown, where no one knows him or his past.  Then everything goes awry when he accidentally touches Camelia, the main character, and senses that her life is in danger.

My current work-in-progress

The inspiration: A nightmare I had.

I rarely have nightmares but I had one that felt so real and scared me to bits.  I didn’t talk about it for several days afterward.  When I finally felt able to share it, I told someone who immediately said that it needed to be a book.  I agreed and sold it to my editor last year.  I’m currently working on the draft.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Blue is for NightmaresBleedProject 17Deadly Little Secret    Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyAngel DustBlack and White

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Tools To Develop Productive Novel Writing Habits, by April Henry

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.

Here are some tools that have helped me:

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is great for big projects like novels. (Its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, named it after a timer shaped like a tomato, or, in Italian, a pomodoro). It has helped me be more productive by making me focus.

1. Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Let nothing – not the doorbell, not the phone, not the ping of an email or a text – interrupt you. Stop as soon as the timer goes off. You’ve just completed a pomodoro.

2.Now set the timer for five minutes and do something that isn’t work. Go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, check those emails or texts. But you only have five minutes and you must stop as soon as the timer goes off.

3.Repeat the first two steps until you’ve completed four pomodoros. Now you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

Want to know more? Go to www.pomodorotechnique.com

Freedom

Freedom is a program that won’t let you go on the internet until a set amount of time (as long as eight hours) has expired. I resisted using Freedom for a long time, basically because it cost $10. I figured I was an adult, which meant I should be perfectly able to set limits and stick to them. For example, I should be able to write on my laptop without taking a peek at the Internet every five minutes for “research” or to see if I’ve gotten any important emails.

Then I gave the free trial a whirl. The first time, I only set the time-out period for 15 minutes. I realized I probably would have clicked on the internet a dozen times if it wasn’t for Freedom.

Now I use it in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique.

You can find out more at: www.macfreedom.com

Write or Die

Writers often get stuck. I think that largely stems from the fear that what you write will suck. That’s where Write or Die can help, by forcing you to stop overthinking and just write. Write or Die is a free program on the internet. (You can also purchase it to use on your desktop or iPad.)

You set how many words you want to write and you set the amount of time you want to write them in. You also set consequences, which range from gentle (pop-up reminder) to kamikaze (keep writing or words start disappearing). When you’re done, you save the text by selecting it and then coping and pasting into your own word processing program.

Now I make a running list of ideas – scenes, characters – that I could take to Write or Die. And at least once a day, I set the time for 15 minutes and the number of words for 500. It works best if you don’t over think it – or even think at all. Instead, write as fast as you can and describe the brightest colors, the softest sounds, the way something feels under the character’s fingertips. What are your characters saying? What are they feeling and not saying?

I won’t end up using everything I write on Write or Die, but often I’ll come up with something unexpected and wonderful.

You can try it for yourself at www.writeordie.com (scroll down if you don’t see it).

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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Girl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock PointTorched    Across the UniverseBoys without NamesThe Final Four

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Teenage Characters And Responsibility In Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

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.

Teenagers don’t appear to have much power in Western society.  They can’t legally drink, drive, vote, fight in a war, marry, hold a job or live on their own until they reach a certain age that adults consider appropriate.  Basically, they are dependent on the adults around them to make sensible decisions for them. These can include life changing or even life saving decisions and, to the maturing mind, not being able to make one’s own decisions is often a source of deep conflict.

The kind of relationship that I explore in all my novels is that of the teen breaking free from the control of the adult world and learning to make decisions and accept responsibility for those decisions.  I don’t really have a moral message to deliver in my writing, but if I did it would simply be that I want people to accept responsibility for their own actions.  That’s what being a teen is all about.

In Code Name Verity, my most recent novel, the young heroines find themselves involved in assisting the British war effort during World War II.  Not only is the dire global situation created for them by adults, but the Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Maddie and Special Operations Executive agent ‘Verity’ find their lives almost entirely guided by the orders and restrictions of superior officers.  When Verity is captured by the Gestapo and Maddie is forced into hiding, the girls’ literal movements and freedom become restricted by the older people in charge of imprisoning or hiding them.  How the girls cope with these situations and win back their individual freedom, figuratively and literally, is the core of the book.

Even a reader with the most ordinary daily existence should be able to relate to this theme, because rebelling against authority or learning to work with it is what people do in their teenage years.

Fiction is good practise for real life.  Perhaps the teen/adult divide is one of the hallmarks of what makes a book a ‘teen novel’ rather than an ‘adult novel’.

***Write with New York Times bestselling novelist Elizabeth Wein in Hobart, Australia in November 2014

Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page

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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Project 17Victoria Rebels

Writing Teen Novels
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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.

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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     VibesShock PointThe HuntingDeadly Little Lies

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

Within your story, what’s at stake for your protagonist? Are the stakes set high enough and are the risks real enough that your readers will care about what happens? No matter what genre of teen novel you’re writing, the stakes for your protagonist have to amount to life itself. In other words, at some point in your story (preferably about half of the way through) your protagonist has to face a life and death situation in order to overcome it and evolve into a true hero.

For those of you who aren’t writing murder mysteries, this doesn’t have to be a physical death (although teenaged literary heroes such as Harry Potter have embraced death – and, of course, survived it). But the stakes still have to be high enough that, should the protagonist lose, the consequences would be the equivalent of death. Such consequences might be the loss of one’s true love, great public humiliation or a personal failure. In any of these situations the hero might admit, “I’d rather be dead,” and the reader will suffer along. In a wonderful analysis of the craft of story writing called The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters author Christopher Vogler states, “Heroes must die so that they can be reborn. The dramatic movement that audiences enjoy more than any other is death and rebirth.”

I was recently reminded of this need to challenge the protagonist again and again when I watched the Pixar film Finding Nemo. I’m a big fan of Pixar’s unique characters and rich storytelling, and their writers’ ability to pull at your heartstrings. But I’d forgotten what an emotional roller coaster this particular film was and is. In only 100 minutes the little clownfish Nemo and his dad narrowly escape death more than a dozen times: by shark, jellyfish, deep sea angler fish, aquarium water pump, plastic baggie, crab, seagull, underwater mine explosion, strong currents, being flushed down a sink, dropped on a dock, caught in a net and crushed by a net. In addition, there are many crises that feel like imminent death: the ocean’s too big, the destination is too far, I’ve lost my map, my friend has forsaken me. Even with all of these near-fatal scenes, at no point in the story did it feel like the creators were creating artificial dangers; they simply put two heroic characters in one very difficult situation after another and allowed them to use their personal strengths and intense familial love to attempt to reunite – and Finding Nemo is ostensibly a children’s story! Imagine what you can do with a teen’s story.

Nearly every day of a teen’s life is fraught with emotion and crisis. Happiness blooms from the fleeting smile of a member of the opposite sex and tears from an apparent snub. Life is over after a failed test, a broken heart or parental restrictions. The reactions to these events may seem overly dramatic to an adult (and especially to a parent) but to a teen these crises feel like death itself. Understanding what your protagonist most values will allow you to place that thing at risk – even time and time again – and that will make your story intensely interesting to your teen readers.

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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'     Cleopatra ConfessesThe Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for WritersFinding Nemo Big Golden Book (Disney/Pixar Finding Nemo)

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
www.writingteennovels.com

What Makes Great Young Adult Fiction? by Sam Hawksmoor

The world isn’t perfect.  You learn this the first time you hear the word ‘no’ and more bad luck for you if all you ever hear is ‘yes’, because you’ll never develop self-discipline and if you never develop self-discipline you never develop self-worth. This is an unfashionable view but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong). Great Young Adult (YA) fiction is quite often about young kids who for one reason or another rate their ability to make a difference,  if only they are given a chance.  I’m not really talking about heroes – more often than not it’s about kids who know their weaknesses and have to raise their game or take decisions on their own for the first time. Take the fantastic and much neglected The Droughtlanders by Carrie Mac. (Aside from the fact that it is criminal you can’t easily buy this outside of Canada, this is one of the most inspiring openings to a trilogy you’ll ever read).

The Droughtlanders gets to grips with climate change, revolutionary politics, regime change, circuses, cowardice and the terrible price of jealousy and revenge.  Carrie Mac must have once had an awful time with a brother or sister to understand just how competitive and harsh brothers and sisters, especially twins can be to each other.  Here we have twin brothers (in a Romulus and Remus situation)  Seth and Eli, one all gung-ho for violence, guided by an evil father who rules the Keylanders (outside the city walls) with an iron fist, the other brother is painted as a coward who deplores violence, worships his scientist mother, who works on crops and making things grow.  Little do either brother realise that their mother is in fact working for a Droughtlander terror organisation that wants to bring down this cruel regime.

Outside the city walls a disfiguring disease runs rampant and anyone who has it is shunned.  Their state controls the weather and has stolen the rain from the rest and impoverished millions. The mother is blown up by the father, the Eli runs to the outside, the Seth pursues, vowing to crush any rebellion and kill his brother if he has to. But they have another relative – a sister they weren’t aware of… and she is working the other side. Within the text you discover the outside world riddled with poverty and disease and bravely, for YA fiction, sex and the consequences of sex; babies. Babies brought into a warzone. Carrie Mac does not shirk from dirt, sickness sheer folly and manages a giant cast with consumate skill.  She also displays a fantastic knowledge of circus life and Cirque du Soleil in particular, which again marks out her fiction as totally unique. Do all you can to find these books.

The Triskelia trilogy works because it mines age-old themes but addresses contemporary issues in an engaging, electrifying way.  It’s simply a damned exciting read that doesn’t shy away from the consequences of violence or sex.

This is why I read YA fiction.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     The DroughtlandersAcross the UniverseSparkTracksKeeping Corner

Writing Teen Novels
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5 Things Writers Of Teen Novels Should Know, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Here are five things you should know when writing a teen novel:

1. Yourself.  First and foremost, ask yourself why it is you want to write for young adults.  Is it because you have dreams of becoming the next Stephenie Meyer?  Because you see a hole in the market – perhaps it’s a topic that’s near and dear to you – that you’re itching to fill?  Maybe you and/or someone you know experienced something traumatic or triumphant during teenhood – something that serves as the inspiration for your story idea.  Or maybe it’s purely because you love those years of young adulthood and all the drama that ensues.  Whatever the reason or reasons, like any strong, three-dimensional character, it’s helpful to be conscious of your motivation as you’re drafting that book.

2. Your audience.  Read what they read, watch what they watch, eavesdrop on their conversations, and know what’s important to them.  Some have the misconception that writing for young people is easier than writing for adults, but quite the contrary can be true.  Teens are smarter and savvier than ever.  If the work isn’t authentic of those young adult years; if the teens in your book don’t sound like teens or don’t make choices that are authentic of their characters, then your young adult audience will be the first to call you on it.

3. Who’s buying.  Read Publisher’s Lunch, The New York Times, The Writer’s Digest, the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Ilustrators’ The Bulletin, and other trade publications to find out which editors are buying which types of books, and from what authors.  Take note of the genre, the word-count, and the types of characters that are selling to these editors. Also, take note of first-time authors (and which editors are buying from them). See if you can pinpoint any patterns, i.e. an editor who buys a lot of science fiction-type books, or an agent who works with a lot of mystery writers. Keep a log of these findings, particularly with respect to your own work.  Start to generate a list of potential people who might be interested in seeing your book.

4. What’s selling.  Get to know the market. Spend some serious time at bookstores, particularly in the new release section.  What books are coming out?  Which ones are getting a lot of attention?  Can you see the market changing at all? Is it trending toward a particular genre?  Or getting saturated in any one area?  Do you see or can you predict a hole in the market?

5. What’s out there. Read books in the young adult market.  Get to know your librarian; particularly one who’s really knowledgeable about the young adult market.  Librarians can provide a huge resource for aspiring writers.  They can discuss what’s popular in your local area, your region, and nationwide. They can also talk about the holes in the market; after all, they get asked by patrons on a regular basis for recommendations for certain types of books.  Librarians can also recommend really great books for you to read – those that are like the one you’re writing or that are demonstrative of what’s out there in the market. It you want to write for teens, it’s important to be reading what they’re reading and at the same time, learning from other authors, and continuing to keep abreast of the market.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little GamesDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)     A Million Suns (Across the Universe)Claude & Camille: A Novel of MonetSpark

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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