Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (February 2013)
Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its second 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 February 2013
This months articles and writing my teen novel
Bernard Beckett wrote: To write for teenagers is to be classified as a genre writer: to dwell on that small, slightly shabby shelf, near the back of the store. From this vantage point there is a question that naturally arises: are we writing literature? […]But is such a distinction valid, and how effective a filter is the genre/literature divide?
Amy Kathleen Ryan wrote: Setting isn’t just a place and time. Let’s imagine that Jane Austen and Stephen King have both visited the same Georgian era house, and both felt inspired to set a scene in the attic. In addition to the quaint sewing table and a smoky fireplace, Austen’s setting would include a rigid set of expected manners, an even more rigid English class system, and probably a whole regiment of charming rogues out to ruin the honor of vulnerable yet spunky young women. King’s setting might include a chainsaw with a bit of human hair caught in the gears, a menacing creeping mist, and a universe of bizarre magical beings just waiting for our blue collar hero to prick the membrane between our world and theirs.
Diane Lee Wilson wrote: To be an appealing character, an underdog simply cannot be miserable all of the time. Readers want to hear a story of a person overcoming a difficult situation. She doesn’t have to gleefully sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” on every other page, but she must vibrate with an inner strength.
Monika Schroder wrote: Copy editors must surely be patient and just a bit wise. I am sure that they often shake their heads at mistakes we writers make. These people who work through a manuscript with such thorough attention to detail have my full admiration. It is thanks to them that a clean and accurate manuscript finds its way to the printer.
Writing my teen historical novel, set in 1939 Poland (and discussed in my January Month In Review post), is a matter of creating a compelling story which is also the product of in-depth research. A teen novel in which storytelling takes a backseat to the historical setting is not going to cut it with a lot of teen readers and a historical novel in which in-depth knowledge takes a backseat to plot is not going to cut it with a lot of historical novel readers. The secret to managing this balance well cannot be fully explained in the space of this article. It requires a range of storytelling components to work together to create an overall story experience, which has to work in different ways for different readers.
The answer to Bernard’s question about whether teen fiction is literature depends on the definition of literature being used. If you take literature to encompass all written fiction then teen fiction (that is, fiction intended primarily for teenage readers or with one or more prominent teenage characters, that is age-appropriate for people aged 13-19 years) then of course teen fiction is literature. Various people will differ in exactly what they mean when they say teen fiction or Young Adult fiction, and many people may not have thought much about some of the finer details of what does or does not fall under the term in the sense that they use it. If literature is taken to mean quality fiction, then I think most people would agree that some teen fiction will match that description and some teen fiction will not. However, the problem would then become deciding what is quality fiction and what is not.
Writing a novel suited to teenage readers does not automatically make it any more or any less worthy than one suited to adult readers – and there is plenty of crossover readership between each kind of novel. As Amy and Diane demonstrate, the nuances of setting, character, and so on, and how they are conveyed to readers is something that authors of teen novels and authors of adult novels consider and work into their writing. As Monika discussed, teen novels also benefit from the input of copy editors – as well as general editors and other publishing professionals – to arrive at the book readers will experience . As with adult novels, different novels will receive different levels of attention from skilled publishing professionals.
The 1939 Poland setting is an important aspect of my novel-in-progress but, as Amy touched on, more important is how I handle the setting in telling the story of my characters. My main character could be considered an underdog, as a teenage boy in the city of Bydgoszcz in western Poland at the time of the German invasion and occupation, but more important than the obstacles standing in his way is what he does in the face of such obstacles. All the storytelling components must come together and work in unison to create a good novel; from the big picture concept to copyediting to the subtleties of characters’ personalities and relationships.
Writing Teen Novels