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Posts from the ‘American teen novels’ Category

Using Your Memory To Write Better Teen Novels, by Shawn Goodman

On creating teen voice: There’s the usual stuff about listening to what kids talk about, the rhythms of their speech etc. It sounds good, but as often as not the results are corny dialogue, idioms that don’t work or make sense, outdated clichés and other missteps. It’s better to just tell a good story with a strong, unique voice.

How? I think it has something to do with anamnesis, science fiction writer Phil Dick’s word for the loss of amnesia. Applied to YA fiction it means that we adults have forgotten what it’s like to be an adolescent. Sure, we remember the snapshot moments or the intensely emotional ones but the truth or magic is in the small things, like Holden Caulfield’s ducks, or the kid in Spinelli’s Milkweed who hunts through the dead city to find a pickled egg for his sad mute friend (he finds just a pickle and an egg – but it’s good enough), or Vern Tessio, from Stand By Me, who says that cherry Pez is the perfect food. The point is that we too have these images and stories but we no longer have access to them. In the process of growing up and assuming jobs, kids and SUVs with third row seats, we’ve forgotten about our pickled eggs and cherry Pez memories. We’ve forgotten about the anarchy-shaped cigarette burns in the bucket seats of Jeff Riscioli’s ’73 Camaro. As a dedicated member of the punk scene, Jeff dotted the glowing end of an unfiltered Camel into the vinyl to form a crude, charred letter A. He later crashed the car into a dumpster in the Twin Fair parking lot.

So the trick is to lose our amnesia. How? I don’t know. Listen to a track from when you were in high school, like ‘Just One Kiss’ by the Violent Femmes. Say out loud the name of your partner in Biology lab (Jennifer Renkens, a pretty blonde who fainted at the sight of her own blood during the blood-typing unit).

Recall your first car (’59 VW Microbus, bought at Angelo Bomasuto’s father’s hot dog stand for $700). Remember your first knock-down fist-fight in which you got pummelled by Rob Radloff on the Washington Avenue train tracks. Remember how he was later killed by a train on those very tracks in your senior year.

Picture your prom date (the same Jennifer who fainted in Biology lab). Remember whatever you want, or whatever you can. Just get better at remembering the small things; the details and half-feelings. Close your eyes and hear the music. Feel the rhythm of how you and your friends talked. That rhythm – the flow, the cadence, the back and forth of whispers in class, and insults in the cafeteria, the laughing and shouting – is what it’s all about. That’s how you lose your amnesia.

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Shawn Goodman’s author website: www.shawngoodmanbooks.com

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     Rikers HighHappyfaceThe Night She Disappeared

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Writing Novels For Teens… When You’re Not One, by Dandi Daley Mackall

I love writing for teens: mysteries, romance, horse novels, historicals, humor… Most of my readers are too polite to ask, but I’ll bet a number of them wonder how I can keep writing for teens when I’m not one and haven’t been one for a very long time.

Great question, right?

I have a great answer. My best and worst teen moments are frozen. When I need a power-packed, authentic teen emotion for a work-in-progress, I bring out my frozen moments, loaded with the same angst and intensity as any contemporary teen moment. I have a freezer full of them.

Frozen moments can give any writer an edge in developing powerful scenes and realistic characters. So, what exactly is a frozen moment? In Larger-Than-Life Lara (Dutton/Penguin), my narrator explains a moment she’ll never forget like this:

All of this happened in just a couple of seconds, I guess, but it felt like it was a frozen piece of time. . . Sometimes whole countries and even the whole world has stuff happen that people will remember for the rest of their lives. Like Mrs. Smith said she knows people who were alive when President John F. Kennedy got shot and killed dead. And every single one of them can tell you where they were and what they were wearing and who else and what else was in the room with them when that president got shot and killed.

And I believe her because I can tell you exactly where I was on the day of 9/11, when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. I was home sick from school, only I was faking sick. I was all by myself watching TV. Only I’m not supposed to let on I was by myself because the social worker will get after my daddy again. I was wearing the pajamas I hate because they have kites on them and I’ve never ever had a kite, even though I would really like one.

The room smelled like tobacco and bananas. There was a buzzing from the TV because Daddy hooked it up himself to cable so we didn’t have to pay, and sometimes it looked like it was snowing, even on shows like Jungle Animal Planet. Then I was changing channels and saw a plane stuck in a skyscraper, with smoke and fire and people screaming. So I thought it was a movie and I’d watch it. Only… well, you know the rest…

But the stuff about frozen moments is important because if you land into one, then you got some good material for your story. Because you can call it up in your head again and have everything you need right there. It doesn’t go away on you, like other memories. It’s frozen. And this can be a good thing or a bad thing.

My unscientific take on recent brain studies is this: When an emotion is strong enough, our brain is branded with the memory. That’s my secret as to why I can continue to write for teens. Every novel I’ve written contains a variety of frozen moments. Some series, like Winnie the Horse Gentler, Backyard Horses and Starlight Animal Rescue, use frozen moments to bring back the horses I rode bareback through my teen years.

In The Silence of Murder (Knopf/Random House), which won the Edgar Award for Best YA Mystery, a mother delivers a slap to her son in chapter one. I witnessed such a slap when I was a teen, and I never forgot it. My first sentence in The Secrets of Tree Taylor (Knopf/Random House) is my frozen moment from an early morning in my little Missouri town:

The morning the gun went off, I was thinking about Tolstoy and the Beatles, and maybe, if I’m being honest here, a little about Ray Miller and how his eyes were perfect little pieces of sky.

So, fellow aging authors, the good news is that we don’t have to stop writing for teens, not even when our teens grow up and have teens of their own. Just keep that literary freezer filled with frozen moments. Slang changes and clothing styles morph, but teen angst is teen angst.

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Dandi Daley Mackall’s author website: www.dandibooks.com

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Working With An Editor On A Teen Novel, by Diane Lee Wilson

Having a manuscript accepted for publication is a heady feeling. You’ve arrived! You’re soon to be a published author. The sky’s the limit now! Look out, world.

Congratulations are definitely in order. Simply completing a manuscript is an accomplishment, but to have your work rise from the thousands of submissions and be recognized as worthy of professional publication is truly something to be proud of. Now, don’t let your success go to your head. There’s a lot of work yet to do and a good deal of it is humbling.

Publishing a book is a business. It’s a partnership between you and the publishing house. Don’t be arrogant and assume that your manuscript is the best thing to ever cross an editor’s desk. It’s not. So be prepared to work with your editor to make it better. After happily signing all of the contracts and mentally spending your first advance check, you’ll receive your precious manuscript back in the mail – with handwritten criticism all over it! Here’s where you remind yourself that your editor is working in your best interests; he or she knows the teen market and knows what sort of writing sells. That’s what you want, right? To market – and sell – your best possible work? So read through the comments carefully and as objectively as possible. I recommend arguing the points that you really feel strongly about, but don’t pick fights over little things that don’t really impact your overall story. Your editor prefers a different word here or suggests deleting a sentence or two there? Fine. Trust them to do their job.

One thing I’ve learned is that words are not sacred and that no reader ever misses what isn’t there. When I receive the final galley of a novel for proofreading prior to going to print, I’m always impressed with how smooth the story seems. There is no sign of what has been argued about; nothing appears to be missing or altered. It’s an improved version of what I submitted.

Sometimes the suggested changes are far more than a word here and a sentence there. When I sold my first manuscript, I naively thought I was finished. I did not expect to receive so many criticisms and suggested changes. I was so overwhelmed, in fact, by the scope of what my editor was requesting that I got teary and said to myself, “I can’t do this.” But after reading through the comments again and gearing up for the additional work, I rewrote several chapters, deleted one entire chapter, added some more backstory and altered the ending slightly to account for a character that had disappeared. The revised manuscript, I have to admit, was better. It was tighter, faster-paced and more satisfying.

Each subsequent manuscript has had its own challenges and eventual transformation. In Black Storm Comin’ I was cautioned to delete language that would be deemed offensive by schools and school librarians. I had merely been writing dialogue that seemed typical for tough Western characters but, keeping in mind that I wanted to sell books to schools, I softened the language where suggested.

I’ve often had to change the opening chapter in my novels. I like mysterious and murky beginnings that are often pulled from events in the middle of the story, and I did that in my most recent novel, Tracks. But my editor reminded me once again that these can be too difficult for young teen readers to grasp and that if I want to sell books I had to make the story accessible.

On occasion I’ve stood up for elements of my original manuscript. If I feel very strongly that a character would indeed act as I’ve described or if I very much want to tell the story as a flashback, then I argue my case. I’ve found my editors (I’ve had two wonderful ones) to be very agreeable to my position when I argue it. The key is give and take; I adopt nearly all of their suggestions, holding firm on only a few points.

Ultimately, your editor wants you to have a successful novel and is advising you how to achieve that. I recommend heeding their advice. Publishing, again, is a business. You’re the artist but you need experienced people such as editors, illustrators and marketers to help you earn money from your art.

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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

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Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Medium Sized Budget, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Do you have a medium sized budget to market your teen novel?  First, implement some or all of the options listed in the last couple of posts, then look into implementing these suggestions.

$1000:

Upgrade to a professional web site.  Remember when I said the web site was the single most important marketing tool?  As soon as you can afford it, have a pro take over the design and execution for you.  Get recommendations from author friends to find out who is affordable.

Attend a national conference or bookseller event, i.e. ALA, BEA, IRA or SCBWI.  This is a great way to network.  Be sure to bring along your business cards.

Have a professional author photo taken.  A professionally taken photo may seem like a frivolous expense but a great pro photo can last you years.  Plus, you get the added benefits of photo retouching.

Have book-themed giveaways made for you.  One idea we love is having temporary tattoos made using your book’s cover or character.  Be sure to bring them along to events – and again, remember to get permission for any copyrighted images.

Pay dues to organizations, like the Children’s Book Council, The Children’s Literature Network, ALA and IRA.

$2500:

Put together a media kit.  This is like a traditional press kit, but with an accompanying CD-ROM or DVD.  Content could included photos, an interview with you (have a pal be the interviewer), favorable reviews, etc.  Get creative.

Throw a high-concept launch party.  Provide book-themed food and beverages, and create activities that will also complement the book’s content.  Consider hiring an assistant to help keep younger children occupied (and happy).

Attend a key conference.  Treat yourself to attend a national SCBWI conference, for example.  The trip will be worth the expense.  Besides, it’s tax deductible.

Travel to meet your editor and/or agent.  If you’re worried about maximizing your time away, try to organize a school or library visit or bookstore event to coincide.

Organize a cool giveaway through your web site.  Purchase an iPod mini or a portable game system – whatever appeals to your readers – and make it the prize in a book themed contest.

$5000:

Hire the services of a PR specialist.  You’ll still have to do some of the work on your own, but hiring a professional – especially one who specializes in the kid lit market – will give you a strong advantage.  Sure, you’ll pay for that advantage – but this is a person who can organize a mini-book tour, allocate funds for well-placed internet ads, etc.  At the very least, spring for a consultation that will set your self-funded promotional efforts onto the best track possible.

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

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little GamesDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)     Cleopatra ConfessesTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

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On Being Nice As A Writer, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writers suffer a strange duality. We work in private but the product of our work is very public. Must of us are shy people but we’re often asked to speak in front of large crowds.  We can be rather arrogant at times (what’s more arrogant than thinking your thoughts ought to be interesting to the throngs?). As creative types, we can be terribly insecure. This tension between the public and private in a writer’s life can lay traps for us that can lead to some embarrassing missteps.

For example, you might be giving a speech some day and you might be extremely tempted to call the work of another author overrated. I suggest that you refrain. Saying nasty tidbits about other writers can come back to haunt you in a big way. The hack you malign one year could come out with a major best seller the next and you’ll find yourself in the position of having slighted a powerful person who has the ear of the media. Even if said writer remains obscure, speaking ill of him casts an unfavorable light on you and can make you seem as though you were sucking on a bunch of sour grapes. When speaking in public, I have found it best not to suck at all.

Just as speaking ill of another writer is not advisable, writing reviews, even in respected journals or newspapers, can be fraught with peril. Plenty of aspiring novelists begin their career reviewing fiction in trade publications, but I humbly submit a caveat to this practice: a mean review can be a veritable boomerang, especially if the author finagles a way to review your next book. (This has happened. For real. I won’t name names.) Even worse, a nasty review can offend a potential editor, who might have poured her heart and soul into a book only to have it maligned by you. Editors have long memories and might not consider a piece of fiction by a writer who has offended them.

If reviewing fiction is something you feel called to do, or if it helps you pay your bills, keep your reviews honest but civil, and read any book very carefully if you plan on giving it a negative review. You especially don’t want to be in the position of excoriating a book while revealing through poor fact checking that you weren’t paying attention. Just know, I have never, ever heard of an editor or agent reading a review and thinking to herself, “This review is delightfully pithy… I wonder if this reviewer has a novel?”  If your true passion is writing fiction, it might be best for you to concentrate on your own writing and leave the criticism to the critics.

That said, once you’re published, you’re likely to have an online presence on sites like Goodreads where book reviews are the name of the game. I am not particularly active online, and I should be, but I have always made it a policy to only write a review of books that I think are truly excellent. About the books I don’t love, I am silent. I am a believer in the power of good vibes. I try to keep my public persona positive and sunny, because life, and careers, are too short to waste them spreading bad vibes.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Writing What You Know, by Beth Revis

Probably the most clichéd and oft-used phrase for any writer is the old adage, “write what you know”.

So how did I end up writing a novel that takes place hundreds of years in the future, on a spaceship populated by genetically modified people heading to a planet that might not really exist? It’s definitely not something I “know”.

Typically, we don’t really “know” our stories. Or, at least, I don’t. I’ve never been the youngest person on a spaceship, but I do know what it’s like to not fit in. I’ve never had my parents cryogenically frozen, but I still remember that moment when I realized that I’d grown up and was no longer under their safe protection.

Many times, it seems that people who aspire to write teen fiction are more focused on writing teenagers than on writing characters who behave realistically. They will often do research on the outward appearances: clothing, slang, mannerisms. Very often, this is where they trip up, because that’s not the important stuff. Focus on the stuff you know – the stuff everyone knows. We have all experienced the same things every teen has experienced: first love, first heartbreak, betrayal and fear, joy, sorrow. This is what the writer must know – and if the writer knows this, then everything else: the characters, the plot, the world – will fall in place.

Find the beating heart of the story. Invention is a wonderful thing – a necessary thing when it comes to writing. You need to have invention but, somewhere beneath everything that you create, you also have to write what you know.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StorySaraswati's WayThe Night She Disappeared

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Creating Characters With Flaws, by Kashmira Sheth

When I was growing up I listened to the stories from the Indian epic Mahabharat. Even as a young child it struck me that the heroes were not perfect. They had their weaknesses just like anyone else.

When we write it is easy to identify with a person who possesses good qualities, so why create a main character with a flaw? Shouldn’t he or she be perfect in every way? Wouldn’t a reader want that?

We don’t have a perfect protagonist because it would be like trying to drink a glass full of sugar syrup: too sweet and utterly disgusting. Giving a hero flaws adds much to their personalities. In real life people are a mix of good and bad qualities, and when we mirror those qualities in our stories our readers identify with our characters more deeply and root for them. They worry about them and eagerly flip pages to make sure they are safe at the end.

Another advantage of creating such character is that they are engaging. They amuse and surprise us and sometimes ever make us cringe. If he has a quick temper he adds a fiery element to his dialogues when he is angry. His anger maybe short lived but his words can linger in reader’s mind. Our protagonist adds depth to her character when she can sting with her words, make the reader laugh with her sauciness or delight the reader with her cunningness. No simple, perfect protagonist can stand up to a character with a flawed personality.

The flaw or flaws we select for our characters demand care and sound reasoning. In YA novels our main characters are young. If our fifteen-year-old protagonist has smoldering anger there must be some reason for it. We must answer the question, “Why does he have so much anger?” It might be that he felt ignored and unloved because his older sister was brilliant and took up all his parents’ attention. It might be that his parents were busy fighting and had no time for him. Whatever the reason, we must know it so we feel grounded about our character’s past and understand his present.

The flaws we pick should become part of the story we’re writing. If the novel features a girl who is sassy and loud-mouthed, we could use those very same qualities to get her into trouble. During the course of the story, she may even overcome some of those flaws. However, it is not essential or even desirable to have our character grow out of all their shortcomings. Over the course of the story they grow and change, but in a believable way. They don’t turn completely perfect at the end.

Creating a character that is likable as well as flawed is essential to a story.

They are fun to write about and fun to spend time with. After all that is what we want.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Code Name VerityAcross the UniverseThe Night She DisappearedDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

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