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Writing Sociopathic Characters, by April Henry

When you write mysteries and thrillers, chances are that you will someday write about a person who is a sociopath. In my upcoming book, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, one of the characters is a sociopath.

Even though I had written about them, it took me years to figure out that someone I knew was a sociopath. People will often hear sociopath or psychopath – the two terms are basically interchangeable – and think you must be talking about a serial killer. But no. Only a few are. Most are people you might work with, live next door to or be related to. For the most part, they are people who leave a trail of broken hearts, empty wallets and frustrated expectations in their wake.

In some ways, I’m like a sociopath. I was born with no real sense of direction. I can be facing the setting sun and still have no idea where west is. I routinely get lost. It can take years for me to grasp how one street relates to another.

Sociopaths are like that. Only instead of being born without a sense of direction, they seem to be born with an inability to value other people as real, vulnerable human beings.

Robert Hare, PhD, is a pioneer in criminal psychology, specifically the study of sociopaths. He’s come up with some traits common to most sociopaths.

Sociopathic traits

Sociopaths have superficial charm. They are smooth and engaging. That’s because they are not in the least shy or self-conscious. The woman I know comes across well – at first. She easily struck up conversations with strangers.

Sociopaths have a grandiose sense of self-worth. They’re opinionated and cocky. They are so sure of their self worth that at first you might be too. The woman I know was thinking she should become a TV broadcaster – despite lacking any training or experience in this highly competitive field.

Sociopaths have a need for stimulation. They get bored, they take chances, they like thrills. They have a hard time finishing what they start. They are impulsive. The woman I know sometimes hooked up with near strangers.

Sociopaths lie, con and manipulate. It ranges from being sly to being outright dishonest.

The woman I know is an excellent liar. Caught in a lie, she simply layers on two or three more.

Sociopaths don’t feel any guilt. The only feelings they have about their victims are disdain. They have a lack of feeling in general – cold and tactless. I once saw the woman I know laugh because she had made a stranger believe one of her lies to the point the stranger cried with pity for her imaginary fate.

Sociopaths have a parasitic lifestyle. They are good at getting others to pay. The woman I know hasn’t had a job for years.

Sociopaths have difficulties controlling their behavior. They are annoyed, impatient, aggressive, hasty, and often angry. The woman I know ended up in jail for attacking someone.

Sociopaths have no realistic long-term goals. Or their goals are unrealistic – like become a rock star or a famous actor. Or, like the woman I know, to become a TV reporter.

Sociopaths are irresponsible. They may not pay bills, show up late, or do a sloppy job.

They also won’t accept responsibility for their own actions. According to the woman I know, nothing was ever her fault.

Sociopaths you have known

Sociopaths cause so many problems, but, at least right now, we have no way of curing them. Put them in the general prison population or in a mental hospital, and they’ll find ways to manipulate the other inmates.

In order for a person to be change, they must want to be changed. Dr. Hare and others say that sociopaths seldom, if ever, want to be fixed.

Think about people you have come across at work, at school, in your neighborhood, even at church. Chances are that there might be someone who embodies a large number of these traits.

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

April Henry’s bio page

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The Night She DisappearedThe Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenShock Point     Deadly Little SecretRikers High

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

How Martial Arts Benefit Me And My Writing, by April Henry

I am a martial artist. I almost feel as phony saying that as I did for years when I told people I was a writer. My love for martial arts would surprise anyone I went to high school with, because PE was the only reason I graduated with a GPA less than 4.0. But it turns out that martial arts have helped me be a better writer (after all, mysteries and thrillers often contain an element of violence), as well as a stronger and more prepared person.

We often deal with threats, even physical ones, with social behaviors. We ignore the people who make them or try to appease them. We deprecate ourselves. We try to ally ourselves with the person who made the threat by telling them that we are really on their side.

But you know what? These skills won’t work on most predators. They won’t work on the person who sees your purse or phone as something they must have – and sees you as about as valuable as the packaging they originally came in. They especially won’t work on a predator who only wants to take you to someplace private so they can hurt, rape or kill you.

For me, a kickboxing class was the gateway drug to martial arts. As part of the class, we wore boxing gloves and hit bags. I had never hit anything, not even a bag, as hard as I could. It made me feel strong and it was a great workout.

Over the past three years, I have seriously trained in kajukenbo and kung fu, as well as taken a little bit of Muay Thai. I have an orange belt in kajukenbo (and was close to taking the test for purple belt when our sifu left). As for kung fu, I’ll soon have my orange belt.

Will I ever make it to black belt? Probably not. I’m not a natural, I’m not particularly coordinated, I’m older and I’m often afraid – but I still love it.

I particularly love sparring. At my school, I’m often the only woman sparring. I have spit blood afterward when I forgot to wear a mouthguard. I’ve told my doctor not to worry about the bruises on my arms from blocking blows.

Even though there are many times when I get to the door and have to resist the voice that tells me to turn around because there are new guys in class and they all seem to be about six foot four, or that there’s a new sifu filling in for our regular teacher, or simply that I’m really tired, I’m always glad at the end of the sparring class. Afterward, I walk to my car grinning like a fool.

First of all, sparring has taught me what it feels like to get hurt or simply experience the surprise of having someone attack you. Getting hit in the face or even having your hair pulled is shocking. In our culture, even close friends don’t touch our faces. Once you’re no longer a little child, no one even pats you on the head. Knowing a little something about surprise, pain and fighting back helps me write about them.

I can write authoritatively about fear, about how things blur, about the way people move and hold their bodies and eyes and mouths. I can tell when someone is about to hit me and where. The eyes focus, the breath catches and the shoulder drops or the hand goes back.

I know how to hurt people – and that means my characters might be able to do it too. Kajukenbo focused a lot on what are known as “grab arts” – how to get free if someone grabs your wrist, tries to strangle you or wraps you in a bear hug.

In my school’s kung fu, we also learn to grapple – ie, to wrestle on the floor. These scenarios make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to have someone on top of me, even if by day they are a mild-mannered computer programmer or corporate lawyer. Nevertheless, this type of situation is one I might face some day. Now I know what to do if it happens (and so do my characters).

Martial arts benefit me – and my writing.

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

April Henry’s bio page

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The Night She DisappearedShock PointThe Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, Stolen     Across the UniverseTracksDark Hunter (Villain.Net)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Research For Writing Novels, by April Henry

It bothers me when I read something in a book that I know is wrong. Wrong and able to be Googled by readers. I started writing before the internet, or at least before a widely available internet, when it was not quite so easy to check things out. Fifteen years ago, I felt more comfortable just guessing or making stuff up. No longer.

So in the last few days I have spent time finding out:

• Do red-tailed hawks eat road kill? (If fresh, yes).

• Does Oregon pay for braces for kids in foster care? (No.)

• What time are trial advocacy classes at the University of Washington? (Late afternoon.)

• What testimony did the original grand jury hear in the Phoebe Prince case? (Actually, I couldn’t find that, which makes sense. Grand jury testimony is sealed. Still I would like to know more.)

One of the absolute best parts about my job as a mystery and thriller writer is doing research. In the last year, I’ve:

• Pulled out everything from underneath my kitchen sink, crawled into the space and taken a picture to prove to one of my editors that yes, a body would fit under there.

• Asked my kajukenbo instructor to drag me across the room, his hands underneath my arms, so that together we could figure out how a character could fight and get away. (You can see what happens in The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.)

• Talked to a bioweapons expert about how my bad guys might infect hundreds of people with hantavirus. (Again, for The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.)

• Faced down armed muggers, home invaders, crazy people and robbers – all while armed with a modified Glock that uses lasers instead of real bullets. I did this at a firearms training simulator facility (the only one like it in the world that is open to civilians) which, lucky me, is just 20 minutes from my home. You interact with life-sized scenarios filmed in HD. The scenarios change depending on what you say (for example, “Hands in the air!”) and where your shots hit (a shot that disables versus one that injures). Meanwhile, the bad guys are shooting back. If you choose – and I do – you can wear a belt that gives you a shock if you’re shot. The facility even offers a simulation that is nearly 360 degrees, so you feel like you are standing in the middle of, say, the convenience store or the parking lot. This teaches you to look behind you for that second or third bad guy.

I’ve attended the Writers Police Academy, which is held once a year in North Carolina at a real police academy. I also graduated from the FBI’s Citizen Academy, which is taught by real FBI agents and included a stint at a real gun range where I shot a submachine gun. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and my local chapter has experts speak every month (the blood spatter expert was particularly interesting). I’m also an online member of Crime Scene Writers, which has lots of retired or even active law enforcement personnel who answer questions.

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

April Henry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     Boys without NamesHappyfaceDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels, by April Henry

Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years about writing page-turners:

Act first, explain later

Many writers mistakenly think the reader needs to know all the backstory at the beginning of the novel. The problem with this approach is that it makes the real “now” of the story feel less important. Or writers think the reader will like the characters only if they spend a lot of time showing their normal, everyday lives. The problem with this is that the reader feels no urgency to continue. It’s much better if a novel starts on the day that everything changes.

Create a ticking clock

In a mystery or thriller this can be a literal bomb that the reader can’t stop worrying about. It could also be an ultimatum. Other ticking clocks could be the scheduled execution of an innocent man, the day the ship is supposed to land on Mars, the approaching prom, summer ending and the girl going off to college, the hurricane forecast to land in three days, or the lead actress for the big show coming down with mono leaving no one to play the part.

Play on common fears of readers

Common fears include: darkness, wild storms, something crawling on the skin, objects that cover other objects, a small sound when there should be silence, being alone, being helpless or unable to act, something under the bed, closed or partially open doors, hallways or tunnels that lead to the unknown, cramped spaces, basements, attics, heights, crowds, disease, death.

Give characters specific phobias

Give your characters phobias or fears – and then make them face those fears. Afraid of heights? The final confrontation should take place on a rooftop. Afraid of repeating the same terrible mistake? Give them the opportunity to get it right.

End each chapter with an unresolved issue

Have a character open a door, answer the phone, be confronted by someone with a gun, receive a mysterious letter, or make a decision not revealed immediately to the reader.

Cut filler

Look for passages that describe the weather, the landscape, the aftermath, travel, characters eating meals or drinking coffee, a character just sitting and thinking. Then cut them – or at least cut them back.

Hurt a main character

Hurt a main character early so the reader knows no one is off limits. Even better, kill the character – preferably a likable character. Readers will be on the edge of their seats, knowing that anything at all – even something very bad – could happen.

Make choices painful

Force the character to make a choice between two things she wants or to choose the lesser of two evils. Two loves. Two people to save (when only one can be). Addict/temptation. In a relationship/temptation. Maybe the main character knows brother will keep killing, but if she turns him in, he’ll go to death row.

Raise the stakes

Our main character was already nervous about singing in class, but now he has been asked to sing at the stadium. Or for a more mystery-related example, not only will someone die if our main character doesn’t catch the serial killer, but the next victim could be his girlfriend. Or it’s not just a child who will die – it’s a whole kindergarten! Ask yourself, “What could make it worse?” And then make it happen – even if you don’t know how your character will get out of it.

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

April Henry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The HuntingProject 17

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Plot Is The Backbone Of All Page-Turners, by April Henry

As a mystery and thriller writer, I’m all about the plot. A good plot will have you turning the pages at a rapid pace and staying up too late to read “just one more” chapter.

Basic plot

Something happens that forces the character to leave his ordinary world. He does not want to. He faces a series of obstacles, most of which he doesn’t overcome. His efforts to fix things go awry, resulting in more problems. Finally there is a big showdown and he is able to reach down deep to overcome both his own internal issues and the external problem and triumph.

How much plotting do you need to do?

There are more elaborate ways to plot, with dozens of steps. Will your story fall apart if you don’t religiously plan out your plot? Maybe not. You may have unconsciously absorbed story structure through reading hundreds of books and movies. You do not have to have a checklist or fill out forms before writing. But you can.

You can plot something so detailed that your outline has a page for every few pages of finished text. You can plot by just writing each day and seeing where it takes you – although it helps to have the end of the story in mind.EL Doctorow said something about how when you drive at night, you can only see to the end of your headlights, but that turns out to be enough.

What your book needs and your life doesn’t

Conflict, conflict, conflict – plot is ALL about conflict. Your book should start with a conflict – the event that pushes the character out of his ordinary world.

Make it worse, also known as “Put her up in a tree and throw rocks at her.”

Make it bigger. Not only did he look like an idiot playing with the light saber in the garage, but someone put it on YouTube and he’s famous across the nation.

Make choices painful. Force the character to make a choice between two things he or she wants desperately – or the lesser of two evils. Edward or Jacob? Peeta or Gale?

Staying safe at home or risking life and limb?

Secrets

One way to ensure conflict in your story is to make sure that all of your characters have at least one secret. Only one person committed the murder, but the rest should have things in their past or their present that they are hiding. A secret can be something that a suspect doesn’t know – that her boyfriend once dated the murder victim, or that she stands to inherit her murdered uncle’s estate. A character may think a relative or friend is guilty, so they lie and say they were together. Or it can be something about themselves that they lie about in an attempt to conceal: gambling, drug use, embezzling, being on the verge of bankruptcy, cross-dressing etc. Because the characters have something to hide, they may act suspiciously, lie to your sleuth, steal important documents, etc.

Once you give each of your characters a secret, see what they do to keep it a secret.

Author Phyllis Whitney’s advice is: “In the planning stage, I make sure that all my characters have secrets that will be revealed gradually during the course of the novel.

Such secrets will motivate all sorts of unexpected action and furnish the surprise element that I’m trying for. Before I ever get to the writing, I examine my characters for those secrets they may be hiding, and I plan ways in which such secrets may affect the lives of other characters in the story.”

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

April Henry’s bio page

***

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     Raven SpeakHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

10 Tips For Becoming A Good Novelist, by April Henry

1. Read, read, read. Try well-reviewed books in genres you wouldn’t normally read – fantasy, historical novels, even westerns. Don’t be afraid to put something aside if it’s not working for you – but first try to pinpoint why it’s not working.

2. You don’t have to write what you know. Write what interests you. Do I know much about kidnappings, murders, drug dealers, being blind or assuming a dead girl’s identity? No. But I’ve written books that have gotten starred reviews, awards and have hit the New York Times bestseller list.

3. You can write a book in as little as 20 minutes a day. I know because I’ve done it. Make writing a habit. Don’t wait for inspiration. Once you are published, you’ll need to make deadlines. Write every day or, at minimum, every weekend. If you don’t know what to write about, start by getting a book with writing prompts, like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg or What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

4. You can always edit crap. You can’t edit nothing. Sometimes you have to force yourself to write. Sometimes you’ll find your back against the wall when you need a solution or a resolution to the story. Make yourself write something. Anything. And often what you come up with turns out to be surprisingly good.

5. You don’t have to outline – but you can. If you don’t plot in advance, just keep raising the stakes for your characters. Set up initial goals, throw some obstacles in the way, and see if your characters sink or swim. If your characters do swim, send a few sharks after them!

6. Tenacity is as important as talent. Many fine writers have given up after getting a few rejections from agents. I still think about Jane and Tom, people I took a writing class with about a decade ago. They were the stars of our class, far better writers than I was. I was just one of the drones. Both Jane and Tom gave up after getting a few rejections from agents. If they had persevered, I think they would have been published.

7. Show vs. tell is something most writers struggles with. In movies and on TV they can’t tell you anything – at least without on-screen text or voice over. Everything is audio-visual, which means they have to show you. How do you know someone is upset, angry, happy, sad, frustrated, etc.? Watch movies and TV and write down facial expressions, movements, actions, gestures, etc. Use these to describe your own characters when you’re writing. This is a good way to learn how to show emotion instead of telling it.

8. Revision has gotten a bad rap. It can actually be the most fun. Most of the hard work is done – so you just polish things up, cut things down to size, make characters a little larger than life, and reorder your ideas. The best way to start a revision is to let the book lie fallow for at least a week. A month is better. Six months would be ideal.

9. To really see what needs fixing, read it aloud. Yes, all of it. It’s even better if you can read it to someone, even if it’s a toddler or your cat. Or imagine an editor or agent is listening.

10. Go to readings at bookstores. You’ll learn something from every writer you hear. You’ll see that published writers aren’t some exotic species. And they’ll be glad to see you even if you don’t buy a book.

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

April Henry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point    A World AwayThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Editors: Working With You To Make The Best Book Possible, by April Henry

My first book was published in 1999, so I’ve had a lot of experience working with editors. In fact, I’ve had five of them, plus an unknown number of copy editors and proofreaders. The amazing thing is that, in my experience, each editor has a different approach. What one editor is passionate about may not even be on another editor’s radar screen.

My five editors

My first editor loved characters who were quirky, whacky or eccentric – and if she felt they weren’t quirky, whacky or eccentric enough, she often asked for them to be enhanced. Sometimes her comments were cryptic. I still remember staring at one notation scribbled in a margin. It said, “Pump up the mystery!” I had no idea how to do that and I was too scared to call her. I’ve since learned that just as an email sometimes lacks the emotional nuance that would allow you to completely understand a message, so too can editorial letters and hand-written notes. A simple phone call can go a long way toward making things clear for both writer and editor.

My second editor was a legend in the business. She was in her 80s and everyone loved the idea that she was still working full-time. Dozens of famous authors had been edited by her over the course of her long career. I think she worked right up until she died. Her editing was much more broad-based and she wasn’t nearly as much of a detail person as my first editor was.

My third editor was famous for being able to write an 11-page editorial letter for a 12-page picture book. He used brown stickies to mark changes he had pencilled in green on the manuscript. One draft I got back bristled with so many stickies it looked like a porcupine. For Christmas that year, I gave him a brand new green pencil, figuring he had used one up on my manuscript. One thing I learned from him was that sometimes when an editor asks for a specific change, he or she may be right that something is wrong. However, the writer can often make a different sort of fix than the editor requested and still come away with both parties happy.

My fourth editor writes thoughtful editorial letters that I dread. Why? Because she is skilled at finding flaws I haven’t noticed. Flaws that require lots and lots of thought before I can fix them.

My fifth editor is both a big picture editor and someone who notices the smallest details. She’s pointed out words I tend to overuse - words I wasn’t aware of until she had checkmarked three or four uses of the same word in a single page. Once or twice, she has questioned the veracity of things I write, asking if it’s really true or possible. I welcome that. So much fiction, especially mysteries and thrillers, is riddled with errors about police procedure, weapons or investigative techniques.

The process of editing

Editing used to take place on paper, and you, the editor and your agent would send bulky manuscripts back and forth. I still have some unused manuscript boxes in my basement. They fold up neatly and have a little tab you insert into a slot. It’s probably the equivalent to holding onto a buggy whip. Now manuscripts get emailed as attachments, to be read by agents and editors on e-readers, and to be edited by line and copy editors on computers and then emailed to you with tracked changes. Many editors will still print out a paper copy and mark that up, at least to a degree, although I wonder if that will change as a generation who started on paper retires.

Line editors may make suggestions as to how to burnish the story and are big picture people. Copyeditors are more focused on the details. For example, they make sure that a character who has blue eyes on page 19 does not have gray eyes on page 319. They know the difference between flout and flaunt. They do a certain amount of fact-checking, making sure that, for example, you don’t spell Cheez-Its incorrectly. Oddly, I have had the same freelance copyeditor work on several of my YA books even though they were put out by different publishers. In a further twist of fate, she grew up in Portland, where I base most of my stories.

Both main editors and copy editors have saved my bacon many times. It’s hard to see your story clearly: you always need at least one more set of eyes.

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

April Henry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenShock PointThe Night She Disappeared    ResponseHappyfaceA Coalition of Lions

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

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

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

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

My Novel Writing Process, by April Henry

I used to write books just for me. No publisher was waiting for them (although I certainly had the fantasy that once publishers saw the finished book they would fall all over themselves buying it). And the books were done when they were done.

I’ve had 13 books published in 13 years. Most are written under contract, which means they have a fixed due date. (Although I still sneak off to work on a ‘spec’ book now and then.)

My current writing process is now more like this:

  • One year before the book is due: I have plenty of time. And I deserve to relax after how hard I worked to get the last book done. I might make some notes and brainstorm a little… after I clean out the basement.
  • Nine months before: This plot idea is intriguing. The characters are starting to seem like real people. Maybe I should create a thorough outline… after I finish alphabetizing the spices.
  • Six months before: The outline is finished. This is going to be so easy. I should outline all the time! I’ll just take it step by step, like paint by numbers. The book is practically going to write itself now that I have all the hard work done. I think I’ll call my friend and go out for ice-cream to celebrate.
  • Three months before: Holy crap! This outline doesn’t work at all. And why do my characters keep doing things I never planned on them doing? This one guy was meant to be a secondary character but for some reason he thinks he’s the real love interest. And my main character refuses to do this one dangerous thing the outline says she should do. She says it’s a bad idea.
  • Two months before: I will never be done in time. Never. The only way I can do it is to write two thousand words a day, every single day. Didn’t manage more than three hundred today? No problem, I’ll make it up tomorrow.
  • Two weeks before: There’s too much blood in my caffeine stream. I’m writing like a mad woman. But I can do it. If I just give up on this sleeping thing.
  • Due date: There. Finished. Is it any good? I’ve read it over but, to be honest, I have no idea. I hit the send key. I really should celebrate. Or work on that other book that’s due. But how long has it been since I swept behind the couch?

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

April Henry’s bio page

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Writing Novels For Teens Versus For Adults, by April Henry

I had published five books for adults before my first teen book came out. In fact, when I wrote it I thought it was a novel for adults that just happened to have a 16-year-old main character. But my agent, who represents a lot of Young Adult writers, broke the news to me: I had written a Young Adult book.

Since then, I’ve had a foot in both worlds. Every year, I usually write one book for adults and one book for teens. So what’s differente and what’s the same?

Writing

Teens

• All POV (point of view) characters must be kids (unless a very short walk on, like

the cop in Hoot).

• Parents or teachers cannot save the day; teens must. This is why you will so often find kids who are orphans, or who have a dead mom or non-functioning parents.

• YA lit has great built-in obstacles: cliques, coming of age, finding out who you are, peer pressure, family dynamics, dealing with parents divorce, prom, homecoming, falling in love for the first time, etc.

• Many YA books are in the first person, to help the reader more readily identify with the character.

• The books usually take place over a shorter period of time, usually no longer than a year.

• Books are typically much shorter- 50,000 words is common, versus say, 80,000 to 90,000 for adults (although fantasy is often longer).

• It’s okay to have swearing or fairly graphic sex, but it might limit how many teachers will assign your book to readers in your intended age group, or the age group you can appeal to, in hardcover (when kids don’t usually buy their own books). Graphic violence may even be a harder sell.

• An “issue-oriented” book, like a book about being a teen-aged father, or a book about having a sibling with leukemia, may garner a lot of librarian support. And librarian support is key to success in the YA world.

Adults

Pretty much anything goes.

Getting published

Kids

• You don’t necessarily need an agent, especially with books for younger readers.

This is more common for older writers who have developed relationships with editors.

• Editors still accept things from people they meet at conferences

• It’s tougher to get into children’s magazines, and there are fewer of them than magazines for adults.

• And in order to get a short story in a children’s anthology, you pretty much have to have published elsewhere.

Adults

• You have to have an agent for fiction.

• It’s possible to not be agented for non-fiction.

• There’s a great deal more opportunity for poems and short stories to be published in literary journals for adults.

Fans

Teens

• Your readership changes every few years as the readers grow up. They read your books only for a brief time period, say middle school, then move on to adult books. When these teens reache adulthood, they might not care about your next YA novel. That makes it very hard to develop a following. That’s one more reason why librarians are so important, because if they like your books, they will recommend them to each new wave of kids.

• At the same time, if you have a lot of books out there, kids will devour them and not care if they were published this year or five years ago.

• Kids have big emotions about everything, and their feelings about writers are no exception. They will pour out their stories to you, friend you on Facebook (and think you are really friends), hand you poems they wrote and ask what you think, and even ask you to sign their hands.

• Teens ask what adults secretly want to know “How much do you make?”

Adults

• When you write for adults, each book that is released supposedly increases your readership. If readers like your work, they will buy all your future books and your career builds on itself. A fan may stick with you for thirty years.

• Some adults will come to signings just to get your signature, because they see your book as collectible.

• Adults are cool and dispassionate.

Success of a book

Teens

• For children’s literature, there are more “professional” review options, like Hornbook or VOYA, than there are for adult books.

• Reviews trickle in for months after the book is published.

• Librarians are vital to success.

• There are many more opportunities for promotion in YA – libraries, schools, conferences, online, etc – opportunities that aren’t necessarily available to writers of adult books.

• Your publisher gives you a longer time to prove yourself via sales.

• It’s not unheard of for a picture book to be in print for 15 or more years.

• Your book might be named to one of the important library lists a year after publication (such as YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)

• Your book might be named to a state list years later (states like Texas can result in tons of sales)

• Either of the above can mean the sale of many copies over time.

• There’s a better chance you can actually make a living.

Adults

• Reviews come in much sooner for adult books.

• You have about 6-8 weeks to show success in hardcover.

• After that, most of your books are returned for credit and the new hard covers take their place.

• Librarians aren’t as important to the cycle.

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

April Henry’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

   

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