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Month In Review (September 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its ninth 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.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November, 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for September 2013

Using Movies And TV As Inspiration For Novels by Beth Revis

First Person Versus Third Person Narration by Bernard Beckett

Language In Teen Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

Writing Dialogue In Novels by Monika Schroder

Writing About Violence And Physical Harm In Novels by April Henry

Using A Notebook To Store Ideas For Novel Writing by Paul Volponi

My Favourite Author Of Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Embracing E-Books by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writing Believable Teen Characters by Lish McBride

Life As A Published Novelist by Andy Briggs

Plot Structure In Novels by Kate Forsyth

On Getting A Novel Published by Pauline Francis

Working With My Editor by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

On Research For Writing Teen Science Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

On Prologues And Epilogues In Teen Historical Novels by Carolyn Meyer

On Revising A Novel Manuscript by Kashmira Sheth

A Page-Turning Plot = A Character-In-Action (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Writing Dialogue In Teen Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

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Writing Believable Teen Characters, by Lish McBride

There are a series of questions that I get at events that always make me do that confused-puppy-head-tilt thing, and though they seem different at first, they are at their core the same question. They go something like this:

“How do you write a male teen character? You’re not a teenage boy!”

“How do you write from the point of view of a teenager when you are obviously full of old?”

“How do I create my own believable teen character when I spend all day eating pudding in a nursing home? Kids are so different these days with their iPads and their Beach Boy records…”

You get the idea. So put down your liniment, turn up your hearing aid and turn off your Victrola.

Here’s the thing – it’s not like we’re talking about strange creatures from the moon. Human experience is human experience. Teens – and I know this might come as a surprise – are people. I know. It’s crazy. They are people and they have emotions just like other people. Sure, things can feel more immediate and intense at that age, but they are, at their base, they same emotions that you have. Even someone like me who has the emotional spectrum of a dilapidated robot can manage it, so I’m sure you can too.

For teen authors: just because you are a teen, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it right either. Sometimes it’s the hardest to write what’s closest to us. Or, if you are like me when I was a teen, you might not really understand what on Earth your peer group is up to. I certainly didn’t get it until I was older. You might be a little swifter on the uptake though.

Back to the earlier questions – no, the last time I checked, I was not a teenage boy. But I’m not a werewolf or a necromancer either and no one asks me how I can write about that without personal experience. Because I write fiction and I’m making it all up. I am imagining what it would be like to be a teen guy in those situations. If I am worried that my responses aren’t “male” enough” I ask a guy friend their opinion. But really, it is generally not necessary, because when I’m writing I don’t think, “What would a guy do?” I think, “What would Sam (my male main character) do? Because it’s not about Sam being a guy necessarily, it’s about him being Sam. He’s not going to bust through the door dressed in leather ready to fight a room full of bikers. He’s not going to do tequila shots and watch the football game on the big screen. He’s not going to become a lumberjack and grow a big, bushy beard. He’s not that kind of guy. Sam is more of the, “Let’s play D&D and go to the record shop,” kind of guy.

Teens are like any other character. Your teen character is going to talk differently, think differently and react differently than other teen characters. Because people are different. Gender isn’t black and white – it’s a spectrum of greys with black and white bookends. Maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. I know some teens that are more mature and practical than grown up people that I meet. So attempting to write a believable teen is just as hard for a teen author as it is an adult author, because, honestly, you’re still trying to create a unique and complete human being out of nothing.

Though I have tried to block them out, I still remember my teen years. I can draw from that experience. They were, in fact, terrible. I find it very funny that I hated high school so much, and now I spend my time imagining people that are in high school. I would say it’s like a nightmare, but really, I love writing for teens.

Flesh out your teen character like you would any other character. What do they want? What are their dreams? What are they going to learn? What do they like to do with their free time?  Don’t ask yourself, “Would a teen do that?” Ask, “Would MY teen do that?” Treat them like they are real people and that will go a long way. (You should also do this with real live teens.)

Homework: Think about your favorite teens in fiction or in real life. What is surprising about them? What is important to them? What do they do/think/say that make them individuals? Then apply these thoughts to your teen character.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Month In Review (August 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its eighth 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.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November, 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for August 2013

Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels by April Henry

Creating Teenage Characters For Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

My Journey Of Writing And Publishing My First Novel by Mandi Lynn (guest article)

Not Treating Teenage Years Merely As Preparation For Adulthood In Your Novels by Bernard Beckett

The Importance Of An Authentic And Unique Voice In Teen Novels by Monika Schroder

Bringing English 101 To Your Novel by Beth Revis

Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

Three Act Structure For Novel Writing by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Characters And Story Development For Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

My Writing Process For ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ by Kate Forsyth

Writing ‘Evil’ Characters In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Overcoming Writer’s Block by Lish McBride

Writing Dialogue In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Sustaining A Plot With Obstacles And Sub-Goals (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Getting Story Ideas And Writing Them Into Novels by Pauline Francis

Writing Stories In Different Formats by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

The Benefits Of Taking A Break When Writing by Kashmira Sheth

On Age Ranges For Novels by Andy Briggs

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

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Writing Teen Novels
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Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

I don’t think there is any conscious process for differentiating between a teen novel and adult.  Clearly in one the young adult must be forefront and in the other, adults.  Obviously adults can figure in both, but as my editor and the writer Beverley Birch says, one must give prominence to the young adult – never lose sight that it is about them.

I know from my own teaching I had one particular student who insisted upon populating her children’s novels with many, many adults.  I used to say constantly who is the story focused on?  Whose story is this?  The kid or the adults?  Never allow that confusion to arise.

I learned this the hard way.  I have a novel out there called Mean Tide, written under a pseudonym, which concerns a child who has had chemo and is sent to live with his psychic grandma by the river in Greenwich.  He meets another kid there, who is silent because of various traumas. The book is populated with adults, all with incredibly rich lives and opinions. To be honest this book straddles adult/children’s fiction and falls between two stools.  I couldn’t see it when I was writing it, as logic would dictate that when a kid goes to live with adults you have to show the adults and bring them to life.  Perhaps I added too much colour.  If your main protagonist is only twelve – there is only so much you can do with a young kid before it becomes unbelievable. Nevertheless as a writer you learn. (One hopes)

Writing for teens you can concentrate on their lives and reduce the impact adults have on their day-to-day existence.  Adults usually act as a restraint on the excesses of teens so the less they are around, the more that can happen.  S F Hinton’s The Outsiders featured this.  This was about teens getting into mischief without constraint and led by a semi-adult teen who did not have anyone’s best interests at heart.  Stephen King’s Stand By Me totally had this focus.  Not just about the kids but also about their perspective on life, the world around them and the risks they take.  It’s important to remember that these novels are written for teens and not adults (even though adults will and can enjoy them).  Kids know by the time they’re 12 that there is no justice in this world. Bullies get away with murder,, people lie, you lie, you haven’t yet formed your own opinions about things and you have doubts about everything.  Somehow you get up and carry on.  The whole world is a critic. You most likely suck at sport or math, and no one but Alice likes you and you don’t like Alice.  This is the teen world.

My approach to adult fiction is to have the plot or situation down first.  If based on a true-life story then it’s about fleshing out the characters, thinking not just about who they are but about their weaknesses and strengths. I like it when a readers connects enough with the character that they start to consider what they wear, eat or say on their own (until that starts to happen organically for me as a reader, I’m not truly in the zone).

With teen fiction, it’s the same process but with the added spice of knowing that kids won’t always take the logical step that may seem more obvious to an adult.  A boy or girl won’t instinctively know that the one they love is bad for them – even if others are saying so.  They have no experience to go on.  This is fresh to them.  All their mistakes are first time mistakes.  As a teacher I used to see girls suffering heartbreak, yet it was clear to me their affections were misplaced.  Now I see break-ups dealt with by text or on Facebook and how cold and heartless all that seems.  You are left to cry on your own I guess without the confrontation.  It can go the other way – irrational hysterical behaviour in the classroom when one girl discovers another is seeing her bloke and all three are in the class before you seething…

Adults generally don’t seethe. They might want to get revenge but the older you are the more numb you usually feel about things.  Kids are NEVER numb.  They can be unfeeling however.

Take Natalie Portman’s character in the movie  Leon.  She is entranced by the slightly simple hitman who protects her from Gary Oldman’s evil cop.  She is excited by the idea of becoming a hitwoman.  She isn’t thinking about moral considerations here.  She’s thinking about revenge, and Leon is simply showing her his one and only skill.  It’s not a kid’s movie but has a kid very much at the forefront.  She is what I remember.  Her pain and heartache and her loyalty.  This would be teen fiction now I think. Capture that intensity and bottle it.

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

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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Not Treating Teenage Years Merely As Preparation For Adulthood In Your Novels, by Bernard Beckett

It’s often mentioned that the biggest mistake we can make in our interactions with teenagers is to patronise them. This is true for teachers, for parents and for writers of teen novels. It’s a mistake in the simple sense that it defeats its own purpose. Presumably, if we are communicating with teenagers, then the aim is for them to attend to what we are saying, and almost nothing is more likely to turn someone off than the sense they are being talked down to. However, the instinct to treat teenagers as a sort of strange and deranged sub-species, or even worse, as incomplete adults-in-waiting is so ingrained in many people that it’s almost reflexive.

A good example of this adult-centricism can be seen in those enthusiasts who attempt to use neuroscience to bolster their prejudices. As a school teacher, I’ve sat through training sessions of exactly this type. I’ve listened to school principals smugly announce that the evidence is in and that teenagers are technically insane. I’ve watched policy makers on television use their partial knowledge to justify whatever new regulation of youth might win them votes. The issue has even made it to the cover of Time magazine.

The standard story goes something like this. Thanks to modern imaging techniques, we now have a far better understanding of the way the brain develops through time. We can track the almost unbelievable blossoming of neural connections (in the order of millions per second in early life) and the later periods of trimming and reorganising. We can see that teenagers typically make use of different parts of their brain than adults typically would for some tasks and that some parts of the brain which play a large part in decision making in adulthood appear less prominent in the teenage brain. I don’t wish to counter any of this, I take the experts at their word on it and it all seems plausible enough. What I do object to is the next step, where the adult commentator solemnly pronounces that this produces incontrovertible evidence that the teenage brain is not yet fully developed. The cliché has become that the brain does not fully mature until it’s well into its twenties.

There is a logical problem here, and one that betrays our inbuilt prejudice against teenagers. While it is true that the brain changes over the life cycle of the human being, our choice to see any one stage as preparation for the next is based upon nothing but narrative.  After all, the adult brain is typically different in its structure than that of an elderly person, but we don’t tend to say the adult brain is an underdeveloped version of the elderly one. To think of the teenage years as preparation for adulthood has the same logical structure as thinking of the adult years as preparation for being dead.

Because many adults are so programmed to think in teleological terms, where everything has a purpose, and because many adults are predisposed to thinking of adulthood as that purpose, the logical error occurs without many people even registering that a story has been superimposed over the facts. Neuroscientists announce, to the delight of such adults, that the teenage brain is overly influenced by hormonal balances, is prone to mood swings and bursts of irrational enthusiasm and defiance, is unable to fully think through the consequences of actions, struggles to interpret the emotional cues around it, etc, etc. The science, we are told, is in, and the teenager is defective. We are told that the very best thing we can do is keep them safe while they negotiate their way through these difficult years.

To see the flaw in this thinking more clearly, consider how a teenage neuroscientist might interpret the same data. Would they not be tempted to argue that as the teenage brain enters adulthood it begins to close down? The adult brain, they might suggest, with all their pretty brain scan images to support them, loses its capacity for spontaneity. That part of the brain responsible for shutting down excitement becomes overdeveloped and the adult becomes dull-witted and unimaginative. The adult brain loses its ability to synthesise new ideas, becoming set in its ways. The natural capacity for joy and excitement is lost as the brain loses its ability to respond adequately to hormonal signals. Fewer and fewer experiences register as fresh and the excitement of discovery steadily decreases… You get the idea.

The teenager is no more a defective adult than the adult is a defective teenager. Each stage has its advantages and each of those advantages comes with its costs. There is nothing good to come from treating the teenage years merely as preparation for adulthood. They are to be lived on their own terms, not endured but rather celebrated. The very best teen fiction, I think, understands this. Its stories focus on teenagers not because the writer wishes to help the teenager through those years but because this offers story possibilities that exist nowhere else on the human timeline.

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Bernard Beckett’s author website: www.bernardbeckett.org

Bernard Beckett’s bio page

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Creating Teenage Characters For Novels, by Diane Lee Wilson

If you’re writing teen novels you’re probably not a teen. In fact, you’re probably well into adulthood and burdened with adult responsibilities. So how do you stay connected to today’s teens in order to create believable teen characters?

First of all, draw on your memories of being a teen. Remember the rawness of emotions, the vulnerability and insecurity. Additionally, remember – and honor – the rampant optimism inherent in being a teen. That was a time when dreams were big and anything was possible. I currently have a clipping from Elle magazine on my desk that features a photographer discussing her portraits of children and teens. In it she says, “What I like about young people is the potential is there but not developed yet. In a way, they’re sort of abstract.” I think that’s a wonderful example of why it’s enjoyable to write teen fiction. The possibilities for character development are endless.

Second, work to understand how today’s teens live their lives. Know what music they’re listening to, what movies and television shows they’re watching, and what clothes they’re wearing. Interact with teens if possible, perhaps kids in your neighborhood or at a nearby school. Sense the energy they’re expressing. Is it rebellion, hope, dismay, anger, fear…? Tap into that with the theme of your novel and explore those generational identities. Add your own opinions, if you’d like, through one of the characters in the story or in the way the story plays out. Just don’t preach!

Third, be open to any and all serendipitous interaction with teens, whether it’s overhearing a conversation on a bus or responding to a reader’s letter. Always be listening. Not long ago the teenage daughter of a neighbor recently appeared at my door in tears over an argument she’d just had with her mother. I invited her in, of course, and listened to her tell me why she should be allowed to travel to a foreign country by herself next summer and why her mother had said she couldn’t. I care for this girl as if she were my own and shared her hurt. I listened carefully as she stated her case. “My mom’s so bossy. She won’t listen. She won’t even consider it. She always has to be right. I know it’s because she didn’t get to do these things. She thinks it’s a big bad world out there. She always expects the worst. She doesn’t trust me to make the right decisions to not get into trouble.”

What I heard was a girl who wanted to stretch her wings and was crushed by the belief that her mother doesn’t recognize her capabilities, doesn’t trust her and insists on keeping her fastened to the earth. She had a hurdle and a desire to overcome it – two essential story components. As the conversation went on, I learned that her father had joined the discussion and had supported her wish to travel independently, adding conflict between the parents.

This simple event could be turned into a realistic and compelling story. Just how far would a young teen girl go to achieve her dream? Would she stow away on a plane, run off with someone she met online or disappear entirely? What dangers would she face: drugs, kidnapping, rape, theft? Conversely – let’s exaggerate here – what would happen if her parents kept her here, inconsiderate of her dreams? How might she react: rebel by breaking rules, act out in school, pit one parent against the other?

All of the components of a believable teen story were present in my living room, contorted by hormones, tears and a youthful desire to be free. I could easily have fallen into the parental role (my own daughter is just five years older) but I chose to be a good friend and listener. I kept my writer’s ear open to better understand and connect with this teen girl and the way she lived her life.

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Creating Teen Characters For Dystopian Novels, by Sam Hawksmoor

Why does Katniss work so well as a character in The Hunger Games?  (Although I never really saw Jennifer Lawrence as my Katniss, I eventually warmed to her).  She knows hunger.  She knows courage and rebellion. She breaks the rules daily to hunt for food to feed her family.  She understands self-sacrifice and is devoted to her family.  All of this is in the first chapter of the novel.  Who couldn’t like her?  That she is thrown into this terrifying Big Brother Reality Arena with weapons as she is forced to fight to the death is the thrill, of course, but so too is her magnanimity and compassion (this is also her flaw).

If you think people (teens in particular) like this don’t exist, you weren’t watching the 2012 Olympics.  Jessica Ennis won gold in the heptathlon.  Running, jumping, javelin throwing, yet more running, and hurdles over water jumps and hazards. Four years of dedicated training, 15 hours a day, forcing yourself on through injuries, all kinds of setbacks, challenging yourself, submitting yourself to endless heats, never accepting defeat but renewing your efforts each time you are beaten. Multiply this by thousands and thousands of young athletes dedicated to the glory of achievement with a medal rather than financial reward and you will understand that Katniss has done the required 10,000 hours it takes to be a champion.

Creating teen characters who will strive, survive, love with all the intensity of a small nuclear explosion (and hate in the same strength) is what it takes; all this tinged with regret for the fleeting times between 15 and 20 when everything is so important and immediate, so much about you.  Every relationship is ‘the one’ until the next one. Every break-up is devastating until the next one.  Your hormones are raging and won’t leave you alone.  Your life goes from total focus to total distraction in a flash and all around there is betrayal, paranoia, expectation, utter boredom and restrictions. Even so, you are supposed to make plans for your life and career.   You either know exactly what you want to be or have absolutely no idea at all and everything seems out of reach.  Your parents are conspiring against you.  Girls you knew at school last year are going past the school with babies, and some have dropped out because of all the stupid other temptations that trip you up on the way.  You’re still there – slogging away at exams you hate for subjects you have no interest in.  No wonder dystopia is in fashion.  Who wouldn’t want to destroy all this and start over, only with a full fridge and working shower?  The world is utterly mad – until he or she suddenly smiles at you and a door opens to new possibilities. Too late, you discover that love is not the answer – just the question.  But that’s another story.

Characters emerge out of this seething cauldron. I’ll leave you with the words of Ferris Bueller from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:
Ferris: The question isn’t “what are we going to do,” the question is “what aren’t we going to do?”

Cameron: Please don’t say were not going to take the car home. Please don’t say were not going to take the car home. Please don’t say were not going to take the car home.

Ferris: [to the camera] If you had access to a car like this, would you take it back right away?
[beat]
Neither would I.

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

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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