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Posts from the ‘UK YA novelist’ Category

Writing The First Chapter Of A Debut Teen Novel, by Janet Edwards

Every chapter of a novel is important but the first chapter has more work to do than any of the others. It has to do a host of things including introduce at least one character, hint at what sort of story you are telling and establish the setting. If your story isn’t taking place in the everyday world of today but in a different period of history, or a fantasy or future world, then just establishing the setting can be a major task.

The first chapter has to give the reader a lot of information, but in the right way. This is where the reader gets their first impressions of your story and your characters. Even more importantly if this is a debut novel, the reader is getting their first impressions of you as an author. Those first impressions really matter. This is when a reader decides whether or not you are a trustworthy guide to lead them on a journey through your story world.

Years ago I was at a writers group where someone read aloud the first chapter of the novel he was writing. During the discussion afterwards the author said something that I’ve always remembered. He said, “People have to keep reading until I choose to explain that in chapter five.” I was still very new to writing then but I instantly thought that those words were totally wrong.

People only have to keep reading a book in a few cases, such as where it’s required reading for school or college. The majority of readers are perfectly free to stop reading one book and choose another, or to do something else entirely. Teen readers in particular have lots of things competing for their attention. They are especially likely to abandon a book by a new author during the first chapter, because they’ve invested no time in the book, have no emotional link to the characters and have no previous experience to give them confidence in the author.

The first chapter has to introduce your story, it has to do it in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading and it has to build their trust in you as an author. Imagine the reader as a nervous passenger in your car. They’ve no experience of you as a driver, so they’re watching you suspiciously. If you start by driving through a red light they’re going to want you to stop the car and let them out. If you give them a smooth ride for a few minutes they’ll relax and start enjoying the journey.

This is why there is so much advice about how you shouldn’t start a book. There are certain things that are the writing equivalent of driving through a red light: instantly recognisable clichés that send alarm bells to the reader, starting with the weather, beginning with a scene that turns out to be a dream or having your character describe their appearance while looking in a mirror.

These appear at the top of every list of how not to start a book, and for good reasons. You can break any rule in writing if you do it well enough but you have to be an extremely good and original writer to carry off one of the major cliché beginnings without shaking the confidence of your reader.

The lists usually continue with other advice such as: don’t start with pure description, don’t start with a flashback and don’t start with your character alone in a room. Again there are good reasons behind all of these but they are about the potential difficulties of writing the scene. The reader, especially the teen reader, will get impatient with too much pure description. Flashbacks involve time jumps that can be confusing or irritating. A character alone in a room can be extremely boring.

If you believe one of these is the best way to start your story then you just have to dodge the potential problems that could annoy your reader and make it work. I started my debut novel, Earth Girl, with an angry girl alone in a room. It worked.

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Janet Edwards’s author website: www.janetedwards.com

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     Powder Monkey: Adventures of a Young SailorCode Name VerityShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)Winter Town

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Bad Habits To Avoid While Writing, by Andy Briggs

For this post I thought I’d give you a simple checklist of bad habits that writers can develop. Like most habits, it’s not always apparent that you’re doing it, so here are some warning signs to look out for.

1. Procrastination. This is the ultimate creative killer. The one that causes stress and makes you miss deadlines. Stare at a blank page and you are staring into a void. You have to type to get the words down, but to do that you need motivation. What tends to happen is emails are checked, then Facebook and Twitter, then perhaps the news and any other website I happen to follow – and before long I have wasted hours and it’s time for another coffee. The peril here is that the moment you make that coffee and sit back at the computer – you simply repeat the process.

2. Email. I could be midway through the most thrilling scene I have ever written and the moment my inbox goes BONG, I am yanked out of the story and straight into my email, burning with curiosity over who has validated my existence by emailing me. Usually it’s a piece of spam, which I’ll delete and return to the page. But that slight distraction suddenly propels me back to step 1, above.

3. Reading. When I open up the document I am working on, I may read the last couple of paragraphs to refresh my memory but I won’t read any more. If I read everything I wrote the day before then I will start finding faults, typos, or better ways to express myself and will immediately fall into re-writing syndrome. This is a writing tailspin that could end up costing you the entire day. Instead of looking at an increased word count, you have less than you started with because of your meddling.

4. TV. I know some people who work best by listening to songs. I can’t do that as the lyrics always distract me. Likewise, I can’t have the TV on in the background because my attention will always stray to it – no matter how bad the show is. I often find myself camped in front of the TV, pretending to write – but if I pay attention to what I have been doing for the last three hours I will find I have accidentally entered step 1 without realizing it. I prefer to write with movie scores on in the background. If I’m writing something fast and upbeat, I will but on an action-packed score. If the scene I am writing is sad and slow, I will find something melancholy to listen to. I find the music seeps into my writing and helps set the correct mood on the page.

5. Fact checking. I’m a big believer in research, but I will attempt to do it before I start writing the scene – otherwise I will be surfing the web for hours, or worse, heading out to the local library just to find a trivial piece of information just so I can complete the sentence.

Watch out for these insipid habits and you will automatically improve your writing and, perhaps, enjoy the writing process a whole lot more.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Guiding A Reader’s Experience Throughout Your Novel (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

Gosh, my series of posts for this blog is turning into quite a tutorial! I’m even starting to learn from it myself.  The next secret is really about pace. Hopefully, you’ve set up a great collision course in your story. Your protagonist is hanging off those cliffs and you aren’t rescuing them too easily. Brilliant. In fact you’re piling on the (metaphorical – or actual) hurt in thick slabs. Good. Your next job, once you’ve got your teenage reader ripping through the pages, is to control them. You don’t want them so eager to find out what happens next that they skip to the back of the book to find out. So this means:

Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 11

drum roll…  tada!

Control the reader’s curiosity

If you’ve been successful at creating that page turning novel, strangely enough, to hold your readers you’ve got to build in some ‘breaks’. Readers can easily reach saturation and burnout. They cannot indefinitely hold off not knowing. One way around that is to build in reveals and triumphs to reward them for staying with the story. This is one of the roles of sub-goals. However, don’t reveal the ‘final outcome’ of the overarching quest or goal of the protagonist (whether lost or won), because if you reveal this too early it will kill the suspense.

So how you can use this secret? 

  • Reward your reader by telling them the results of sub goals
  • Allow your reader a little bit of down-time after a very tense scene
  • Up the ante before the tense scene – you know the kind of thing: the picnic in the woods before the reaping in The Hunger Games.

WATCH OUT FOR THE TWELFTH AND FINAL SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP IN MY NEXT POST

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Sarah Mussi’s author website: www.sarahmussi.com

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

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The Door of No ReturnThe Last of the Warrior KingsAngel Dust     Saraswati's WayDark Hunter (Villain.Net)Glow

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On Categorising Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

When I went to university, I got a library card for the local library –  not the university library but the public library, because ever since I’d been able to read I got my books out of the public library.  The year was 1982, and the town was New Haven, Connecticut.  I walked into the children’s book section and couldn’t find half my favourite books.

It took me a while to discover that they were there but in a separate section of their own, labelled Teen Fiction, Books for Teens, Teen Reading, Teen Titles or something similar – something that separated these books from both adult books and children’s books.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The New Haven Public Library had fantastic children’s and teen sections in 1982.  In my memory these two sections took up the entire basement.  They had the entire collection of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series (about twelve or thirteen volumes). I’d never realized there was more than one.  They had all Alan Garner’s books, which I used to use as a measure of quality in any library. He wasn’t very well known in the United States but he’d been my favourite author for many years because I’d started school in the part of England that is the setting for most of his books.

This was the first time I’d ever encountered the ‘teen’ books being separated from the ‘children’s’ books and I didn’t like it.  Alan Garner’s books were split up.  Half of them were in the children’s section and half were in the teen section.

You know what?  I STILL DON’T LIKE IT.  I think that organising books by their intended age is ghettoization.  It leads to further micro-classification that I just flat-out object to.  In the local library in the city where I live now, two of my favourite authors, K.M. Peyton and Robert Westall, have their books split not just across two sections but across separate shelves labelled Horse Stories, Times Past, War, Supernatural, Family, and probably something else I’ve forgotten.  When I first read Peyton’s books, I read them all because I found them next to each other on the same shelf.  I’d never have gone looking for horse stories.  I read them and I loved them because I loved that particular author.  I think that breaking up books into this many categories creates narrow-minded readers.  There is no incentive for the lover of ‘humour’ ever to look anywhere else for reading material than the limited ‘humour’ shelf.  There is some very funny science fiction out there but they’ll never discover it.

My own fiction is split up in my local library because Young Adult is now its own section.  I have a series that is split in my local library: the first book is in Times Past and the next two are in Young Adult.  I get that we are trying to encourage readers to explore their tastes, I get that we are trying to encourage teens not to feel that they’re reading below their level.  I still think it is idiotic to split a series across two different library sections.

So. Teen fiction?  Young adult fiction?  Some books are more difficult than others. Some books are better than others.  Pioneering readers shouldn’t limit themselves to one narrow category.  The same goes for a writer.

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

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

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page

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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeMy Brother's ShadowWhere the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker

Writing Teen Novels
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Month In Review (October 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its tenth 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 October 2013

On Creating A Distraction-Free Writing Environment by Bernard Beckett

Research For Writing Novels by April Henry

On ‘Killing Your Darlings’ When Revising A Novel Manuscript by Monika Schroder

Where My Ideas For Novels Come From by Beth Revis

Dealing With The Idea Of Writer’s Block by Paul Volponi

Maximizing The Potential Of Your Writing Group by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson

Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Worldbuilding When Writing A Novel by Lish McBride

Plot Structure In Novels (Part 2) by Kate Forsyth

Talking About My Writing At Conferences by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing Description In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

On Creating Interesting Characters For Historical Teen Novels by Pauline Francis

Why I Write Teen Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

Developing Good Writing Habits by Kashmira Sheth

Challenging Your Protagonist (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

On Writing Self-Contained Novels In A Series by Andy Briggs

Inexpensive Ways To Market Your 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 Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On Writing Self-Contained Novels In A Series, by Andy Briggs

When does a story end? At what point can you confidentially type the words ‘the end’, and not be forced to use ‘to be continued’?

There is a trend at the moment to push everything through as a series if possible (and, as a writer of two series, I’m as culpable as the next author). This sometimes results in stories that could have easily been condensed into a single volume. The worst culprits for this are graphic novels, in which writers are ambling their way through multiple books to tell their tale.

As a consumer, I find this highly annoying. When I buy a book, I want to be able to enjoy the full story. I’m quite happy to have a few unresolved strands that lead the way to future books, but I do want some form of resolution. I have paid good money to be entertained, not left on tenterhooks for a year before the author publishes the next part.

Harry Potter was an enjoyable read because each book was a self-contained story, with just enough to propel you on to the next book, but not so much to make you feel you had been cheated.

I try to make sure my series have books that are self-contained stories, something you can pick up without the need to read any other book in the series and walk away having read through a complete story. I aim to make the characters evolve enough through the books so the casual reader feels happy, and leave just enough ‘extras’ so that the fan can get even more from the story because of the subtle ways it connects to the other books. When I write graphic novels I refuse to make a series that runs across multiple books. Each one must be a satisfying self-contained story with a solid ending. Otherwise, why buy it in the first place?

Speaking to many budding writers, I often hear the phrase it’s part of a series of X books, with X usually spanning between 3 and 7 for some peculiar reason. I think their reasoning is that it proves their story is worthy and complex, when in actuality they will end up padding the prose out with extraneous details that slow the pace down to a crawl. I have read many series that could have done with a pair of editor’s scissors slicing through the pages. People don’t like to admit their story is only suitable for a single book. For some reason they feel that lessens the quality of their work, when in fact it simply proves that they have no idea when to stop. Many times I have read a book and thought I have reached the end only to flick through the remaining pages and wonder what could possibly happen next. The answer is usually: nothing. Or, worse, some surprise ending that makes no sense at all and would have worked better as a separate story.

One of the hardest things I have been asked to write was a short story. Warrior Number One is aimed at reluctant readers, so brevity was the key. It’s incredibly difficult! Cramming a whole story into 3,000 words is a more difficult task than expanding it into three, 500+ page volumes.

So, when you have completed your story and typed the exciting words ‘the end’, go back and read your story with a sense of urgency. Could this have ended several chapters back? Your readers are busy people. They have lives. Maybe they’re reading your book while on vacation so need to finish it before returning home, or they have a stack of other books vying for their attention. Don’t be greedy. Respect your reader’s time. They will thank you for it and come back for more.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Tarzan: The Savage LandsDark Hunter (Villain.Net)     A World AwayThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Winter Town

Writing Teen Novels
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Challenging Your Protagonist (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

I thought in this post I demonstrate how I harnessed all these secrets of narrative drive in Siege.

Here goes. Here’s the story concept (pitch style) that I sent to my editor (my comments in bold caps are for this post):

SIEGE

THE PLUG (THE ‘YOU MUST READ THIS’ FACTOR) 

 

A story for our times…

Of disintegration and carnage…

This is the beginning of the end…

SET THE TONE/PROVIDE A HOOK 

Teenagers long dissatisfied, out of control, seeing no future, respecting no one, feeling cheated, angry, mindless, feral…

…armed…

INTRODUCE THE ANTAGONIST AND WHAT IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN  

Siege is a disturbing YA novel, capturing the Zeitgeist and drawing its inspiration from our inner city schools.

Siege imagines an autumn term, when a bunch of Year 9 teens, tired of rebelling against the authorities, feeling belittled in a system that has already discarded them – disillusioned, humiliated and vengeful, decide to take power into their own hands, power and guns. Over one long day, they hold up a school with nothing more on their minds than revenging themselves on their peers who have always done better than them in class.

INTRODUCE THE STAKES AND WHY IT MATTERS TO THE CHARACTERS

Outside, anxious parents gather, news tycoons offer rewards, television cameras roll, sociologists try to rationalise, psychologists give opinions, the army stands by.

INTRODUCE THE PROTAGONIST, HER GOAL (SURVIVAL) AND IMMEDIATELY PUT HER IN JEOPARDY 

But can anyone really help Leah and Anton, hiding in the ceilings and air vents of YOU OP78 School, trying to feed themselves, trying to outwit their captors, trying to save some of the younger ones before the gang, the so called ‘Year 9 Eternal Knights’ finish their butchery?

PILE ON THE JEAPARDY AND THE DANGER 

… and Siege is only the beginning…

With unlimited access to the Internet, Damian the psycho leader of the Eternal Knights orders all the killings to be videoed on cell phone, or so it seems, and pasted in chat rooms and social websites. Soon the world is hooked as each killing is replayed a thousand times across the globe.

Like a real time Big Brother show, kids everywhere watch, horrified, mesmerised. Some try to hack into the system to close it down, others message in who they think should be killed next.

Soon there is a whole internet site dedicated to casting your vote on the next killing:  the Who, the How, the Why and the When.

Unable to intervene, a horrified nation watch as their future, their brightest and their best, are systematically butchered in front of their eyes by the rejects of our society: the hoodies, the dumbsters, the generation of wannabe gangsters and the bottom set kids.

FOCUS ACTION ON THE STORY GOAL AND DESCRIBE THE ACTIONS AND DECISIONS THE PROTAGONIST NEEDS TO TAKE TO ACHIEVE HER GOAL 

In a nail-biting narrative of unmitigated tension, that will have you scarcely daring to draw breath, you follow Leah’s story as she struggles to survive; struggles to help Ruby, an injured Year 7 girl; struggles to check out rooms for survivors; tries to carry out surveillance for the SAS as well as attempting to keep the world informed. But most of all, as she tries to figure out who and why and what she could have done to prevent it all from happening.

HINT AT DEEPER OBSTACLES THAN THE PRESENCE OF THE ANTAGONISTS 

There are no easy answers, for finally Leah must face her own role in the tragedy. She must struggle comes to terms with what might have happened to her brother, Connor: a brother she both hates and loves and is fiercely loyal to.  Is it partly her fault? Could she have changed anything?

Seige is tale of horror, bravery, sacrifice and savagery, and as it unfolds, it will change the way you see teenagers forever.

The above is part of the actual premise pitch I prepared to show my editor. Of course it changed somewhat between that and the book but the core elements of Narrative Drive remained the same.

So what next? Well to recap where I left off in post nine – the decisions of the protagonist are driving the action of the story and efforts to overcome obstacles to the story goal are initially unsuccessful. This failure to reach the story goal creates conflict and tension. So if conflict is the desire of the protagonist to pursue his motivation towards his goal despite obstacles, then the stakes are raised. The stakes are what happens to the protagonist if they succeed or fail.  They are the whips that drive him forward. In Siege the stakes are very serious. Life and death are at stake. Stakes show that things matter in the story.

Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 10

drum roll…  tada!

The strength of a story and therefore its appeal to readers lies in how much it challenges the protagonist. 

Why? Because challenges supply the powerful obstacles needed to arouse a reader’s interest.

So how you can use this secret? 

  • Make sure your antagonist is much stronger than your protagonist
  • Make sure each obstacle and challenge is significant and looks like the end of the line for your protagonist.

WATCH OUT FOR THE ELEVENTH SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP IN MY NEXT POST

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Sarah Mussi’s author website: www.sarahmussi.com

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Door of No ReturnThe Last of the Warrior KingsAngel Dust     Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann ParkerThe Girl Who Was Supposed to DieRaven Speak

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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