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Posts from the ‘YA spec fic novelist’ Category

Why I Write Young Adult Novels, by Beth Revis

Eventually, someone always asks me, “Why do you write YA? When are you going to write an adult novel?”

I try not to snort too loudly in their direction.

The thing is, it’s not like it’s an accident that I write Young Adult novels and it’s not like I’m just going to quit. YA is not the training wheels of adult literature.

In fact, if I may get on my soapbox for a moment, it’s my opinion that what makes YA a genre actually has little to do with the main character’s age. It is, in fact, the least important aspect of the genre. What makes a YA novel YA is: a fast-paced plot, dynamic characters and a character who is discovering his or her place in the world (this is where the age of the character tends to come into play).

These are the things I love in the books I read. I want a page-turner. I want excitement. The key here is a character who changes and, for the first time, sees his or her place in society.

An author friend of mine, Alan Gratz, defined the difference between YA and middle grade novels as this: in a middle grade novel, the main character still sees the world as it directly relates to him or her. The novel will focus on the main character’s family, for example, or perhaps the community – but the focus is pretty tight within those constrains. A YA novel, on the other hand, may start in a close location, but the main character must realize who he or she is in the world. This can be as simple as first love, or as complex as saving society (alternatively, it can also be as simple as saving society and as complex as first love).

In all honesty, I constantly question myself in my world. Is what I am doing important? Can I make a difference? Should I just give up? In all honesty, I hope I never quit questioning myself. I don’t have all the answers. I’m still trying to find my place in the world.

That is why I write YA – and why I will probably only ever write YA.


Beth Revis’s author website:

Beth Revis’s bio page


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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyWinter TownGlowDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels

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


‘Month In Review’ Updates

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


Writing Teen Novels

Where My Ideas For Novels Come From, by Beth Revis

Probably one of the most asked questions I have at events is, “where do your ideas come from?”

Honestly? I don’t know.

The ideas for my novels tend to come from a wide variety of places – but mostly a combination of real-life oddities and excellent books and movies.

Really, I guess the answer is: my inspiration tends to come from two words. The two most important words to a writer: “What if?”

I was recently at a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. There are several of these across America. I happened to be in the one in San Antonio. It was filled with lots of weird, true-life things. Every single thing in that museum has a story. When I can’t get to a wacky museum like Ripley’s, I tend to search online – and are both good places to go for weird-but-true stories. Wikipedia can sometimes also give me the fun info I need, even when I’m not actively searching for a new idea to write, I go to these places and websites and cram as much knowledge into my brain as possible – you never know when you can use a random tidbit or detail to make an existing story better. In my latest novel, Shades of Earth, I used info from my elementary school history class as a reference.

Another great place to go for inspiration is books. I read the types of books I want to write. Not every author agrees with this idea, but I live by it. Do you want to write fantasy? Read fantasy. Do you want to write romance? Read romance. When you read something you love, think about why you love it. You shouldn’t emulate it. You should find the heart of what you like. If you read something you don’t like, think of what would make it better. One of my best short stories happened because I didn’t like the end of a book I’d read – so I rewrote a story that did what I would have done in the ending.

There is no one source of inspiration. A writer doesn’t just turn the inspiration on and off. Instead, constantly seek inspiration. Find out as much as you can about everything that interests you. Stories arise from a fertile mind, nurtured with real life.


Beth Revis’s author website:

Beth Revis’s bio page


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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    The Night She DisappearedSparkRikers HighTracks

Writing Teen Novels

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.


Lish McBride’s author website:

Lish McBride’s bio page


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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     Raven SpeakRikers HighDark Hunter (Villain.Net)VibesThe Dog in the Wood

Writing Teen Novels

Embracing E-Books, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I know, I know. There’s nothing like the feel of a real book in your hands, the aroma of printer’s ink, the crisp crackle of the spine as you open it, and the weight of it on your lap as you curl up with your tea or cocoa or scotch (or absinthe?) and begin the journey. I get it. I like bookstores too. I like libraries. I LOVE books and I own quite a few of them. I buy them out of principle. They represent an ancient technology that will probably never go out of style completely.

Printed books are not the only way to read anymore. Writers need to deal with the fact that the publishing industry is changing, whatever our feelings about it. Bookstores will become fewer and smaller, libraries will be taken over by even more computers, and the overall market will shrink. I weep about it sometimes, but I can’t change it. So instead, I look for ways to accept it, even embrace it.  Here are a few positives about the rise of the e-book that should get writers on board:

You make more royalties. With e-books, a publisher has a much smaller initial outlay, so they can afford to pay you more for each copy sold. Royalties for print books tend to be around 15% or so, but they run about 20% for e-books. That fives percent can make a lot of difference.

A self-published e-book can provide more mileage. When published only in print form, most self-published writers are able to stock their books only with retailers in their immediate geographic area. But any writer can self publish an e-book for relatively little money and offer it through Amazon and other national outlets.

People can buy your book instantly.  Say you’ve written a series such as, oh, I don’t know, the gripping Sky Chasers series, and your reader gets to the end of your riveting first book, titled, for example, Glow. It is eleven o’clock at night and she can’t get to a bookstore or library to keep reading, but wait! What is that on her nightstand beckoning her? Is that a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad with an account that is conveniently hooked up to her credit card? How fortuitous! She can buy Spark right away and keep reading. Lucky her. And lucky me. There is something to be said for the late night impulse buy, a feature that simply doesn’t exist for a book that isn’t available in electronic form.

Fewer trees bite the dust. We all like forests right?

What about piracy? To this I answer: What about libraries? What about used bookstores? What about the two best friends who get together to trade their latest favorite read? You don’t make royalties when people loan your printed book out, or buy it used. That’s a huge drain on your earnings right there. As for pirates, there will always be some wormlike being somewhere trying to get something for nothing. We can’t change the fact that some people are jerks, so why sweat it?

There are other reasons for writers to like the e-book, and I invite you to mention them in the comments section. I own a Kindle myself, and I really like it, especially when I’m traveling. And I honestly do think about how 20% of my money is going right to the author. That’s cool.

So do not fear the e-book. Make the e-book your friend.


Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website:

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page


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VibesZen and Xander UndoneGlowSpark    Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Code Name VerityShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)

Writing Teen Novels

Using Movies And TV As Inspiration For Novels, by Beth Revis

I love movies. Unreservedly. I think movies are a great place to look for inspiration, particularly when you’re writing for teens. Teen literature needs dynamic characters (i.e. characters who change) and a fast-paced plot – two of the main ingredients that work for movies.

When I find myself knocking on the door of inspiration, there are a few movies and TV shows that I tend to go straight to.


I owe this television series-turned-movie by Joss Whedon so much. It has everything: changing characters, snappy dialogue and a tight plot that is perfectly structured. Honestly? We probably can’t be friends if you don’t like Firefly.

Doctor Who

This is a great show to go to for ideas. Seriously. It has so. freaking. much. in it that you’ll definitely be able to come up with some of your own ideas just by watching it. In the average Doctor Who episode, there are about ten more plot twists than are needed – take one of those and develop a whole story from it.

Veronica Mars

Dialogue. Dialogue. When you need to make your characters sound right, watch an episode of Veronica Mars. Runners-up: Gossip Girl and Tangled.

How To Train Your Dragon

This animated movie might be easily overlooked, but don’t. It’s brilliant. I love how smart the whole story is, from showing the growing relationships (as opposed to telling), developing character growth and just telling a great story. You need to see this one.

Becoming Jane

I feel obliged to include a James McAvoy title. This is a great one to remind you that you shouldn’t make everything perfect in your story. Don’t be afraid to show that happily ever after don’t always happen. Runner-up: Roman Holiday.


Here’s another James McAvoy title, just for you! I love this one for sheer delight but, as a writer, I also appreciate the world building here. You have a character, Penelope, whose life and world are directly connected in a very real way. When you need to make something odd fit into your story, look at how Penelope did it. Runner-up: Shrek.

What are some of your favorites? What do you learn and discover from movies?


Beth Revis’s author website:

Beth Revis’s bio page


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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    Code Name VerityWinter TownKeeping CornerTarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review (July 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its seventh month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of novelists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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

Articles for July 2013

Why I Write About Children In Times Of  War by Monika Schroder

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

Writing Teen Novels With Timeless Appeal by Diane Lee Wilson

Writing Suspenseful Novels by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Handling Novel Writing Deadlines by Paul Volponi

Mistakes I’ve Made As A Novelist by Bernard Beckett

Writing Teen Novels About Pilots And Flying by Elizabeth Wein

Techniques For Overcoming Writer’s Block by Beth Revis

Finding The Right “Voice” For Your Novel by Carolyn Meyer

Pacing A Novel by Lish McBride

Creating A Realistic Story World by Andy Briggs

Plotting A Novel by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Working On My Novel With My Editor by Sam Hawksmoor

Narrating Your Story In A Lean Style by Kashmira Sheth

Writing Prophecies In Fantasy Novels by Kate Forsyth

Structuring Novel Chapters by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Researching For My Teen Historical Novels by Pauline Francis

Maintaining Suspense Throughout Your Plot (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi


‘Month In Review’ Updates

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


Writing Teen Novels

Writing Prophecies In Fantasy Novels, by Kate Forsyth

I happen to love prophecies in a fantasy novel. I know lots of people hate them because they find them clichéd and contrived. I cannot help it. I really love them, both to read and to write. I agree that many prophecies weaken a story, undermining the element of surprise. I agree they are often poorly written. I agree there’s often no real need for them, apart to add a sense of inflated importance to it all: ‘Stop the cuckoo’s cry, else you shall all die!” However, sometimes a prophecy just seems necessary.

I have lots of prophecies in my teen fantasy novel, The Starthorn Tree. One of my key characters is a boy called Durrik who has the habit of blurting out prophecies at the very worst moment. He hears them only in fragments and is compelled to utter them at once, even though he may displease his listeners to the point they might want him dead.

‘Cursed is the son of light!’ he shouts in his dreams. ‘Cursed the tower shining bright.’

Most of these prophecies I had planned, and written carefully with the help of a rhyming dictionary and my old poetry textbook full of terms like iambic pentameter and trochee and anapest.

However, there is one prophecy in the book I did not plan in advance, and write carefully, making sure the rhythm and rhyme was as it should be.

This prophecy came to me… well, like a prophecy.

Uncalled for, unplanned, unwanted.

It came to me in a kind of lucid dreaming late one night, when I was up and feeding my newborn son. I had been working on The Starthorn Tree for about a year, and had always thought of it as a stand-alone novel. However, that night, as I sat in the darkness, feeding my baby and listening to the wind and the rain howling about my house, it came to me that there should be three books set in this magical world I had invented, not just one. The heroes of the second book would be the children of the heroes of The Starthorn Tree, and the heroes of the third book would be their grandchildren. Three generations, three adventures, three books.

I caught up my notebook and pen, and scribbled down a string of words or images that came very vividly to my mind’s eye.

‘Three times a babe shall be born,’ I wrote, then a rough estimation of the words ‘between star-crowned and iron-bound’ (I polished this up later.)  Then I wrote: ‘First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer, though lame he must travel far.’

That first child was clearly Durrik, my lame boy who can hear the future. So far, so good.

But then I wrote, hardly knowing where the words came from:

‘Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker, though broken himself he shall be.’

In my mind’s eye I saw a boy falling from an impossibly high crystal tower, falling through clouds, falling down to smash into the sea crawling so far below. The scene was as vivid as a snippet of a film, and I had no idea where it came from.

But more words were beating insistently at my mind’s ear, determined to be told. I scribbled down a few more lines in my notebook, virtually word perfect for how they appeared in the novel:

‘Last, the smallest and greatest –
In him the blood of wise and wild,
Farseeing ones and starseeing ones.
Though he must be lost before he can find
Though, before he sees, he must be blind,
If he can find and if he can see
The true king of all he shall be.’

In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of a boy – small and thin – stumbling through a swamp, his eyes bandaged. A lame girl led him by the hand. That was it – a couple of fragmented images and a prophecy I didn’t understand myself. Yet out of that came two more novels, The Wildkin’s Curse and The Starkin Crown, and my stand-alone fantasy novel became a trilogy.


Kate Forsyth’s author website:

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The Puzzle Ring   

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The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     Keeping CornerBlack Storm Comin'Across the Universe

Writing Teen Novels

Working On My Novel With My Editor, by Sam Hawksmoor

I’m very lucky that my editor is Beverley Birch, who is also a writer of some reputation. She brings with her a wide knowledge of what works and what doesn’t and she knows her readers well.

I pitched The Repossession orally at the Winchester Writers Conference. Beverley showed interest and then I wrote it.  Sounds easy.  The key was delivering exactly what I said I would, and on time.

Beverley read the first draft and came back with comments.  These weren’t drastic but they were clever and pitched to keep me keen and also willing to make the subtle changes she wanted.  More emphasis in one place, less physicality (remember that libraries won’t buy it if there’s sex).  It was so hard to tone down the touchy feely parts and perhaps half the reason they get sick all the time is so they don’t even think of having sex.  I liked her gentle touch.  Her approach was never ‘cut this or cut that, or else’.  It was like a gentle push against the tiller to make me go in the right direction.  Everyone said she’d get rid of Moucher the dog or eliminate the pig, but she didn’t. She understood exactly why they were there and how it softened the harshness of the tale.  I had tiny notes on language (swearing) and, yes, every teen you know swears like a trooper, but we can’t do that – those librarians again.  But to be honest, you can write an exciting book without having much swearing in it.  I thought she’d cut the exposition, when I have Marshall explain exactly what he was working on in the lab and how he lost his leg.  But she liked the fact that there is some science in there, and she knew that there would be some readers who like to follow the logic and understand the details of what is going on.  She could see and feel the location (British Columbia), although not familiar with it. She could tell that my affection for Canada was genuine.

One clever thing was to change where the story starts.  Particularly in book two, switching the order of the first two chapters.  How you set off as a reader and how you are drawn in is important.

For Beverley, rhythm and keeping momentum going are important.  Pages would be trimmed of unnecessary adverbs or adjectives.  Go straight in, don’t waste time.  Kids have no patience and easily put a book down. So the lesson was trim the fat to make sure it remains compelling.  As a writer I trained on radio drama - commercial radio drama at that –  learning to keep the drama rising and falling so people wouldn’t switch away during the ads.  I learned so much about dialogue and how to say more with little, and hopefully this translates well to teen fiction. I snatch just moments of intimacy before the next problem, as in this extract from The Hunting:

He pulled her towards him and they kissed.  Genie pulled away.  “Uh-uh, I don’t think my breath is so good.”

“Genie,” Rian complained.  “We’re on the run.  None of us are minty fresh.  Eat more berries.”

Genie allowed him to hold her tight and they just gently rocked together, kneeling by the water.  Moucher tried to snap a fish as another went by.

“Genie?  Ri?”  Renée called out, breaking the spell, fear in her voice. 

They looked at the raft.  She’d slept in there with an old mosquito net she’d found spread over her.

“My legs.  They’re gone,” she whispered in horror.  “I can’t see or feel my legs.”

I’ve recently been working on a virus thriller. The notes on this were less to do with what I had written but what I hadn’t. The story swapped between two girls who went in opposite direction to flee the oncoming sickness.  Beverley and my agent, Ben Illis, felt that I hadn’t given enough attention to story B and wanted it to be more equally balanced.  The snag was that it increased the word count, as I was effectively writing two novels within one.  As each character had pretty harrowing experiences I didn’t want them both to be experiencing the exact same problems, even though technically they would.  I decided to look again at the arc for story B and see if I could just increase the number of scenes on her progression or lack thereof towards her goal – so in a few short pages at each visit we can catch up and not feel cheated – then towards the latter part of the novel insert a particularly frightening moment that shakes her up. With luck I have hit the mark.  I didn’t want to take scenes away from the other girl, yet there is now much more balance.  Beverley was right again. Sometimes it’s hard as a writer to see where to improve your own work – you need a professional opinion.

In this kind of survival story there are long moments were little happens except hoping there might be a next meal.  Like Tom Hanks in Castaway, the characters make the best of the situation.  No one is coming for them.  Sometimes I think the worst thing you could do in real life is survive Armageddon.  Here’s a sample from Endtime:

Kira frowned.  The supermarket was out of stuff already?  Impossible.  She’d got there super early.  It never ran out of stuff before noon.

‘I’ve got a ticket,’ someone else was shouting.  ‘You have to let us in.’

‘We’re closing.  Staff shortages.  Come back tomorrow.’

‘We got tickets,’ more people shouted. A rising sense of panic grew around Kira and she felt scared now.  People were really angry around her and some had clearly been standing for hours already.  The pushing and shoving was getting ugly.

‘WE GOT TICKETS,’ a man shouted, prodding a security guard, who didn’t like that one bit and drew a taser.  He looked like he’d use it too.

Kira stepped out of line, letting her ticket flutter to the floor.  Two people further back made a dive for it.  Kira was moving backwards rapidly now; it was going to get nasty.  She could feel the tension growing.

Someone nearby screamed ‘gun’ and people began to scatter every which way.

Security guys with tasers appeared from nowhere and fired at the guy with the gun.  Must have had ten shots fired at him.  He most likely fried to death before he hit the ground.

Working with a generous editor is a pleasure.  You know they already like the book, so you are working together to make it better.  The real battle is the marketing department… and that’s a different story.


Sam Hawksmoor’s author website:

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page


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The RepossessionThe Hunting     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerAugustI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAuslanderDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels

Pacing A Novel, by Lish McBride

Pacing is often the bane of my existence. My beginnings are never fast enough, my middles are squishy and my ends need to be slowed down. I’m three novels in and this has become a comforting pattern. The great thing about pacing is that it can be fixed. The bad thing about pacing is you have to fix it, which means editing, which always makes me incredibly whiny.

So now that I’ve proved to you that I have issues with pacing, thus invalidating anything I say after this, I’m now going to give you a quick and dirty run down on how your novel should be paced. Just because I can’t seem to follow the rules it doesn’t mean I don’t know what they are.

Beginnings are important, so your first page has to be shiny and wonderful. When I pick up a book in a bookstore, that first page makes it or breaks it for me. You could have the best synopsis in the world, but if that first page is boring or sloppy I lose all hope for the rest of the book. Great books have snappy openings – I know how both Moby Dick by Herman Melville and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens begin and I haven’t even read those books. Yet. I used to have the opening to The Thief of Always by Clive barker memorized. Openings are important.

So how does one make their opening a winner? Well, I can give you a few pointers. First, you should immediately ground the reader. They need to know exactly what kind of world they are stepping into. What tone do you want to strike? Which senses do you wish to invoke? Which character do you want to start with?

The best way to get things going is to start in medias res, which is a fancy Latin way of saying “into the midst of things.” Basically, you want to jump right into the narrative or plot. Don’t bog the story down with twenty pages of immediate back-story. Don’t dilly-dally, friends. Jump right into that sucker. Look at the opening you’re working on. Do you start in the right place? Does the reader leap right into your story? If not, cut some things.

You should never be afraid to cut away the fat (just save and back up EVERYTHING). Things can always be added back in later if you change your mind, or that necessary snippet can be moved elsewhere. You have a whole novel. Stretch out a little bit and enjoy the space. My middles always need to be trimmed down. They wander and slow down, and it’s just no fun. I have to edit them to death. Part of that is because I always have a firm sense of where the story starts and ends but my middles are always a little hazy. That’s okay. I don’t mind cutting. The trick is to figure out what to cut. This is where beta readers or editors come in. They are great at pointing out which spots were slow and clunky. If you don’t have access to such people, read through it yourself and think, “Is this part really necessary here?” or “This page goes on too long – what can I cut? What can I condense?” Sometimes mapping/outlining the chapters help. As always, read it out loud to yourself. That’s the best way to catch mistakes.

Stories generally follow an arc. You know, the whole ‘beginning, middle, boiling point, resolution’ thing? Yes, that. Well, characters should have their own arcs, and if you’re doing a series, it usually has it’s own arc too. Keep that in mind.

Your endings need to live up to the promise you made at the beginning of the book. This means it needs to be just as strong. Your characters should be at the end of their arc and should be changed (if they aren’t, you need to make sure the reader is clear on why they haven’t changed). Conflict should be resolved – or if you’re leading up to another book, resolved enough to satisfy. It needs to be memorable. Like the beginning, you have to re-establish tone, senses and imagery. You need some sort of emotional bang. You might not get it on the first try but, again, that’s what editing is for.

Homework: What part of novel writing is tricky for you? Beginnings? Middles? Ends? Think back on your favorite novels and think about what worked in their beginnings, middles or ends. How can you apply those things to your own work?


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Writing Teen Novels


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