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Month In Review (November 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its eleventh month of articles for 2013 from this year’s multi-national line-up of novelists.

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 November 2013

How Martial Arts Benefit Me And My Writing by April Henry

Using Varied Narrative Styles And Formats In A Novel by Paul Volponi

On Categorising Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Why I Write Young Adult Novels by Beth Revis

You Need To Love Your Characters by Lish McBride

How Do You Know If An Idea Will Develop Into A Good Story? by Bernard Beckett

Planning And Writing A Novel by Monika Schroder

To Outline Or Not To Outline? by Kashmira Sheth

Nurturing (And Protecting) Your Story Idea by Diane Lee Wilson

Novel Titles And Covers by Carolyn Meyer

Time And The Publishing Process by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Keep Writing: The Importance Of Finishing Stories by Andy Briggs

Handling Disappointment To Be A Resilient Writer by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Different Types Of Plot In Fiction by Kate Forsyth

My Tips For Writing Novels by Pauline Francis

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

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Small Budget 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


On Creating Interesting Characters For Historical Teen Novels, by Pauline Francis

For me, an interesting character is somebody who has all the odds stacked against them and has to find a way out. They must have a strong, believable voice that sweeps the reader along.

Just as I was beginning to write historical fiction for teenagers, I went to a conference and wrote down a wonderful quotation from one of the speakers (unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the speaker’s name). It was: “Characters in history are just like the stars. It takes a long time for their light to reach us.”

The two narrators of my first novel, Raven Queen, were real: Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I. They are strong characters, fighting for their cause. In my second novel, A World Away, I made up my central character, Nadie, a Native American girl captured by English colonists. If I’m honest, she is the least interesting of all my characters because she didn’t really know her path in life (except to find the English boy she loved) and I think this weakened her voice. I’d love to go back and change her because it’s an interesting novel in all other ways. I have begun to move away from real characters to concentrate on fictional characters who find themselves in real-history situations. My new novel (Ice Girl, not published yet) is the story of a girl at the mercy of Spanish colonists who fights back with incredible courage and determination, as well as leading other conquered people to safety.

I’ve just read a novel with the most amazing character. It gripped from beginning to end because the narrative voice is so strong. It’s Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon, which has just won the children’s category of the UK annual Costa prize. The agonising story is told in the first person by a fifteen year old boy called Standish (an unusual name). It’s tear-jerking and harsh (there’s very strong language because it’s mainly his thoughts, so the outside world wouldn’t usually hear it).

If you’re having problem choosing a character, try turning a situation on its head. Many Kings from history had mistresses. Sometimes they bore sons who claimed the throne (the term pretender to the throne is from the French pretendre – to claim). What was it like to be a pretender? I decided to make the fictional Francis (in Traitor’s Kiss) a good person. He doesn’t actually stake his claim as Henry the VIII’s son, but he could have. So he’s still a threat. Princess Elizabeth knows this. Francis becomes one of her victims. She leaves him in a madhouse called Bedlam, just in case he decides to make trouble for her. My novel-in-progress (Blood) is set against the French Revolution. It was a time of great innovation medically and my fictional narrator wants to be an anatomy artist.

You don’t have to make a huge leap of imagination to make your characters interesting. Often a small one will be enough to bring your character alive. In Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick, the story of murder and revenge is made gripping because the action takes place in a small log cabin over a few days with the body of the narrator’s father on the kitchen table. It is that dead father who sends a chill down our spine. He is the interesting character. If the story had been narrated by his son in the future, away from that log cabin, it would have become another murder/revenge story.


Paulines Francis’s author website:

Pauline Francis bio page


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United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)TracksTarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

Writing Teen Novels

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


‘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

On Getting A Novel Published, by Pauline Francis

When I visit schools and festivals, the most frequent question I am asked is: how do you get a book published?

Of course, there are plenty of stories now of writers who publish only on websites and have been spotted by publishers, who make it their business to trawl the internet in search of new talent. I’ve never done this, because I was taken on by my agent and then published conventionally very quickly. So I’ll leave it to somebody else to tell you what they know about Internet publishing and the websites involved.

It is becoming more difficult – but not impossible – to be published without an agent, as publishers receive so many unsolicited manuscripts (that is, sent on the off-chance by writers). Some publishers admit to only having the time to read manuscripts sent to them by agents. The rest pile up on the floor (‘the slush pile’) and are often given to a junior or work experience intern to trawl through.

Somebody told me to use any contact I could. I refused. I wanted to do it my way.

The agents I contacted refused me because I wasn’t published. Some didn’t reply. Raven Queen was as perfect as I could make it. What else could I do?

My husband came back from the famous Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany. On the flight, he found himself sitting next to a very well-known literary agent. They talked. He mentioned that I’d just finished my first teen novel. The agent gave him her card. I sent in my manuscript, mentioning that they’d travelled together.

It was the stuff of dreams! This agent read my manuscript straight away and rang the same day, offering to represent me. My husband tries to take all the credit – but, of course, it was the manuscript itself that takes the credit.

An agent will send out your manuscript to publishers and, if they place it with a publisher, you will pay them 10% of what you earn from the book. An agent will also read your contract, decide on who will sell the rights to the novel overseas and/or for translation, films, etc. Publishers will give writers an advance (which can vary) and they receive a royalty (which is usually up to 10% of the book sales) with which they have to pay off their advance before receiving anything.

What’s it like to work with a publisher?


Raven Queen needed only three small alterations, so I had very little revision to do with my editor. Since it was a two-book deal, I had a nine-month contract to produce the second novel. This manuscript needed more revision. My editor was always careful to give her reasons for changes and I was never put under pressure. All cover and back page blurb suggestions were discussed with me. This is my only niggle. I’d love to write the blurb myself. But what interests an author might not attract buyers. I have to admit that Sales and Marketing know that better than I do.

I love launch parties. I was given a wonderful launch at the Shakespeare Globe theatre in London for Raven Queen, attended by people connected with the world of children’s books: reviewers, writers, school and public librarians and people who ran children’s book groups. I asked if I could have young people to do the readings – the same age as my characters – and had two marvellous people from a youth drama company.

I’m telling you this because it is good to create as much buzz as possible with the first novel. The launch parties get smaller and smaller each time because, hopefully, the writer will have gained readers by then.

Winning a prize always helps sales and to increase the fan base. Like many writers, I dream of winning the Carnegie Medal… but meanwhile, I am happy to receive regional prizes. My first novel won the Scottish Highland Book Award. It means that from then on, the publisher can use the blurb ‘award-winning novelist’.

It’s really important for writers to accept that the Marketing and Sales departments have a huge job to do – and sometimes they know better than the writer. My last novel, Traitor’s Kiss, was given a cream cover, which I loved. Then purple came into fashion in a big way and they changed the cover to purple. I didn’t like it very much, until I heard that the posters in schools were being vandalised!! Why? The purple was exactly the right shade for graduation ball gowns and students were tearing little bits of the posters to take shopping with them. Now that’s a winner!

For me, being published is the best thing that’s ever happened in my working life. However, a little voice keeps whispering, “You’re only as good as your last book.” There are masses of talented writers out there, so I never take being published for granted.


Paulines Francis’s author website:

Pauline Francis bio page


United States (and beyond)


United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)My Brother's ShadowThe Night She Disappeared

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


United States (and beyond)


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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

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

I’ve had the privilege to write for a few formats that are not novels. Namely, I got my start working on comic strips and was very entranced with that industry for a long time. I also spent a few years working in comic books, and because of my comic book Emo Boy I was given the chance to work on a feature film screenplay for a proposed film adaptation. I’ll talk here about those unique processes.

All of them are of course very different from prose writing, for teens or otherwise. While the heavy lifting of creating an airtight plot remains the same for any form of writing, and believe me that can easily be the most effort-intensive part of the process, there’s less focus on detail, generally because an artist or director will be supplying the actual images needed. Your job is strictly telling the story.

Comic strips may seem the easiest but I’ll always maintain that it’s a great boot camp for writing. You only need to do a small number of panels, usually one to four, with minimal dialogue, a small cast of characters and usually just the one scene. To do that well, to tell a full story AND elicit a laugh or a heartfelt moment, or to make someone stop and ponder something for a moment, is difficult. To do it day in and day out, week after week, year after year, you’ll understand quickly how hard it is to keep that momentum going. Every strip needs to set up who is talking, where they are, what the context is and then somehow turn that idea on it’s head by the end of the strip in a clever way. Sometimes a comic strip will have a storyline that goes on through a week or a month; Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame occasionally would play a game and see how long he could keep an idea going. Watterson is especially famous for pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the form. But through these storylines you can never assume a reader has read the previous instalments. You have to assume they’ve never even heard of your strip. So not only do you have to carry on the story, but you have to address it as if this is the first instalment of the story and find a clever or quick way to recap. Every strip is essentially a tiny standalone story.

Comic books have a bit more space to play in. You can grow from a 3 panel story to a full 3 act story. Comics generally have 24 pages to tell your story in; whether it’s a standalone story or part of a longer arc, which has become more common in the past decade or two. Comics are a very visual medium, so it’s often the artist who tells the story in terms of movement and dynamics, and the speed a scene may pass along at. The writer is generally setting up the scene and delivering the major actions and dialogue. I can draw decently, so I had written and drawn my comics. I’d usually come up with a long list of potential plots, as most of the issues of Emo Boy had anywhere from one to three short stories (Issue 11 had 11 stories). Once I had decided on a plot, I’d spend a day or two coming up with jokes, scenes and a general three act structure, and when it was time to write I’d keep those notes handy and often write the full issue in one sitting. The majority of the month I would spend doing all the art.

When I started work on the Emo Boy movie, I had to learn a lot about structure and writing a long-form work. With books and movies, that freewheeling speed and quick note jotting was no good, I needed to really sit down and put everything together like a puzzle. Theme, recurring motifs, and strong set pieces all became important. I had to really think of big visual moments that would look good in a trailer, I had to see everything on a screen in my head. I had to learn to cut for the first time, because, at 90 pages, you need a clean, strong storyline and you have to be aware of any scenes that divert from your story or don’t in any way enhance or add to the story. Real estate is precious in a screenplay: scenes are generally short, a few pages long at best, so you don’t have the freedom to stroll at your own pace the way you do in a novel. You can’t spend a page talking about the flowers your character just passed. A novel can be a thousand pages or it can be 300 pages, you set your own pace. A movie needs to hit the right beats at the right times and hit them strong.

One of the best things about novel writing is the control you have over it. There’s no space demand of a comic strip or even a movie, there are far fewer hands in the production. It’s essentially you and your ideas, particularly at the start when the blank page truly is an invitation to your own world, as large or small as you feel comfortable existing in.

There’s always an option for a writer whether to express a story as a comic, a movie, a video game, a novel, a blog, a news article… there’s always a need and a place for good writing.


Stephen Emond’s author website:

Stephen Emond’s bio page


United States (and beyond)


United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

HappyfaceWinter Town     Across the UniverseRooftop

Writing Teen Novels

Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

I’m probably asked over 50 times a year by writers who have met with nothing but frustration when it comes to getting published through traditional avenues, “Should I self-publish?” Well, I don’t really have the answer. Just an opinion. That opinion is, “It all depends.”

Perhaps you are a cook who does many cooking demonstrations over the course of a year in front of a live audience and you have a passion to write a cook book. Maybe your audience has already asked you for one, saying how they’d love to own something like that as a resource. However, no publisher wants to back you in such a project. In that case, not only do I think that self-publishing (actually printing the book yourself without a vanity publishing company) is the way to go, I’d highly recommend it. Why? You already have the audience. Why shouldn’t you make all the profit after printing costs, which can be surprisingly small per book? Also, I presume the book would have a long shelf-life, allowing you to sell that first print-run for years to come.

Now, let’s look at the question from a very different angle. Let’s say you write teen novels or poetry and are wondering about going the self-publishing route. I would be very much against it. For one, you probably don’t have an audience yet. No matter what an unsavory vanity publishing company promises you about promotion (usually sending out postcards for an upcoming release), they won’t find you an audience. Also, librarians and teachers around the country won’t consider buying your book because they won’t know about it. Yes, there are stories about authors who self-published, arranged their own book signings and sold copies out of the trunks of their cars to cultivate an audience. Then, those grassroots sales (along with some very good writing, I presume) got a publisher’s attention, brining them a deal for their next book. I also understand that some lottery tickets bought do win, but trying to become a success story can be a heavy load for a writer to be burdened with.

I think this is the real question for novelists and poets to ask themselves before considering self-publishing: “Why do I want to be published?” If the answer is that you want a personal record of what you have created to be bound for your friends and family, I would never argue against it. If your ultimate goal is to cultivate an audience and draw attention to your good work, then self-publishing is almost certainly not the way to go.


Paul Volponi’s author website:

Paul Volponi’s bio page


United States (and beyond)


United Kingdom (and beyond)


Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighHurricane SongRooftop     Necromancing the StoneCode Name Verity

Writing Teen Novels

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