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Posts tagged ‘British author of teen fiction’

Why I Write Novels For Teens, by Emma Pass

When I was a teenager, ‘teen’ as a distinct literary genre didn’t exist on the scale it does now. At my local library, you could find series like Sweet Valley High and the Point Horror books, along with the occasional ‘issue’ novel, but when you got tired of the children’s section (where these books were also shelved) you moved on to adult books without a backward glance. By the time I realized I wanted to be an author, aged 13, I was existing on a steady diet of Stephen King, Michael Crichton and various other thriller and SF writers, and the stories I wrote were full of grown up characters doing grown up things.

As I got older, I started experimenting with different types of writing. Maybe I should be a crime writer. What about poetry? How about writing literary fiction? I even, very briefly, toyed with an idea for a picture book. Nothing worked. I was trapped on one side of a thick glass wall, with the writer I wanted to be on the other side. I could see her, but I had no idea how to get there.

Then I went on a weekend course run by a well-known children’s and teen author. I’d never come across her before, so, not wanting to appear ignorant, I read some of her books before the course started. It wasn’t so long since I’d been a teenager myself, and as soon as I started to read, I was hooked. Here was a writer expressing the rollercoaster emotions of those years exactly. After the course – which was fun and inspiring – I visited the teenage section in my local library and bookshop and discovered that, in the years I’d been struggling to become a writer for adults, teen literature had quietly grown into a genre in its own right.

It was around that time that it occurred to me that perhaps I should try rewriting the literary novel I’d been struggling with – which, coincidentally, featured a teenager as the main character – as a teen novel.

The novel wasn’t any good. In fact, it was terrible. But it was the first project I’d had fun with in as long as I could remember. The first characters I really connected with. The first ‘proper’ novel I ever finished, redrafted (seven times!) and queried. By the time it was done, I knew I had found ‘my’ genre, and I knew I had, at last, broken through the glass wall.

So what do I enjoy most about writing teen novels? Firstly, it’s the characters. I remember being a teenager so clearly – what a strange time it is, when the adults around you often treat you like a child, yet you’re expected to assume adult responsibilities and deal with problems that often feel far too big for you to cope with. It’s a unique space to be in, where everything is new and challenging and intense, and for me that makes writing for and about teens utterly fascinating.

Then there’s the sheer scope. A quick glance at the teen fiction section in any bookshop or library will show you that you can write about anything. You can write about teenagers in space or teenagers on the run from sinister police forces or teenagers fighting zombies or teenagers just going about their ordinary lives, and all the challenges that brings. There are no limits. Someone once asked me, “When are you going to start writing for grownups?” My answer? Not yet. Possibly never. I’m having far too much fun!

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Emma Pass’s author website: www.emmapass.blogspot.com

Emma Pass 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

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

A plot driven by a character-in-action is the most compelling kind of story and the one that will most effectively create narrative drive. So I’m going to list a few things to consider around this point.

I’m suggesting that a page-turning plot = a character-in-action

If character is conveyed by the decisions a person makes under pressure, when faced with situations that force that person to the extreme, then pressure on someone is a precursor to motivation.

This leads me to :

Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 9

drum roll…  tada!

Dramatic action is equal to decision 

Since dramatic action, arising from character, is shown through the decisions someone makes, let’s look a little further at what kinds of decisions someone can make. Decisions in a novel can be:

  • internal (resolutions), or
  • external (actions).

External decisions are made by the character. They are proactive. They do not happen to the character, with the character’s actions treated as a function of things happening to them. The character’s decisions become the reader’s means of working out the character’s motivations. In other words:

  • The goal of the character is shown in actions.
  • Motivation is what makes the story dramatic.
  • Obstacles are what creates conflict.
  • A character-in-action with obstacles shows external or dramatic motivation.
  • Why a character seeks out conflict shows internal motivation through goal orientation.
  • This adds up to ‘something meaningful is going to happen’.

So how you can use this secret?

  • Make sure your protagonist makes decisions that result in action.
  • Make sure each decision to act takes your protagonist further toward their goal.

WATCH OUT FOR THE TENTH 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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Life As A Published Novelist, by Andy Briggs

There are many misconceptions regarding what its like to be a published novelist. I know many author friends who have told a budding teenage writer about some of the pros and cons, only to see the hope extinguish in their eyes. The ups and downs should never be told as words of warning, but simply told as facts.

“How much will I earn?” is the question everybody wants to know, and the one that most authors reply with glassy eyes and jaded comments that you can’t make a living out of it. Well, that depends on how much you need to make a living out of it. There is always a positive angle.

When you sell your opus, you get an advance which could range from a single dollar to, in some rare cases, hundreds of thousands. This is paid in three stages – when you sign the contract, when you deliver the final manuscript (after all the edits) and when it is published. For the sake of example, let’s say you sell your brilliant book for $60,000. You get your cheque for $20,000 (minus agent fees and don’t forget you will have to pay tax). Then you complete the book – which could take a month, several months or even a year. Then you get your next $20,000 (minus agent fees and tax). Then you sit and wait for the publication date. That could be from 6 months to over a year away. Only then do you get your final $20,000 (minus agent fees and tax).

Then you see your book on the shelf. What a thrill!  But remember, you need to sell $60,000 worth of books before you see any more cash. By the way, I don’t mean, if your book costs $10, you’ll see money after 6,000 copies are sold. You would only get (maybe) 6% per book, so, if it sells for $10, you would get 60 cents that goes towards your $60,000 advance.

It will sell, right? The publisher will do everything they can for you, right?

Only if you’re lucky. Don’t forget your publisher has dozens of other books to promote too. They do the best they can, but it’s up to you – particularly with books for teenagers. You have to get out to the schools to promote your work, do signings at stores, attend festivals, blog, tweet, write articles for other people and do everything else you can to get your name out there. It is a long and time-consuming job (he says, writing this at 1:14am, after a full day of writing a story with a looming deadline). You will travel around the country (or internationally) and be in a permanent state of exhaustion as you try to sleep in uncomfortable hotels – and if you are in a beautiful location, your hotel is all you will have chance to see. I have been up and down the UK but I don’t really have any idea what it looks like.

If you are lucky, your publisher will tell you to do all of this and help you out. More often than not they will leave it all up to you, assuming you know what to do. The best advice you can get is from other authors (and it changes depending on who you are speaking to). I have a network of author buddies who I can seek advise from, bounce ideas off or, more often than not, moan to.

Writing is a wonderful job. It can pay enough to allow you to keep doing it full time – but never forget: it is a job, just like any other. It’s hard work.

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

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Getting Story Ideas And Writing Them Into Novels, by Pauline Francis

Where do I get my ideas? Lots of ideas pass through my mind. I usually wake up with them. But only some stick. That’s how I know which idea will probably become a new novel.  If I try to force it, the book doesn’t work. When I have that lovely excitement of something coming up to the boil, I don’t start to write until I have the beginning and the end. The end is really important. If you’re using historical characters or events, a twist in the story that doesn’t change known events can help get past readers knowing how things turn out.

What happens if an idea sticks but your publisher doesn’t like it? Well, there are only two choices: don’t write it – or write it and hope that another publisher will take it. I’ve just made that second choice. The novel that I’ve just finished (which my publisher didn’t want) and sent to my agent is based on a theme that has always gripped me: how people are treated in war. One day, I saw a photograph in the Guardian newspaper of a frozen Inca (16th century Peru) girl. She was sitting up, hair and skin intact because she’d frozen to death. She completely captivated me. I couldn’t get her out of my mind and she sat on my notice board for a long time as I tried to get my publisher interested. This is how Ice Girl began. Some pressure was put on me to make this a forensic novel with a contemporary setting, which would have been really interesting, except it wasn’t the forensics that interested me. What if that frozen girl had been captured by the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived in Peru?

I’ve had many problems with this novel. Peru is inaccessible to most readers, although they might know that Paddington Bear came from darkest Peru. I decided to give the book two narrators: an Inca girl and a Spanish soldier. This gave it the right balance as UK readers are usually well-travelled in Spain.

I’m satisfied with my decision to write without a contract. It was the right thing for me to do.

I can only begin to write if I have the main character, and a beginning and an end to my story. Then I do some research. My novels are rich in symbolism and I look for research that supports it. The novel I’m now writing is set against the French Revolution and the symbols are heart/blood/corpses, linked to the novel Frankenstein. When you have your symbols it’s amazing how much they come up in research.

I don’t write out a plan of the chapters, but see the events unfolding visually as if I’m at the cinema. I always use a short timeframe – usually one or two years – and I almost always use two narrators. I like this technique, especially if present tense is used, because it moves the story along very quickly and makes the character very now, rather than distant. It also gives my characters the contemporary feel that I like so much. I love short narratives, especially where characters are quarrelling and they keep breaking into each other’s narrative. It brings the story alive. I’ve never written a novel in third-person yet. I’d like to, because it can give breadth to the novel and lots of different points of view.

Language and character interest me more than plot. I detest too many adjectives and adverbs. I rarely use exclamations marks.

I’m a full-time writer now and I write every day, even if I don’t feel like it. I write new work in the morning. In the afternoon, I check what I’ve written the day before. Every week or two, I read my work out aloud to feel the tension and rhythm. I do a lot of cutting and pasting after that.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. There’s always something that can be written. If the book isn’t flowing well, I might spend a week writing individual scenes that are bothering me. I’ll do this by hand, on A4 paper headed with the name of the scene. Listening to music just before writing is good, as it stimulates creativity.

Writing is using your writing muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it – and very quickly. Our muscles slacken within 36 hours. So does writing. After a holiday, it does take longer to get back into it, just like any job. Then I just read a teen novel by one of my favourite writers and I’m so full of awe and envy that I can’t wait to get back to mine. Or I might watch a TV series aimed at young people and this works. We’ve just had a series on TV called Merlin and I love the repartee between the young Merlin and young King Arthur.

I start work at about 8 o’clock and always finish at 5.30 to watch Neighbours. I used to watch it with my children, but they gave it up a long time ago. It relaxes me and I find the way that issues are dealt with interesting.

I love writing on trains, especially when I’m travelling to schools or festivals. We have many literary festivals in the UK and it’s a great honour to be invited. Sometimes it’s just me on the stage and sometimes it’s a discussion. I don’t mind what it is. Meeting my readers is the most exciting part of being an author. If I’ve managed to change their life in any way, I’m humbled and moved by that.

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Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

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