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Posts tagged ‘fiction books for teenagers’

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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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

Plotting My Teen Historical Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

One of the things I like about writing fiction based on historical people and events is that real history provides so many fictional possibilities. Deciding where to start is the first challenge in plotting a novel for teen readers.

The age of the main character is an important decision. Common wisdom has it that young teens want to read about older teens – but not too much older; older teens don’t want to read about younger ones, and they also don’t want to read about characters who are a lot older. The sweet spot seems to be about sixteen. But history doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes the actual story starts much earlier in the life of the historical person you want to write about.

Mary Stuart became Queen of Scots as an infant, upon the death of her father. I decided to begin The Wild Queen when Mary’s mother sends her off to France at age six to grow up in the King’s court. Would a thirteen-year-old reader decide in the early chapters that Mary is too young to be interesting? It was a risk, but I took it.

Marie-Antoinette is twelve when her story begins in The Bad Queen. Mary Tudor is ten in Mary, Bloody Mary. Her sister, Elizabeth, is thirteen in Beware, Princess Elizabeth, and Anne Boleyn is thirteen in Doomed Queen Anne. Less important than the age is the situation in which the main character finds herself in those opening pages. Sometimes it’s better not to state the age at first; just begin with a situation that grabs your teen reader’s interest.

Conflict drives the plot. The next big challenge is choosing which events provide the most compelling way to tell the story to a teen reader and which events to leave out if they don’t move the story forward.

Teenaged Princess Elizabeth is despised by her older half-sister, Mary. Marie-Antoinette must deal with the ladies of the French court who resent her and want her to fail. Victoria must contend with her demanding mother and her mother’s advisor, Sir John. Young Charles Darwin, in The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, has to confront a demanding father and his own lack of focus. Cleopatra’s jealous sisters, in Cleopatra Confesses, want her dead. Far from home, Mary, Queen of Scots, must adjust to a new environment and make decisions that change the course of her life. As the characters mature, the conflicts they face become even more complicated. The writer’s task is to keep teen readers turning pages.

I don’t try to figure out everything in advance. I simply start writing, trying different approaches until I find one that I think is most engaging. In my first draft of Victoria Rebels, the opening chapter recounted the circumstances leading to the marriage of Victoria’s parents. In a later revision, that material – historically interesting but not the way to launch a plot – was moved to Author’s Notes. The final draft of the story opens with preparations for the wedding of Victoria’s sister and her realization that with her sister gone Victoria will be alone.

Just as I experiment with different starting points, I try out various points at which to end. A satisfactory ending may depend on the age of my readers. The ending of Cleopatra Confesses tends to satisfy younger teens, while older readers want the story to go on.

Sequel, anyone?


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Beware, Princess ElizabethThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Cleopatra ConfessesThe True Adventures of Charley Darwin     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Code Name VerityTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels

Writing Series Fiction, by Anne Cassidy (guest article)

I’ll state the obvious and say that writing series fiction is very different than writing stand alone novels. A stand alone novel is satisfying in all sorts of ways. For me it takes about six months. It starts with a central idea and I plan about six chapters. Then I make it up as I go along. (This is how I wrote my book Looking for JJ.) The ending reveals itself to me about half way through. A lot of rewriting goes on, but when it’s done it’s done. Those characters are in the past and I have to start thinking about the next book.

Series fiction needs a little bit more planning than this. My series The Murder Notebooks came to me when I was sweeping my kitchen floor. I’d written a dozen or more stand alone novels and I was pining for a series I wrote in the 1990s called The East End Murders. It wasn’t possible to resurrect these novels because they had dated. The murder weapon in the first book was a mobile phone. Remember those days when phones were big and clunky? So I was sweeping my floor and I thought: Why not do another series?

It was only a couple of moments before I got my two main characters, Rose and Joshua. They would investigate murders but they also needed to have a grim background themselves. This is where the heart of the series was born. Their parents disappeared five years before the first novel started. This gave them something to investigate but it also gave them (Rose in particular) a link with other people who were the victims of crime.

Unlike my stand alone novels, I had to know the ending to this series. I had to know what had happened to their parents. Then I had to plot the journey Rose and Joshua, who would take four books to find out the truth. By the end of book one they would know X, by the end of book two they would know X plus 1, and so on. Each book would have its own stand alone murder mystery and this might or might not link up with the search for their parents.

I had two big problems. The first was backstory. In books two, three and four I had to weave in an increasing amount of backstory in order to explain the journey they’d come on. However I had to do it in such a way so that it didn’t weigh down the stand alone plot of that novel. The other problem I had was how much to reveal to the reader about what went on in the previous book. If a reader picked up book two (Killing Rachel) first then they would know stuff that hadn’t been revealed in book one. Would this make them not bother reading book one? I decided that I would put the information in but wouldn’t explain how this information had come about. So book one still had its own mystery.

Phew! There was a lot to think about and sometimes I got myself in a tangle.

I’ve finished all four books now. Am I relieved that the hard work is over? I am - but guess what, I’m currently planning another series! Watch this space.


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Dead TimeLooking for JJForget Me Not     The Deadly Game: The Malichea QuestThe Night She DisappearedCode Name Verity

Writing Teen Novels


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