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Posts tagged ‘New York Times bestselling YA novelist’

Writing About Violence And Physical Harm In Novels, by April Henry

If you’re going to write mysteries, thrillers or even horror novels, you’ll need to decide how to approach writing about violence and physical harm.

There are at least three ways to approach it:

1. Slow it down. Each step makes it clear just how bad it is.

2. Make the readers fill in the blank. Their solutions are usually far more affecting than yours, because they will think of the things that frighten them the most.

3. Underplay it. Use short, simple declarative sentences. Think Hemingway.

A couple of years ago, I was running in Portland when I fell, cracking the bridge of my nose, and scraping my face, hands and knees. I knew it was bad when I saw the expression of two guys I waved down to ask for help.

Here are three ways to describe what happened.

Slow it down

“Running up 45th, April’s toe caught a crack in the sidewalk. The next thing she knew, she was in the air. Time slowed down, the way it did when you reached for a glass and knocked it over instead. She got her hands up in front of her as the sidewalk tilted at a crazy angle. Her palms skidded along the dirty concrete, but her momentum wasn’t slowed.

Oh no, she thought, not her face! – then there was the solid surprise of her nose meeting the unmoving sidewalk.

Still April fell. Her front teeth hit the concrete, wavered, decided to stay put.

Finally she was still, face down, unmoving on the cool Sunday morning.

Make the reader fill in the blank

One minute April was running, mentally writing her next blog entry. The next thing she knew she was flat on the sidewalk. Something was terribly wrong. Her face felt wet.

***

The woman standing by the side of the road was frantically waving her arms. At least Josh thought it was a woman. Her face. Jesus Christ, what had happened to her face?

Underplay the prose

She ran up the hill. It was a Sunday morning. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

The sidewalk had lifted at an expansion joint. Her toe caught the crack. She fell very hard. She lay on the cement. Maybe she was okay. It was just a fall. She started to move but something grated inside. Her mouth tasted like blood.

Next to her was a bush with white flowers. She stared at it. Her vision was growing dark at the edges. The bush would look good in her garden.

She closed her eyes and was still.

More examples of fill-in-the-blank

I think the fill-in-the-blank idea can be the most powerful of the three. Here are two examples, one short and one long:

Five miles up the road, he opened the window and threw out the first of Karen Reid’s teeth.

- The Intruders, Michael Marshall

She swam against the grain of the ocean, using a short and sharp stroke and a smooth kick.

She did not see the murky shape drifting toward her. It was more than half-submerged, and it had eyes. When she barged into it, the silent mass reared up.

Her scream was muted, most of it locked in her throat.

On the beach, her sons threw sand at each other and the man with the device unearthed a nickel. The lifeguard rearranged his legs in a way that the girls below could see the filled harness under his neon swim trunks. A stray cloud blotted some of the sun.

One of the boys pointed with his shovel. “Look at Mommy.”

- Widow’s Walk, Andrew Coburn

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     TracksA Million Suns (Across the Universe)

Writing Teen Novels
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Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels, by April Henry

Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years about writing page-turners:

Act first, explain later

Many writers mistakenly think the reader needs to know all the backstory at the beginning of the novel. The problem with this approach is that it makes the real “now” of the story feel less important. Or writers think the reader will like the characters only if they spend a lot of time showing their normal, everyday lives. The problem with this is that the reader feels no urgency to continue. It’s much better if a novel starts on the day that everything changes.

Create a ticking clock

In a mystery or thriller this can be a literal bomb that the reader can’t stop worrying about. It could also be an ultimatum. Other ticking clocks could be the scheduled execution of an innocent man, the day the ship is supposed to land on Mars, the approaching prom, summer ending and the girl going off to college, the hurricane forecast to land in three days, or the lead actress for the big show coming down with mono leaving no one to play the part.

Play on common fears of readers

Common fears include: darkness, wild storms, something crawling on the skin, objects that cover other objects, a small sound when there should be silence, being alone, being helpless or unable to act, something under the bed, closed or partially open doors, hallways or tunnels that lead to the unknown, cramped spaces, basements, attics, heights, crowds, disease, death.

Give characters specific phobias

Give your characters phobias or fears – and then make them face those fears. Afraid of heights? The final confrontation should take place on a rooftop. Afraid of repeating the same terrible mistake? Give them the opportunity to get it right.

End each chapter with an unresolved issue

Have a character open a door, answer the phone, be confronted by someone with a gun, receive a mysterious letter, or make a decision not revealed immediately to the reader.

Cut filler

Look for passages that describe the weather, the landscape, the aftermath, travel, characters eating meals or drinking coffee, a character just sitting and thinking. Then cut them – or at least cut them back.

Hurt a main character

Hurt a main character early so the reader knows no one is off limits. Even better, kill the character – preferably a likable character. Readers will be on the edge of their seats, knowing that anything at all – even something very bad – could happen.

Make choices painful

Force the character to make a choice between two things she wants or to choose the lesser of two evils. Two loves. Two people to save (when only one can be). Addict/temptation. In a relationship/temptation. Maybe the main character knows brother will keep killing, but if she turns him in, he’ll go to death row.

Raise the stakes

Our main character was already nervous about singing in class, but now he has been asked to sing at the stadium. Or for a more mystery-related example, not only will someone die if our main character doesn’t catch the serial killer, but the next victim could be his girlfriend. Or it’s not just a child who will die – it’s a whole kindergarten! Ask yourself, “What could make it worse?” And then make it happen – even if you don’t know how your character will get out of it.

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The HuntingProject 17

Writing Teen Novels
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Writing Teen Novels About Pilots And Flying, by Elizabeth Wein

In 2003 I got my private pilot’s license, and ever since then I have found myself more and more embroiled in writing about flying.  It crept up on me gradually.  I started out with a short story called ‘Chasing the Wind’ (in Sharyn November’s first anthology  Firebirds), which was about a girl who is a passenger in a small plane in Kenya in the early 1950s… I moved from there to ‘Chain of Events’ (in the Reckless issue of Michael Cart’s Rush Hour) in which a girl passenger takes over the command, though not the controls, of a feckless teenage pilot.  It wasn’t until my third short story about flying that I felt confident enough to write about a girl who actually becomes a pilot, and ‘Something Worth Doing’ (in Sharyn November’s Firebirds Soaring) eventually provided the seed for my novel Code Name Verity.

What do these stories have in common?  Well, they’re all about women in flight, and it’s the feminine aspect of piloting that inspires me.  It’s such an unusual activity for a woman, or a girl; I want to spread the word.  I want to inspire others.  I hope that one or two girls who read my stories will think, ‘Hmmm.  Maybe I could do that.’

I couldn’t have written about flying until I knew how to fly.  I wouldn’t have dared.  I still never quite feel sure I’m being as accurate as I need to be, especially since my fictional pilots tend to be more adventurous than I am myself.  But the seed for verisimilitude is there.

You know the old adage, ‘Write about what you know’?  I think it could be more accurately stated, ‘Write about what you love.’  That’s what makes good writing – the personal touch doesn’t necessarily come from first hand experience, but rather from first hand passion.  A writer’s knowledge born of a deep, inquiring interest can be every bit as thorough as knowledge gained through experience.  Do the research; do the fieldwork; learn the language.

Your passion is a gift which you can share – a gift you should want to share.  Your flair for a subject should shine through your writing and inspire your readers.  But be cautious about your expertise.  Not all your readers share your expertise and not all of them will care about it.  The trick is to draw their interest with your story without getting into the nitty gritty of what you know.  You don’t need to describe how a piston engine works in order to describe the thrill of take-off at full power.  Your know-how should be sketched in lightly – let the full extent of your knowledge be readable between the lines only.

There will always be a few people who don’t want to know – who simply aren’t interested in the detailed story you want to share, no matter how passionate that story is.  But I like to hope for the best.  I’ll continue to imagine an ideal reader with an inquiring mind open to new ideas.  Maybe a love of flying will creep up on readers gradually, just as it did on me.

***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     Raven SpeakSektion 20Spark

Writing Teen Novels
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Beginning A Story: 10 Things To Consider, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

1. What does your character need or want?  Why does he or she need or want it?

2. What is the conflict?  What prevents your character from getting what they need or want?

3. What about your character’s personality is going to make it difficult to get what he they need or want?

4. How will your character grow?  What will they learn as a result of this journey?  Once your character learns this, will they be able to get what they want?

5. What point of view will best serve the story and why?

6. What tense makes the most sense for your story?

7. Don’t take the word “beginning” too literally.  Begin in the middle of things.

8. Avoid lengthy explanations as to how your character got to this point in their life.  Yes, your characters have a past, but that past will become evident through dialogue, action and the choices the characters make, not necessarily through lengthy explanation.

9. You need to hook the reader’s attention from the very beginning.

10. Have fun!  It’s okay not to know everything about your novel before you begin it.  Chances are you’ll discover plenty along the way.  Remember the old adage: “the art of writing is rewriting”.

***

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little GamesDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)     GenesisHappyface

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Month In Review (May 2013)

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Hooking Readers With The First Chapter Of A Teen Novel, by Beth Revis

One of the things I’m really happy about with my own writing is the first chapter of Across the Universe (which you can find online at www.acrosstheuniversebook.com). Before and since, I’ve made it something of a habit to look at first chapters, paying special attention to what makes them tick.

1) Empathetic characters

Empathy doesn’t mean that you feel bad or good for a character; it means that you understand what the character is feeling and why. In my own novel, my main character, Amy, watches her parents undergo a painful medical procedure. This is something that anyone can empathize with – we know how we would feel if our own parents or loved ones underwent a painful procedure. This immediately puts us in the picture with the main character. Possibly the most important thing you can do as a writer is create empathetic characters. Think of Katniss and her love for Prim in The Hunger Games - that was chapter 1. Think of Bella meeting Edward in Twilight or Harry Potter becoming an orphan. These are things with which we can empathize.

2) Sympathetic situation

While your characters need to be empathetic, it’s good to start the story with a sympathetic situation. You have character who you can almost visualize as yourself – you understand where they’re coming from and who and why they are. Now put them in a situation we wouldn’t want to be in. Make us feel bad that these characters we identify with are in a bad situation. This is the Hunger Games and Harry’s cupboard under the stairs.

3) It is what it says it is on the cover

You should also definitely give some hint of what the book is. You’re giving readers a taste of the whole book in the first chapter. If it’s a sci fi novel, as mine is, you need a spaceship or cryogenic freezing. If it’s a survival story like The Hunger Games, have Katniss shoot her bow. Harry mentions magic. Elizabeth Bennet’s mother in Pride and Prejudice mentions marriage. Whatever your story is overall must have a hint of it here, in the first pages. I should know what genre you’re writing not from your cover or your back jacket description, but from your first chapter.

4) Immediate conflict as a foreshadow to future conflict

Writers are often told to start their novels with a bang – but that can often lead to overly dramatic (and melodramatic) first chapters. Instead, try to mirror a larger conflict within the first chapter with something smaller. In my novel, Amy watching her parents being cryogenically frozen mirrors how later, when she wakes up, she has to make tough decisions without them. For The Hunger Games, Katniss’s hunt in the first chapter mirrors the battle for survival that the whole book revolves around. For Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia it’s the way her brother Edmond treats her.

It’s hard to identify exactly what it is that makes a first chapter work. However, analyze some of your favorites and I think you’ll see the things I’ve listed above.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

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)    GlowThe Night She DisappearedMy Brother's ShadowThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))

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On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

People often ask me what inspires me to write.  The answer is that inspiration comes from all over, especially if you’re open to it: stories you hear about, snippets from the news, a really dishy reality TV show, an argument that you overheard at the local coffee shop, fortune cookie messages, dilemmas without answers, a person you encounter at the supermarket, a situation that occurred at the gym…

The point is that ideas are everywhere.  Pick one that gets your creative juices flowing.  Don’t write about a topic because you think it’s popular or timely.  The market is ever-changing: blood-thirsty vampires today, vegan-loving serial killers tomorrow.  Plus when you consider that once your book gets accepted for publication it’s often a year or more before it comes out, who knows what the market will dictate then.

Here’s how inspiration struck for some of my teen novels:

Blue is for Nightmares

The inspiration:  My readers

I was inspired to write my first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, because I wanted to write a book that would have appealed to me as a young person, namely one that had a blending of suspense, romance, drama, and dark humor.  I wasn’t a big reader as a young person, and so I wanted to get reluctant readers excited about reading.  Blue is for Nightmares was the product.

Bleed

The inspiration: A theme that interested me.

I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday – even the smaller ones – can affect others in ways we may never even consider: the decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone’s house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach; and how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people’s lives… including the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend’s boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

Project 17

The inspiration: A news article.

I sold Bleed in a two-book deal with Disney/Hyperion Books for Children.  Time was ticking and I needed an idea for the second book – fast.  One day when I was flipping through a local newspaper, I came upon an article concerning the controversial teardown of one the nation’s first mental institutions, which was considered  to be a historic landmark – one that was also rumored to be haunted.  I imagined a group of teens breaking in to the hospital on the eve of the demolition to film a movie.  The idea inspired me to write my novel Project 17.

The Touch series

The Inspiration: Past success and my love for series books.

Following the success of my Blue is for Nightmares series, in which my main character is plagued, and then empowered, by her premonitions, I wanted to continue working in the supernatural/paranormal genre.  Like in my Nightmares series, I wanted to explore the idea that we all have our own inner senses and intuition, and how with work we can tap into those senses and make them stronger.  I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power to sense the past or future through touching objects.  The concept fascinated me, so I wanted to bring it out in a character and show how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

In my series, Ben, the new boy at school, is rumored to have accidentally killed his ex-girlfriend.  He ends up completely reclusive as a result, getting home-schooled by tutors and not leaving his house.  Flash forward two years and Ben wants a shot at normal life again, despite his powers.  He enrols at a school a few hours from his hometown, where no one knows him or his past.  Then everything goes awry when he accidentally touches Camelia, the main character, and senses that her life is in danger.

My current work-in-progress

The inspiration: A nightmare I had.

I rarely have nightmares but I had one that felt so real and scared me to bits.  I didn’t talk about it for several days afterward.  When I finally felt able to share it, I told someone who immediately said that it needed to be a book.  I agreed and sold it to my editor last year.  I’m currently working on the draft.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Blue is for NightmaresBleedProject 17Deadly Little Secret    Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyAngel DustBlack and White

Writing Teen Novels
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Tools To Develop Productive Novel Writing Habits, by April Henry

Do you ever find yourself polishing the same paragraph over and over, moving a clause here, changing a verb there and not ever actually adding any new words?

Sometimes even experienced writers have trouble making progress. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Here are some tools that have helped me:

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is great for big projects like novels. (Its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, named it after a timer shaped like a tomato, or, in Italian, a pomodoro). It has helped me be more productive by making me focus.

1. Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Let nothing – not the doorbell, not the phone, not the ping of an email or a text – interrupt you. Stop as soon as the timer goes off. You’ve just completed a pomodoro.

2.Now set the timer for five minutes and do something that isn’t work. Go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, check those emails or texts. But you only have five minutes and you must stop as soon as the timer goes off.

3.Repeat the first two steps until you’ve completed four pomodoros. Now you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

Want to know more? Go to www.pomodorotechnique.com

Freedom

Freedom is a program that won’t let you go on the internet until a set amount of time (as long as eight hours) has expired. I resisted using Freedom for a long time, basically because it cost $10. I figured I was an adult, which meant I should be perfectly able to set limits and stick to them. For example, I should be able to write on my laptop without taking a peek at the Internet every five minutes for “research” or to see if I’ve gotten any important emails.

Then I gave the free trial a whirl. The first time, I only set the time-out period for 15 minutes. I realized I probably would have clicked on the internet a dozen times if it wasn’t for Freedom.

Now I use it in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique.

You can find out more at: www.macfreedom.com

Write or Die

Writers often get stuck. I think that largely stems from the fear that what you write will suck. That’s where Write or Die can help, by forcing you to stop overthinking and just write. Write or Die is a free program on the internet. (You can also purchase it to use on your desktop or iPad.)

You set how many words you want to write and you set the amount of time you want to write them in. You also set consequences, which range from gentle (pop-up reminder) to kamikaze (keep writing or words start disappearing). When you’re done, you save the text by selecting it and then coping and pasting into your own word processing program.

Now I make a running list of ideas – scenes, characters – that I could take to Write or Die. And at least once a day, I set the time for 15 minutes and the number of words for 500. It works best if you don’t over think it – or even think at all. Instead, write as fast as you can and describe the brightest colors, the softest sounds, the way something feels under the character’s fingertips. What are your characters saying? What are they feeling and not saying?

I won’t end up using everything I write on Write or Die, but often I’ll come up with something unexpected and wonderful.

You can try it for yourself at www.writeordie.com (scroll down if you don’t see it).

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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Girl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock PointTorched    Across the UniverseBoys without NamesThe Final Four

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First Person Present Tense Narration In Teen Novels, by Beth Revis

The first YA book I read that used first person present tense was Libba Bray’s epically beautiful A Great and Terrible Beauty. I don’t think I really noticed it until one of the characters “says” something rather than “said” something, and once I noticed it I couldn’t un-notice it. It was definitely something new to me, and I found it fascinating.

Many novels, including my own, have been written in first present – including, notably, the Hunger Games books. In fact, it wasn’t until I read The Hunger Games that I realized the real power that first person present tense can have.

There are two features of first person present tense that we have to consider: the appeal of a first person point of view and the appeal of present tense.

First person: This is a point of view that lends itself ideally to YA literature. Most teens – most people, honestly – want to escape into a novel. They want to experience the world of the story along with the characters. By using the first person point of view, the characters have more immediate accessibility to the reader. You’re not reading about Katniss shooting the arrow, you shoot the arrow as Katniss. Ultimately, what a first person point of view gives to the reader is accessibility.

Present tense: This is a tone of voice that also lends itself ideally to YA literature. The key here is immediacy. This is what brings a whole new appeal to high-stakes stories such as The Hunger Games - rather than telling the reader what happened in the past you’re letting the reader experience what’s happening to the character as it is happening. Additionally, when you’re dealing with a life-or-death situation with the characters, you have the additional fear that the characters won’t make it to the end of the story. In a novel told in present tense, the characters – particularly the narrating character – might not survive to the end. If you want to see just how powerful that underlying fear can be in a novel, check out Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner’s These Broken Stars.

In the end, first person present tense is so often used and so popular among teens because of the two simple traits of accessibility and immediacy. That’s one of the things that makes YA literature stand out – and one of the things that keeps the reader turning the pages long into the night.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

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)    I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeDark Hunter (Villain.Net)Code Name VerityHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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My Novel Writing Process, by April Henry

I used to write books just for me. No publisher was waiting for them (although I certainly had the fantasy that once publishers saw the finished book they would fall all over themselves buying it). And the books were done when they were done.

I’ve had 13 books published in 13 years. Most are written under contract, which means they have a fixed due date. (Although I still sneak off to work on a ‘spec’ book now and then.)

My current writing process is now more like this:

  • One year before the book is due: I have plenty of time. And I deserve to relax after how hard I worked to get the last book done. I might make some notes and brainstorm a little… after I clean out the basement.
  • Nine months before: This plot idea is intriguing. The characters are starting to seem like real people. Maybe I should create a thorough outline… after I finish alphabetizing the spices.
  • Six months before: The outline is finished. This is going to be so easy. I should outline all the time! I’ll just take it step by step, like paint by numbers. The book is practically going to write itself now that I have all the hard work done. I think I’ll call my friend and go out for ice-cream to celebrate.
  • Three months before: Holy crap! This outline doesn’t work at all. And why do my characters keep doing things I never planned on them doing? This one guy was meant to be a secondary character but for some reason he thinks he’s the real love interest. And my main character refuses to do this one dangerous thing the outline says she should do. She says it’s a bad idea.
  • Two months before: I will never be done in time. Never. The only way I can do it is to write two thousand words a day, every single day. Didn’t manage more than three hundred today? No problem, I’ll make it up tomorrow.
  • Two weeks before: There’s too much blood in my caffeine stream. I’m writing like a mad woman. But I can do it. If I just give up on this sleeping thing.
  • Due date: There. Finished. Is it any good? I’ve read it over but, to be honest, I have no idea. I hit the send key. I really should celebrate. Or work on that other book that’s due. But how long has it been since I swept behind the couch?

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

***

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Girl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock PointTorched    FirehorseMary, Bloody MaryTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
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