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Month In Review (August 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its eighth 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 August 2013

Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels by April Henry

Creating Teenage Characters For Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

My Journey Of Writing And Publishing My First Novel by Mandi Lynn (guest article)

Not Treating Teenage Years Merely As Preparation For Adulthood In Your Novels by Bernard Beckett

The Importance Of An Authentic And Unique Voice In Teen Novels by Monika Schroder

Bringing English 101 To Your Novel by Beth Revis

Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

Three Act Structure For Novel Writing by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Characters And Story Development For Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

My Writing Process For ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ by Kate Forsyth

Writing ‘Evil’ Characters In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Overcoming Writer’s Block by Lish McBride

Writing Dialogue In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Sustaining A Plot With Obstacles And Sub-Goals (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Getting Story Ideas And Writing Them Into Novels by Pauline Francis

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

Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

The Benefits Of Taking A Break When Writing by Kashmira Sheth

On Age Ranges For Novels by Andy Briggs


‘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


Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

I don’t think there is any conscious process for differentiating between a teen novel and adult.  Clearly in one the young adult must be forefront and in the other, adults.  Obviously adults can figure in both, but as my editor and the writer Beverley Birch says, one must give prominence to the young adult – never lose sight that it is about them.

I know from my own teaching I had one particular student who insisted upon populating her children’s novels with many, many adults.  I used to say constantly who is the story focused on?  Whose story is this?  The kid or the adults?  Never allow that confusion to arise.

I learned this the hard way.  I have a novel out there called Mean Tide, written under a pseudonym, which concerns a child who has had chemo and is sent to live with his psychic grandma by the river in Greenwich.  He meets another kid there, who is silent because of various traumas. The book is populated with adults, all with incredibly rich lives and opinions. To be honest this book straddles adult/children’s fiction and falls between two stools.  I couldn’t see it when I was writing it, as logic would dictate that when a kid goes to live with adults you have to show the adults and bring them to life.  Perhaps I added too much colour.  If your main protagonist is only twelve – there is only so much you can do with a young kid before it becomes unbelievable. Nevertheless as a writer you learn. (One hopes)

Writing for teens you can concentrate on their lives and reduce the impact adults have on their day-to-day existence.  Adults usually act as a restraint on the excesses of teens so the less they are around, the more that can happen.  S F Hinton’s The Outsiders featured this.  This was about teens getting into mischief without constraint and led by a semi-adult teen who did not have anyone’s best interests at heart.  Stephen King’s Stand By Me totally had this focus.  Not just about the kids but also about their perspective on life, the world around them and the risks they take.  It’s important to remember that these novels are written for teens and not adults (even though adults will and can enjoy them).  Kids know by the time they’re 12 that there is no justice in this world. Bullies get away with murder,, people lie, you lie, you haven’t yet formed your own opinions about things and you have doubts about everything.  Somehow you get up and carry on.  The whole world is a critic. You most likely suck at sport or math, and no one but Alice likes you and you don’t like Alice.  This is the teen world.

My approach to adult fiction is to have the plot or situation down first.  If based on a true-life story then it’s about fleshing out the characters, thinking not just about who they are but about their weaknesses and strengths. I like it when a readers connects enough with the character that they start to consider what they wear, eat or say on their own (until that starts to happen organically for me as a reader, I’m not truly in the zone).

With teen fiction, it’s the same process but with the added spice of knowing that kids won’t always take the logical step that may seem more obvious to an adult.  A boy or girl won’t instinctively know that the one they love is bad for them – even if others are saying so.  They have no experience to go on.  This is fresh to them.  All their mistakes are first time mistakes.  As a teacher I used to see girls suffering heartbreak, yet it was clear to me their affections were misplaced.  Now I see break-ups dealt with by text or on Facebook and how cold and heartless all that seems.  You are left to cry on your own I guess without the confrontation.  It can go the other way – irrational hysterical behaviour in the classroom when one girl discovers another is seeing her bloke and all three are in the class before you seething…

Adults generally don’t seethe. They might want to get revenge but the older you are the more numb you usually feel about things.  Kids are NEVER numb.  They can be unfeeling however.

Take Natalie Portman’s character in the movie  Leon.  She is entranced by the slightly simple hitman who protects her from Gary Oldman’s evil cop.  She is excited by the idea of becoming a hitwoman.  She isn’t thinking about moral considerations here.  She’s thinking about revenge, and Leon is simply showing her his one and only skill.  It’s not a kid’s movie but has a kid very much at the forefront.  She is what I remember.  Her pain and heartache and her loyalty.  This would be teen fiction now I think. Capture that intensity and bottle it.


Sam Hawksmoor’s author website:

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     Code Name VerityAngel DustBoys without NamesThe Traitor's Kiss

Writing Teen Novels

Creating Conflict For Your Character, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

In this post and the next I’ll show you how I apply some common writing tactics to my own work. Today I’ll talk about my first novel, Happyface.

One rule that I found useful when trying to think up events to take place early in the book was the idea of rocks and shields: the idea that your character exists in a world where rocks are constantly being thrown at him or her, so your character seeks shields for protection.

In Happyface, rocks come at the protagonist all throughout the book. The tragedy that starts him on his journey can be considered one such rock. Happyface and his mom move to a new town near the start of the book, leaving his father and brother suddenly absent. Happyface’s story is about reinvention and hiding from his past. These are his goals. So what are the rocks?

An early rock is the presence in this new school of Mr Mulvey, his English teacher. Mulvey went to Happyface’s old school and taught his older brother. Mulvey knows Happyface and his family story. For someone trying to hide everything he was before, Mulvey, well meaning as he is, becomes a dangerous presence.

Another rock comes from the Moon sisters; best friends of Happyface’s crush, Gretchen. They’re over-protective of their friend and intensely nosey. Happyface is constantly trying to throw them off his trail and keep himself a mystery but they want to know who this kid is and, more importantly, who he was.

The arrival of Chloe, his old crush from his old town, also ramps up the intensity and reveals a lot of holes in Happyface’s story that has everyone questioning his reliability. Happyface’s mom is also a rock, in the midst of a breakdown and wanting to keep past events in the present.

As for shields, Happyface has those too. His sketchbook is one – it’s a diversion and it keeps his story straight, it makes his fake stories real. His entire “Happyface experiment” is a shield – he fully immerses himself in this social experiment that takes up his days and nights as a way of erasing a painful past and occupying his mind. Gretchen is a shield. His head-over-heels infatuation with her is a way of avoiding reality. His obsession with becoming popular, with having friends, is all to avoid his home life. If he loses them, he loses everything; all he has is a dark, broken, sad family life to return to.

Another writing method I used in Happyface is a character web – the idea that each character in some way illuminates a different part of Happyface. Around dorky Mike, who is shades of a former Happyface himself, Happyface becomes an alpha male, and talks down to him. Around Frog and Oddly, his “fan club,” Happyface truly feels like the popular kid in school. Around Gretchen he’s vulnerable and scared. Around Misty and Karma Moon he plays up the comedian role, not a care in the world.

Each crush of his reveals one of his “masks”. Together they showcase the idea that he’s always had this chameleon aspect to his personality. The book is never about popularity or about love, Gretchen is never the actual goal of the story, but it’s a book about becoming comfortable with yourself. The happy ending is being able to take off the mask.


Stephen Emond’s author website:

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Glow

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?


Carolyn Meyer’s author website:

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page


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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

Teen Fiction: A Definition? by Bernard Beckett

Mostly, I write teen fiction. It’s often referred to as YA (for Young Adult), which isn’t a label I love. Calling a teenager a young adult strikes me as patronising, in the way that calling a forty year old an ‘old teenager’ would be. Nomenclature aside, I’m often asked what makes a book YA, and beneath this question there sits a curious and unnecessary concern. The assumption seems to be that this is a difficult thing to define (it is) and that this difficulty poses some sort of a problem (it doesn’t).

Essentially, defining is the art of lumping. Some vehicles we add to the pile of things we call cars, others trucks and so forth. My two and half year old boys have, over the last twelve months, got the hang of this. The first part of language to develop is naming, which goes hand in hand with the foundational intellectual skill of comparing and categorising.

Almost always, we can find examples which are very easy to put in a pile, and examples which are vexing. Even something as simple as colour throws up this problem. It is mostly very easy to distinguish a red object from an orange one, but at the boundary we find examples of reddish orangey things that don’t fall comfortably into either pile. (If you’ve ever looked at a rainbow and tried to identify the indigo/violet boundary, you’ll have seen a particularly striking example of fuzzy boundaries. In fact, any sane person would have stuck with six colours, red, orange, yellow, green blue, purple, but Isaac Newton, believing seven to be a more auspicious number, insisted on an extra boundary).

So, we know what cars are and we know what red is, even though it is impossible to precisely define either. Yet, we don’t get too worked up by this difficulty. Interviews with people who design, fix or race cars don’t return with boring monotony to the question ‘yes, but what makes a car a car?’ Mostly cars have four wheels, but not always. Mostly they have combustion engines, but not always. Mostly they have two rows of seats, but not always. Mostly they have an engine at the front, but not always. Mostly they have a roof, but not always. You get the idea.

Any attempt to define YA literature will surely encounter the same flavour of mostliness. Mostly YA fiction centers around characters who are themselves teenagers (but not always). Mostly it will be read primarily by teenagers (but not always). Mostly it will deal with those concerns that typify the teenage psychology (but not always). Mostly the author will have written it with a teenage audience in mind (but not always). And of course, mostly we’ll know it when we see it (but not always).

For me, writing for teenagers and writing for adults are very different processes. First, there’s the issue of assumed knowledge. If I’m writing for an adult, I can assume a store of experience that I can’t when writing for a teenager. An adult is much more likely to have experienced being a parent for example, being married, or having worked in a full time job. A different range of images and associations are therefore available. It’s not that we can’t write about these things for teens, but we should anticipate a different response, purely because of the reader’s frame of reference.

Second is assumed interest. Consider a story centered about a man in his seventies, with failing health, looking back over his life and wondering why he was never able to stay close to the people he loved. I find that a pretty interesting concept, but automatically assume a teenage audience won’t. Different stages of life tend to support different fascinations. Having sex for the first time is a more likely focus for a teen novel than an adult one (but not always, On Chesil Beach is an excellent counter-example). Every story I’ve ever written for teens has at heart involved the teenager confronting for the first time a complexity in the world that they’d previously had no sense of: a complexity demanding a response that is neither easy nor obvious. It’s not true that all teen novels must confront this question, but it’s what I’m personally drawn to writing about.

Third, there’s the end user to consider. Just as all car owners have different needs, and this defines the limits of what we might mean by the word car, so too the readers of teen fiction are anything but homogenous. The ten year old reading teen fiction for the first time is a very different beast from the seventeen year old just looking for something that is neither juvenile nor centred about an aspiring author’s mid-life crisis. The introverted, living-my-life-through-books teen, is after something quite different from the sometimes-read-when-there’s-nothing-else-to-do-or-people-make-me’s target. Some teens are tremendously smart, with searing curiosity and vocabularies that exceed their horizons, others not so much. Hence we don’t write for teens, so much as for a subset of teens. Most often, this subset closely reflects the teens we ourselves once were (and, as with those who choose to teach, the backgrounds of those who choose to write tend to cluster about a false norm).

Finally, and most positively, there’s a sense of possibility, of freshness and urgency, that defines the teenage audience, and in a perfect world this will infect the writing. The very best writing for children manages to capture that magical aspect of childhood that the adult reader instinctively understands is lost to them, and makes the reading of such books a bittersweet experience. So too, the finest teen writing should fill the adult reader with a sense of loss and longing (and the teen reader with a sense of celebration). YA fiction should exist not because there’s a market for it, but because it can tell stories that no other genre can. If we can’t make that true, then we have no business writing it.


Bernard Beckett’s author website:

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GenesisAugustRed CliffNo Alarms     Rucker Park SetupHappyfaceAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels

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