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Crafting Your Novel’s Plot And Characters To Sustain Story Momentum Throughout The Middle, by Sam Hawksmoor

I have no fear of the middle of the novel. I’m scared to death of the beginning and the end but the middle is a ledge I can regroup on, to take stock and re-energise.

Writing as someone who has taught screenwriting for twenty years, the mantra is always beginning, middle and end, with each part having its own beginning, middle and end… That all said, knowing where the mid-point is, in terms of plot development, can be problematic.  In a two-parter the midpoint is the end of part one, but to be honest I am not sure that I know where the mid-point of The Repossession is – perhaps about 60% in.  At the point where Genie is done for and Rian knows he’s lost her.  That feels right. It’s an emotional moment where the gravity shifts and the story takes a new direction.  In The Hunting I know exactly where the middle is – a point where the characters know they can’t just keep on running. They have to turn around and face the enemy.  They have no idea how they will do that – but again it’s the emotional shift that takes place.

Sometimes you have to cut scenes that you like because, in the editing process, you can see that they detract from the main story.  You can’t see this when you are writing it, and it might well be a good developmental scene, but if it doesn’t move the narrative forward you don’t want to risk a reader putting it down. Backstory information is quite often material that eventually goes.  (You can always put it on the website).  Your main protagonist’s story is where the attention must be.  I had a nice developmental scene in book; one with Genie remembering her Grandma (whose death has caused her to be locked up in her room in the first place). Nevertheless, it comes too early. Readers want to get on with the story immediately and you can’t take the risk with something cute but unnecessary.

YA fiction is filled with characters all fighting for the limelight.  When teaching, I’d tell my students to make a list for each main character: how they live, what they eat what they read or listen to, and what they like or dislike, but I’m afraid it’s a case of do as I say not as I do, as I tend to keep all that in my head.  I do however form a deep mental image of my characters (especially when they are based upon someone I know) and try my best to differentiate between each person, adding quirks and tics to find their particular voice.  *Incidentally, I dislike the creative writing class thing about finding your voice.  It’s a novel filled with people – you have to find twenty voices and you’d better be all of them and stay in character for each of them.

If I ever doubt I’m getting it right, I take a character out of their comfort zone. A small device will do. I might have the prettiest girl in the book trapped in a loo – a horrid messy stinky loo – and unable to get out. No one can hear her cries for help. The window is too small to climb out of and she is going to have to crawl out under the partition through all the waste to get out.  Just as she finally emerges covered in wee and toilet paper, she runs into the guy she has been trying to impress.  How she reacts and how he reacts will define them. The tension and desperation of the moment will cement a relationship between your reader and the character for the rest of the book.  (It worked well enough in Bridget Jones’s Diary).


Sam Hawksmoor’s author website:

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     Across the UniverseAugustA World AwayBoys without NamesThe Dog in the Wood

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

Some Themes For Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

I sat down to write these blog posts armed with some thoughts about writing, reviewing, themes I deal with, and literary tips that I think help make the story vivid.  And then I found myself stuck because I realized that none of these ideas were specifically connected to writing for teens.  So, I am going to start my entries with a disclaimer.  I don’t write teen novels.  Most of my novels are about teens, but I have never once in my life set out to write a ‘teen novel’.  As a teen – and into adulthood – I never set out to read a ‘teen novel’.  I just read!  So, as a novelist I can probably give some good advice about how to write a book, but I haven’t thought much about writing a ‘teen’ book.  These posts are going to make me think about it!

My first ‘teen’ novel, The Winter Prince, has a narrator who is pushing thirty.  In my third and fourth ‘teen’ novels, The Sunbird and The Lion Hunter, the hero is 11 and then 12.  In Code Name Verity the heroines start at 18.  I don’t consciously sit there thinking, ‘Ah, this time I’m writing for teens, so I’m going to have to do things differently.’  I just write the book that I am writing.

However, my books, despite my protests and the wide age range of their protagonists, are very solidly Young Adult.  So maybe I need to think about why.  I think it has to do with the themes I deal with in my novels.

1) The age of the protagonists.  Okay, so the narrator in The Winter Prince is 27 or whatever.  In fact, it’s the teenagers in the book that the reader really cares about—the narrator’s 14-16 year old siblings and his relationship with them.  In The Sunbird, where the hero is a little younger than a teen, and in Code Name Verity, where the heroines are a little older than teens, their age doesn’t get mentioned.  The implication is that they are teens, or close to it—and also, that teens reading the books will relate to these characters in spite of the slight difference in age.  This is not only an authorial decision but an editorial one.  In crafting the book, we are consciously aiming it at teen readers—giving them characters they can relate to because of their age.

2) The emotional maturity of the protagonists.  There are a couple of themes that resonate throughout my books and, I think, throughout all YA fiction, and one of these is that the heroes or heroines have to mature in some way.  The events of the book help them or force them into growing up.  In a true YA novel, the main characters will be changed forever by the end of the book.  This isn’t necessarily true of ‘adult’ fiction.  To my mind, the change ought to be for the better in teen fiction—even in fiction where the ending is bleak, the protagonist should have had the opportunity to grow somewhere along the way.

3) The acquisition of skill.  This is also key, I think, to teen fiction: the characters are thinking about What They’re Going To Be When They Grow Up.  In an adult novel, that’s no longer necessary, and in a book for younger readers, they’re not yet worrying about this.  So figuring out who you are and what you’re best at, and how you’re going to use that in later life, is critical to teen fiction.

4) Figuring out your body.  I don’t really want to say ‘sex’ is a driving force in teen novels, because it isn’t always, but certainly there has got to be some aspect of the protagonist facing and dealing with his or her changing body.  In The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom I took this on both metaphorically and brutally by making the hero have to deal with losing an arm.  In Code Name Verity the two heroines are physically mature, but they are pretty sexually innocent, and though that’s not the focus of the book, their growing awareness of their own attractiveness and desires does affect the plot.

5) Building relationships.  Moving from the limited relationship of family life into the broad and complex relationships of society, including friendship, conflict, and romance, is another key theme that characterizes teen fiction.

These five points probably aren’t the only defining themes in teen fiction, but they are the ones that leap out at me.

For further reading on this topic, Jo Wyton has an interesting discussion on her blog about what makes teen fiction, using my book Code Name Verity as an example.

***Write with New York Times bestselling novelist Elizabeth Wein in Hobart, Australia in November 2014

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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom    My Brother's ShadowGenesisA World Away

Writing Teen Novels

Writing ‘The Malichea Quest’ Series: History, Science, Adventure and the Paranormal, by Jim Eldridge

After my first two blog posts about writing for teens, which were mainly “writing background” and “philosophy”, we come at last, fellow writers and readers, to a practical one: writing my latest book for teens (or YA book, as the trade calls them), “THE INVISIBLE ASSASSIN”, the first in my new series of action-adventure thrillers (with a “paranormal” undertone) called “THE MALICHEA QUEST”, published by Bloomsbury last month (April).

As I said in my first blog post, I don’t just write for teens, I write for all ages, from 3 to 113 (and for anyone who lives longer than that). So, when I first get an idea, I toy with it for a while, and then think “Who should this one be aimed at? Children? Teens? Adults?” And then, once I’ve decided that, I start to work out how to put that idea into concrete form.

In the case of “The Malichea Quest”, I was reading a book about censorship, and how the Church in about the 8th century destroyed all books that were deemed to be heretical, if they were written by non-Christian writers, or questioned the Church’s view of the world. Galileo was later to fall foul of this same orthodoxy when he proposed that the Earth went round the Sun, and not the other way around, as the Church insisted. This same orthodoxy continued well into the 20th century, with the Roman Catholic Church banning certain books, and the Nazis burning those books that offended them. This same attitude to “unorthodox thought” still continues in the 21st Century: ban the books and stop people reading them.

At the same time I read that in AD793 the Vikings descended on Holy Island in Lindisfarne off the east coast of Britain, and destroyed the monastery, and all the books in the library. As the library at Lindisfarne at that time contained most of the learning which scholars from across the known world had brought to the monastery in the form of texts and scrolls, all that knowledge and learning literally went up in smoke. These two acts in the 8th Century destroyed much of the scientific knowledge of the time. It has been said that if these two destructive acts hadn’t happened and the scientific knowledge had been allowed to spread instead of being destroyed, humankind would have been on the moon 500 years before we actually were.

And, as I read this, I thought: what if these scientific texts hadn’t been destroyed, but had been hidden for protection – and had remained hidden? (If you want to know more about all of this, then there is a page devoted to “The Legend of Malichea” on my website.)

Once I’d got the basic idea, I mulled over who might be the most receptive to this, and I felt that the older teen/YA readership would be. So, next: who was going to be my hero or heroine to tell the story of the search for the hidden books? If you remember, in my previous blog about teenagers, I said that teens, to a great extent, invent themselves, once they leave childhood. They create their own persona, their own identity. So what about taking this to its logical conclusion: a hero who has created himself because he has no family. He was abandoned at birth; then taken into care. He doesn’t know his genetic background, he has no family role models. He has invented himself. As a result, he has no apparent advantages – he comes from a very poor background, and he is dispossessed of family identity. But could that not be an advantage in itself? A young man who battles against his mysterious background, and the social norms, to creates his own life. It could make him emotionally tougher, a surviver.

And so Jake Wells, the 19-year old hero of “The Malichea Quest” series was born.


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The Invisible AssassinPyramid of Secrets (My Story S.)Standing Alone (My True Stories)Death in the Desert (Black Ops)The LabQuillblade: Bk. 1 (Voyages of the Flying Dragon)The Spark Gap

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