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Posts tagged ‘UK young adult novelist’

Writing Science Fiction For Both Teens And Adults, by Janet Edwards

When I began writing my debut book, Earth Girl, my aim was to write something that would appeal to both teens and adults. Achieving that meant working out what I needed to do differently for a teen reader from an adult reader, and finding a way to successfully combine the two. This didn’t just involve general issues, such as character ages and dialogue, but some that were genre specific. I was writing science fiction. I started thinking through my story, considering what I’d have to change to make it appeal to teen readers.

Earth Girl is set on Earth over seven hundred years in the future. After the invention of interstellar portals, people live on hundreds of colony worlds scattered across space. Obviously, I had to mention interstellar portals, and refer to other future technology as well. Did I need to simplify that technology for teen readers? Of course I didn’t. Teens today have social lives that revolve around constantly changing technology.

The future Earth I was describing was very different to our world now. Did I need to simplify my world building for teen readers? Again my answer was no. Teens are as good as, or better than, adults at picturing and identifying with imaginary worlds.

My story was about a girl who was among the one in a thousand people whose immune systems couldn’t survive anywhere other than the semi-abandoned Earth. For the norms who could portal freely between other worlds, Jarra was a second class citizen, a ‘throwback’. Teens might have less experience of some things than adults, but they’d understand perfectly about someone being the one left out, rejected and called names.

I considered a whole list of things, but eventually I came down to just one key difference between my adult and teen readers. Almost every adult reading my book would have read dozens, if not hundreds, of other science fiction books. A significant number of teens reading my book would be reading science fiction for the very first time.

That was the one key point I kept in my head when writing Earth Girl. There were no limits on what I could write about, but I had to make everything clearly understandable to someone reading science fiction for the first time, while not boring others who’d been reading it for years with explanations they didn’t need. That was a challenge. I had to watch every word I used, but authors should be watching every word anyway.

I actually hit my biggest problem in my second book, Earth Star, because of one particular word: arcology. Using it would mean a great deal to some of my readers familiar with science fiction, but nothing at all to others. My main character, Jarra, was talking about a place called Ark. I needed her to use the word arcology, to show where Ark got its name, but I had to have her use it in a way that was self-explanatory. I added a few extra words in her dialogue that some readers won’t need, but which tell others that an arcology is a closed, self-sufficient habitat. In the case of Ark, it’s underground with its own recycled air and water.

I have a theory that my one key fact for writing science fiction for teens may be true for some other genres as well. All I really know is that remembering it seems to have worked for me. I’ve heard from adults who’d been reading science fiction for fifty years and enjoyed Earth Girl. I’ve also heard from teens who’d never read science fiction before and loved it.

The first science fiction and fantasy books I read will always be very special to me. One of the great things about writing for teens is that your book may become one of those very special books your readers will always remember.

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Janet Edwards’s author website: www.janetedwards.com

Janet Edwards’s bio page

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What I Read When I Was A Teenager, by Elizabeth Wein

I was a reader as a teen – I’ll make no bones about that.  I was an ambitious reader, which may be why I’ve become an ambitious writer.  So I thought I’d share some of the books I read as a teen that weren’t traditional teen fiction, and maybe scrape the surface of why they appealed to me as a teen.

How Green Was My Valley by Robert Llewellyn.  I never did figure out just how autobiographical this was.  I loved the Welshness of it, the language rhythms which were so different from my own, and the grittiness of the landscape it described.  I was kind of in love with the narrator, Huw Morgan.  Maybe that’s what I was looking for as a teen: a character to fall in love with.

I was definitely, definitely in love with Claudius from Robert Graves’s I Claudius and Claudius the God.  I read these when I was thirteen.  I was inspired by the shocking BBC television series (1976), which yes, I was allowed to watch at 13.  I am pretty sure I struggled through the politics because I adored the character so much.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Watership Down by Richard Adams.  Okay, there’s no question about it, I was a literary lover.  I was enchanted by the tragic wastrel Sydney Carton.  He was my hero.  But you know what?  Ridiculously, I was equally enchanted by Hazel, the hero bunny of Watership Down.  No, seriously, I was in love with Hazel.  He was such a literary crush that I drew pictures of him (usually at some melodramatic plot point, like with his leg damaged, or getting attacked by the cat).  I drew pictures of Sydney Carton, too, standing at the guillotine, looking tragic.  I like my heroes to be somewhat damaged, I guess.

Ok, I will now skip over the obvious (Tolkien… I was in love with Frodo; TH White… in love with Arthur) and finish with something truly off the wall:  John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet.  John Brown’s Body is an epic poem (literally) about the American Civil War.  It was published in 1928 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929.  I first stumbled across it at 15 or so because my grandmother (my legal guardian) had a vinyl LP with an abridged, dramatic rendition of the book; it took me a couple more years until I actually read the entire work from start to finish, and then I fell in love all over again, this time with one of the several female leads.

                        Sally Dupré, Sally Dupré,
                        Eyes that are neither black nor gray,
                        Why do you haunt me, night and day?

John Brown’s Body follows the stories of a dozen different families and characters – characters with allegiances to both North and South, characters both black and white, rich and poor, slave and free, through the course of the war, describing the changing circumstances for each.  Rhyme, meter and verse style change accordingly throughout the book depending on the characters.  For the music of the poetry alone it’s worth reading, but it also does give you a general historic overview of the American Civil War.  Writing about it is making me want to read it again!

                        Jake Diefer, the barrel-chested Pennsylvanian,
                        Shippy, the little man with the sharp rat-eyes,
                        Luke Breckenridge, the gawky boy from the hills,
                        Clay Wingate, Melora Vilas, Sally Dupré,
                        The slaves in the cabins, ragged Spade in the woods,
                        We have lost these creatures under a falling hammer.
                        We must look for them now, again.

There’s plenty of hunting outside the enclosure for readers bold enough to sneak through the gaps in the ‘teen books’ boundary.  Vary your diet!

***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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Keep Writing: The Importance Of Finishing Stories, by Andy Briggs

I always feel awkward when I meet a budding writer. Most of the time people tell me they have a great idea for a book or, worse, they have started writing a book. Actually started it. What is very rare to hear is the phrase I have written a book. Everybody can start writing a book. Very few people ever finish it.

It sounds like the most obvious advice in the world to finish your story, but it’s difficult. Try it and prove me wrong.

Perhaps you already have proved me wrong and are clutching your precious manuscript in your hands. If so, have you edited it? Have you been through it three or four times and surgically remove chunks that don’t work and fine-tuned the rest?

Much “How To” advises you to let a friend read your manuscript. I never let them do that. Family and friends are the worst critics and will often let things pass that should have been hacked from your manuscript before another soul sets eyes on it. There are also many services that charge you for reading your work and giving you feedback. Personally, I think you should avoid these. Worst case, they are run by people who can’t get themselves published (or editors who can’t get a job with a publisher), best case, they are driven by opinion. They might not like vampire stories so will tear yours apart, whereas an editor in a real publishing company might be waiting for just that idea.

Or, are you one of these people who has reread your work and changed it time-and-time again? You have been rewriting it for the last 10 years. Well done, you have probably destroyed the very thing that made it unique. I know a few people who fall into this hideous rewriting free-fall and never recover. They have polished their idea to death.

So what do you do with your precious manuscript?

In an ideal world, you will lock it away in a draw (in the days of good ol’ paper), or back it up on a hard drive (preferably more than one, just in case). Then forget about it and write something else.

Then repeat the above steps several times.

Now you have four or five manuscripts. Go back and read the first one. Is it anywhere near as good as number five? Probably not. You would have got better and saved yourself a lot of angst when book one kept getting rejected. Or is book one still strong? In which case, send it off, because you have a solid, well-written story.

The more you write the better you will become. The more you write the more stories you have to sell. The more you write the more professional you will become, regardless of whether you ever publish any of the books.

More importantly, the more stories you write the more you have finished. Finishing the story is the real battle every writer, amateur or professional, has to face.

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

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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On Age Ranges For Novels, by Andy Briggs

In the UK, publishers had a terrible idea: why don’t we age-range the books? What this meant was a book for a 14-year-old would have a large 14 on the back so everybody would know, and the poor uninformed reader would know that they’re not reading a book for a 15-year-old lest their head explodes.

It also meant that a 15-year-old would pick up the book, get interested in the blurb and then put it back on the self because it’s aimed at younger kids. Telling a child a book if specifically for them is not necessarily the correct thing to do because you are now ruining a world of literature they may no longer bother accessing.

Harry Potter was so successful because it was suddenly okay for adults to read children’s books. When was it never okay to do so? If a child has a strong reading ability, they should read any age group they can. There is more gore in a Darren Shan book than Stephen King – both are great authors, and both can and should be read by all ages.

So, that was my rant about the readers but how does this translate into writing?

I write for just one target audience. Me. Sometimes stories simply work better because the protagonist is a child, other times an adult is an equally appropriate lead character. I don’t write with my readers in mind, because I want readers of all ages to enjoy my work. Of course, some adults won’t want to pick up my superhero books. They are probably the same people who won’t read a Spider Man comic either, but, oddly, still go the cinema to watch the film.

I believe writers should concentrate on getting the story onto the page to the very best of their ability. Not once should they worry about who is going to read it. I don’t use swearing very much – none in my books, and only a trickle in my screenplays (some of which are quite gory horror). I do this, not because I am a sensitive soul, but because my characters never feel the need to curse. Does that make my books children’s books? I have just read BZRK by Michael Grant which has more swearing than a recent Clive Cussler novel I finished. Grant’s novel was a teen book, Cussler’s an adult one. In fact, there was more sex in BZRK too.

Teenage readers are much more sophisticated than many people (read that as parents and teachers) often give them credit for. As long as the story is strong and the characters fascinating, they will read. Of course, it’s nice to read about people just like you, but that doesn’t mean you have to exclusively do it every time. Teenagers don’t have to read about teenage protagonists – younger or older characters are all equally enjoyed.

Write stories that you enjoy. Don’t force them to be teenage books or adult books. They will find their own path and their own audience.

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

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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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.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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

In case you are a newcomer to this series of posts, I’ll summarise briefly what I have set out to do in them and how far I’ve got.

In post one I said: Getting teenagers to read is a tough job. I pointed out that we know they have plenty of other things do with their lives, so as writers for young adults we need to roll up our sleeves and apply every tactic known to the craft of storytelling to get them not only to pick up our books but to carry on reading. So far I’ve shared seven secrets that have helped me do that. They are:

  1. Create a collision course for your protagonist and your antagonist
  2. Relegate ‘literary genius’ to second place
  3. Create a promise that something is going to happen
  4. Make sure that ‘something’ matters very much to your protagonist
  5. Be wicked and mean to your protagonist
  6. Make sure your protagonist has a clear dramatic goal
  7. Make sure every action your protagonist takes is a step toward achieving the goal

That’s as far as I’ve got – so now for secret number eight.

Secrets of Narrative Drive 

Secret Number 8

drum roll…  tada!

Each focused action taken by your protagonist should rarely be achieved 

Here’s why:

  • If each action is met by an obstacle, each obstacle results in a sub-goal
  • The plot (drawn from the character) becomes movement toward your protagonist’s goal through obstacle and deflection toward a sub-goal, encountering a new obstacle, deflection toward a new sub-goal and so on until the climax of the story
  • This creates the continuing tension of something meaningful always about to happen… while delivering happenings

So how you can use this secret?

  • Make sure your protagonist fails in each action toward their goal.
  • Make sure it is the action itself that causes the failure
  • Create a new ‘sub goal’ to overcome the problem an obstacle poses to your protagonist achieving their goal

WATCH OUT FOR THE NINTH SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP ON MY NEXT POST

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Sarah Mussi’s author website: www.sarahmussi.com

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

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Writing ‘Evil’ Characters In Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

My novel Code Name Verity is set in Europe during World War Two. In talking about writing the book I had a conversation recently about how the concept of the Third Reich’s National Socialist Party should be presented to the rising generation of readers.  I ended up doing a lot of thinking about it afterward because, after the conversation ended, I felt that somehow I’d lost an argument I should have won.  Essentially here’s what the opposing views were, simplified:

Theirs:  Nazis are the ultimate personification of evil and should be represented as such.

Mine:  Nazis are complex human beings and should be represented as such.

In some sense, both views are correct.  Nazism was and is evil.  But I think there’s a lot of evil out there now, and that it is both blind and dangerous to fool ourselves into thinking that the evils of the Third Reich are confined to the past, as a lesson to learn from that couldn’t possibly happen again.

I think the reason I felt I’d ‘lost an argument’ is because there was some moral high ground taken in the opposing viewpoint.  It felt like I was being told, ‘It is your duty as a writer to show what monsters these people were, so as not to downplay the evil of this regime.’

Without going into a list of recent genocides or atrocities, what I want to point out here is that social concepts aren’t evil; social concepts don’t kill and maim and make war; people do those things.  Nazism wouldn’t have taken hold without people buying into it.  I feel that my duty as a writer is not to describe in detail the evil of any specific regime but to warn the reader that the potential to embrace such a regime lies dormant in all of us.

Rather than list the countless genocides, torture, injustices and local outbreaks of civilian killings connected with continuing political fighting all over the world in the 70 years since the defeat of German National Socialism, I will give you one name:  Malala Yousafzai.  The Pakistani schoolgirl suffered gunshot wounds to the head and neck, inflicted by a Taliban militant sniper on her way to school.  It wasn’t random.  At fourteen, Malala is a known and targeted revolutionary.  Since she was eleven, she was keeping an online journal chronicling life as a schoolgirl under the Taliban. She has a lot in common with Anne Frank – except that Malala’s diary is available to anyone with access to the internet, worldwide, as she’s writing it.  She is in fact working with the BBC and knows the danger it puts her in.

What makes her a revolutionary is that she’s telling the truth and that she’s going to school.  That’s reason enough to shoot a 14 year old girl?  Sounds familiar.

Take note teenage readers and writers: bravery and political awareness start early, and suppression is always lurking just around the corner.  Our duty is not just to describe the horrors of the past – it’s to make the evil and errors of the past relevant to modern readers so that we can guard against it in the present.  It is our duty to let young people know that evil is possible in everyone – in yourself as well as in your neighbour – but also that our world is in our own control.  Evil is not a cause for paranoia.  It is the reason we speak out. It is a reason to write.

***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

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     Shock PointVibesThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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