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Posts tagged ‘writing a novel for teenage readers’

Why I Write Novels For Teens, by Emma Pass

When I was a teenager, ‘teen’ as a distinct literary genre didn’t exist on the scale it does now. At my local library, you could find series like Sweet Valley High and the Point Horror books, along with the occasional ‘issue’ novel, but when you got tired of the children’s section (where these books were also shelved) you moved on to adult books without a backward glance. By the time I realized I wanted to be an author, aged 13, I was existing on a steady diet of Stephen King, Michael Crichton and various other thriller and SF writers, and the stories I wrote were full of grown up characters doing grown up things.

As I got older, I started experimenting with different types of writing. Maybe I should be a crime writer. What about poetry? How about writing literary fiction? I even, very briefly, toyed with an idea for a picture book. Nothing worked. I was trapped on one side of a thick glass wall, with the writer I wanted to be on the other side. I could see her, but I had no idea how to get there.

Then I went on a weekend course run by a well-known children’s and teen author. I’d never come across her before, so, not wanting to appear ignorant, I read some of her books before the course started. It wasn’t so long since I’d been a teenager myself, and as soon as I started to read, I was hooked. Here was a writer expressing the rollercoaster emotions of those years exactly. After the course – which was fun and inspiring – I visited the teenage section in my local library and bookshop and discovered that, in the years I’d been struggling to become a writer for adults, teen literature had quietly grown into a genre in its own right.

It was around that time that it occurred to me that perhaps I should try rewriting the literary novel I’d been struggling with – which, coincidentally, featured a teenager as the main character – as a teen novel.

The novel wasn’t any good. In fact, it was terrible. But it was the first project I’d had fun with in as long as I could remember. The first characters I really connected with. The first ‘proper’ novel I ever finished, redrafted (seven times!) and queried. By the time it was done, I knew I had found ‘my’ genre, and I knew I had, at last, broken through the glass wall.

So what do I enjoy most about writing teen novels? Firstly, it’s the characters. I remember being a teenager so clearly – what a strange time it is, when the adults around you often treat you like a child, yet you’re expected to assume adult responsibilities and deal with problems that often feel far too big for you to cope with. It’s a unique space to be in, where everything is new and challenging and intense, and for me that makes writing for and about teens utterly fascinating.

Then there’s the sheer scope. A quick glance at the teen fiction section in any bookshop or library will show you that you can write about anything. You can write about teenagers in space or teenagers on the run from sinister police forces or teenagers fighting zombies or teenagers just going about their ordinary lives, and all the challenges that brings. There are no limits. Someone once asked me, “When are you going to start writing for grownups?” My answer? Not yet. Possibly never. I’m having far too much fun!


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     Code Name VerityAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels

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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     Powder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Teen Novels

Dealing With The Idea Of Writer’s Block, by Paul Volponi

That’s right. I said the idea of writer’s block. Why the idea of it? Because, in reality, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Whether you’re producing pages of useful prose or just sitting in front of a computer screen without the correct words coming to you, your brain is working on the novel. It’s probably working on it when you’re asleep, too.

So now that I’ve clearly established for you that I don’t believe in writer’s block, I’ll tell you what I do when my output starts to slow down. First of all, I write everyday, no matter what. Usually, a sitting can last anywhere from 45 minutes to three and a half hours. Some days I work through two sittings. My standard rule is this: When I feel like I’ve gone dry and my thoughts aren’t flowing naturally, I stop. I’m not done by any stretch of the imagination, though. I just walk away for a while. What might I do next? Anything physical, which I believe opens my mind back up to a good flow. I’ll jog, shoot baskets, practice Kung Fu, or just go for a walk with my dog. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been six or seven blocks from home when the ideas started coming again in waves. That’s why I started taking a pen and pad with me, to write on my way back home.

When I go dry, I also like to change writing stations in my house. I move from the basement to the kitchen or from lamplight to natural light, just to spark something inside of me. There’s a McDonald’s I particularly like that has a second floor to it. Sometimes I sit there with a notepad. I think the light and sounds there inspire me. Music is good for me, especially when I’m singing along. I stay away from TV during a dry spell. Ironically, I never ever read to loosen up.

How fast does it come when I’m flowing? Rikers High took me eight months, with absolutely no novel experience behind me. I wrote The Final Four, my longest book, in the shortest amount of time, five months. On the slower side, just the final one-third of Black and White took about seven months.

I don’t like to give in to the notion of writer’s block, because I believe that writers should never give in. There are already too many reasons not to work and not to produce. When those reasons start coming from the writer himself, I consider it a type of self-sabotage that I want no part of. So don’t allow it to grab hold of you. Know that every moment you’re thinking about a story is a productive one on some level. Then discover your own ways to get back to your writing comfort zone.


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Rikers HighHurricane SongRooftopBlack and White     Cleopatra ConfessesAngel DustNo Alarms

Writing Teen Novels

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

Writing a novel is a big undertaking. It takes about a year or more, usually, and lots of problems, both little and large, present themselves along the way.

I have learned to trust the process and to know I’ll receive help when I need it. Sometimes the way the answer comes to me is very mysterious and magical.

The best example is what happened to me one morning early in the writing of my teen fantasy novel, The Wildkin’s Curse.

I’ve described in an earlier post how the idea came to me with the image of a boy falling from an impossibly tall crystal tower and the fragment of a prophecy, ‘Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker, though broken himself he shall be.’

It’s not much to work with.

I began, as always, by asking myself questions. Who was the boy? Why did he fall from the crystal tower? Had he been climbing it? Trying to get inside? To rescue someone? Who? A girl? Why was she locked away?

Slowly I built up my cast of characters – Zed and his best friend Merry, children of the heroes of The Starthorn Tree; Rozalina, the wildkin princess kept imprisoned because she has the power to make wishes (and curses) comes true; and her cousin, Liliana, determined to rescue her and calling upon Zed and Merry to help.

Then I was stuck. I had absolutely no idea how my three heroes were to rescue the wildkin girl from that crystal tower.

I also had no thematic structure for the book.

I have never really liked fantasy books where the heroes just wander about having typical fantasy-style adventures (i.e. attack by monster in lake, misadventure while eating stew in roadside inn) until, at last, they battle for whatever it is they are trying to get. I have always believed a story is like a sword – it must have a point.

So I always build my story very carefully, with each adventure or encounter having some kind of importance in the over-arching themes and symbolism of the story.

In The Gypsy Crown, Emilia and Luka must search for, and find, a talisman in each book in order to try and fix a broken charm bracelet. Each charm has some kind of meaning, linked thematically to the lesson the children must learn, and the cost that must be paid, before they can win the charm. For example, in ‘The Silver Horse’, Emilia must give up her beloved mare Alida to another Gypsy clan in return for them giving her their lucky horse charm.

Similarly, in The Wildkin’s Curse, I wanted each obstacle my characters overcame to have some kind of symbolic significance as well as a practical function in propelling along the plot. I had been puzzling over this particular problem for some time, but had not yet worked out a solution.

I could not sleep one night for worrying about this problem. I got up in the early hush of the dawn and went walking, something I do often when I am puzzling over a problem. It was a pale, misty dawn, and the harbour shone silver where the sun was rising. I strode along, thinking, ‘how can they rescue Rozalina? How?’

Suddenly a raven took to the air, right in front of me, its wings so close I felt them brush past my face.

A black feather dropped at my feet.

I bent and picked up the feather.

A feather, I thought. Perhaps they have a cloak of feathers… perhaps it is damaged… it’s missing seven feathers… each one from a different bird… a raven, symbol of death and wisdom… they could find that feather at the end of a tragic battle scene… an eagle, symbol of power and royalty… perhaps they must climb a dangerous cliff to find it… a nightingale, symbol of true love… a tender romantic scene late in the book… when my hero and heroine kiss for the first time… I walked faster and faster and faster, my mind leaping from one idea to another. By the time I got home I had my entire novel fully plotted out. I sat down and worked feverishly, writing it all down in my notebook.

I had my method of rescue, I had my thematic structure. All because a raven dropped a feather at my feet.


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The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     RooftopCode Name VerityHappyface

Writing Teen Novels

Researching For My Teen Historical Novels, by Pauline Francis

I love doing research. Most historical novelists do.

When I first began to write about the Tudors, I read everything from text books to popular biography and other people’s novels of the same period. For example, you might know Philippa Gregory’s novels, especially The Other Boleyn Girl, which was made into a film.

Students are always reminded that there are primary and secondary sources of information. In other words, you can sometimes find out what you want from words spoken or written by people who lived at the time (primary) or written by other people who have studied those primary sources (secondary). Go for primary if you can. Historical writers are in luck. With no telephone and texting or email, people wrote letters, sometimes several times a day – or kept diaries. Both Lady Jane Grey and Princess Elizabeth did – but I had to remember that they might be writing in a bad temper, or worse, under duress, which might affect the truth of what they wrote. The love letters that Henry VIII wrote to Anne Boleyn are exquisite, making his murder of her all the more heart-breaking; but I was able to use them to have my Elizabeth character remember the love they had shared.

Historians using primary sources often have a particular point of view or argument to prove, so they might give a biased account of what they have researched.

If I can, I visit a place associated with my characters. This is sometimes worth more than weeks of research using books.

When I was writing Raven Queen, I was able to visit the ruins of Bradgate House, in Leicestershire, England, where Jane was brought up. By chance, I went in February, the month in which she was executed. The surrounding woods and parks were deserted because it was so cold. The ruins were shrouded in mist. On the railings, somebody had left flowers for Jane to mark her death. This completely overwhelmed me. The thought that somebody remembered her after hundreds of years certainly gave an emotional kick to the novel.

When I was writing Traitor’s Kiss, I visited Princess Elizabeth’s house, where she lived under virtual house arrest for some time and was interrogated. I saw what she saw when she was fighting for her life.

However, I didn’t visit America for A World Away. The island where the first colonists landed – Roanoke Island – is now a popular holiday resort. Instead, I found a piece of English coast which is completely undeveloped, as Roanoke would have been then.

You might remember from earlier posts that I don’t like putting too much historical detail into my novels. What I’m always looking for is the unusual or a small detail that will make a plot or character believable and acceptable. For Traitor’s Kiss, I needed a trinket that the stranger, Francis, could give to Princess Elizabeth in memory of her mother, Anne Boleyn. I wanted it to be perfume, because that is often how people remember each other. Elizabeth was only two years old when her mother was executed and she might remember her mother’s perfume. I gave up the idea because I thought ten years was too long for perfume to keep (although I think it might). Two pieces of research made my day… I discovered that, in the 16th century, perfume was always in a cream form (wouldn’t that be good now, for flying regulations?) and that Elizabeth had inherited her father’s keen sense of smell.  When I read that sometimes poison might be added to perfume to kill – it all became part of the novel: both as a memory link between Elizabeth and her mother and for cruel allegations from Anne Boleyn’s step-daughter, Mary.

Sometimes, I go that extra distance for a result. In A World Away, I wanted to use five words of Algonquian (a Native American language of Virginia and the Carolinas) to remind the reader that the kidnapped Nadie would have spoken that language and that this is what the colonists would have heard when they arrived in America. I contacted an American language reprint series to purchase a small booklet from them. It was really important to me that my kidnapped girl should have a name in her language and I was able to choose Nadie, which means ‘wise one’. It gave me an extra thrill to remember that in Spanish, it means ‘nobody’, which is how her captors thought of her.

I really believe that if you dig deep enough, there’ll be a tasty bit of information that will transform the writing.  So start digging.


Paulines Francis’s author website:

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)The HuntingVictoria Rebels

Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review (June 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its sixth 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.

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 June 2013

10 Tips For Becoming A Good Novelist by April Henry

My Novel Writing Process by Carolyn Meyer

How To Find A Literary Agent by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Dealing With Anxieties During The Novel Writing Process by Monika Schroder

Bringing History To Life In Teen Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

Sci Fi Novels For Teens by Beth Revis

Creating A Sense Of Place In A Novel by Kashmira Sheth

A Novelist’s Responsibility To Readers by Elizabeth Wein

Dealing With Reviews And Critics Of Your Teen Novels by Paul Volponi

The Good Thing About Bad Writing by Lish McBride

Why Write Novels? by Bernard Beckett

Creating Life-like Stories For Novels by Kate Forsyth

Developing An Idea Into A Complete Story by Andy Briggs

On Judging A Short Story Competition For School Students by Pauline Francis

Beginning A Story: 10 Things To Consider by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Creating Teen Characters For Dystopian Novels by Sam Hawksmoor

Characters With Goals (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

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


‘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

Using Your Character’s Senses To Show Your Story-World, by Kashmira Sheth

As a writer, many of us see the story unfolding in our head. When we start putting those scenes down on the page most of them are written out as what our main character or our narrator ‘sees’. I love what eyes can see and the type of sensory details it can provide the readers but it is important to remember the four other senses too.

In real life we experience many things with sight but at the same time we also gain knowledge of our physical world through the other senses. It is important to write stories that not only use the sense of sight but also employ sound, taste, smell and touch to make the physical world of the protagonist richer and more complete.  For example, if there is spilled sugar in the kitchen our character may not see it but will experience it with other senses. How she discovers it could depend upon if she is walking barefoot or wearing shoes.  If barefoot she may notice it by feeling it on her feet but wearing shoes she might hear the crunch first.

Rich sensory details bring multiple layers to a story. A misty, foggy March morning with beautiful imagery is good. But if we take the same scene and add the sound of a bird, say a cardinal, piercing though the mist it could add a new dimension. The reader hasn’t seen the cardinal, and yet the sound can bring the image of red crested bird ready for spring. By adding sound we give an impression that beyond the veil of mist there is a world out there, a world of sound, color and life.

Similarly, the sense of touch brings texture to the story. Just observing that a wool shawl looks soft or rough doesn’t create the same image as adding how it feels to the touch. That the wool shawl felt smoother than my furry kitten or that it felt like I was holding a prickly pear gives a fuller, more accurate and vivid description.

Taste is one of the most important and indispensable tools for fiction writers. If you are writing about food, no matter how much you describe it just doesn’t do it justice. It is like going to a restaurant and getting a dish that looked lovely. The presentation is great but what you are after is the taste. Are the green beans crunchy and flavorful? Is the dressing tangy? Is the crust melt-in-your mouth flaky?  In my writing, I use the foods and spices of India to bring out the flavor of Indian dishes.

Last but not least is the sense of smell.  Smell is probably the most evocative of all the senses. You may visit a beach that you used to go as a child after twenty years. You may notice that half-a-dozen new resorts have been built, changing the look of the beach. Yet you might feel that there is something very familiar about the place. It probably is the scent of the salty, moist air. It is the scent that will take you back to your childhood of building sand castles and wading into the water.

Using all the senses to describe the place your protagonist inhabits is critically important in a YA novel. It immerses your reader fully in the scenes and settings of the story. As writer, it is satisfying to make the world come alive, one sensory detail at a time.


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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     TracksAuslanderThe Traitor's KissCleopatra ConfessesAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels

On The Process Of Plotting And Writing A Novel, by Sam Hawksmoor

Patrick Ness told me that he always begins by writing the last line first.  I could never do that.  I like the voyage of discovery in the writing process too much to prescribe an ending.  I like an element of surprise.  After all, I am putting my characters through the mill and during this they will develop and change and sometimes surprise you with their reactions to events.

Nevertheless if you want to interest an editor or agent you need a plot.  I have recently submitted a detailed six-page plot outline to my publisher for a sequel. However, it’s a plot outline with no flesh on the bones: a character may do something horrid to someone and they will react but, until I write it, I don’t necessarily know quite how the character will react.  An editor doesn’t need to know that. They need to know if it will be exciting and different (but not too different). They will want to know where there will be action or emotion and how the story will be resolved.  You will have to work al that out before you pitch, even if you start your pitch with a simple  ‘Boy meets girl, girl prefers another boy… who claims to be a alien.’ (No, I’m not actually writing this.)

The idea is that you are dealing with consequences.  The boy will seek to disprove the other boy is an alien and the more he does that the more the girl will like the alien…

A good editor will be one step ahead of you and ask detailed questions: Where is the alien from?  What are his characteristics?  What makes him so special?  Why does the girl prefer him? Don’t pitch until you are ready with the answers.  The last thing you need is to have the editor interested at the beginning and then feel deflated because you don’t know how it all will turn out.

I love character interplay and the mechanics of a relationship.  It’s also imperative to let characters fail. Take risks. A reader might be disappointed but then will be rewarded when your character picks themselves up and tries again.

Plots are pathways to a resolution but the strength of a good plot comes from the characters: readers like the characters so much they want them to succeed, and care less about where the characters are going than being able to go with them.

Sometimes when writing you can trap yourself in a corner.  Do you go back and rewrite or do you write on?  Raymond Chandler always knew what to do: have someone kick down the door with a gun in their hand.  Don’t worry if things get difficult.  Rescue is at hand, even if it’s a ‘Sorry, wrong door.’  I think creating difficulties for yourself is good for the writing. The reader is doubly rewarded when you finally figure it out.

What point in your story should you begin your novel?

The most obvious answer is ‘the beginning’ but sometimes it’s good to start half way in:
Your character is trapped in a cave, fire is blocking the entrance and something is approaching that means to kill him.  He wishes he hadn’t left home at all because any moment now he is going to have to fight to the death, and death is the easy way out.  Now you can go back to the beginning.  Last Tuesday.  It’s raining and your character gets a text that simply says, ‘Help me. If you love me at all, you will come’.

Readers will have the patience to go along until your character is standing in that burning cave facing the prospect of death.  Let’s hope your character knows how to survive.


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The RepossessionThe Hunting     The Door of No ReturnCode Name VerityWinter TownNo AlarmsGirl, Stolen

Writing Teen Novels

Using Setting Descriptions To Convey Mood In A Novel, by Monika Schroder

Writers often use setting descriptions to convey particular moods in scenes. One such common but effective way to convey mood is to give details of the weather. I will explore this technique here with a few examples:

My novel, Saraswati’s Way, opens in rural Rajasthan, the arid north-eastern state of India. The annual monsoon has not come; instead the land is parched by relentless heat. At the beginning of the book we meet Akash, my 12-year old protagonist, in his classroom in a poor schoolhouse in his village. Soon after the opening paragraph we learn that he has a talent for maths and, under-challenged in his class, hopes to go to a better school that would allow him to nurture and develop his aptitude for numbers.

Here an early paragraph:

A light breeze blew plumes of sand across the empty schoolyard. On the other side of a low wall the flat desert stretched out against the horizon. Over the course of the morning the dark rectangle this side of the wall would shrink and by recess time provide just enough shade for children like Akash who didn’t like to play cricket or run after a ball. From his seat by the open window Akash scanned the sky for signs of a rainstorm, for the swollen monsoon clouds that usually built up this time of year before they exploded with thunder and lightning to unleash sheets of rain. But the breeze only died, and Akash resigned himself to yet another day of relentless heat. 

I chose certain details to describe what Akash sees from his seat near the window to express a mood of boredom and anticipation of something that might not come. He looks out on the empty, flat desert, hoping for a rainstorm that would bring relief. Instead the wind dies down, leaving everything bare and exposed to the relentless heat for the rest of the day. The oppressive temperatures and desolate landscape reflect Akash’s sense of despair at the beginning of the book.

Andrew Smith, in his novel, Stick, also uses the weather, light and the color of the sky to express an atmosphere. Stick, the 14-year-old main character of the novel, lives in an abusive home with his gay brother, Bosten. After falling out with his father, Bosten leaves and Stick sets out to find him. He is confused, anxious and often overwhelmed by his sexual desires, and Smith keeps the reader close to Stick’s inner turmoil with an intense first-person narrative. On his quest, Stick meets many people, among them April and Willie who pick him up on his way to California. They offer him a place to stay on Willie’s houseboat and when they arrive Stick is not sure if he can trust them, but also finds himself sexually attracted to April. Andrew Smith sets the tense mood of the scene with this opening paragraph:

By the afternoon of my fourteenth birthday, the sky striped flat in ribbons of chalk and slate clouds that hung so low I could almost feel the pressure and weight of them, like a ceiling of sodden sponge that I could press my hands to if I had the courage to raise my arms high enough.

The reader feels the atmospheric pressure caused by the low hanging sky and relates to Stick’s insecurity when he compares the sky to a ‘sodden sponge’ he lacks the courage to lift.

When Stick finally returns to California and is about to be reunited with his aunt, Smith adds this description:

The sun had dropped below the horizon out on the sea, and I realized that there was a certain unique color the light would cast at precisely this hour.

This is a beautiful observation. We can all see that particular hue the sky takes on when the sun is about to set at the ocean. With this description Smith captures the mood right before Stick will see his aunt by comparing it with the special glow that occurs before the sunset. Stick is worried if she will welcome him and asks the truck driver who drops him off not to leave before his aunt has seen him. Stick doesn’t know if she will be happy to see him or not. In his image Smith expresses the beauty of the moment combined with the possibility of darkness that follows.

Weather descriptions provide an effective tool to depict mood in a scene, but writers have to be careful not to overuse it. The sky should not darken every time the character becomes sad and the sun should not come out from behind the cloud when the protagonist’s mood brightens. It is important to employ this technique sparsely and avoid clichés or too many “emotion-enhancing coincidences” between weather and character’s emotional state and instead to find fresh and precise images.


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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Boys without NamesGlowThe RepossessionA World Away

Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review with Steve Rossiter (April 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its fourth 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.

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+.

The purpose of these Month In Review articles is to:

- provide a handy list of links to the articles for the past month, then to

- relate some of the content of these articles to my own novel writing to help novel writers and other interested people discover the month’s content and gain some insights into ways the month’s content can be engaged with in a practical context.

Articles for April 2013

First Person Present Tense Narration In Teen Novels by Beth Revis

Teenage Characters And Responsibility In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Does A Novelist Need An Agent? by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Tools To Develop Productive Novel Writing Habits by April Henry

On Story Ideas And Developing A Novel by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone by Paul Volponi

Plotting A Novel Versus Winging It by Diane Lee Wilson

The Process Of Writing My Novel ‘My Brother’s Shadow’ by Monika Schroder

Plotting My Teen Historical Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Making Time To Write Your Novel by Lish McBride

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

Writing Novels About Teens For Teen Readers by Bernard Beckett

Using 5 Senses In Your Novel Writing by Pauline Francis

Using Characters And Setting To Situate Your Story In Another Culture by Kashmira Sheth

Creating Empathy For Your Characters (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Characters And Story by Andy Briggs

Developing Characters For My Teen Novels by Kate Forsyth

This month’s articles and writing my teen novel

April Henry wrote: 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.

Paul Volponi wrote: What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

Elizabeth Wein wrote: One feature that I feel is characteristic of teen fiction is the divide between young people and adults.  It can show up as a contrast – between the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles.  Or it can show up as a simple lack of understanding between the adults and the teens in the novel.  Where I find this divide most interesting, and probably most disturbing, is when it’s part of a power play.  This is the kind of conflict that I find myself most often describing in my own novels.

Bernard Beckett wrote: When writing a piece of fiction, we try to do something more than achieve an external description of the world. We want to engage with it in a way that feels like a depiction from the inside. We’re digging, if you like, towards that which is essential. If you write about teenage characters for a teenage audience, you are backing yourself to be able to tell them something both fresh and authentic about their own experiences.

Different novelists approach their writing in different ways but it is typically a good idea not to stop and start, breaking off to research or edit, once you start drafting. Most novel writers find it much more productive to familiarise themself with their subject matter, and maybe the general design of their character development and plot, then to write a draft from beginning to end before going back over what they’ve written and revisiting their research to get the finer details right. It’s often not until a writer has finished a full draft that they really understand in detail how they want their story to work, so the best time to spend hours painstakingly polishing the fine details is typically after you have a full draft. Otherwise changes which are necessary to make your story work better could result in having to change or cut large sections that you have rewritten and edited for many hours needlessly. As April wrote, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” when drafting.

As Paul pointed out, writing a little bit regularly adds up. If you ‘wait until you are inspired’ and write 3000 words in a day once per month it will take you two years to write a full draft of a 72,000 word novel. Keep in mind that this is just the first draft, which might be half, a third, a quarter, or less of the work you do before submitting a novel to an agent or publisher (or self-publishing). Then an agent or publisher might only be interested if you do a major rewrite. If you write 500 words a day every day while drafting you will complete the first draft of a 72,000 word novel in 144 days, which is a little under four months. Writing 750 words a day, five days a week, will get a 72,000 done in 96 writing days over 134 days, which is three and a half months. Writing regularly will also help you keep the story together in your head to maintain continuity in your story and consistency in how you’re writing the story.

Many have speculated about what makes teen novels so popular with both teens and adults. One major factor is “the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles” that Elizabeth wrote about in her article. Adults don’t have to get stuck in prescribed roles but many do. Many adults have lost touch with a sense of having an unfinished, dynamic personality – which is the nature of people throughout their whole life, whether they take full advantage of it or not – to a large degree and reading stories about teenagers can help adults rethink their own attitude to life and rediscover the possibilities still available to them.

Writing my own teen novel, set in 1939 Poland, it has been crucial to do in-depth research before drafting to avoid stopping and starting to do extra research while drafting or writing an under-informed draft which would require major cuts and rewriting later. I find that having an in-depth knowledge of my subject matter and resources at hand to double-check any details I might need to confirm along the way allows me to write with confidence, enjoy the writing process and be inspired by the real-life context of what I’m writing about. Even if you write fantasy novels, and can therefore make up a lot that other writers might need to make sure they get right, some initial research relevant to your story can go a long way to creating a rich, coherent foundation for your novel and tangible real-world details to draw readers into your story-world.

My novel-in-progress is set in a time and place where characters’ plans are disrupted by the outbreak of war and they have to re-invent how they live their lives. As discussed, teenagers tend to do this naturally and many adults would benefit from being more open to re-invention. The ‘unfinished, dynamic character of the maturing teens’ in the novel should carry with it appeal for teenagers who identify with the characters’ personalities, by ‘telling them something both fresh and authentic about their own experiences’, and for adults who remember their own teenage years and the sense of possibility and opportunity that they either still have or have let go of to some degree. The characters face extraordinary circumstances which will hopefully inspire readers to realise that, if the characters are capable of doing what they do in their difficult circumstances, then the reader is also capable of great things without the obstacles faced by the characters.


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

You can connect with Steve Rossiter on Facebook or on Google+.


Writing Teen Novels


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