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Posts tagged ‘writing fiction for teens’

Handling Feedback About My Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Over the past months I’ve written sequentially about character, plot, narrator, voice and dialogue – all the particular challenges of writing a historical novel for teens. In practice all of these happen more or less simultaneously. Eventually the day comes when you’re ready to send your novel out into the world. You ask for an opinion, but what you want is praise. Anything less is a disappointment – or even infuriating. They just didn’t get it!

Maybe your first reader is your spouse or child. They’ve watched your struggle, and they love you. So you probably won’t get an honest opinion. If it isn’t honest, it isn’t useful.

Friends are also unlikely to give you the feedback you need. Some writers rely heavily on writing groups. I tried one early in my career and found that none of us was skilled at giving constructive criticism. I didn’t know if I could trust what I heard, and eventually I quit.

Now with an established career I have a signed contract before I write the book, and I send what I believe is a finished manuscript directly to my editor. I’m relieved – but I’m also anxious. I want her to pronounce it perfect. But what if she hates it?

So far that hasn’t happened. I’ve never had a contracted novel rejected, but I’ve also never had one accepted without a lot of revising.

Months pass before I hear back. The response is usually a detailed letter that begins, “Dear Carolyn, I have finished reading (fill in the title), and I love most of what you have written.”

The key word here is “most”. What exactly does the editor not love? Sometimes there are structural problems, so chapters should be cut or moved. Sometimes characters need more development. Sometimes the beginning doesn’t pull the reader in quickly enough. The one I get the most often is: “But how does the character feel?”

Years ago my reaction was to feel wounded and my instinct was to argue. Eventually I learned how to work with the advice. Luckily I’ve always had editors I trust. I can accept most of the suggestions, if not all, and make the revisions. The process goes back and forth over a period of weeks. In Mozart’s Shadow required four revisions before the editor and I declared ourselves happy with it.

Once the book is published everyone waits expectantly, and a little worriedly, for word from the reviewers. The reviews aren’t always stellar. Reviews of Cleopatra Confesses were mixed. Some reviewers wrote admiringly, while others picked it apart. After the professional reviewers, many of them teachers and librarians, come the readers themselves. They’re not just teens: More than half the buyers of YA books are said to be over 18. People aged 30 to 44 account for 28% of the sales – and they post their comments online. Adults want more adult material and may be dismissive of YA books for younger readers. Young kids don’t always know how to write useful reviews, with their comments ranging from “best book ever” to “borrrring”.

You can learn a great deal from an editor’s criticisms, but once a book is published there is nothing you can do to change it. Reading reviews, especially when they’re snarky, can give you heartburn. It’s best to ignore the bad ones, enjoy the good ones and keep on writing.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryMary, Bloody MaryThe Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteCleopatra Confesses     Deadly Little SecretSaraswati's Way

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Examining Philosophical Beliefs Through Teen Novels, by Bernard Beckett

I’m currently working on the third book of what I like to think of as a metaphysical trilogy. The first, Genesis, focussed on the mystery of consciousness, the second, August, on free will, and the last, my current novel Lullaby, is exploring death. All three are an attempt to both examine the metaphors we use to describe the self, particularly in a world where religious metaphors are not the common currency they once were. They’re also explicit attempts, through story, to introduce philosophy to the teenage reader.

So, why should we expect the teenage audience, or indeed anybody, to be interested in philosophy? Considering the teenager first, I would argue that the late teens is precisely the time in life where you are most likely to be excited by the essential contestability of knowledge. Part of the teenage experience is the realisation that the simple world of reliable authority figures and protectors is behind you, and ahead lies a mess that you alone will have to navigate. That’s both tremendously exciting, there’s a sense of freedom and possibility, and terrifying – two of the more easily accessed emotions during adolescence. One of the most tantalising thoughts you can be exposed to during this phase is the possibility that absolutely everything you have ever been taught or told about the world is quite wrong. What if nobody else is really conscious in the way you are? What if other people experience colours differently than you do? What if the rules of the universe were always going to change tomorrow morning? What if somebody was able to predict your every move in advance? What if you’re really just a brain in a vat? What if there’s no you at all, and the continuous self is an illusion?

The first thing philosophy does is allow you to question the foundations of your most certain knowledge, and the enduring appeal of The Matrix amongst teens is evidence enough that there is something highly attractive about this process for the younger mind. I think this is because it mirrors the personal reshaping that is going on, and also because it allows a tremendously important chain of thinking to emerge. If nobody knows anything for sure, then the people who tell me how the world is might be wrong, which means I have permission to consider the world anew, and reach my own conclusions, permission, in short, to enter adulthood.

Of course, the dalliance with the more extreme versions of scepticism is short lived. Very quickly we realise we must put down our foundations in the swampy ground of knowledge and get on with the business of living. Yes, technically is might be true that as of tomorrow morning being hit by a bus will no longer hurt, but to base one’s beliefs about the world upon this possibility appears to be insane. So perhaps all philosophy is, in the end, of no real practical use, beyond its fleeting appeal to the adolescent mind.

That’s a popular view, and one that I would argue is clearly wrong. Part of the reason I’ve included philosophical abstractions in my novels is that I love the idea of the adolescent reader forming a longer lasting attachment to the subject. Here is not the place to defend the worth of philosophy to the adult mind in full. Suffice, I hope, to point out that philosophy is something we all do, all the time. We use observation and reason to build models about our world. To ignore the theoretical framework of these assumptions is not to avoid philosophy, it’s just to do philosophy very badly. This failure matters most, I think, when we find ourselves in contact with those who starting assumptions are very different from our own, perhaps because of a different upbringing, or a different set of religious beliefs. If we don’t understand the premises upon which our own beliefs are based, then there is the very real danger of believing it’s fact all the way down. Now, two groups of people, holding opposing views and being unable to properly interrogate the root of that difference, strikes me as a very dangerous situation, and one that’s worth avoiding.

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Bernard Beckett’s author website: www.bernardbeckett.org

Bernard Beckett’s bio page

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GenesisAugustRed CliffNo Alarms     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)The Door of No ReturnThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)

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Planning And Writing A Novel, by Monika Schroder

It has been said that there are those writers who plan and those who ‘fly by the seats of their pants’. I am part of the second group and before I began working on my novel, My Brother’s Shadow, I only had a rough idea of who Moritz, the main character, was and what would happen in the story. But already in the first few pages I encountered a surprise. Moritz was telling his story in first person and used the present tense! Hadn’t I read in many books about writing that the first person, present tense point-of-view was a most difficult choice for a writer? My first two novels were told in the voice of third person omniscient narrators reflecting back on past events, and I had no intention of changing this ‘winning formula’ by writing in first person and in present tense.

I rewrote the beginning in past tense but couldn’t force Moritz to tell me his story in hindsight. He was adamant and stuck to the immediacy of present tense.

The story was set in 1918 Berlin. I needed to convey a lot of background information. It seemed such a daunting task to introduce the reader to starvation and despair in Berlin as well as the anticipation of military defeat without the omniscient perspective of third person POV. In the first chapter I needed to set the stage, let Moritz introduce himself and his family and find an intriguing ending to the chapter that would entice readers to go on. Moritz came to my rescue. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper he could read the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby inform the readers of my novel of the state of affairs in Germany, October 1918.  The newspaper became a vehicle to disseminate information about the setting without interrupting the flow of the narrative. On the first page Moritz reads an official war report, knowing that the government is not allowing the truth to come out. He also meets Herr Goldman, a journalist who works for the paper and who takes a liking in Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfil his dream to become a reporter like himself.  Through their conversations Moritz is able to tell the reader about the most pressing and newsworthy current events. Apparently there was a way for me to write in first person, present tense and still give the reader a sense of the setting.

About half way in, the story took an unexpected turn and once again I had trouble letting myself deviate from my original plan. Moritz had met a girl who had completely flummoxed him with her wit. Granted, it was not so unlikely that a 16-year old boy would take an interest in a girl, but I had not anticipated a romance! I had never expected to write about young love. Now here was Rebecca, the smart daughter of a Jewish bookseller who attended the same political meetings as Moritz’s mother and sister. After their first encounter on the train, it was clear that they had to meet again. Yet, the book takes place in 1918, so they wouldn’t go ‘all the way’. I was able to braid his discovery of love together with the story of Moritz’s relationship with his brother, who returns from the trenches a maimed and bitter veteran and it worked at the end. Rebecca’s appearance even gave me the opportunity for a hopeful conclusion leaving the reader satisfied after Moritz’s intense final confrontation with his brother.

Writing My Brother’s Shadow has taught me to trust the process along the way. A quote by E.L. Doctorow showed me that I am not alone with this approach: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Hurricane SongDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)

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Using Varied Narrative Styles And Formats In A Novel, by Paul Volponi

Choosing a type of narration is always interesting for a novelist. I usually have my characters tell their story in the first-person. I feel it brings intimacy to a novel. After all, the main character will be able to describe every sensation himself or herself in a very personal, and hopefully moving, way. I think you need a certain comfort level with your story to attempt this. For fledgling teen novel writers, a first-person narration may provide a better shot at publication. Why? Consider this: We are used to telling our own stories to people in conversation. We’ve had a lot of practice at it over the course of our lives. So maybe we are the most naturally polished at first-person narration.

In Rikers High, I have Martin Stokes, a.k.a. Forty (named after his bed number) narrate in the first-person so he can describe the fear and anger of a teen stuck in a school inside the world’s largest jail. When I wrote Black and White, however, the story of two best friends who commit a crime together and experience different legal outcomes, I needed two people to feel things first-hand. So I decided on two first-person narrators telling their story in alternating chapters. Several years later, I wrote The Final Four, which centers on the lives of four basketball players in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There, four first-person narrators would have been too much, so I needed to establish a new third-person voice for myself. Also, by this time, I had slowly started to experiment with other types of narrative devices, including the interjection of newspaper articles within my novels, along with dialogue scenes written in play format. In relation to this, I decided to write The Final Four as if the reader was not only riding shotgun over our players’ shoulders, but also hearing the game on radio, getting TV updates, seeing player interviews, and reading that day’s newspaper preview articles about a game that was taking place in the moment.

My advice? Don’t be afraid to create your own mixed bag of narration. Don’t ever feel boxed-in. Use your judgment as to whether your narration, no matter which style you choose, might be enhanced by mixing styles of narration. This might provide the reader with a fresh perspective and interesting breaks before going back to the novel’s main format.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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Rikers HighRooftopBlack and WhiteHurricane Song     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Raven Speak

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Month In Review (October 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its tenth 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 October 2013

On Creating A Distraction-Free Writing Environment by Bernard Beckett

Research For Writing Novels by April Henry

On ‘Killing Your Darlings’ When Revising A Novel Manuscript by Monika Schroder

Where My Ideas For Novels Come From by Beth Revis

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

Maximizing The Potential Of Your Writing Group by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson

Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Worldbuilding When Writing A Novel by Lish McBride

Plot Structure In Novels (Part 2) by Kate Forsyth

Talking About My Writing At Conferences by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing Description In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

On Creating Interesting Characters For Historical Teen Novels by Pauline Francis

Why I Write Teen Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

Developing Good Writing Habits by Kashmira Sheth

Challenging Your Protagonist (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

On Writing Self-Contained Novels In A Series by Andy Briggs

Inexpensive Ways To Market Your Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

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

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On Research For Writing Teen Science Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

The best thing about writing is often the research and it can be heartbreaking how little of it makes its way into the book you are writing.  Of course, you can get side-tracked by research. There’s always so much more you could read about a subject but there’s that voice at the back of the class saying ‘BORING!’ So you have to remember that the action must move on. Teens are impatient for the next hill to climb, the next piece of action with a short pause for a kiss before that bullet ricochets off the bed and they jump out of the window…

I’ve been doing research for a virus novel I’ve been writing on and off for a while: how the virus spreads, how quickly it can kill, who is the most vulnerable and how you can prevent getting it.  There’s a lot of stuff I could get in but it remains on the cutting room floor.  Of course, I left all the icky bits in.  That’s important.  There’s nothing like a virus that boils your lungs to gross someone out.

I researched teleportation for The Repossession.  I felt I really had to have Marshall (the ex-scientist) explain stuff. I just didn’t want my characters to accept it as fact and move on.  Too often you see this in teen fiction or movies. Here was an opportunity to work with one of the characters who had been developing trans-matter and been burned badly by it. I had these kids who were going to be volunteers, whether they liked it or not, and I wanted to play with the consequences and morals of science as much as the technology.

You don’t have to knock a reader over the head with facts but a small pause to reflect on how things work will appeal to some readers and show them a little respect.  Others will skip over this to the next bit.  (In the same way I skipped over all those awful poems and songs in The Hobbit.)

I’ve been working on a time travel novel too. The great thing is what you learn in the research process.  Perhaps you can’t use it in the novel you are writing but it can spark more ideas for later.  No research is ever wasted, no matter how trivial and there is nothing worse than getting it wrong.

Although many readers might not know (or care) about particular details, your duty as a writer is to get them right.

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

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2SparkRooftopShock Point

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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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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Tarzan: The Savage LandsDark Hunter (Villain.Net)     HappyfaceA Coalition of LionsThe Hunting

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