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Month In Review (November 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its eleventh month of articles for 2013 from this year’s multi-national line-up of novelists.

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 November 2013

How Martial Arts Benefit Me And My Writing by April Henry

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

On Categorising Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Why I Write Young Adult Novels by Beth Revis

You Need To Love Your Characters by Lish McBride

How Do You Know If An Idea Will Develop Into A Good Story? by Bernard Beckett

Planning And Writing A Novel by Monika Schroder

To Outline Or Not To Outline? by Kashmira Sheth

Nurturing (And Protecting) Your Story Idea by Diane Lee Wilson

Novel Titles And Covers by Carolyn Meyer

Time And The Publishing Process by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Keep Writing: The Importance Of Finishing Stories by Andy Briggs

Handling Disappointment To Be A Resilient Writer by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Different Types Of Plot In Fiction by Kate Forsyth

My Tips For Writing Novels by Pauline Francis

Guiding A Reader’s Experience Throughout Your Novel (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Small Budget 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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Guiding A Reader’s Experience Throughout Your Novel (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

Gosh, my series of posts for this blog is turning into quite a tutorial! I’m even starting to learn from it myself.  The next secret is really about pace. Hopefully, you’ve set up a great collision course in your story. Your protagonist is hanging off those cliffs and you aren’t rescuing them too easily. Brilliant. In fact you’re piling on the (metaphorical – or actual) hurt in thick slabs. Good. Your next job, once you’ve got your teenage reader ripping through the pages, is to control them. You don’t want them so eager to find out what happens next that they skip to the back of the book to find out. So this means:

Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 11

drum roll…  tada!

Control the reader’s curiosity

If you’ve been successful at creating that page turning novel, strangely enough, to hold your readers you’ve got to build in some ‘breaks’. Readers can easily reach saturation and burnout. They cannot indefinitely hold off not knowing. One way around that is to build in reveals and triumphs to reward them for staying with the story. This is one of the roles of sub-goals. However, don’t reveal the ‘final outcome’ of the overarching quest or goal of the protagonist (whether lost or won), because if you reveal this too early it will kill the suspense.

So how you can use this secret? 

  • Reward your reader by telling them the results of sub goals
  • Allow your reader a little bit of down-time after a very tense scene
  • Up the ante before the tense scene – you know the kind of thing: the picnic in the woods before the reaping in The Hunger Games.

WATCH OUT FOR THE TWELFTH AND FINAL SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP IN MY NEXT POST

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

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

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My Tips For Writing Novels, by Pauline Francis

I don’t really have to write this post, do I? You could do it for me by now if you’ve been reading the others. But I’ll sum it up:

1. Read, read, read.

2. Write, write, write.

3. Write every day.

4. Always write down your ideas when you have them.

5. Never throw any of your work away. A short story might become a chapter in a novel.

6. Read your work aloud regularly for rhythm and tension.

7. Enter competitions whenever you have time.

8. Re-read authors who are most like you and try to work out why they are good.

9. Don’t be afraid to show your writing to somebody else for feedback.

10. Remember that others forms of writing can feed into your work: school essays, blogs, Facebook entries, diaries, letters/postcards will all tell you a lot about your style and genre. Why not volunteer to edit the school/college magazine for a term? Why not write/design posters? Why not take part in a school play/musical and help with the script?

I am a self-taught writer. I didn’t go to any creative writing classes. But I still had to learn my craft. I did it in two ways. At first, I just wrote. They were short manuscripts, with little re-drafting, which were all rejected. When I realised this was going to be a lengthy process – I’d gave up my job to be a full-time writer and there were bills to pay – I proposed a big project called Fast Track Classics to a publisher: I would abridge the classics for younger readers. This brought in a good income for many years. But the greatest benefit was reading great classics and seeing what made them endure and seeing why they might not be so popular with today’s young readers. I learned more about writing than at any other time in my life and I have great affection for these forty or so books.

I’ve also written many Readers for students learning English as a second language. They are graded at different levels, so I was restricted in vocabulary. This taught me what is essential in a novel: fast plot, strong characters set against interesting locations.

Everybody is capable of writing. But if you want to be published, you have to learn the skills, like any other job. You have to be patient. Think how long it takes to be the best gymnast, the best cyclist or the best piano player.

Of course the golden rule of good writing is SHOW – DON’T TELL. I didn’t put it on the list because I want to show this rule to you – not tell!  This is the magic that turns ordinary writing into something special.

This example below is from Raven Queen. Question: How can I describe Jane’s home (Bradgate House)? This paragraph is taken from the first draft (Jane is the narrator):

I lived at Bradgate House, a house built by my father’s father, Thomas Grey, who died when I was two years old. He used to boast that the forest beyond – Charnwood Forest – was big and that he’d laid water pipes from the stream to the house. The town of Leicester was about five miles to the east.

This would have sent my manuscript to the slush pile.

The final manuscript reads:

Visitors usually gasp with pleasure when they first arrive. It is thought to be one of the finest houses in Leicestershire; but Ned gazed past its red brick towers, past its gardens soon to be brimming with fruit and blossom, past the stream which fed water pipes to the kitchen – to the darkening trees beyond.
‘I like the forest best at dusk when birds cloud the sky,’ he said.
I glanced down at him. And now that he was standing closer to me, I no longer saw his tangled hair and grimy skin – only the smile that lit up his face.
Who was he?

Can you see what I’ve done? We see the house through a visitor’s eyes and it’s linked with an emotion that has already linked Jane with the stranger and leaves a question to be answered.

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Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

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Time And The Publishing Process, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

There’s a good delay with books. It’s a time-consuming process, both writing the book and going through the publication process. Things like comic books or a daily comic strip can be really appealing because you have a constant contact with your audience. Every day or every month you can put your latest work out and you’re never far from your public’s mind. Stand up comics often have trouble doing any kind of written material because they’re so used to an immediate feedback from their material. With books, with what I’m writing now, you have to worry that what you’re writing will still be relevant, or topical a year or two down the line. Or that world events don’t render it irrelevant or distasteful, or that someone else doesn’t have the idea you’ve been spending months refining and beat you to the punch. Alas, all you can do is your part and hope the rest falls into place.

Personally, I usually have a handful of ideas on hand in various states of readiness. So, oftentimes I have a vague idea of what my next book is while I’m still working on a current project. The way I work, having a regular publisher, editor and agent, is I’ll develop the idea I want to do into a detailed outline, I’ll work on sample chapters and I’ll get a really decent-length pitch put together. This can take anywhere from a couple of months to over a year, as has been the case for this book I am writing now.

Winter Town came out in December of 2011 but I’d been working on the pitch for a while before that, so certainly over a year to develop this into a good pitch I can be proud of and ready to write. From there, my editor has to sell this idea to the other editors and marketing teams in an acquisitions meeting. A lot of people have to sign on and say yes, this book sounds good; this deserves to be on the shelves; and yes, we think we can sell this. Even if it was completely written already and was a masterpiece, there are only so many books a publishing house can put out per season. If spring 2013 is filled up, or if it’d get lost in all the powerhouse books coming out in fall of 2013, it would still get pushed out a year. Maybe if I was James Patterson they could make a case for getting it out sooner, but I’m no James Patterson.

In my case it works out. This gives me most of the year to finish writing the book. It gives us time to revise it and go through a few rounds of edits. It gives Little, Brown & Co time to print advance copies, to shop it around and build up interest before it’s officially released. To the public, it’d seem that I disappear for a couple years and return with a shiny new book, but really all that time is spent working, writing, revising, marketing and planning for the release.

It’s a lengthy process, putting a book out, with very little of the process spent in the public eye, generally right around the release there’s a big hoopla, interviews and talks and book shelves, and then it all goes quiet again as we work on the next one.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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To Outline Or Not To Outline? by Kashmira Sheth

Some writers outline their stories while some don’t. I have listened in awe to some authors talk about how they go about creating a framework for their novel. They know their characters, plot, climax and ending of their stories before they actually start writing their first chapter. For them, making an outline works well because they can see how their characters are going to behave in each situation and how they will come out in the end. With that concrete concept of the story, making chapter outlines works well. It speeds up the writing process and avoids a lot of work that comes with creating the story as you go, including trimming scenes when your characters end up in the wrong places.

Even though this process of outlining seems very scientific and has fewer pitfalls, it may not work for every writer. I know it doesn’t work for me. For writers like me, creating an outline is difficult and time consuming in the first place. Even if we manage to outline our story we might find it impossible to stay within those scenes and chapter summaries. If we waiver from those scenes, we might have to abandon the rest of the outline because changes have a snowballing effect, and the rest of the outline may no longer make sense.

Writers like me do not have chapter outlines or summaries on 5×7 index cards to guide us through our way. As we write, we make wrong turns and put in scenes that add nothing to the plot or character development. In that case, we may have to trim many scenes or even a few chapters and start again. Without a clear idea of where the story is going we might find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be or simply have no clue what happens next. We get stumped. Sometimes, it is frustrating to be in that place. At other times our creativity is challenged and we may find appropriate and even amazing paths out of our predicament.

In this way, once we start writing, we may find that our characters have taken us to unexpected and exciting places. The characters’ journey may bring surprises to us. These are gifts that they didn’t know existed.   If we try to adhere strictly to the outline we might find our creativity stifled because we can’t explore a new situation when it pops up unexpectedly. We might feel we have to mould our characters to behave the way we thought they would before we started writing. Ultimately, we might lose interest in our story and abandon it.

If you are a writer who starts with an idea then nurtures and grows that idea as you write, you may not want to make an outline. On the other hand, you may love the outlining process, and feel that it keeps you in control from the beginning and your goal in sight at all times. There is no one right or wrong way to write.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Plot Structure In Novels (Part 2), by Kate Forsyth

When I am planning my novels, I think very carefully about when an event in the book happens. Each event must lead logically to the next event, building in pace and suspense until we reach the climax, the point of highest tension in the book. This is called rising action. At the point of climax, the problem of the book must be solved, the antagonist overcome and the crisis resolved.

I usually like to have three major ordeals, or turning points (sometimes called crises).

The first will indicate a change in gear, a quickening of pace, a movement from one place to another, or from one set of feelings to another. I call this the first turning point. It often involves moving through a doorway or gateway, or from one place to another.

The second is what I call ‘the dark night of the soul’, but is also sometimes called the Midpoint Reversal, or the second turning point. It usually is a key moment psychologically as well as physically. It is a moment when it seems all is lost. I like to position this as close to the middle of the book as possible, but that’s because I have an obsession with symmetry. Other writers place it much more loosely in the novel’s structure.

The third major ordeal is the climax of the book, the point at which the hero must triumph or fail.

Each of these three major ordeals or crises takes roughly a quarter of the book to develop and the ending takes the final quarter. This helps me to control pacing, and keep the different sections of the book balanced.

As I work toward the final climax of the book, I will shorten my chapter length, quicken pace, and reduce the number of chapters ending in resolution, so that the compulsion to read on becomes stronger. This helps builds suspense.

The idea behind rising action is that each scene is more intense, more dramatic, more interesting, more compelling, than the scene which came before. Of course, one can still have moments of rest and introspection after a scene of high intensity. They just tend to be shorter.

Another thing to realise is that the tension in each scene does not need to be supplied by gun battles and car chases. It can be a scene of emotional or psychological intensity – a key moment of revelation, for example.

Basically, all events in your story are leading toward the point of highest tension, which is the climax. This climactic scene is followed by falling action, and then the denouement or “unravelling”, a scene in which the triumph of the hero is celebrated, or the tragic hero’s fate is accepted, leading to new self-knowledge.

The combination of rising action, climax, and falling action creates a shape rather like an Isosceles triangle:

Freytag's triangle

This is called a Freytag’s Triangle, named after Gustave Freytag, a German literary critic who analysed Aristotle’s Poetics and broke his theory of dramatic unity down into its different components. The above graph was made by Barbara F. McManus in her book Tools for Analysing Prose Fiction.

This is how I have redrawn this narrative arc for myself:

plot graph

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

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On Creating A Distraction-Free Writing Environment, by Bernard Beckett

I read recently that some authors make use of software to restrict or block their access to the internet while they’re writing. While I don’t feel the need myself, probably because I have neither Facebook nor Twitter accounts, it got me thinking about the circumstances under which I best manage to write.

Heavy use of Facebook and similar sites poses two distinct threats. The first is the obvious one. Time spent checking on the marital status of the friend of some guy a person you went to school with once sat next to at a football match is time that can not also be devoted to writing. The other threat, and the one I can more easily identify with, is not the drain of time but of a certain state of mind.

During my working day, I’m a high school teacher. A typical day might involve face to face interactions with a hundred different people. The majority of those interactions are considered by the other party to be, if not urgent, then certainly important. So you move through the day in a certain mindset. You are honed to react. I’ve watched chefs in kitchens, facing down a barrage of orders, and suspect they feel a heightened version of the same state. It’s an instinctive, adrenalin-fuelled state that I rather enjoy. There’s a part of me, I suspect, that is prone to becoming addicted to it. It’s also very similar to the state supported by the superstructure of the internet, with its template of links, updates, and constant change. It’s a state we slip into very naturally, and in my case at least, it’s a reasonably difficult state to slip back out of.

The pertinent point here is that this distracted, restless state of mind is the exact opposite to the state of mind I like to be in when I’m writing. Writing seems to better flow from a place of stillness and quiet. Distraction stands as its greatest enemy. When I say writing, I probably should distinguish between two quite separate activities. One is thinking about my story and the other is the actual task of getting the text down. The first part, which happens somewhere just below the surface of directed, conscious thought, seems for me to be particularly well suited to relaxed contemplation. Back before I had children, the period between waking and getting out of bed was particularly fruitful. Neither the structured thought of activity nor the day’s list of pressing tasks would come crashing in and I had many of my best ideas staring at the ceiling. So it is for me with running and cycling. The world goes by sufficiently slowly to allow my senses to relax and people are not actively pressing for my attention. It’s in that bubble that I find a state very similar to that of coming gently awake (nostalgic sigh).

The other phase, the actual committing of words to paper or hard drive, for me requires slightly less absence from the world. I can function fairly well with conversation in the background, and dipping in and out of the internet to check facts or emails doesn’t get in the way all that much. I’ve written in planes, on beaches, in offices and at home in the lounge. All of that presupposes that the quiet spaces are there and that the chatter of day to day living doesn’t become overwhelming. In this respect, I’ve often noticed that during the first few weeks of a school term, I can still write in the evenings but that this capacity diminishes as the system slowly but surely clogs up with minutiae.

Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, has proposed the hypothesis that the rise of the internet is seeing us spending more of our waking hours in the distracted state and as a consequence we are losing the ability to access the quiets of the mind, to go deeper. The rather startling proposal is that our capacity for slow contemplation, for reading or writing books, for following long and complex arguments, is not innate but is rather the invention of specific behaviour, and that the internet has the capacity to cut us off from the very skill-set that built the modern world. I don’t know if I buy this completely but, for now, not being on Facebook suits me very well indeed.

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

Bernard Beckett’s bio page

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Writing About Violence And Physical Harm In Novels, by April Henry

If you’re going to write mysteries, thrillers or even horror novels, you’ll need to decide how to approach writing about violence and physical harm.

There are at least three ways to approach it:

1. Slow it down. Each step makes it clear just how bad it is.

2. Make the readers fill in the blank. Their solutions are usually far more affecting than yours, because they will think of the things that frighten them the most.

3. Underplay it. Use short, simple declarative sentences. Think Hemingway.

A couple of years ago, I was running in Portland when I fell, cracking the bridge of my nose, and scraping my face, hands and knees. I knew it was bad when I saw the expression of two guys I waved down to ask for help.

Here are three ways to describe what happened.

Slow it down

“Running up 45th, April’s toe caught a crack in the sidewalk. The next thing she knew, she was in the air. Time slowed down, the way it did when you reached for a glass and knocked it over instead. She got her hands up in front of her as the sidewalk tilted at a crazy angle. Her palms skidded along the dirty concrete, but her momentum wasn’t slowed.

Oh no, she thought, not her face! – then there was the solid surprise of her nose meeting the unmoving sidewalk.

Still April fell. Her front teeth hit the concrete, wavered, decided to stay put.

Finally she was still, face down, unmoving on the cool Sunday morning.

Make the reader fill in the blank

One minute April was running, mentally writing her next blog entry. The next thing she knew she was flat on the sidewalk. Something was terribly wrong. Her face felt wet.

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The woman standing by the side of the road was frantically waving her arms. At least Josh thought it was a woman. Her face. Jesus Christ, what had happened to her face?

Underplay the prose

She ran up the hill. It was a Sunday morning. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

The sidewalk had lifted at an expansion joint. Her toe caught the crack. She fell very hard. She lay on the cement. Maybe she was okay. It was just a fall. She started to move but something grated inside. Her mouth tasted like blood.

Next to her was a bush with white flowers. She stared at it. Her vision was growing dark at the edges. The bush would look good in her garden.

She closed her eyes and was still.

More examples of fill-in-the-blank

I think the fill-in-the-blank idea can be the most powerful of the three. Here are two examples, one short and one long:

Five miles up the road, he opened the window and threw out the first of Karen Reid’s teeth.

- The Intruders, Michael Marshall

She swam against the grain of the ocean, using a short and sharp stroke and a smooth kick.

She did not see the murky shape drifting toward her. It was more than half-submerged, and it had eyes. When she barged into it, the silent mass reared up.

Her scream was muted, most of it locked in her throat.

On the beach, her sons threw sand at each other and the man with the device unearthed a nickel. The lifeguard rearranged his legs in a way that the girls below could see the filled harness under his neon swim trunks. A stray cloud blotted some of the sun.

One of the boys pointed with his shovel. “Look at Mommy.”

- Widow’s Walk, Andrew Coburn

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April Henry’s author website: www.aprilhenrymysteries.com

April Henry’s bio page

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The Benefits Of Taking A Break When Writing, by Kashmira Sheth

Writing is more than a task, a job or a chore to finish. As writers we are constantly thinking about our characters, how to get them into trouble and how to get them out of that very same trouble. We don’t simply think about writing when we sit down to write. The thinking goes on while we drive the kids to their classes, have dinner with friends, fold laundry, and plant spring flowers. One part of our brain always seems to be thinking about our stories.

Do we need to calm down these constantly churning ideas in our writerly minds?  For me, the answer is yes, and I suspect it is for others too. Our minds need that break.  Just like a good vacation gets you ready for the upcoming challenges at work, a break from writing prepares you for another creative spurt.

We don’t have to take a long break from writing. We certainly don’t have to go on a long vacation. Every day we can give a few minutes of our time to calm our minds. This can be done with activities such as meditation or long walks. When you are walking, immerse yourself in your surroundings to avoid thinking about your characters and stories. I don’t count watching TV or a movie as a break because they engage and stimulate our minds rather than calm them. The important thing is to rest your brain. Gardening is an activity that works well for me. While I am digging my mind settles down, the cycle of the seasons and the rhythms of the natural world sooth me, and the fresh air calms me. Some may find other exercise such as jogging, skiing, or biking similarly helpful.

If you do take a vacation, you can use that time to step away from your story. When I take a vacation with my family I give myself the chance to be in a new place and enjoy my experience, without worrying about my current story. But I don’t necessarily take a break from my writing. I keep a journal about my trip, including the things we do and see. That way my commitment to write every single day is fulfilled.

How do these breaks help my writing? What I find is that when my mind is still, something new and exciting floats up. It may be a plot solution that I had been trying to find for the past month. The answer suddenly becomes clear when I am not actively trying to figure it out. Sometimes, a new idea about a picture book or a story pops up.

Stepping away from the story I am currently working on gives me a fresh perspective on it. When I return to the story I see it more in its entirety than before. So not only can I solve small problems, but I also feel I can see the entire story in a new light. For all of these reasons, it is important to put away your writing, give your brain a break, and then go back to the story.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Writing Dialogue In Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Your characters are center stage, and they’re talking.

Dialogue, and lots of it, is one of the key components of teen fiction, whether the novel is historical or contemporary. It’s a critical part of a scene and reinforces voice. You probably know browsers who open a book, perhaps attracted by the clever cover or the author’s name, and flip through the pages to check on the amount of dialogue: too little talk and the text appears dense, and the book goes back on the shelf.

Dialogue on the page is more concise than actual conversation. It doesn’t ramble, it reveals character and it moves the story forward. Usually you need do little more than to identify the speakers at the beginning: “he said” or “she said” will do it. You can vary that with words like barked, screamed, whispered, exclaimed or shouted. Modifiers, like loudly or excitedly, are usually unnecessary.

A variation on dialogue is interior monologue, in which the main character thinks to herself or imagines a conversation with another character in which the main character takes both sides. Here’s an example from a novel in my contemporary Hotline series, with the interior monologue set in italics:

Lissa is dead, Jenny thought, letting the water stream down over her face. She’s dead and I’ll never see her again. Jenny worked shampoo into her hair. But she can’t be dead. I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it.

Dialogue can also play a major part in flashbacks, animating material that falls outside the time frame of the narrative, as when Jenny, out of the shower, remembers a conversation she had with Lissa the previous day, before the novel begins.

By all means avoid the “info dump”, using dialogue as a means to convey information. This is a common trap, which I fell into in Cleopatra Confesses. Cleopatra confides to a friend that she dreams of becoming Caesar’s wife, but she is already married to her younger brother (common among the pharaohs).

Her friend reminds her of Caesar’s complicated marital life, and Cleopatra replies, “You are right – he has a wife in Rome. Her name is Calpurnia. His first wife, Cornelia, bore him his only child, Julia, and both are dead. He divorced his second wife, Pompeia, when he suspected her of adultery.” Cleopatra goes on to talk about the need for Caesar’s wife to be above reproach, and Caesar’s disappointment that Calpurnia is barren and has given him no children. This is all necessary information, but it should have been conveyed in some other way, perhaps an interior monologue in which Cleopatra considers the situation. It’s also a clunky paragraph. (A critical reviewer pounced on my lapse.)

Here’s an exercise that develops dialogue skills and produces interesting and sometimes hilarious results in a writing group or a class. Provide one provocative line of dialogue (Example: “I told you not to open that!”) and write nothing but dialogue for twenty minutes – no description, no set-up and only an occasional “he said/she said” is allowed.

Dialogue is an indispensable skill when you’re writing for teens. If your characters are on stage, get them talking and make the most of it.

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

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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