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Posts tagged ‘writing novels for teenagers’

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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Emma Pass’s author website: www.emmapass.blogspot.com

Emma Pass bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Bad Habits To Avoid While Writing, by Andy Briggs

For this post I thought I’d give you a simple checklist of bad habits that writers can develop. Like most habits, it’s not always apparent that you’re doing it, so here are some warning signs to look out for.

1. Procrastination. This is the ultimate creative killer. The one that causes stress and makes you miss deadlines. Stare at a blank page and you are staring into a void. You have to type to get the words down, but to do that you need motivation. What tends to happen is emails are checked, then Facebook and Twitter, then perhaps the news and any other website I happen to follow – and before long I have wasted hours and it’s time for another coffee. The peril here is that the moment you make that coffee and sit back at the computer – you simply repeat the process.

2. Email. I could be midway through the most thrilling scene I have ever written and the moment my inbox goes BONG, I am yanked out of the story and straight into my email, burning with curiosity over who has validated my existence by emailing me. Usually it’s a piece of spam, which I’ll delete and return to the page. But that slight distraction suddenly propels me back to step 1, above.

3. Reading. When I open up the document I am working on, I may read the last couple of paragraphs to refresh my memory but I won’t read any more. If I read everything I wrote the day before then I will start finding faults, typos, or better ways to express myself and will immediately fall into re-writing syndrome. This is a writing tailspin that could end up costing you the entire day. Instead of looking at an increased word count, you have less than you started with because of your meddling.

4. TV. I know some people who work best by listening to songs. I can’t do that as the lyrics always distract me. Likewise, I can’t have the TV on in the background because my attention will always stray to it – no matter how bad the show is. I often find myself camped in front of the TV, pretending to write – but if I pay attention to what I have been doing for the last three hours I will find I have accidentally entered step 1 without realizing it. I prefer to write with movie scores on in the background. If I’m writing something fast and upbeat, I will but on an action-packed score. If the scene I am writing is sad and slow, I will find something melancholy to listen to. I find the music seeps into my writing and helps set the correct mood on the page.

5. Fact checking. I’m a big believer in research, but I will attempt to do it before I start writing the scene – otherwise I will be surfing the web for hours, or worse, heading out to the local library just to find a trivial piece of information just so I can complete the sentence.

Watch out for these insipid habits and you will automatically improve your writing and, perhaps, enjoy the writing process a whole lot more.

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

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Why I Write Teen Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

Teen fiction connects.  Passionate intensity often leads kids to do foolish things, take incredible risks, to explode with hatred one minute and love the next; to be heroic as well as act without compassion.  Teenager are still raw, often angry at what life has dealt and the choices on offer.

Adults are constrained by convention, rules, experience, and explain away their failings with words such as fate or God’s will.  Teens still think that they can make a difference and that there are endless possibilities.

When I write for teens I am thinking of all these things, putting myself in their shoes.  It’s not always rational.  I couldn’t begin to explain all the stupid things I did as a teen or the risks I took.  How I’m even still alive given the situations I got myself into, I have no idea.  I still remember my heart being broken – not just once either. It scarred me.  So I write for the kids yet to be scarred by life or the ones who already know that it’s less than fair out there, but to also say that this too can be survived and that they are not helpless.

Sometimes my fiction will be historical.  Kids want to know about the past and it is essential to connect it to the present so they can relate.  When you read Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go you are immediately plunged into a seventeenth century world, filled with strange Amish-like men and one boy and his dog living primitive lives. They are farming everything by hand.  You quickly become aware that there is madness in the air and all the characters can hear each other’s thoughts.  This alone is enough to make you intrigued. To then discover that this is the future and a story set in some far off planet is a huge surprise.  The second major feat that Ness accomplishes is to establish a great love between Todd and Viola in book one, then in book two tear them apart and pit them against each other, each manipulated by the evil Mayor Prentiss.  Extraordinary.

In The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester, a girl is born who floats. The parents are ashamed of their freak daughter and home-school her, but you can’t keep a good girl down for long. One day she jumps off the roof and flies the whole way around the town attracting unwanted attention.  Written with a dry southern wit this is a story that makes you laugh at first, then takes a rather nasty turn as the government begins to round up all the freaks and bury them in some underground lab.  I love the concept. I would have preferred it to stay funny rather than sinister but the adventures of Piper McCloud live within my affections. As her Papa said, “Seems like our child ain’t normal is all I’m saying.”

I suppose why I write teen fiction in the end is because I want to write stories that strike you in the heart, that stay with you forever, that affect you in the way that books and films shaped my life growing up.  Dune by Frank Herbert perhaps is one such book – the retelling of the coming of the Messiah scope of this novel is incredible.  The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick is another – about America losing WW2 and divided between Japan and Germany.  Neither of these were teen fiction but both had a huge impact on the teen me because they dealt with what ifs… and what ifs are what keep us awake at night…

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

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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

It can be really jarring being an author. It seems perfect for a quiet, unassuming shy fellow (that’s me). You sit in a room and type out words; you write stories and create worlds; you can play around, say all the things you think and live the life you want, all from the comfort of your home, maybe with a muffin and a cup of coffee. You create that wonderful book; you get an agent; you get a publisher; your book is released; and you’ve communicated with the whole world and touched so many lives, all from your computer screen.

Then you get the call: “We’ve booked you to speak at a teacher’s conference in Chicago next month, start packing!”

Speak?! Teacher’s conference?! My high school English teachers would spit out their water if they knew I was even writing a book! I have to somehow teach THEM something? Speak???

This thought process loops for weeks, getting louder, with pounding echoes. I write! Not speak! These are two exceptionally different skill sets. People who are great writers and great speakers still amaze me. I imagine if you can speak well, if you’re that social and outgoing, then you wouldn’t be the type to do the actual quiet writing part. That’s the case for myself, at least. I got just such a call. In fact, when I’d written Happyface I had to do a book release party in my hometown, an English teacher’s conference in Chicago, a librarian conference in Pennsylvania and another teacher conference in Texas. I was petrified.

I’d never been one to raise my hand in class, or volunteer to read a passage, or for any reason choose to stand in front of a class. In most of those cases, you’d be expected to talk for a few minutes. Here I was supposed to talk to a quiet room for 20, 30 or 40 minutes!

Imagine, if you will, a montage sequence, set to the music of your choosing. I’m listing every noteworthy event that happened in the creation of the book; thinking about all the conversations I had with my editor; searching desperately for any little nugget of information I can pad out a half hour with; creating any artwork I can to at least divert a few eyes off of me; and getting on a plane, sitting in a hotel room, reading over notes and timing myself.

So much of the anxiety is just getting to ‘the moment’. I guarantee you the five minutes before a speech are always worse than the five minutes after beginning a speech, and the five minutes after a speech can be near-euphoric.

One thing that bridges the ‘speaker’ and the ‘writer’ is that it’s the actual writing you’re speaking about. I never had to recite someone else’s work or talk about something I didn’t care about, and that helps. I can’t say I’m the best speaker, but each time I’ve gotten through it.

Oddly enough, those times end up being the memories I look back on the most at the end of the year. I think to myself, “I’m a WRITER, not a SPEAKER!” I just want to WRITE. At the end of a trip like that, I think back, talking with other authors, speaking about my books, traveling, signing, hearing from people who’ve read my stuff, wrapped up in a whirlwind of activity all centered around not only books but MY books, those things I spent all that time writing. I have to remember, that this is part of being a writer, or the public version of a writer. That’s when I’m in full on glamorous author mode, when being an author seems like a really cool gig. I go home after that and it takes a  few days to adjust. Suddenly everything feels kind of empty and confusing. Why isn’t anyone coordinating my travel, driving me around, ordering me food? Does anyone want me to sign something? I’ve got a pen…

At the end of the day, you write to finish your book and you talk to sell it. It’s creative; it’s a business; it’s a strange, bizarre world being an author, but you do it and you love it.

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

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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

The headline of an article published on September 13, 2012 in the Los Angeles Times announces, Most Young Adult Book Buyers Are Not Young Adults.

My kneejerk reaction to this was, ‘WELL, DUH.’

When I was a teen I never had any money.  I got all my books out of the public library and the school library.  Every now and then I would love a book so much that after I’d read it about, oh, five times, I’d beg my grownup caretakers (my grandparents) to buy it for me.  Occasionally a new book would be released in a series or by a favourite author which I desperately wanted as soon as it came out, and then I’d have to ask for it for Christmas or my birthday or something.  Or, if I really couldn’t wait, I’d buy it and not go out for lunch for three weeks.

My teenage daughter is caught in the same bind, except that I have more money to spend on books than my grandparents did, and my daughter doesn’t have to wait for her birthday or go without lunch.

If you read beyond the headline of the LA Times article, you’ll see that the statistics say 55% of buyers of books aimed at 12 to 17 year olds are 18 years or older.  Of these, 78% claim to be buying the books for themselves.  Let’s twist these statistics another way.  Out of 100 sample shoppers buying YA books, 45 are between 12 and 17.  Another 12 are buying books for their children or grandchildren.  45 plus 12 makes 57… So in fact most young adult books bought in retail ARE actually bought for young adults.  Maybe ‘most young adult book buyers are not young adults,’ but it looks like most young adult book readers are.

The thing that astonishes me is that 45% of people buying books aimed at 12 to 17 year olds are 12 to 17 year olds.  Nearly half of all printed YA books purchased in retail stores are bought by this disenfranchised segment of the market?  That seems like good news to me.

The other good news here is that adults are reading teen books, too.

Patricia McCormick, in a New York Times blog post defending the power of young adult literature, points out why adults might be interested in reading books aimed at teens.

McCormick comments that YA fiction is innovative and risky, and points to some of the more exciting literature to come out in the past ten years – in addition to the obvious (such as the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games series).

As a reader who never stopped reading books aimed at teens, even after I stopped being a teen, I kind of wonder what all the fuss is about.  As a writer who is constantly badgered with the question, ‘But why are your books young adult?’, I am proud and honoured to be part of this risky business, where the pay is lower, the stakes are higher, the audience is fickle and the bar for excellence is constantly being raised.

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

Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page

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Language In Teen Novels, by Diane Lee Wilson

Early in my career I regularly participated in read-and-critique groups. Each of us took a turn reading aloud from one of our own newly completed chapters and then accepted verbal comments from the other aspiring novelists. More than once someone would tell me that my vocabulary was too difficult for my teen audience. It was suggested that I use simpler words.

I bridled at that and still do. I firmly believe that authors of teen novels can use rich, complex language if done in context and with purpose. It is not necessary to “write down” to readers. My goal is to produce the best writing I can, and if a reader is unfamiliar with the occasional word (even though I’ve used it in context) then I expect them to look it up in a dictionary, be it one from a bookshelf or an electronic one on a computer or phone.

Nurturing language has never been more important now that we have the widespread use of electronic communication – texting, tweeting, tagging – where minimal space takes precedence over clarity, a great number of teens are allowing their writing and reading skills to diminish.

A professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University recently warned that rampant texting is exacting “compromises on traditional, cultural writing” abilities of today’s teens. “Routine use of textual adaptations by current and future generations of 13-17-year-olds,” says S. Shyam Sundar, “may serve to create the impression that this is normal and accepted use of the language and rob this age group of a fundamental understanding of standard English grammar.” Teens who took the professor’s grammar test, for example, couldn’t discern the difference between “lose” and “loose” or “accept” and “except”.

At a writing camp held at the University of Central Florida, another professor also bemoaned the negative effect that instant communication is having on writing skills. “Social media takes out all the imaginative threads, descriptions and interesting parts of a language,” said Terry Thaxton. “I find that troubling.”

The argument can be made that language is dynamic, always evolving (or for the cynical, devolving) and that teens are communicating in a language that they understand. Today’s teens will not always be talking among themselves. They will be speaking with future employers, potential partners, perhaps world leaders. They will need to understand the difference between “nonplussed” and “nonchalant”. From “accepting your proposition” to “taking exception to your proposition”. They can begin to master language painlessly and even pleasurably in a well-written novel with a rich vocabulary.

No, teen readers do not have to limit themselves to “serious books” only. Just as there is always room for a little “junk food” in one’s diet, there’s a place for the “summer beach read”, the “guilty pleasure” or the book that “everyone’s talking about”. But these stories will never be as satisfying as time spent with a complex fictional character in a colorfully drawn world.

Tweets and texts are fine – and fun – in day-to-day life. Instant communication can bring us closer as a society. However, language is what defines our society and I urge every writer to access its riches.

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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On Age Ranges For Novels, by Andy Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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