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Posts tagged ‘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

Month In Review (December 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the final 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 December 2013

What I Read When I Was A Teenager by Elizabeth Wein

Writing Sociopathic Characters by April Henry

Examining Philosophical Beliefs Through Teen Novels by Bernard Beckett

Bad Habits To Avoid While Writing by Andy Briggs

Handling Feedback About My Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Writing Honest Depictions In Your Novels by Paul Volponi

Writing Good Dialogue For Your Novel by Lish McBride

Creating Characters With Flaws by Kashmira Sheth

Writing What You Know by Beth Revis

The Young Adult Fiction Industry by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing The Opening Lines Of A Novel by Kate Forsyth

How I Became A Writer by Monika Schroder

On Being Nice As A Writer by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Medium Sized Budget by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Working With An Editor On A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson


‘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

Working With An Editor On A Teen Novel, by Diane Lee Wilson

Having a manuscript accepted for publication is a heady feeling. You’ve arrived! You’re soon to be a published author. The sky’s the limit now! Look out, world.

Congratulations are definitely in order. Simply completing a manuscript is an accomplishment, but to have your work rise from the thousands of submissions and be recognized as worthy of professional publication is truly something to be proud of. Now, don’t let your success go to your head. There’s a lot of work yet to do and a good deal of it is humbling.

Publishing a book is a business. It’s a partnership between you and the publishing house. Don’t be arrogant and assume that your manuscript is the best thing to ever cross an editor’s desk. It’s not. So be prepared to work with your editor to make it better. After happily signing all of the contracts and mentally spending your first advance check, you’ll receive your precious manuscript back in the mail – with handwritten criticism all over it! Here’s where you remind yourself that your editor is working in your best interests; he or she knows the teen market and knows what sort of writing sells. That’s what you want, right? To market – and sell – your best possible work? So read through the comments carefully and as objectively as possible. I recommend arguing the points that you really feel strongly about, but don’t pick fights over little things that don’t really impact your overall story. Your editor prefers a different word here or suggests deleting a sentence or two there? Fine. Trust them to do their job.

One thing I’ve learned is that words are not sacred and that no reader ever misses what isn’t there. When I receive the final galley of a novel for proofreading prior to going to print, I’m always impressed with how smooth the story seems. There is no sign of what has been argued about; nothing appears to be missing or altered. It’s an improved version of what I submitted.

Sometimes the suggested changes are far more than a word here and a sentence there. When I sold my first manuscript, I naively thought I was finished. I did not expect to receive so many criticisms and suggested changes. I was so overwhelmed, in fact, by the scope of what my editor was requesting that I got teary and said to myself, “I can’t do this.” But after reading through the comments again and gearing up for the additional work, I rewrote several chapters, deleted one entire chapter, added some more backstory and altered the ending slightly to account for a character that had disappeared. The revised manuscript, I have to admit, was better. It was tighter, faster-paced and more satisfying.

Each subsequent manuscript has had its own challenges and eventual transformation. In Black Storm Comin’ I was cautioned to delete language that would be deemed offensive by schools and school librarians. I had merely been writing dialogue that seemed typical for tough Western characters but, keeping in mind that I wanted to sell books to schools, I softened the language where suggested.

I’ve often had to change the opening chapter in my novels. I like mysterious and murky beginnings that are often pulled from events in the middle of the story, and I did that in my most recent novel, Tracks. But my editor reminded me once again that these can be too difficult for young teen readers to grasp and that if I want to sell books I had to make the story accessible.

On occasion I’ve stood up for elements of my original manuscript. If I feel very strongly that a character would indeed act as I’ve described or if I very much want to tell the story as a flashback, then I argue my case. I’ve found my editors (I’ve had two wonderful ones) to be very agreeable to my position when I argue it. The key is give and take; I adopt nearly all of their suggestions, holding firm on only a few points.

Ultimately, your editor wants you to have a successful novel and is advising you how to achieve that. I recommend heeding their advice. Publishing, again, is a business. You’re the artist but you need experienced people such as editors, illustrators and marketers to help you earn money from your art.


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Raven SpeakTracksI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeBlack Storm Comin'     The Night She DisappearedTarzan: The Greystoke LegacyHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Medium Sized Budget, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Do you have a medium sized budget to market your teen novel?  First, implement some or all of the options listed in the last couple of posts, then look into implementing these suggestions.


Upgrade to a professional web site.  Remember when I said the web site was the single most important marketing tool?  As soon as you can afford it, have a pro take over the design and execution for you.  Get recommendations from author friends to find out who is affordable.

Attend a national conference or bookseller event, i.e. ALA, BEA, IRA or SCBWI.  This is a great way to network.  Be sure to bring along your business cards.

Have a professional author photo taken.  A professionally taken photo may seem like a frivolous expense but a great pro photo can last you years.  Plus, you get the added benefits of photo retouching.

Have book-themed giveaways made for you.  One idea we love is having temporary tattoos made using your book’s cover or character.  Be sure to bring them along to events – and again, remember to get permission for any copyrighted images.

Pay dues to organizations, like the Children’s Book Council, The Children’s Literature Network, ALA and IRA.


Put together a media kit.  This is like a traditional press kit, but with an accompanying CD-ROM or DVD.  Content could included photos, an interview with you (have a pal be the interviewer), favorable reviews, etc.  Get creative.

Throw a high-concept launch party.  Provide book-themed food and beverages, and create activities that will also complement the book’s content.  Consider hiring an assistant to help keep younger children occupied (and happy).

Attend a key conference.  Treat yourself to attend a national SCBWI conference, for example.  The trip will be worth the expense.  Besides, it’s tax deductible.

Travel to meet your editor and/or agent.  If you’re worried about maximizing your time away, try to organize a school or library visit or bookstore event to coincide.

Organize a cool giveaway through your web site.  Purchase an iPod mini or a portable game system – whatever appeals to your readers – and make it the prize in a book themed contest.


Hire the services of a PR specialist.  You’ll still have to do some of the work on your own, but hiring a professional – especially one who specializes in the kid lit market – will give you a strong advantage.  Sure, you’ll pay for that advantage – but this is a person who can organize a mini-book tour, allocate funds for well-placed internet ads, etc.  At the very least, spring for a consultation that will set your self-funded promotional efforts onto the best track possible.


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Deadly Little SecretDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little GamesDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)     Cleopatra ConfessesTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels

On Being Nice As A Writer, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writers suffer a strange duality. We work in private but the product of our work is very public. Must of us are shy people but we’re often asked to speak in front of large crowds.  We can be rather arrogant at times (what’s more arrogant than thinking your thoughts ought to be interesting to the throngs?). As creative types, we can be terribly insecure. This tension between the public and private in a writer’s life can lay traps for us that can lead to some embarrassing missteps.

For example, you might be giving a speech some day and you might be extremely tempted to call the work of another author overrated. I suggest that you refrain. Saying nasty tidbits about other writers can come back to haunt you in a big way. The hack you malign one year could come out with a major best seller the next and you’ll find yourself in the position of having slighted a powerful person who has the ear of the media. Even if said writer remains obscure, speaking ill of him casts an unfavorable light on you and can make you seem as though you were sucking on a bunch of sour grapes. When speaking in public, I have found it best not to suck at all.

Just as speaking ill of another writer is not advisable, writing reviews, even in respected journals or newspapers, can be fraught with peril. Plenty of aspiring novelists begin their career reviewing fiction in trade publications, but I humbly submit a caveat to this practice: a mean review can be a veritable boomerang, especially if the author finagles a way to review your next book. (This has happened. For real. I won’t name names.) Even worse, a nasty review can offend a potential editor, who might have poured her heart and soul into a book only to have it maligned by you. Editors have long memories and might not consider a piece of fiction by a writer who has offended them.

If reviewing fiction is something you feel called to do, or if it helps you pay your bills, keep your reviews honest but civil, and read any book very carefully if you plan on giving it a negative review. You especially don’t want to be in the position of excoriating a book while revealing through poor fact checking that you weren’t paying attention. Just know, I have never, ever heard of an editor or agent reading a review and thinking to herself, “This review is delightfully pithy… I wonder if this reviewer has a novel?”  If your true passion is writing fiction, it might be best for you to concentrate on your own writing and leave the criticism to the critics.

That said, once you’re published, you’re likely to have an online presence on sites like Goodreads where book reviews are the name of the game. I am not particularly active online, and I should be, but I have always made it a policy to only write a review of books that I think are truly excellent. About the books I don’t love, I am silent. I am a believer in the power of good vibes. I try to keep my public persona positive and sunny, because life, and careers, are too short to waste them spreading bad vibes.


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VibesZen and Xander UndoneGlowSpark    Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Code Name VerityShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)

Writing Teen Novels

How I Became A Writer, by Monika Schroder

As a former school librarian I have seen many visiting authors talk to our students about their work. Many of them brought journals from their elementary school years, showed stories they had written when they were ten years old and emphasized how they had always wanted to be a writer. That was never the case with me. I have always been a passionate reader but had no desire or ambition to become a writer or a published author myself. In fact, during my school years writing used to intimidate me.

It wasn’t until, as an elementary-school teacher, I took a class on teaching writing in the summer of 2005 that I first thought about the possibility of becoming a writer. The instructor asked participants to compose a narrative inspired by a family memoir and I chose to write a short story about a boy named Fritz based on my father’s experiences at the end of World War II.

My father grew up on his grandparents’ farm north-east of Berlin where he witnessed the arrival of the Russian army in his village at the end of April 1945. At the time he was only six years old, but he remembered his grandfather’s frantic attempts to defend the village, how they rode together on a horse cart while the old man yelled at other farmers to help build trenches to slow down the Russians’ advance. Then, only days before the Red Army arrived in their village, my great-grandparents hanged themselves in their barn. My father told me that he found them. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for a boy after feeling the adults’ anxiety around him during those turbulent last days of the war, to experience his great-grandparents suicide just before a foreign army occupied his village. A four-page narrative about this event became my submission to the writing class. My fellow students and the instructor liked my story and wanted to hear more about Fritz. And, of course, there was much more. My father also recalled that due to a shortage in caskets, his grandmother had to be buried in the wooden dowry chest that was kept in the attic. He also told me about the Russian officers who stayed in their house and the Soviet tank that was stuck on the slope by the pond near the garden. So I continued to write more stories about Fritz based on the anecdotes I heard from my dad. Out of these anecdotes, with the instructor’s encouragement and that of my husband, grew a manuscript with the working title, After the Russians Came. It was rejected when I first submitted it. My husband called the letter I received from the editor, “The best possible rejection letter in the world.” It had two paragraphs. The first paragraph praised the original and gripping story idea I presented in my draft and the second paragraph said that the story wasn’t told well enough. In my disappointment I only saw the second paragraph and felt my hopes crushed. Then I began the long process of revision. I took the draft to a writing workshop where I received good advice from two published authors. Subsequently, I cut the second half and came up with a new arc. After many, many revisions The Dog in the Wood was finally accepted.


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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Angel DustAcross the UniverseBoys without Names

Writing Teen Novels

Writing What You Know, by Beth Revis

Probably the most clichéd and oft-used phrase for any writer is the old adage, “write what you know”.

So how did I end up writing a novel that takes place hundreds of years in the future, on a spaceship populated by genetically modified people heading to a planet that might not really exist? It’s definitely not something I “know”.

Typically, we don’t really “know” our stories. Or, at least, I don’t. I’ve never been the youngest person on a spaceship, but I do know what it’s like to not fit in. I’ve never had my parents cryogenically frozen, but I still remember that moment when I realized that I’d grown up and was no longer under their safe protection.

Many times, it seems that people who aspire to write teen fiction are more focused on writing teenagers than on writing characters who behave realistically. They will often do research on the outward appearances: clothing, slang, mannerisms. Very often, this is where they trip up, because that’s not the important stuff. Focus on the stuff you know – the stuff everyone knows. We have all experienced the same things every teen has experienced: first love, first heartbreak, betrayal and fear, joy, sorrow. This is what the writer must know – and if the writer knows this, then everything else: the characters, the plot, the world – will fall in place.

Find the beating heart of the story. Invention is a wonderful thing – a necessary thing when it comes to writing. You need to have invention but, somewhere beneath everything that you create, you also have to write what you know.


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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StorySaraswati's WayThe Night She Disappeared

Writing Teen Novels

Creating Characters With Flaws, by Kashmira Sheth

When I was growing up I listened to the stories from the Indian epic Mahabharat. Even as a young child it struck me that the heroes were not perfect. They had their weaknesses just like anyone else.

When we write it is easy to identify with a person who possesses good qualities, so why create a main character with a flaw? Shouldn’t he or she be perfect in every way? Wouldn’t a reader want that?

We don’t have a perfect protagonist because it would be like trying to drink a glass full of sugar syrup: too sweet and utterly disgusting. Giving a hero flaws adds much to their personalities. In real life people are a mix of good and bad qualities, and when we mirror those qualities in our stories our readers identify with our characters more deeply and root for them. They worry about them and eagerly flip pages to make sure they are safe at the end.

Another advantage of creating such character is that they are engaging. They amuse and surprise us and sometimes ever make us cringe. If he has a quick temper he adds a fiery element to his dialogues when he is angry. His anger maybe short lived but his words can linger in reader’s mind. Our protagonist adds depth to her character when she can sting with her words, make the reader laugh with her sauciness or delight the reader with her cunningness. No simple, perfect protagonist can stand up to a character with a flawed personality.

The flaw or flaws we select for our characters demand care and sound reasoning. In YA novels our main characters are young. If our fifteen-year-old protagonist has smoldering anger there must be some reason for it. We must answer the question, “Why does he have so much anger?” It might be that he felt ignored and unloved because his older sister was brilliant and took up all his parents’ attention. It might be that his parents were busy fighting and had no time for him. Whatever the reason, we must know it so we feel grounded about our character’s past and understand his present.

The flaws we pick should become part of the story we’re writing. If the novel features a girl who is sassy and loud-mouthed, we could use those very same qualities to get her into trouble. During the course of the story, she may even overcome some of those flaws. However, it is not essential or even desirable to have our character grow out of all their shortcomings. Over the course of the story they grow and change, but in a believable way. They don’t turn completely perfect at the end.

Creating a character that is likable as well as flawed is essential to a story.

They are fun to write about and fun to spend time with. After all that is what we want.


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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Code Name VerityAcross the UniverseThe Night She DisappearedDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels

Writing Honest Depictions In Your Novels, by Paul Volponi

Writing with complete honesty is one of the hardest things for fledgling authors of teen novels to achieve. They worry about their name being attached to the story – even though it is fiction and it will be the characters doing the action and speaking the dialogue, not them. I’ve heard statements from beginning writers such as – readers will think I support what the characters do and say.

In my opinion, a writer needs to cut loose from anything resembling these feelings. They will only weigh you down and stop your work from evolving. I had to deal with this issue when I wrote several books which touched upon racism and hatred in our society. Black and White, Response, Rooftop, Rikers High, and Crossing Lines are all novels that I’ve written which have characters that espouse ugly ideas and brutal language. But if you try to couch your story and not show the way teens really act, or how they can act, during their worst moments, then your story will probably ring hollow.

When I decided to write Rikers High, a novel about a place in which I worked for six years, honesty came into play in a different way. Just some background: Rikers Island is the biggest jail in the world. There are high schools there for teens who can’t make bail and are awaiting trial in the court system. The novel shows an inmate demographic that is heavily black and Hispanic, because that matches the real demographic of Rikers Island. Incidents in the novel involving students/inmates with their teachers and correction officers are all a reflection of what I had really witnessed while working there. After the novel was published, some teachers and officers I worked with felt they recognized themselves and things that they had done, both good and bad. Needless to say, many were unhappy with my honesty. I lived with the ramifications and never regretted it. That novel accurately reflects six years of what I saw happening on Rikers Island.

I found it really interesting when a writer whom I had never met dedicated a YouTube video to the honesty in Rikers High. That video can be found at

So every time you reread your story, there are several basic questions you need to continually ask:

1. Have I passed up on writing any scene that, in my heart, I know should be included in my story?

2. Do my most dramatic scenes fall short of an honest portrayal because I’m worried about what people will think about my views or sensibilities?

3. Does the dialogue I’m using truly represent what real people would say (including curse words) in tense situations?

4. Was I honest with myself and my fiction?

You should always be honest and brave in your writing. That way your fiction will represent real life. There is no higher standard that that.


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Rikers HighRooftopBlack and WhiteHurricane Song     Cleopatra ConfessesThe Night She DisappearedCode Name Verity

Writing Teen Novels

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

Writing Teen Novels


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