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Posts tagged ‘YA historical novelist’

What I Read When I Was A Teenager, by Elizabeth Wein

I was a reader as a teen – I’ll make no bones about that.  I was an ambitious reader, which may be why I’ve become an ambitious writer.  So I thought I’d share some of the books I read as a teen that weren’t traditional teen fiction, and maybe scrape the surface of why they appealed to me as a teen.

How Green Was My Valley by Robert Llewellyn.  I never did figure out just how autobiographical this was.  I loved the Welshness of it, the language rhythms which were so different from my own, and the grittiness of the landscape it described.  I was kind of in love with the narrator, Huw Morgan.  Maybe that’s what I was looking for as a teen: a character to fall in love with.

I was definitely, definitely in love with Claudius from Robert Graves’s I Claudius and Claudius the God.  I read these when I was thirteen.  I was inspired by the shocking BBC television series (1976), which yes, I was allowed to watch at 13.  I am pretty sure I struggled through the politics because I adored the character so much.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Watership Down by Richard Adams.  Okay, there’s no question about it, I was a literary lover.  I was enchanted by the tragic wastrel Sydney Carton.  He was my hero.  But you know what?  Ridiculously, I was equally enchanted by Hazel, the hero bunny of Watership Down.  No, seriously, I was in love with Hazel.  He was such a literary crush that I drew pictures of him (usually at some melodramatic plot point, like with his leg damaged, or getting attacked by the cat).  I drew pictures of Sydney Carton, too, standing at the guillotine, looking tragic.  I like my heroes to be somewhat damaged, I guess.

Ok, I will now skip over the obvious (Tolkien… I was in love with Frodo; TH White… in love with Arthur) and finish with something truly off the wall:  John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet.  John Brown’s Body is an epic poem (literally) about the American Civil War.  It was published in 1928 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929.  I first stumbled across it at 15 or so because my grandmother (my legal guardian) had a vinyl LP with an abridged, dramatic rendition of the book; it took me a couple more years until I actually read the entire work from start to finish, and then I fell in love all over again, this time with one of the several female leads.

                        Sally Dupré, Sally Dupré,
                        Eyes that are neither black nor gray,
                        Why do you haunt me, night and day?

John Brown’s Body follows the stories of a dozen different families and characters – characters with allegiances to both North and South, characters both black and white, rich and poor, slave and free, through the course of the war, describing the changing circumstances for each.  Rhyme, meter and verse style change accordingly throughout the book depending on the characters.  For the music of the poetry alone it’s worth reading, but it also does give you a general historic overview of the American Civil War.  Writing about it is making me want to read it again!

                        Jake Diefer, the barrel-chested Pennsylvanian,
                        Shippy, the little man with the sharp rat-eyes,
                        Luke Breckenridge, the gawky boy from the hills,
                        Clay Wingate, Melora Vilas, Sally Dupré,
                        The slaves in the cabins, ragged Spade in the woods,
                        We have lost these creatures under a falling hammer.
                        We must look for them now, again.

There’s plenty of hunting outside the enclosure for readers bold enough to sneak through the gaps in the ‘teen books’ boundary.  Vary your diet!

***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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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyAcross the UniverseThe Night She Disappeared

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

Composing the first sentence of your novel can elicit screams of agony. It can be a difficult task because so much depends upon those few words. Will a prospective teen reader, already distracted by a myriad of electronic devices and entertainments, glance at this sentence, yawn and set your book down? How do you manage to entice such a fickle reader along to a second sentence and then a third?

As a practical matter, I have always liked starting my novels in the middle of a highly charged scene, ideally with one short sentence that hints at intrigue: “On the morning of September 16, 1860, my pa shot me.” “The little thumbnail moon gave no light at all; a friend to the thief.” “Better that you’d never been born.” Homicide, thievery, banishment – all themes that hint at an exciting tale.

In venturing to the local library, I found strong openings of varying lengths in many critically acclaimed teen novels. Robert Cormier’s classic, The Chocolate War begins simply, “They murdered him.” Laura McNeal introduces a mysterious character in the very first words of her lyrical Dark Water: “You wouldn’t have noticed me before the fire unless you saw that my eyes, like a pair of socks chosen in the dark, don’t match.” Then there’s Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which starkly states, “Here is a small fact: You are going to die.” (Okay, those aren’t the exact first words but they’re in bold type and centered on the page so that’s where your eyes go.)

With a first sentence as strong as any one of these, a prospective reader (and innately curious human) simply cannot resist continuing to the second sentence and then a third. Now he or she is like a fish following the bait. So you keep writing, keep tossing out interesting tidbits, not yet revealing the whole story. Remember that most teens have short attention spans – at least until they’re hooked! – so you’ve got to move things along briskly. Think of this challenge as crafting one sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next sentence that leads to the next paragraph.

Admittedly, there are times when I can’t think of a good opening for a novel I’m starting, so for inspiration I’ll revisit favorite books that have hooked me early on. I’ll scan the first few paragraphs and try to decipher just how the author pulled me in. Was the protagonist in immediate danger? Was there an unusual setting? Was there an urgent problem to be solved? On occasion, the unique tone of a book or the author’s voice will pull me in. I highly recommend studying those authors that have mastered the art of the “tease”.

If I continue to be stuck on my opening, however, rather than yank out my hair and switch careers, I attack the book from a different direction. I just start elsewhere in the chapter. I pick a scene that I am passionate about and that I can easily visualize, and I write it. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the first chapter without having created a strong beginning. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the novel. What I’ve learned though, is that a strong beginning often reveals itself only upon the book’s completion. Once you’ve spent time with your story, once you’ve come to understand and love your characters, you’ll know how to begin their story in the strongest way possible.

So, in composing the first sentence of your teen novel, keep your teen reader firmly in mind. You’ve only a brief period to hook him, so rely on novelty and human curiosity. You’ll soon find yourself writing with confidence, with readers fully engaged.

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

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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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
www.writingteennovels.com

Language In My Teen Historical Novels, by Pauline Francis

How do you choose the language that your characters speak in a historical novel? A novel usually takes a year to be edited and published. If you write contemporary fiction, it will already be out of date when it’s published. In a sense, most novels are historical fiction. But I’m really talking about historical fiction that takes us back hundreds of years years. It’s a huge responsibility to portray ways of speaking which have not been recorded. I think good language use in a historical novel suggests the past but can still be understood by today’s readers.

I once had an idea for a novel set in the Bronze Age and discovered that the language spoken then would have been based on a vocabulary of only two thousand words. I tried to write the novel using only those words… and it seemed restricted and dull.

The language in my novels set in 16th century England is a compromise. I can never know exactly how my characters spoke but I want to make my young characters people of their time. I want the language to be a blend of the past and present. I don’t try to reproduce Tudor slang but I do contrast the language from more modern language in subtle ways. I also try to use a few linguistic features to help distinguish each character.  For example, Jane wouldn’t have sworn but Elizabeth did. Religious language has changed the least, so when Jane (a Protestant) discovers that Ned is a Catholic, she overhears him reciting the rosary over a man killed by a falling tree.

In 16th century England, class differences were very distinct and I mark the difference by language. When Elizabeth meets a stranger on the banks of the Thames, rather than try to write how he spoke, I use Elizabeth to tell us: “His voice was gentle - and a gentleman’s, although it seemed from his accent that he was used to speaking French.” The boy, Francis, was brought up in France by his English mother and had returned to England to help Elizabeth find out the truth about her mother, Anne Boleyn. Otherwise, I would have had to write Francis’s dialogue in a sort of hybrid French/English which would have been ridiculous in this genre - although fine in a humorous book or a TV sitcom.

In choosing vocabulary generally, I use 16th century words that many readers would have heard of but would not use themselves in modern times. Many of my words are Shakespearian and although my books are set a few years before I don’t hesitate to use them, because they convey the general flavour of 16th century England.

It would be wonderful to hear my characters speak as they really did. I wonder: If they read my novels, would they understand them? Would they think I’d done well? I hope so.

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

Pauline Francis bio page

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))The Dog in the WoodTracksShock Point

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing Characters In Historical Novels For Teens, by Carolyn Meyer

When you start to write a novel, you’re signing on for the long haul. It’s a marriage, or at least a long-term relationship. For at least a year, maybe longer, you’re going to live with your characters, sleep with them, dream about, walk and talk with them. So you’d better love them – especially the principal characters – a lot.

You can write about a historical event, such as the French Revolution, in which the main character is fictional, but I usually tell the story through the eyes of a historically important person, and I begin the story in that character’s youth. When I wrote The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette, I focused on the young teen who much later supposedly said, “Let them eat cake.”

The main character, real or fictional, must be sympathetic, while other characters help her or impede her. If she doesn’t have problems to deal with, if she doesn’t grow and change, you don’t have a story. Marie’s mother provides the early conflict. When Marie leaves Austria at fourteen and arrives in France, a nasty countess makes her life miserable. The hapless French prince she marries condemns her to unhappiness, and the handsome Swedish officer she meets when both are eighteen offers romance and temptation. The events of history and her own flaws propel the story to its tragic conclusion.

I knew that this girl would arouse my sympathies, lead me to despair, and finally bring me to understanding and forgiveness. Marie was a spoiled teenage princess, but the more I learned about her, the more I discovered a character I could fall in love with – and could make my readers understand and forgive her, too.

But how much of it is “true”? I don’t change known facts, but I do invent scenes and dialogue, and sometimes I create a character -a friend or a servant, say – to help tell the story. When I was writing Mary, Bloody Mary, about the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, I invented servants, a female friend, and the boy who was her falconer. In Cleopatra Confesses I created a cast of minor characters, because so little is known about her early life. Not a single soul needed to be added to the cast of Victoria Rebels, or of The Wild Queen, about Mary, Queen of Scots.

You can’t know too much about your characters, but it’s possible to say too much about them. I learned a lot about Victoria’s childhood, when Papa died and left her German Mama alone and penniless. I got caught up with those difficult early days – far more than my teen readers would be – and my editor prodded me to cut the first 30 pages. That was painful, but it improved the story. And I was much more sympathetic to the 12-year-old Victoria than I would have been if I hadn’t gotten to know her so well when she was much younger. The solution is to put everything in your first draft and then be absolutely ruthless and take most of it out. Your characters will survive the surgery, and your teen readers will fall in love with them just as surely as you did.

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

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Victoria RebelsMary, Bloody Mary     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)My Brother's Shadow

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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