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Posts tagged ‘YA novel characters’

Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

I don’t think there is any conscious process for differentiating between a teen novel and adult.  Clearly in one the young adult must be forefront and in the other, adults.  Obviously adults can figure in both, but as my editor and the writer Beverley Birch says, one must give prominence to the young adult – never lose sight that it is about them.

I know from my own teaching I had one particular student who insisted upon populating her children’s novels with many, many adults.  I used to say constantly who is the story focused on?  Whose story is this?  The kid or the adults?  Never allow that confusion to arise.

I learned this the hard way.  I have a novel out there called Mean Tide, written under a pseudonym, which concerns a child who has had chemo and is sent to live with his psychic grandma by the river in Greenwich.  He meets another kid there, who is silent because of various traumas. The book is populated with adults, all with incredibly rich lives and opinions. To be honest this book straddles adult/children’s fiction and falls between two stools.  I couldn’t see it when I was writing it, as logic would dictate that when a kid goes to live with adults you have to show the adults and bring them to life.  Perhaps I added too much colour.  If your main protagonist is only twelve – there is only so much you can do with a young kid before it becomes unbelievable. Nevertheless as a writer you learn. (One hopes)

Writing for teens you can concentrate on their lives and reduce the impact adults have on their day-to-day existence.  Adults usually act as a restraint on the excesses of teens so the less they are around, the more that can happen.  S F Hinton’s The Outsiders featured this.  This was about teens getting into mischief without constraint and led by a semi-adult teen who did not have anyone’s best interests at heart.  Stephen King’s Stand By Me totally had this focus.  Not just about the kids but also about their perspective on life, the world around them and the risks they take.  It’s important to remember that these novels are written for teens and not adults (even though adults will and can enjoy them).  Kids know by the time they’re 12 that there is no justice in this world. Bullies get away with murder,, people lie, you lie, you haven’t yet formed your own opinions about things and you have doubts about everything.  Somehow you get up and carry on.  The whole world is a critic. You most likely suck at sport or math, and no one but Alice likes you and you don’t like Alice.  This is the teen world.

My approach to adult fiction is to have the plot or situation down first.  If based on a true-life story then it’s about fleshing out the characters, thinking not just about who they are but about their weaknesses and strengths. I like it when a readers connects enough with the character that they start to consider what they wear, eat or say on their own (until that starts to happen organically for me as a reader, I’m not truly in the zone).

With teen fiction, it’s the same process but with the added spice of knowing that kids won’t always take the logical step that may seem more obvious to an adult.  A boy or girl won’t instinctively know that the one they love is bad for them – even if others are saying so.  They have no experience to go on.  This is fresh to them.  All their mistakes are first time mistakes.  As a teacher I used to see girls suffering heartbreak, yet it was clear to me their affections were misplaced.  Now I see break-ups dealt with by text or on Facebook and how cold and heartless all that seems.  You are left to cry on your own I guess without the confrontation.  It can go the other way – irrational hysterical behaviour in the classroom when one girl discovers another is seeing her bloke and all three are in the class before you seething…

Adults generally don’t seethe. They might want to get revenge but the older you are the more numb you usually feel about things.  Kids are NEVER numb.  They can be unfeeling however.

Take Natalie Portman’s character in the movie  Leon.  She is entranced by the slightly simple hitman who protects her from Gary Oldman’s evil cop.  She is excited by the idea of becoming a hitwoman.  She isn’t thinking about moral considerations here.  She’s thinking about revenge, and Leon is simply showing her his one and only skill.  It’s not a kid’s movie but has a kid very much at the forefront.  She is what I remember.  Her pain and heartache and her loyalty.  This would be teen fiction now I think. Capture that intensity and bottle it.

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

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Avoid Writing Characters Who Are Unrelatable, by Rhiannon Hart

When you’re writing a novel, it’s so important to make characters relatable and realistic. If you don’t, your readers will be rolling their eyes every time your character opens their mouth.

Have you noticed how so much of writing advice is what not to do? Show don’t tell. Go easy on the adverbs. You can have the same approach when you’re looking at characters. Some of my pet hates when it comes to what not to do when writing characters are:

Making them perfect

Little Miss goody-goody is respectful to her parents, kind to animals and is wracked with guilt if she thinks she’s crushing on the same guy as her BFF. She’s never impulsive, eats her vegetables, has neat handwriting and a pencil case full of all those beautifully coloured gel pens. Unchewed. And she never loses a pen cap. Oh, and bluebirds make her bed every morning. These girls make me feel frumpy and erratic in real life. I certainly don’t want to read about them. The highest praise I have received from reviewers who enjoyed my first book, Blood Song, is that they love how Zeraphina (my main character) isn’t perfect. She is selfish, and then feels ashamed. She’s impulsive and she knows it, but she just can’t help herself when there are people keeping secrets from her. This dissonance springs from her cravings for blood, and her subsequent horror that it might mean she’s a monster.

Making characters self-centred

The other day I opened a WIP from a year or two or go that I have been intending to finish. I reread several chapters, and I was bored. Every single character is excruciatingly self-centred. No one likes anyone else. Even best friends are secretly mortal enemies. Crushes are superficial. If I ever revisit this piece it’s going to require some serious surgery.

Having them fall in love with someone they don’t like, or don’t even know

This one comes from my experience as a reader. I have a favourite writer of non-fiction who also wrote some novels early in his career. When I began his the first one, I was quickly put off by how the main character met and quickly fell for a woman when the reader had been given only a superficial description of her. I wasn’t doing the falling with the character; I was watching it from the sidelines, askance. Not long after that I put the book down. When falling in love is so often central many novels (even when they’re not romance), it’s important to look at why and how quickly two characters fall for one another. Crushes can be baseless and superficial, of course. As can jealously. But the falling in love part has to be logical (which does sound absurd, but it’s true), timely and thoroughly examined.

Which brings me to my next point: when the ‘realisation moment’, the first kiss or confession or declaration or however it comes, falls flat. Some writers build up tension exquisitely between two characters and it’s not until just before the denouement (which I think is the best place to put the declaration moment, right before the climax of the story, when it’s not a straight romance) that they confess their love and finally kiss — and it’s done in the most off-hand, peremptory manner. A sort of ‘duh’ is written between the lines, and the two characters seem to squeeze each others arms and go, ‘Oh yeah, we love each other. We sort of knew it and it’s no big deal.’ Fade to black. Wha? No big deal?! It’s a MEGA deal. In real life when you discover someone likes you the way you like them it’s like a supernova goes off in your world. There’s a sense of wonder. Electricity. Joy. Perhaps some writers feel it’s a little cliché by now to make a big deal of a romantic scene. But I need it. And I’m sure a lot of other readers do too.

I canvassed Twitter for other readers opinions on what makes characters unrelatable, and variations on the above came up, as well as: love triangles in general, when motivations are confusing and illogical, general illogical behaviour, the ‘it’s behind you’ factor*, and when everyone’s dialogue sounds exactly the same. (I wanted to give proper credit for these, but Twitter is playing up. I will favourite Tweets and do better in the future, promise.)

What are your pet peeves that make characters unrelatable?

*Does everyone know what I mean when I say the ‘it’s behind you’ factor? It’s when something is staring the heroine (usually) right in the face or breathing down her neck, and she remains oblivious. Gah.

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Rhiannon Hart author website: www.rhiannon-hart.blogspot.com

Blood Song (Lharmell)Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great FictionCharacters, Emotions and Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (Write Great Fiction)The The Sookie Stackhouse Companion: A Complete Guide to the Sookie Stackhouse SeriesFictional Minds (Frontiers of Narrative)Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification

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