Writing For Teens:
There was no question why I wrote YA fiction in the first place. When I got into it, it was a thrilling, lucrative and expressive category. Harry Potter was dominating the charts. The Hunger Games appeared, along with Divergent and Twilight. Writing young adult fiction then was like being on s speeding freight train which had no brakes and a throttle that only went forward.
There are no estimates of how many writers jumped on that band wagon.
I remember my first real YA book, The Girl They Sold to the Moon. That tiny tome sold six times and took the first place grand prize in a YA novel writing contest, which was sponsored by a small publisher. That wasn't the reason I wrote it. I wrote it because I loved the characters, not the atmosphere, world or environment. Yet again, something clicked inside me. I had a handle on something. I could talk teen. Not spectacularly, but well enough to pull the wool.
Let me get something out of the way before I continue: I have a non de plume for my young adult stories--Christy J. Breedlove. There's no mystery in changing a name for a genre. But I changed my gender. J.K. Rowling's agent told her to give herself a neutral author name because "boys are less likely to read books written by girls." Hence, the J.K. initials. I just took it a step further.
I believe women can be trusted by other women to write with more emotional impact and feeling. Women don't really have any problems reading the several male authors out there who excel in writing romance. However, women are less likely to read a romance crafted by a guy because it can't quite reach inside them like one of their own. I hoped and prayed that if spontaneous buyers of my young adult books believed they were crafted by a gal (at first), it might go easier for me. Even men believe that gals can lay down a young adult story with more connection and honesty. I know I do. So, no gender bias meant at all. Only respect. (And no, I don't think I'm fooling anyone :)
Back on track: The teenage years are restless and oft times reckless years. They are an era in life that explores change, hopes, failures, experimentation, rebellion and growth. Especially growth. Most fundamental truisms are picked up during these formative years--rules or guidelines for life. What appeals to me so much about this time of life is that it can be so unstable. It's a time when tragic mistakes are made--emotional upheaval is magnified. To me, this gives me a sense of freedom in exploring some deep-felt topics. Unlike an adult that might be more prone to decorum and subtly, a teen might very well blunder into a situation, causing higher consequences and repercussions.
The exploration of the teen mind can offer a ton of latitude in subject matter--life, death, love, hatred, bullying, lawlessness, substance abuse, incest, pregnancy and even murder. The young, let's face it, are resilient, forceful and courageous with their own convictions. They can take a hell of a lot of punishment, rebound and get their life's compass back on direction in record time. Sometimes they fail, but the harder they fail, the harder they strive to crush the demons.
My guilty pleasure in writing for, or about teens, is my utter fascination with their nonconformity. Looking back upon my own kid-hood, I can glimpse my errors and snippets of absolute stupidity. This stupidity allows me cartloads of humor and irony in my writing. There is nothing quite like a couple of teens going at it verbally or physically, and in many cases, only to drive a point home. There's nothing quite like a teen hitting you smack between the eyes with blunt-force honesty. They regularly deal with each other in absolute truth. No words minced. Compared to adults, teens act; there's no lolly gagging. We do have the quiet, shy and retiring types, but those are exceptions, to what I think is the overall demeanor.
In an action/adventure tale, or a post-apocalyptic story, I can bring teens to the edge of death several times and have them ultimately survive. Physiologically, younger adults are more fit than adults. Have you ever seen a walking antibiotic? They can suffer and endure much more abuse than an older person. I have been known to take advantage of this fact time and time again. Youth--strength--indestructibility.
I think teen fiction offers higher stakes, loftier emotions and grander outcomes. Nowhere is YA fiction better told than in the hands of the teenagers themselves. The young set has a finger directly on the pulse of their own lifestyles. They don't have to guess or research what they would do in any given circumstances--they know exactly the ways in which they would handle it, along with their own cultural oddities that so confuse the adults. Teens have a language all their own. You need a decoder ring to understand it. Look at their text messages--you need a cypher to crack them! Trust me, teens are not of this Earth!
As a person in my sixties, I cannot understand why I feel I was chosen to write young adult tales. Those years were some of the fondest times of my life. I don't look back upon them with disdain. Albeit, there were many cringe-worth times. There were stage plays and scenes of stark terror. But I remember them with an awestruck gusto, a bewildering time of adventure and exploration. My over-the-top emotional writing style seems to fit right into the plots and characters. I'm always learning, because there are so many writers out there, both young and old, who are masters at expressing the teen world.
I'm only along for the ride.
I have a lot of reviews that are about to come in for this latest book. The trickle has started. So far everything seems beyond expectations. Yet, all of these reviewers seem to be teen or twenty-something women. I can just about guarantee that if I've got something wrong in the text, it's apt to be flagged. And I welcome that. It just means that I get to learn more secrets.
Christy/Chris--red-shifting outta here.
Watch your spending on ads--they can be grossly ineffective. Use social media and generously interact with fellow writers and readers. Don't abuse FB and Twitter solely for the purpose of "Buy My Book." Join writing groups and learn from the pros. Ask politely for reviews--don't pressure, harass or intimidate. Be creative. Target your genre readers. Offer incentives and freebies. Craft a newsletter and send it out bi-monthly. Don't take critiques as personal attacks--learn from honest opinions. Don't despair. Never give up. Revenge query.
I like to write without distractions, so that means paper and pen. I find that when I write by hand, I don’t concern myself with misspelled words, missed punctuation or any of the editing errors that slow me down when composing by keyboard, whether typewriter or computer. It frees my right brain to relax and let the left side lead. I am always amazed how quickly the pages pour out. Using new tools like Rocketbook, I can easily scan the written pages to any device and it will transcribe them to text for me. A total win-win.
Write clean and edit as you progress in your narrative. Always stop writing when you still have a little left to say, make a note of it and begin there the next time. Go back and re-read a chapter or two before beginning writing, that with your prompt from before you ceased writing will enable you to jump right back into the story.
The best tip I can give anyone is...just write. If you have it in you to write...just write.
When you sit down to start your story, don't worry about the grammar, flow, spelling, or whatever. First get your thoughts down on paper or the computer.
When the story is completed, that's the time to go back to start and reread what you've written. Don't try to edit everything line at this point either (outside of catching glaring mistakes. And trust me, you'll see plenty). Correct what needs to be corrected at that point without stopping the flow of your reading. This will not be the only time you'll read through this manuscript.
As you read your story, jot down important details into a notebook to check the information when it comes up again. This way, you can make sure it hasn't changed. Things like eye and hair color, name spellings, etc.
After you've gone through the story again, with your minor changes to make sure the story flows, go back and do it again. This time take it one chapter at a time, and do a self-edit. You can use a program on the computer for this. I do. Make your changes and move on to the next chapter.
Then it's read-through time again for that chapter to see if everything still flows. At this point, you can send that chapter off to a critiquer for their opinion.
When you get the critique back, make the appropriate changes, but remember this is your story, your style, not theirs.
When you've gone through each chapter, you need to reread the entire story again. You can also have a beta reader go through it.
Then it's off for professional editing, and making corrections they suggest, if you approve them.
Even after you've gone through the professional editors changes, you will want to reread your story one more time before sending it off. Check all your notes as you read. Some people like to put the book out of their mind for a while before doing that final read through. If that works for you, do it.
Kiss it goodbye until your get that final proof. Then you'll need to read it through carefully one more time. Make changes if need be, and then approve it for publishing.
Hope this helps some of you.
HOW THICK DOES AN AUTHOR'S SKIN NEED TO BE?
Every now and then, you wake up to what you think will be a good day. For an author, that would probably be a steamy mug of coffee, a quiet space to work in, and a full day in which to lose yourself in your characters and story. There you sit, with your fingers poised over the keyboard of your computer, ready to work on your latest and greatest work in progress. A smile graces your lips and you think, today I know exactly where I am going with this chapter. You've spent the night wrestling with twists, turns, and character revelations, and settled upon your course of action. And then (drum roll), and then you decide to peek at your reviews on Goodreads. What a bad idea that can be! You look, you squint, your heart skips a couple of beats, and you feel your stomach sink. There it is, impossible to deny, that dreaded one or two-star review. You feel sick, not only from the standpoint of your ego but because you allow the review to get under your skin. That one or two-star review can literally rip your guts out and reduce you into a babbling idiot. You vanish, poof, and all that remains of the confident author are your insecurities and self-doubts. Forget brilliant prose and those dreams of readers clamoring to read your efforts. Even if you simultaneously receive a five-star review, it is the one or two stars that cast a pall squelching your creativity. You're back in grade school or high school, and that class bully or bitchy girl has singled you out to bear the brunt of their own frustrations and inadequacies.
You ask yourself the question that begs for an answer, why is it that the person who hates your efforts is the one that feels the necessity to expound the most? Even, when they might not have finished your book. They take pen or computer, and rant and rave, until it's a wonder that they just don't explode from their hypertensive efforts. It's almost as if every inequity known to man has somehow been conveyed in the pages of your book. Please, just take a breath, it's a novel; not everything conforms to your sensibilities. There isn't always a happy ending, not for you, not for me, and certainly not in a book.
It's times like these that an author would do well to grow a thick skin, perhaps something like that of a rhinoceros, or better yet a porcupine. Something that protects from the barbs, and sharpened teeth of a mad, frothing at the mouth, rabid reader. It's funny the difference in people. I would never take the time to write a long, laborious scathing review. It would never occur to me. If a book is that bad I just move on, usually without a peep. I don't hate the author or wish he or she ill will. Besides, my time is far too precious. I'd much prefer writing about the books that have moved me, informed me, opened doors for me, entertained me. Ah, but that's what differentiates us, it's the difference between vanilla and chocolate. After all, that is all a review really is, one person's opinion, and very often that person holds no special degree in literary criticism, do they?
I am reminded of what Kurt Vonnegut thought about the matter: "As for literary criticism in general; I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae, or a banana split."
Now that I got that off my chest, it's back to the book!
Hi Everyone, Here are my five writing tips. Xo -Virginia
1) Create a good title, something readers will remember. An example of that is
"Who the Hell Are You? Alzheimer's the Wrong Diagnosis." This title is apparently about an illness of some kind, but the author gives you a hint as they tell you that Alzheimer's wasn't the right diagnosis. But whatever the disease is, it must be something that is similar to Alzheimer's as the person they are talking about doesn't know who they are. The title piques the curiosity of a potential reader that might have been searching for Alzheimer's books.
2) If you aren't a graphic designer, hire a professional to create your cover. If you search around some new artists will swap with you, their creative cover for your book, for their name as the illustrator on the cover and an acknowledgment.
3) Employ a professional editor - super important tip, as this prevents bad reviews about grammar in reviews.
4) Put together a pre-release/release team made up of fans, friends, and followers in your social network circles to help you with pre-release reads and reviews, as well as shares on release day. Offer a PDF of your book or a proof copy of the paperback in return for their help.
5) Just write! Your editor will help get your manuscript in shape. :-)
1) Do not censor your rough draft.
It is important to write what comes to you naturally. It is too easy to become bogged down in editing as you write, and very little gets written. Let your characters do and say silly things, and put in those melodramatic touches! Then editing is an entirely separate step, to be undertaken after your manuscript reaches full length and ideally after six months fallow time.
2) Start a sequel before you finish the first book.
This is a strange one, and not what people hoping to be authors of stand-alone masterpieces want to hear. However, EVERY one of my tales has begun to spawn a sequel before I was half way through. This has a number of advantages.
* You know what your characters would do next, even if you were never to write second volume. (This may help with motivation & wrapping the tale up.)
* Envisioning your characters with futures will help you flesh them out as well rounded.
* Staring a sequel may actually help you generate details of setting to go in the original story.
* The sequel is there if you ever want to write it!
* If you do write a sequel the seeds are already sewn and some minor characters and incidents that become important in future volumes have been woven into the tapestry.
* Refusing to let your mind wander into sequel territory may well stunt your vision. Therefore, even if you don't want those extra words, and the work of writing an entire second book - I advise you write a few chapters that your muse dictates when the creative juices are flowing. Definitely don't beat yourself up for starting another project before the present is finished sort of thing!
1) Blog and Social Media Links
Create a blog or website well in advance of your book launch, and keep your followers informed of your progress. Remember to include information on your blog/website and social media links at the end of your book.
Ensure your book is of the very best quality, by enlisting a professional editor and book cover designer. It will pay dividends.
3) Keywords and Categories
Choose your categories and keywords for online retailers carefully. Try to find categories that have smaller numbers of books to boost your rankings. Keep a close eye on your progress, and tweak as necessary.
Keep your prices in line with your competitors. Readers will not buy your book if you charge too much. Regular discounted offers will increase sales.
5) Read and Review Books
Read and review other author's books, and post to your blog/website, social media, BookBub and Goodreads...
It will come back to you in many ways.
1. Get it down the first time nonstop without going back to edit or even worry about the spelling.
2. Decide who is the MC and then how many other voices you will need to make this story complete.
3. Keep a list of all your characters, the spelling of their names, and a page of information to refer to as you write about them. Things like, descriptions of their hair, eyes, physique, favorite food and drink, pet words they use, etc.
4. Date the start of your story, write down the main characters' dates of birth and any important dates that might be mentioned based on when the characters are are born so you're consistent with the timing of events.
5. Keep a list of questions or things to check on before sending your ms to your editor.
1. Just write. Once you've begun to start writing what you want written, the nagging in your head will stop.
2. Write for the love and the craft of the art. Publishing has become an overrated success circus.
3. No one is going to teach you how to write. If you’re interested in technique or some technical skill, choose a more suitable occupation.
4. If you want to improve your writing, read and draw inspiration from among the greatest writers who have lived and are no longer here.
5. Get someone to read what you have written. He or she can see things you can't see and offer constructive criticism.
#1 STAY FOCUSED
There's always, always something that can distract you from sitting in your writing chair. The grandkids want you to go play in the snow. The doughnut in the kitchen is calling your name. It takes a lot of self discipline to get a book written. You are your own boss, so you have to keep reminding yourself that if you don't get a book written, you are not going to get it published.
#2 NOTEBOOK, FILE, SOMETHING
Keep a notebook, file or something to refer back to concerning your characters. If Tommy has brown eyes on page four, blue eyes on page sixty and brown eyes on page two hundred, your readers will scream at you. I'm old school. I still use a notebook and a pen for my rough outline ideas. On the first page of that notebook I write the ABC's down one side, and then I start a list of my characters. You really shouldn't have characters with the same first initial. It's confusing to your reader. Also hero/heroine with sound alike names (Lisa and Lane) will stump your reader. Especially on series books when I need to remember the hero from book one when I'm writing book seven, I buy one of those little recipe card files and keep it right beside my computer. Each character, even the dogs and cats, gets an index card (filed alphabetically by first name) in the card box. That way all I have to do is find the card, and presto hero in number one was six feet two inches tall and had blue eyes. Some folks like to do this on the computer, and that's fine, but once I lost nine thousand words by shutting the wrong window and not saving. So it's old school for me.
#3 EDIT! EDIT! EDIT!
Your rough draft is finished. Now it's time to edit, edit, edit. Have someone else read your manuscript, and don't take the constructive criticism personal.
#4 WALK AWAY
If you begin to feel overwhelmed while you're working on those edits, get up and walk away from them. That's when it's all right to leave the writing chair. Take a walk. Pet the cat. Get your mind cleared so you can go back to the edits with a fresh outlook.
#5 START A NEW BOOK
Your book is finished, is in the agent's hands or the publisher's, now what? You start another book! This is the WRITE, DON'T WHINE! phase. Don't whine that it's taking so long to get your book published, or that you've got rejection slips. Write another book while you're waiting. When that first one does sell, you'll have a new one in your hands to sell.
1. Write. No seriously, just write. You can't become an author without writing something.
2. Focus on getting your thoughts on the paper. You can tidy up afterwards.
3. Challenge yourself. Set word counts to push yourself to do more.
4. Get someone to proofread your book. You'll be supprised to see how many things you miss.
5. Hire an editor for your first books. It makes a huge difference.