Writing For Young Adults: Something I Learned the Hard Way, Part 2

In part 1, I talked about how writing for a young-adult audience can be challenging, especially given that I graduated high school thirty years ago. This week, I continue that advice with part 2.  So without further ado, here’s more of what I learned the hard way when I decided I wanted to write for young adults. Replacing adult phrases with teenage speak (“That’s wonderful!” versus “That’s so freaking cool!”) wasn’t the way to go. Of course, that’s part of it, but swapping out adult phrases for teen phrases is one piece in a much larger pie. I had to...
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Writing for Young Adults: Something I Learned the Hard Way, Part 1

When I began seriously pursuing writing as a career, I didn’t intend to write for young adults. My book, A WORK OF ART, was originally aimed toward an older audience, but my critique group convinced me (and rightly so) that it was suited for young adults. After all, its protagonist was a teenage girl, and many of her problems were teenage problems. But making the transition from an adult audience to a YA audience was tougher than it seemed. My early drafts were written in third person, where everything was seen through the eyes of my protagonist. That’s all well...
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It’s All About the Conflict

Writers spend a lot of time on character and plot, which of course are very important, but remember that your story will be boring without CONFLICT. Conflict doesn’t just bring excitement to the pages. Conflict brings characters to life. Think about this. We all make snap decisions about people based on appearance and background information, but it’s not until we see people in action that we learn who they are. Let’s say you’re in high school, sitting in a classroom, and there’s a new girl in class. She’s beautiful, busty, looks like a model. You have some background on her,...
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Scene Setting and POV: 2 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

As a writer, I loathe setting the scene. I’ve literally spent hours going over the same few paragraphs to make sure I “got it right,” only to delete those same paragraphs on my revision. So much time wasted! But at least all that needless writing taught me a few things. Lesson 1: When setting a scene (at least in first person or close third-person), only mention what’s important to your character at that time. As an example of what I mean, take a look at this passage from an early draft of my work in progress. Fifteen-year-old Layla doesn’t know...
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Writing Tips from the Experts: A Newbie Author’s Take on Writing Conferences

I recently had the honor to sit on the First-Books Panel at the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Florida Regional Conference, and while it was an amazing experience to tell about my journey to publication and something I will always remember, I came away from the conference with so much more than that. Here are some of the gems I picked up from the wise and talented speakers. Jonathan Maberry, a NY Times bestselling author and five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, passed on the wise words he learned (at the tender age of 13) from legendary author Richard...
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Writing About the Taboo

People have asked me how hard it was to write about child sexual abuse in A Work of Art. It’s a touchy subject—raw and often shameful to the abused and not something most people like to think about. But when I sat down to write about this painful subject, I found it freeing. Just as Tera, the main character in my book, finds therapy in her painting, I found therapy in my writing. So I think it was harder to imagine writing about child sexual abuse than it was to actually write it. Because many victims never report abuse, it’s...
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Inspiration in Strange Places

My muse is an elusive thing. Sometimes it swells my chest and comes out through my fingertips, but most of the time, it stays locked in a box at my feet, only occasionally making a surprise appearance. It’s hard to pin down what inspires me to write—what makes my muse come out of its box—but in thinking about it for this blog, I remembered a chance encounter I had when I was eight years old. I was sitting in a laundromat while my mom and I waited for our clothes to wash. I’d brought along my spiral notebook, and I...
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How One Character Can Have Two Points of View

A WORK OF ART is a first-person narrative, but the main character’s flashbacks are told in third person. This was a deliberate choice on my part to show how seventeen-year-old Tera has removed herself from her past, as if her memories belong to someone else. To further set off the flashbacks, I gave each one its own chapter, and whereas none of the other chapters have titles, the flashback chapters do. Once again, I wanted Tera’s memories to feel like events that she’s packed up and stored in a box, with the chapter title acting as the box’s label. The...
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The Art of Symbolism

I remember studying symbolism in high school after reading a short story called “The White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett. The story is filled with symbolism, and to be honest, it bored me, but I absolutely loved the idea that literature could be bubbling over with these mini riddles called symbols. Shortly after studying “The White Heron,” I began inundating my own stories with hit-you-over-the-head symbolism that I thought for sure made my writing more deep. I might include, for example, a main character who was watching a bird escape from her cage. (Look! That means my character wants to...
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Self-Editing: My Writing Affliction

Some people see writing as an outpouring of words. The Muse visits, and words appear on the page. Not for me. My writing is more of an extraction—and a painful one at that. More times than not, I feel like I’m pulling out every word by force. The truth is, I’m a chronic self-editor—maybe because I was a professional editor for fifteen years and old habits die hard. Or maybe because I’m a tiny bit obsessive. So when my writer friends say things like, “I write two-thousand words a day,” or “I wrote my first draft in three months,” I’m...
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