Category Archive: Writing YA

Masterplots Theater: J is for Journal

J Masterplots Theater-2Welcome to Masterplots Theater! Today we’re examining Juvenile Journal, which admittedly is a term I just made up so that I have something to write for the letter J. But still, there are many books out there written in a diary format. Perhaps your own teenage scribblings would make a great story…

Journal Plot Notes: 

Journals are written in the 1st person past tense simply because diaries contain details of what’s already taken place, and generally people don’t journal in 3rd person or 2nd person, but if you know of someone (or some story) that does, please share!

There is an event that sparks the writing of the diary. Even if the narrator always kept a journal, the story will start with something they feel compelled to write down because “this changes everything.”

Most Journals deal with heavy issues, like abuse, bullying, poverty, war and addiction. And even the ones that are lighter still deal with life-changing moments that feel super heavy to a teen encountering them, like a best friend moving away (SLOPPY FIRSTS), and puberty (ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET).

Because teenagers express themselves with more than words, these journals may include drawings and notes in the margins, like THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN and GABI, GIRL IN PIECES.

Finally, most Journals have a healthy dose of humor with their angst. Because laughing is often our way of accepting harsh truths and dealing with pain.

Example to Study:

Part-Time Indian sketch

Junior’s self portrait of himself.


· EVENT: As the book jacket accurately states, “Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighbouring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot.”

· ISSUE: Life between the reservation and the white kid school, which encompasses heavy topics like poverty, abuse, racism, and addiction.

· EXTRAS: The protagonist, Junior, is also a cartoonist, and the book is filled with his sketches.

· HUMOR: Despite the many heartaches in this story, the narrator knows how to laugh at himself and describes everything with self-deprecating yet wise wit.

Future Research:

UNSLUT: A DIARY AND A MEMOIR by Emily Lindin, THE DIARY OF A GIRL by Anne Frank, ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume (though technically not a diary but a one-way conversations with God, I feel this is just a creative way of presenting a diary), SLOPPY FIRSTS by Megan McCafferty, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky (not admittedly a diary, but the MC writes diary-like letters to an anonymous friend that we never meet, so it feels like a diary and may very well be one if you believe – like I do – that there is no pen pal), and GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES by Isabel Quintero.

Thank you for joining us today. Other episodes in this series include:
A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After
I is for Institutionalized

We hope you enjoyed J is for Journal and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, K is for Kinsmen.

Please share your own favorite journaled stories in the comments below.

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The Influence of Books on YAs

Have you heard of The Unslut Project? It began with Emily Linden sharing her middle school diaries online in a Tumblr page. It’s now a memoir and a documentary. Unslut is the all-too-common story of a preteen girl who was slut shamed and bullied. Lindin shared her story to reassure other girls suffering from sexual bullying that they’re not alone and this time will pass and their lives will get better. Definitely a message that needs to be heard.


The experiences in UNSLUT: A DIARY AND A MEMOIR are familiar to me, probably because like most women I experienced sexual bullying myself and witnessed it happen to my friends as well. But I was particularly struck by a sentence in a footnote on page 61 in regards to Lindin’s eleven-year-old self wanting to commit suicide: “So many different factors go into a child’s decision to end her own life, but one common thread is that, as children, we lack the understanding that life can get better.”

I stopped and read that sentence over, puzzled. Do children not understand life can get better? I don’t remember that. When I was young, I always daydreamed about the future and how it would be better than the present. My friends and I talked about what we’d be when we grew up and what we’d do. Well, admittedly, not all of us – some were bigger daydreamers than others. But I personally had the outlook that the BS I was dealing with in my youth would not last forever.

Where did I get that idea?

It certainly didn’t come from the small town where I lived, a place steeped in sexism. And like a lot of young people, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my parents about any of this. So where did I get the notion that things would get better?

The only answer I can come up with: books. My two favourite books as a child were Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. Both novel series feature spirited, independent heroines who overcome hardships and grow up to follow their dreams. These stories gave me hope that I could do the same. The other important thing these stories imparted is that boys are not the be-all-and-end-all of a young woman’s life. Both Anne and Jo turn down marriage proposals to pursue personal goals. Young me was sooooo impressed with this! And I carried that message, that boys don’t give girls worth, with me all through my childhood, into my teens, and throughout adulthood.

Books are powerful, and studies have shown that the benefits of reading include emotional intelligence, knowledge of self, and empathy, all things that help people navigate life’s challenges.

I know the stories I read gave me the strength and hope I needed to survive sexual bullying. This is not to say that if bullied young people read books they will never consider ending their lives (the problem is much more complicated than that), but I believe books can help kids feel less alone and provide the hope necessary to continue on. Books that tackle issues (either directly or indirectly) of gender, sexuality, race, class, etc, in a realistic yet hopeful way help everyone, young and old alike, understand that life can get better.

Influence of Books

What books influenced your life? Do stories help you get through tough times? Please share in the comments.


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Accidental Outdated Slang in YA

When it comes to writing for teenagers, the general rule regarding language is this:

Don’t use slang in your YA novel.

I abide by this rule, yet it’s come to my attention that I may be using slang accidentally! WTF?


Let’s back up for a second and state why putting slang in your YA novel is not a smart move. First of all, it’s highly likely that you the author are not a teenager, so your slang will either not be current or be current but used incorrectly. For example, if you tell your kids you’re going to “watch Netflix and chill” tonight and they give you a disgusted look, that’s a hint that you don’t actually know what that expression means to young adults. However, if you’re confident your slang is up-to-date and used accurately, beware of this second reason: all slang dates your book. By the time you publish, teen terminology will have changed drastically. Hell, current slang will probably be obsolete before you finish your 1st draft! So unless you’re writing a period piece or historical YA, or making up your own teen terminology (like in THE MAZE RUNNER), save yourself the trouble and just don’t use slang.

Okay, no problem! I won’t. Except then I read this article and kind of freaked out:

8 Words That Totally Reveal You Are Not a Millennial

Eek! There are words in there that are such a natural part of my vocabulary that I don’t even consider them slang! For those of you who didn’t click the link, here’s the rundown of words that apparently out me as an old person (though I’m not old enough to be Generation X, I’m apparently too old to be a Millennial. Also, whatever happened to Generation Y? Online sources say Y and Millennial is the same thing… but a birth date span of early 80s to early 2000s is, like, way too big. So I consider myself part of the Lost Y generation.)

Okay, back to those words that teens allegedly don’t use. Here’s the list:

1. Totally

2. Bummer

3. Sweet

4. Downer

5. Cool

6. Right

7. Awesome

8. Bonus

Confession: I still use all those words. Okay, not “bummer” but I never liked that one. And “downer” and “bonus” I can see are kind of slang-y. But the others? Are you kidding me?! The rest have been around for decades! Especially “cool”. And now… teenagers don’t say cool anymore?!

Maybe I should calm down. It’s just one source. The smart thing for me to do would be go talk to some teenagers. Since I don’t have any of my own, I’ll do the next logical thing: ask Facebook. Oh, and I’ll ask some real live teenagers too. Here’s what I found out…

This article doesn’t reflect the millennials I know. They told me they still say “cool” and “awesome”. Teacher friends also confirmed they hear their students say these words all the time. Even “totally” and “sweet” and “right” get some love.

Now if I was a good reporter I’d have gotten some sound bites and testimonials from verified millennials to back up my research, but I started coaching gymnastics this weekend and I was way too busy managing chaos to be organized enough to get proof! So you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or ask the millennials in your life.

The conclusion from a writer’s perspective? Even though some slang endures for decades, keep it to a minimum in your writing. A general rule is not to overuse any word, let alone colloquialisms.

But… some may worry if their teenage characters don’t use slang words, they won’t sound like teenagers and teenagers will hate the book! To that I say – hogwash! And read YA. You can convey a teenage voice without slang. Plus, though teenagers (and adults for that matter) tend to repeat certain words a lot (eg.: “like” and “you know” and their favourite positive exclamation – mine admittedly is “awesome”), they rarely know they’re doing it and often find reading a character who speaks in such a way annoying.

Whew! I don’t know about you guys, but I feel a lot better about slipping the occasional “Cool!” into my manuscript. What about you? Do you worry about slang or the lack thereof in your writing?


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Foreshadowing: Tips to Create Mood & Tone

Foreshadowing Post ImageIt’s easier to have discussions about foreshadowing techniques when almost everyone knows the story. Since The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) was a runaway YA crossover bestseller and a major motion picture, I’m using it for my examples. Fingers crossed I’m not spoiling this story for too many people.

Foreshadowing is a technique used to hint at events that will take place later in the novel. The most overused method of foreshadowing usually involves the weather. Storm clouds gathering and birds fleeing the treetops are foreshadowing tropes for impending doom. Sunny skies and flowers blooming are used to foreshadow a change for the better.

As a narrative element, it works best for me when used indirectly. I want the plot pieces to fall into place, but I want it to happen slowly. However, other writers, including Green, like to use both direct and indirect in the same story. Going back to the weather example, indirect foreshadowing is having tree branches tapping on the protagonist’s window during a storm.  Making the lights flicker is a more direct method of foreshadowing that something bad is about to happen. A writer can sprinkle several methods of foreshadowing into the same story, and in the case of TFIOS, Green does just that. He builds and layers the foreshadowing from his very first words.

Foreshadowing is often used to:The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

  • Establish a mood

  • Reinforce themes

  • Build anticipation

  • Expand characterization

  • Aid in the suspension of disbelief

  • Prepare the reader for plot twists and/or dramatic finish

Establishes the mood:
Many authors, including Green, use titles to help foreshadow the story’s mood. In this case, the title is fairly obscure and comes from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Cassius uses the line: “The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” By twisting the original quote Green is saying fate will play a hand in driving this story. From this title no one would expect a carefree romp.

Green also uses another popular mood enhancing technique and opens with a passage. The one in TFIOS comes from the book inside the book, An Imperial Affliction, which Hazel fixates on and shares with Augustus.

As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean:
“Conjoiner rejoinder prisoner concealer revelator.
Look at it, rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Water,” the Dutchman said. “Well, and time.”

– PETER VAN HOUTEN, An Imperial Affliction

Water acts as a major metaphor throughout TFIOS and this passage works as indirect mood foreshadowing in a number of ways, first because Augustus, Hazel’s love interest, is also named Waters. In this quote, water is the destroyer. It washes everything away everything in its path. In the story, Augustus washes away Hazel’s walls, reservations and apathy. Later, water collecting in Hazel’s lungs causes her a medical relapse and distracts her (and the reader’s) focus from the clues about Augustus’ heath concerns.

Funky BonesReinforces themes:
Cancer is deadly, and Hazel, Augustus and many of the secondary characters are battling it. Death is directly foreshadowed a lot! It’s a critical factor in Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, which ends mid-sentence. Hazel tells us this is no doubt because the lead character, Anna, dies and therefore can’t finish the story.

Death is indirectly foreshadowed with the bone sculpture in the park where Hazel and Augustus picnic. It’s by the bones that Augustus tells Hazel about the trip to Amsterdam he has arranged for them. This foreshadowing hints that the trip will result in a negative event and the death of something. In this case the death is two-fold: first, it destroys Hazel’s idolization of Peter Van Houten, the author of her favorite book; second, the bones foreshadow the return of Augustus’ bone cancer and his resulting death.

Builds anticipation:
Augustus has a final wish to use, and this is a huge foreshadowing red flag that his cancer has returned. Hazel understands the trip to Amsterdam is an extravagant wish, and she comments: ‘You had to be pretty sick for the Genies to hook you up with a Wish.’ This creates anticipation about the trip, and about the reasons behind Augustus (or possible Hazel) warranting this last wish trip. Since, we have no way of knowing the outcome of the trip, we start to anticipate the overwhelming effect meeting her author hero will have on Hazel.

During the flight to Amsterdam, Augustus’ inflight movie starts a few seconds before Hazel’s. This is another case of indirect foreshadowing, it’s a very subtle clue that Augustus is hiding something from Hazel. This, and that Augustus is always hanging up the phone before Hazel, are indications he will ultimately leave her behind, i.e. die before she does. I honestly believe even if we don’t pick up on this foreshadowing consciously, we do subconsciously, and that creates anticipation about the relationship ending badly.

Expands characterization:
Augustus is depicted as a person who wants to put others first. We see this with his friend, Isaac, and later with Hazel. It’s also in the way he plays video games, always sacrificing his own game life to save the other players or characters in the game. With this direct characterization foreshadowing in place, it comes as no surprise when we later learn he has taken himself off chemotherapy to take Hazel to Amsterdam.

Augustus shares the story of his last girlfriend’s final days and how he stuck by her side even though he was not in love with her any more. This is indirect foreshadowing for Hazel’s own journey with Augustus. She does a role reversal with him and becomes the stronger, more capable person in the relationship. She uses his foreshadowed example and becomes the perfect girlfriend during his final days.

Aids in the suspension of disbelief:
For the most part, suspension of disbelief foreshadowing is used to make magic systems, or other supernatural elements seem like they belong, that these extraordinary forces could be real in this world. This type of foreshadowing is used a lot in fantasy, magical realism and paranormal novels, and it helps keep the reader believing in the logic of events, even when these events could be perceived as totally illogical.

This type of foreshadowing didn’t really crop up in TFIOS. However, Green could have used this method of foreshadowing to make Van Houten’s behavior in the last third of the book more believable. When Van Houten shows up in America to see Hazel, I don’t buy it. There is no sign in this character’s earlier behavior, or in the foreshadowing to lead me to understand why he arrives back in the story. I feel like he’s just there for plot convenience, and his appearance is not sustained by any of the character’s earlier actions.

On a roller coasterPrepares the reader for the end:
There are clues scattered throughout the book that Augustus is not doing as well as he wants Hazel and the reader to believe, but it’s indirect foreshadowing. What we are told directly is Augustus is strong and athletic. He’s on a roller coaster that only goes up!

We also hear his form of bone cancer is often beaten, however, not always!

When Hazel first meets Augustus she says: “Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest.” This is very direct foreshadowing, but since it happens early in the book, I’m sure it gets missed by lots of readers.

Green has indicated that he “…always saw Gus as fragile and frail, even at the beginning of the book, when he (for example) misuses big words and is clearly not quite the guy he’s trying to play.” These instances are more foreshadowing that Augustus is not the survivor Hazel first takes him for.

At the end of the book there are more signs Augustus is not well. For example, Hazel leans into Augustus’ good side and he breathes out with a yelp of pain. While at the hotel, the elevator doors trip him up. He winces in pain and loses his grip on the door. Hazel wonders about these situations. Why would strong capable Augustus struggle? But in the end she always accepts his answers, assuming as some readers might assume, he is “just out of shape.”

There are several other indirect foreshadowing clues about Augustus’ ill health, like when Van Houten remarks: “perhaps the cancer has established a beachhead in his brain.’

There is also the fight Hazel overhears between Augustus and his mother before leaving for Amsterdam. Augustus yells out: “Because it is my life, mom. It belongs to me.” At this point in the story we don’t know what event has angered his parents, it could be his relationship with Hazel. In some respects Hazel treats it this way, and feels awkward about what she overheard. We learn later Augustus fought with his parents about taking himself off chemo to go on the trip to Amsterdam with Hazel.

Christmas TreeWhen Augustus finally confides in Hazel about his condition, he directly foreshadows his own death. He says during his cancer scan, he “lit up like a Christmas tree…” This tells us it’s over, he is going to die. We know, Hazel knows it.

Hopefully, this gives some clear examples of how many different types of foreshadowing are used together to convey the ending of the story, even from the first words. And all without explicitly telling the plot of the story in any way.  I’ve read enough reviews of The Fault in Our Stars to know many people did not pick up on the clues that Augustus would predecease Hazel. Yet, all the clues are there in the foreshadowing. There are actually many more instances of foreshadowing in TFIOS, but I feel this collection illustrates my points.

Did anyone else pick up on these foreshadowing clues? Or was Augustus’ death a major surprise?

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Watch Writers Talk Writing

Watch Writers  Talk Writing

 Watch            Writers            Talk            Writing

September is always a busy month for me, and this year is no exception. Today I’m doing a super fast and fun YouTube post. I got the idea from a guest post I did last week for Comparative Geeks. For those of you that don’t know, YouTube is positively bursting with great stuff for writers.

I want to alert everyone’s attention to a fantastic and lightly tapped resource. There is a set of videos generated from author panels that took place in July at the 2015 Comic-Con in San Diego, CA. If you’re like  me and didn’t get the chance to attend, watching these videos is the next best thing.

They brought together some top veteran authors for these panels. Names like Lev Grossman, Ernest Cline and Naomi Novik. Plus some of the hottest newer names in publishing like Pierce Brown, Jason M. Hough and Victoria Aveyard. This is just a sample of what you can find in these informative videos.

One panel near and dear to my heart was Modern Fairytales with Reneé Ahdieh, Naomi Novik, Laura Bickle, Tonya Hurley and Julie Kagawa. This one is all about how classic myth, legends and stories are re-imaged in fresh and innovative ways to entertain a new audience.

Or check out Science Fiction and Sex with Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Gini Koch, Camilla D’Errico, Maryelizabeth Yturralde, Nick Cole, Wesley Chu and Gwendolyn Womack. This one is also about strong female protagonists, something science fiction novels have been needing more of for a long time.

I also enjoyed No Cape Required: Modern Day Superheroes with Pierce Brown, James Dashner, Marie Lu, Lexie Dunn, Noelle Stevenson, Robert Venditti and Sarah Kuhn. As we continue to embrace the standard superhero form, it turns out the public is willing to love some updated variations.

These talented authors took the time out of their lives to appear in these panels and there is much to be learned. These are only my top picks; there are many more videos in this series. Although I highly recommended you watch them all, I’m giving a bonus shout out to The Buffy Effect: Teen Heroines Past and Present panel.

If watching writers talk about writing is not your thing, you should at least watch Sci-Fi authors Vs. Fantasy authors Family Feud. It’s quite amusing.

If you have a favorite YouTube writing show, please let everyone know in the comments.


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Writing Frenemies: Love, Hate, & In-Between

CC 2.0 Mauricio Delgado

CC 2.0 Mauricio Delgado

Frenemies are the staple for conflict-packed stories. It’s a relationship dynamic that runs the gambit of emotions. It’s the subtle barbs of a disgruntled coworker. It’s the lingering sad but quietly malevolent vibe of a jilted ex-lover. And it’s the deliberate backstabbing of a fair-weather friend.

Frenemies of every kind are particularly popular in teen character creation, but they’re nothing new to writers. Jane Austen played off the dynamic notion of an enemy masquerading as a friend in several of her novels. Just think of the complicated relationship between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.

How do people with common interests, who run in the same work and/or social circles, manage to cross the line?

Well, it usually begins with some level of self-interest. The corresponding behaviors range from the annoying to the pathological. This type of character plays a major roll in the project I’m working on this fall. My lead character, Jade, is a frienemie to her ex-boyfriend’s new girl with disastrous results for everyone.

Here are some of the character categories where you often find a frenemy lurking:

Me, Myself and I Friend:
This frenemy just has no real interest in others. Their world view has room for one star in the sky and they are it! It’s not so much that they want to hurt others, it’s just that others aren’t as smart, as dedicated, as driven, or as worthy of success as they are. They are single-minded and hard working; they win small and large contests with all the commitment of a world class athlete.

Personal Motto: Good things come to those who hunt them down and kill them with a big stick.

The Roller Coaster of Doom Friend:
They’re up, they’re down, and they’re lost. They’re looking for others to pity them, clutch their hands in support, and show them the way. Of course, once directed to a suitable path, they will still go the other way and cause chaos. This frenemy’s prickly and unpredictable nature means they require constant attention.

Personal Motto: What have you done for me lately?

Green Meanie Friend:
Jealousy’s glow is an ugly shade on anyone, but this frenemy is sporting some shamrock colored karma that demands some redecorating. At the core of envy is low self-esteem and a dose of greed. They want the other person’s success so badly they can taste it. And they resent and denigrate their friend’s accolades with growing malcontent. The Green Meanie doesn’t understand why success proves so elusive, unless their friends are sabotaging them. Paranoia and conspiracy theories are the Green Meanie’s true BFFs.

Personal Motto: Blowing out another person’s candle will make mine brighter.

Humans Are Stepping Stones Friend:
The path to success is paved with the discarded hulls of others. These frenemies are the first to wrangle an invitation to the party and the last to help with the clean up. They are often charming, attractive and know how to work any social situations like a public relations pro. They gravitate toward money and power, always realigning themselves with new friends for maximum gain.

Personal Motto: Life is a journey, and I arrive first and in style.

Most Valuable Player Friend:
Walking in the spotlight feels good, and it’s okay if a little light bleeds ever so gently onto others and long as the MVP hogs the focal point. MVP don’t mind if friends own a much smaller spotlight or if they’re successful in another area of the shared social web. But friends should never go head -to-head with the MVP on home turf, it will not end well.

Personal Motto: I play to annihilate, because he/she who dies with the most trophies, press clippings, and awards wins.

Love Lunatic Friend:
Stupid in the name of love, friends fall by the wayside when the object of this frenemy’s affections beckons. Likewise, their love is always the one true affection, whereas their friends get mocked for their silly crushes. No one can equal the scope of the Love Lunatic’s passion, save Romeo and Juliet of course. That pair is ideal in all things. This frenemy will only return to the fold once love has gone awry. In lost love’s melancholy stage, they will demand everyone’s full attention, until the next true love comes along.

Personal Motto: Love triumphs all, until it doesn’t!

The Grand Schemer Friend:
This frenemy knows just what they’re doing. They’ve learned the art of how befriend and betray at Machiavelli’s knee. They get close fast and study their prey from every angle. When they strike, it is without warning and for maximum suffering. If they are really good at being bad, they might even convince the injured party to apologize.

Personal Motto: Sometimes you need to lose a battle to win the war.

Young adult fiction is positively bursting with frenemies. Using many means (gossip, slander, blackmail), these characters advance their campaigns of self-promotion at any cost. Throwing in a frenemy character never fails to create some extra tension in a group.

Have you ever written a frenemy relationship? If so please share your experience.

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Y is for Young Adult Fiction

BLAST_YHeather and I both read and write young adult fiction, so we have a solid understanding of this market and what makes it tick. In the last decade, the popularity of YA has hit the stratosphere. Author megastars rise up from nowhere almost overnight. Big movie franchises and huge book deals are becoming normal events. It has encouraged countless writers to consider jumping into YA. Today I’m sharing my three top tips for aspiring YA writers and trust me, I’m pulling no punches.

3 Tips if You’re Considering Writing YA

Read YA and lots of it! Of course you could write YA without being a fan, but why would you? Read the big books, the ones that break all the sales records. Read the books critics rave about, but don’t get as much media attention. Subscribe to some blogs that review YA fiction. Make sure you find the ones that don’t give every single book an automatic glowing or five-star rating. Write your own reviews and compare them to those of other readers. Do you notice the same things? Or did you notice something others missed? It’s okay to read predominately in the genre you plan to write for, but also read across the spectrum so you get a feel for the market. If someone drops the names Rowell, Bardugo and Levithan, and you have no clue who these writers are, your homework phase is far from over. Go back to the book store and try again.

You want to write for kids because you think it’s easier than writing for adults? Here comes the biggest knock of all. No market in the world is more competitive, harder to stand out in, or filled with more high-quality talent than YA. In fact, all kidlit is impacted so you shouldn’t expect the situation to improve even if you want to write picture, chapter or middle grade books.

Perhaps you think you’re magically on target to write the next must-read book. If so, please snap out of it! Teens don’t even know what they want to read next. Luck and timing play a huge part in all writer success stories, but perhaps the tipping point is even greater in YA. Everything about teen life moves at a rocket’s pace. Trends come and go and everyone connected with this reader demographic either tries to grab the comet’s tail as it goes by or they fight the G-forces to get out into deep space and hope the comet comes their way. If YA success is your long-term goal, try to remove your attention from writing for the latest trend and focus on making your story the best. Nothing else will potentially save your book from plummeting into a teeming asteroid belt of forgotten YA titles.

2 Examples of great YA
Heather and I have written extensively about the YA books we like, love, or wish we’d written. You can look back at our reviews, or better yet, read the books we’ve reviewed and form your own opinions.

Nothing will help you understand the YA reader like reading the books they crave. Of course, any potential YA writer who has not been reading the hottest authors around should start there. If you’re over 25, YA is nothing like you remember from your teen days. Or read this post by Heather, 7 YA Books that Inspire me to Write Better, to get some ideas.

1 Link for more help
One of the best sources for high quality information on the YA reader, is the Young Adult Library Services Association. That’s why their site is always conveniently linked on our sidebar where I can get to it in a hurry. They have already collected the top 24 teen-nominated titles published in 2014. How many have you read?


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Top Ten Tuesday: 5 Pet Peeves + 5 Fab Fixes for Romance in Books

TopTenTuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a list created by the book loving crew at The Broke and the Bookish. Every Tuesday is a different topic and everyone is invited to join in the fun. So let’s do this!

Everyone loves romance, even if you don’t specifically read romance novels. No matter what genre you prefer, there is often a romantic subplot skipping through the story. Especially in YA. Teens are preoccupied with finding love. How could they not be with all those new hormones coursing through their bodies? Since YA encompasses every genre imaginable, it should be the best place to find a wide range of romantic scenarios, but too often YA lit falls victim to the tried and true cliche. Here’s a list of the worst offenders and what I would rather see instead…

LoveTriangle-Twilight1. The Love Triangle

What bugs me about love triangles is not their shape, but their composition. The vast majority of these trios are two hot boys vying for the love of one girl, and frankly it’s boring. Why not mix it up and make the heroine choose between a hot boy and a hot girl. Or make the other girl or boy the heroine’s competition for the third person’s love. Or make the fight not about romantic love, but about friend love. Or have the objects of lust not notice the heroine so she has to pursue them without knowing if either even likes her! See? I just gave you way more than one fix for this overused trope, so please stop writing heroine + hot boy + another hot boy.

2. The Heroine with No Girlfriends

Maybe it’s something about writers who were loners as teenagers, but I’m so sick of the shy, nerd girl who isn’t popular and doesn’t have any friends except maybe one (who is always more popular than the heroine), and then this hot guy comes along and shows interest in her and wow! Her whole life changes! Please, this isn’t a low-budget TV show without the funds to give the lead actor more than one friend. This is a book! It doesn’t cost you anything to make the heroine a sociable musician or popular athlete or smart-girl-who’s-not-a-loner. Give her some pals! Give her a life! It’s not only the lonely who are looking for love.

3. The Perfect Boy

Often the heroine’s love interest is good-looking, smart and rich. And oh so mysterious. Plus his eyes are probably blue. Bonus points if he has an accent. I know that romance is supposed to be a fantasy, but I want some realism! Give me characters with a range of looks and talents and economic backgrounds. Make the protagonist fall for someone who is not seemingly perfect, who has faults and makes mistakes and isn’t impossibly tuned into the heroine’s feelings. No one needs to be perfect to be loveable. Trust me.

4. The Innocent Virgin

Things have changed since I was a teenager. The Internet wasn’t good for much in the ‘90s. It took many minutes simply to load a photo. Needless to say, I learned about sex by talking to my friends, listening to rumours, watching movies, and going out with guys. But in the 21st century, information about sex is everywhere! Most pre-teens know more about it than I did in my mid-twenties! That’s not to say they have experience yet, but for better or for worse they have information regarding the act the previous generation did not. So when I read about teen characters who are all innocent and clueless, I can’t help but roll my eyes. It’s just not believable, unless they’ve been held captive in a backwoods cabin with no computer their whole lives. This doesn’t mean your characters can’t be virgins. They can be, just make sure they’re not completely naive regarding the subject.

5. Love Taking Precedence Over Possible Death

I admit that most of the entries in my teen diaries were all about boys, but I was not living in a dystopian wasteland or trying to survive a war or hiding from hungry zombies. Yet I read books with these life-and-death stakes where the romantic leads spend way too much time making moony eyes at each other. Come on! You’re about to get your brains eaten! You would not be thinking about kissing him, you’d be thinking RUN! To fix this, moony eyes and romantic thoughts should only occur when the characters are momentarily safe.

And there’s my list! I’m sure you noticed I didn’t mention Instalove. That’s a pet peeve so big I’ve already written an entire blog post on it – complete with fixes as well. Check it out here.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I would love to read some romances that subvert these overused cliches. If you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!


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X-Rated: Should YA Books Have a Rating System?

AtoZBadge-LetterXEarlier this month I wrote a post called “Dropping the F-Bomb in YA Lit” and cited a study done by Brigham Young University that counted the number of swear words in bestselling YA novels. The results? There is cursing in most YA books. This sparked outrage from some and a nod to reality from others. But this study didn’t just start a conversation about profanity, it trotted out the debate about whether or not teen books should have a ratings system.

An article in the US News asked the question: “Is It Time To Rate Young Adult Books for Mature Content?” What struck me about this article, and all the other articles and blogs that chimed in on the topic, is how they all use the words “children” or “kids” to refer to readers of YA. I want to correct them: it’s “Young ADULT” not “Older Kid” books. Teenagers are no longer children.

Even parents who encourage discussion about sex and drugs and other activities teenagers are curious about have a hard time seeing their offspring as young adults. It’s not that parents forget what they were like as teenagers, it’s that they fail to see that their child has crossed into young adulthood. And perhaps they do forget how soon that happens.

I hit puberty at the pretty average age of twelve. I wasn’t even officially a teenager, but it marked the start of me asserting my adultness (albeit behind my parents’ backs) by swearing like a sailor, being curious about drugs and alcohol, and thinking constantly about sex (long before I was actually doing it). Why? Because I was growing up and I wanted to know how to be an adult. It’s that simple. Rating, censoring or outright banning books is never going to stop or delay a child’s metamorphosis to adulthood. In fact, I’d argue that not letting them read “mature content” books is more harmful.

There wasn’t such a thing as YA books when I was a teenager, and I had to learn about sex and drugs and violence by reading adult books like PET SEMATARY and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Not only did I emerge unscarred, I did not imitate anything I read. I repeat: I did not imitate the mature content in these novels.

I emphasize that point because it seems as if this is the main worry re swearing/sex/drugs in YA lit, as if teenagers would never think to engage in such behavior if they didn’t learn about it in a book. I wager it’s the opposite – teens already know about these things and want to know more. YA books are a safe way to learn, and teens will learn somehow – better to find out meth can ruin your life by reading CRANK than by doing meth in real life.

Still, what’s the harm in rating these books “mature content”? Well, that label would limit a lot of books to older teens when younger readers may need to read these books even more. After all, drug dealers don’t ID.

In conclusion, YA novels are a safe place to explore mature topics such as sex, drugs, violence and abuse. Restricting some books via a rating system won’t protect teenagers from these things, and may in fact do more harm by preventing younger teens from accessing information that could help them deal with these issues.

But what about the swearing? At least put a warning sticker on books that have swearing! Fine, but just so you know, that’s only going to encourage the “kids” to read them.


Next Up on the A to Z Challenge… Robin with “Y” and the “Yeti Inside My Head”

Next up from Heather… I haven’t written about Writing Craft in a while, so I’ll do something on dialogue or conflict or just finally writing!


Click here for more posts by Heather.


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Love in YA – The Problem with Insta-Love

(“L” is for LOVE in the A to Z Blog Challenge) AtoZBadge-LetterL

If the interwebs are to be believed, YA readers are sick of insta-love – that moment when the heroine sees a cute stranger and decides immediately he’s the one! On Goodreads people have made “No Insta-Love” shelves and there’s even a Listopia “Young Adult Books Without Insta-Love.”

So why is this trope still in so many YA novels? Well, it does have its pros:

  • It’s relatable; teens are prone to falling hard and fast.
  • It’s mysterious; knowing nothing about the love interest leaves lots for the heroine to discover.
  • It’s aspirational; people want to fall in love easily and without doubt.

So what’s wrong with this? Besides the fact that too much of anything gets boring, many would argue insta-love is unrealistic. Love does not happen instantly! But sometimes it does, especially with teenagers. Whether it’s “true love” or not is up for debate. The bigger problem with the prevalence of insta-love is that this one version of romance squeezes out others. In YA there’s a crisis of romantic homogeny that sets a precedent that most people can never live up to.

Personally, I never “got” insta-love, in stories or in real life. Insta-lust, yes, but insta-love, no, and very early on in my dating years I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Every story I read and romantic comedy I watched made it seem like I’d just know instantly when I met “the one”, and yet it never happened. Rationally, I acknowledged insta-love wasn’t realistic (how can you love someone you don’t even know?), but the trope was so ingrained into my psyche that it was hard to dispel. So whenever I found a story that wasn’t the love-at-first-sight fairy tale, I latched onto it – like the movie 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. Both have characters who fall instantly in love, yet they don’t live happily ever after.

I love these stories because they feel real, and I was disappointed that Disney changed the Sisterhood movie ending to make it happier. In my experience, relationships go down in flames all the time, and living through a heartbreaking situation with a character is impactful because it makes you realize you’re not the only one. Books are cathartic that way.

Humans have a desire to fit in, to feel normal, and to be accepted – especially in love. And because we’re influenced by the narratives around us, we need more varied romances in YA to show that love happens in many ways and there’s no right way to fall in love. So writers, here’s a challenge: come up with as many alternatives to insta-love as possible. I’ll start…

  1. Slow Cooker – where the heroine isn’t sure if she’s falling in love, but as the relationship heats up it becomes clear she is.
  2. Heart Attack – when love sneaks up on the heroine and scares her half to death because she didn’t even know it was there.
  3. Platonic Passion – that guy/gal the heroine swears is just a friend is really more, if she’d give love a chance.
  4. ______________________

What’s on your list? What kinds of romance do you want to see more of in YA novels?


Tomorrow on the A to Z Blog Challenge is Jenn with the letter “M” – Mixing Genres: Career Suicide?

Next Up from Heather… On Monday I have the letter “R” – Reading Overload in the Information Age

Click here for more posts by Heather.


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