Tag Archive: Young Adult

What We’re Reading: SHADOWSHAPER

Fall Reads

shadowshaper_coverSHADOWSHAPER by Daniel José Older

Paint a mural. Start a battle. Change the world.

This is the author’s first YA book, and it’s urban fantasy at its finest. When I classify this book as an urban fantasy, I mean that the city setting of the novel is almost a secondary character. Brooklyn is alive and critical to this story; I loved the neighborhood descriptions. From an all-age Latin dance club, to the community newspaper offices, to Coney Island, I understood how much the lead character, Sierra, loves her city. And I could relate to the protagonist’s pain as she watched her streets slowly change and become more gentrified. The setting in this book jumped off the page, and wrapped me in the textures and energy of New York.

The book developed a fantastic new magic system called shadowshaping, infusing spirits into artworks to make the art come alive. The author expanded on the history and laws of the magic system gradually, and by the end of the book I believed. It seems perfectly logical for a secret society to be bonding the spirits of their late family and friends into public murals. I think this is some of the best magical realism I’ve read in a long time.

More importantly, this book is packed with outstanding character diversity. Sierra is Afro-Latina and her Hispanic family is realistically depicted. I appreciated how the author remembered to include all the extended family dynamics so common in Hispanic culture. Sierra’s family relationships are complicated, she fights with her aunt who likes to downplay their race, and she worships her godfather who embraces it. She even respects and reveres the local Hispanic business owners who serve as her community elders. All these characters reminded me of people I have encountered in my own life. Sierra’s friends are just as interesting and diverse, including two of her best friends who are involved in a same-sex relationship with each other.

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads and honestly I wanted to give it more, but there were a few murky plot issues that kept me from giving that last star. It’s a perfect pick for even younger teens. There are some scary moments and one make-out session between Sierra and her boyfriend, but it’s not extreme. For a reading group looking for a good book to start a discussion about writing inclusive characters and for weaving strong, but non-preachy messages into young adult fiction, this book is a great fit. And it’s perfect if you’re craving a slightly spooky read for a cold night.

Story Blurb:
Sierra Santiago planned the perfect summer vacation. She would paint a huge mural next to the junkyard near her Brooklyn home. She would hang out with her friends. She would finally talk to the new cute guy from school, a fellow artist named Robbie. But the murals in her neighborhood begin to move, and weep tears. Later a reanimated corpse crashes the first big high school party of the summer, and he seems to be looking for Sierra and Robbie. Sierra’s in trouble and Robbie knows more than he’s saying. Everyone is leaving Sierra in the dark about a troubling family secret, and that could get her killed.

Sierra and Robbie are shadowshapers, people who can infuse ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. And someone is systematically killing off all the shadowshapers to gain their powers. It’s up to Sierra to stop the killer. To do that, she must decipher her grandfather’s riddle and defeat an army of reanimated dead. If she fails, it might mean the end of all the shadowshapers and the enslavement of the spirit realm under the power of a madman.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-shadowshaper/

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.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/watch-writers-talk-writing/

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.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-frenemies-love-hate-and-in-between/

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?


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/y-is-for-ya/

10 Things I (Don’t) Hate About You

10_Things_I_Hate_About_You_filmKat, the protagonist (portrayed by Julia Stiles) in the film 10 Things I Hate About You, is not a likable character.

Nor does she strive to be likable. It’s more the reverse with her; she’s intentionally rude, domineering, and opinionated.

Since the film is based on The Taming of the Shrew, making her a bit of a tyrant is the main point of the story. And Kat comes through like a champ; she attacks life with her unbridled opposition. She never lets conventions, other people’s opinions or even rules stand in the way of what she wants. She speaks her mind, argues with her friends, questions her teachers and disagrees with her family.

As a consequence of her no-holds-barred personality, she’s feared, avoided, disliked, and antagonized by everyone who knows her. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Kat must classify herself to her guidance counselor.


The point is Kat — people perceive you
as somewhat …

Kat smiles at her, daring her to say it.


No … I believe “heinous bitch” is the
term used most often.


Many of the writers I know are working their fingers to the bone trying to create characters that are the opposite of a Kat. They want to craft the quintessential book friend, someone so universally likable that every agent, editor and reader will want that character to walk off the page and join them for a cup of coffee.

When I’m confronted with a protagonist like Kat, I’m conflicted. Shouldn’t I want to root for her? She is the heroine of the story and I do enjoy a character with a few rough edges. But shouldn’t I also dislike her (at least a little bit) for being so confrontational?

Why do millions of us enjoy watching cynical, intimidating Kat in action? What makes this character work, when so many more likable characters don’t?


  1. Comic Relief: Kat delivers her insults in droll, clever and sarcastic bursts. The humorous, intellectual nature of her one-liners defuses some of the power of her cutting barbs and we’re always laughing with her, not at her.
  2. She Has a Supportive Backstory: Kat has deep, emotionally-charged reasons for most of her behaviors, reasons she chooses not to disclose until she’s ready. Characters in pain should show it, it’s scary if they don’t. Everything Kat does makes sense in the context of her character’s history.
  3. Her Goals Are Evident: Every character needs to want something and Kat wants to attend a prestigious university. However, her controlling father wants to thwart her plans. She’s willing to wage an all-out war with her father to achieve her objective.
  4. Our Own Expectations: We know how this story turns out, and that happy-ever-after ending makes us feel good. We Happy Ending Shotmentally gloss over any negative emotions and rejoice that true love eventually conquers all. Expectation is a powerful tool, it’s also easier to accept annoying behavior if it’s predictable and fits the storyline perfectly.
  5. We Can Relate: We can all remember feeling like Kat, a smug, scared, pissed off teen. It often takes some kernel of empathy to help us connect with a prickly character. And it helps if we can understand the character’s choices and believe we would act the same way in a similar situation.
  6. Superior Intellect: Let face it, we value the truly brainy and we’ll often look away when they act like toddlers. This simple fact is the foundation of many unlikable characters. If you must create a character that embodies a number of negative traits, make sure they can calculate data with the speed of a super computer and it’s all good. Kat is brilliant, hard working, politically aware and a great student.
  7. It’s All About Balance: This film is a game of dysfunctional character bingo; we lose Kat’s actions in a sea of imperfect characters. This story is interwoven with too many conflicting motives, lies, and schemes and no one is playing fair or being honest.
  8. The Train Wreck Effect: Sometimes you just can’t look away from an impending disaster, seeing characters get the crushing defeat they so richly deserve can be the main reason we stick around till the end. In this case Kat’s ego gets tattered, but she survives. However her antagonist, Joey, will go down hard.
  9. We Learn to Flip Our Perceptions: Kat is a character with a large number of negative traits, but those same traits become positive in a fresh context. It’s stubbornness when Kat battles someone, and determination and resilience when she joins their cause.
  10. They Included A Softener: Kat isn’t bad, she’s smart and sassy. She truly loves her family and when it comes down to protecting her own secrets or helping her sister, she chooses her family. She also learns forgiveness and to focus on others for their good qualities, instead of dwelling on their negative ones.

Granted, what makes a character likable for me, might make them unlikable to another person and creating potentially unlikable characters isn’t the safe choice. But it’s taken me a while to realize I’m not very interested in safe. I want twisted, confused, conflicted characters and I think Kat’s a great example of how to do it effectively. I don’t want to have coffee with Kat or become her BFF, but she’s a challenging character. I could have hated Kat, but I didn’t, and that’s because for the most part, she was written just right.


For more WriteOnSisters posts by Robin click here. Or more posts about character development click here.

Take the Quiz: Which character are you from 10 Things I Hate About You?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/10-things-i-dont-hate-about-you/

Guest Post: SCBWI Conference with Cindy McCraw Dircks

For those of you following the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) events you’ll know they held their big annual New Jersey conference on June 27th – 29th. Since none of the Sisters had the chance to attend we asked Robin’s friend Cindy to guest blog and fill everyone in on the highlights. Here’s what she had to share about her memorable weekend:

Aside from a cloudy vacation in Vegas two years ago, this was the greatest weekend of my life. Why? Because I felt like this conference was all about helping me get published. Not just inspired—published.

The professionals I met gave me the hard truth about my writing. Hard truth that equal parts broke my heart and sent me into a frenzy of revision. It was thirty-six solid hours of feedback and up-close and hands-on advice. I’ve included highlights from only my schedule here, as I didn’t attend the other sixty-four workshops, the other twelve first-page critique sessions, or the myriad of other one-on-one critiques and pitch events offered by some of the publishing industry’s finest talent.

Here’s what I did:

1st Workshop: Editor/Agent panel: Sky Pony Press, Random House, Putnam.

Primary topic, diversity (see–#weneeddiversebooks on Twitter for more on this evolving topic). There’s a desperate need for characters from other nationalities to be fully developed characters, not flat, cardboard cutouts of characters. They should be so well entrenched in the story that their place of origin and appearance is glossed over in lieu of their overall contribution to the plot.

Editors also expressed concern over a book distributor’s tendency, such as Barnes & Noble, in specific parts of the country to place books featuring Hispanic characters in a separate Spanish section rather than placing all MG, YA, and NA books together by genre.

Lastly, in relation to voice, if you are going to incorporate a character from a country that is not your own, make sure you not only understand how teens speak, but how teens from that particular country speak. Said one editor, “No kids from South America speak like Dora the Explorer…”

2nd Workshop: Creating The Teen Voice with Sarah La Polla of Bradford Literary.

Ms. La Polla is currently inundated with “snarky teen girls and depressed teen boys.” She requests…”A little variety, please!” Teens know when an issue book is being thrown at them and can tell when somebody who’s over 40 is trying to sound like they’re 15. Listen to teens! Catch their phrases and sensibilities then simplify them—because your book, no matter how now and trendy, won’t be published for at least another two years once completed. Avoid pop-culture and social media. Try creating your own future-tech/twitter-like communication.

Per YA: Non-gratuitous sex and swearing—fine. Though “first time sex” is completely over done. “Twilight”-style romance is on the way out (Teens know it just doesn’t work that way).
Per Middle Grade: No swearing. Subtle romance, culminating in one kiss or pinkie-touching, okay.

In lieu of a 3rd Workshop I paid an extra $75 for a fifteen-minute, one-on-one critique session with an editor.

This was my most productive hour. The month prior, I loaded the first fifteen pages of my completed YA manuscript to the NJ SCBWI website. Thus, once we met, the editor had already reviewed my manuscript and was ready to discuss my work with me. So beneficial. She asked some tough questions, and suggested edits that made immediate sense. Then, at the end, she requested to see more. Finally—validation.

Next, I had my first-ever four-minute pitch session.

Ouch! So painful. Honestly, I wrote a one-sentence synopsis that I thought reflected the plot of my second novel pretty well. Man—I was wrong. My assigned agent said, after allowing me to elaborate on my story, that I didn’t nail the main conflict. It also didn’t help that although she likes the darker side of teen lit, she’s no longer into paranormal. And four minutes goes by REALLY fast! I stammered all over myself, worried the clock. What I learned: write your pitch, then read it out loud to your friends, critique groups, kids—anyone! Just practice until you’re comfortable or you’ll never succeed.

Sunday keynote:
I attended a “State Of The Market” presentation. Katherine Temean, former Director for NJ/SCBWI, polled attending editors and agents for news on today’s book markets. Tidbits I garnered included:

  • YA paranormal/dystopian is out—whereas Contemporary/Magical realism is in.
  • MG and chapter books are seeing an uptick in sales.
  • Despite the above two points, editors and agents cautioned not to write toward trends—it takes at least two years for your book to come out. Who can predict what will be popular then? If you like paranormal, write paranormal. It might be a tough sale now, but who knows…
  • And, yes, ebooks are thriving and though infinitely cheaper than hardcovers and some paperbacks, are bringing in large profits to all publishing houses.

A full PDF of this presentation is available on Katherine Temean’s blog and I recommend everyone read it for more valuable insight into where the children’s book industry is headed.

4th Workshop: First Pages session.

Given the emphasis placed on the opening line of a book, first-page sessions are crazy helpful. I submitted from a YA novel I just started and got some encouraging comments—but was told not to make the first page too “info heavy” (i.e., don’t include a character description in the first paragraphs unless it’s crucial). Also, if a character is bilingual, don’t say “they’re bilingual.” Let it come out naturally within the story.

One agent leading the session noted that all the first page entries here featured female protagonists. She said this was not only reflective of the sessions, workshops and one-on-ones she attended at this particular conference, but to the market in general. “Where are all the boys?”

5th Workshop: Editor’s Panel. Houses represented: Sky Pony Press, Sterling, Bloomsbury, Simon & Schuster, Farrar Straus Giroux and Putnam.

High points included:
– Query Letters: Don’t panic about having an“author platform.” Mention your presence on social media no matter how new—your willingness to promote your book is just as important. It’s more essential to write great books than lure people to your Twitter feed.
– Before Writing: KNOW YOUR MARKET. Check Publisher’s Lunch, Publisher’s Marketplace, and PW’s Children’s Bookshelf.
– Cool advice: Don’t overwork your manuscript. Learn when to stop revising and just send it out.
– YA/NA Plug: Check out Bloomsbury Spark—a YA & NA digital imprint from Bloomsbury Publishing. Submission guidelines available on-line.
– Lastly: There are no new stories —just new ways of approaching old topics. We have all heard this, but it’s comforting to hear it from publishing professionals.

Even if I win a Pulitzer before next July (Dream big, right?). I’ll definitely register for 2015. I’m still buzzing from the feedback and fun and can’t wait to open my laptop every morning.



Cindy McCraw Dircks began her publishing and media career as a “go-for” at Playboy Enterprises and peaked as a production coordinator at Sesame Workshop. She left that behind to raise three fantastic children, who are also her biggest story critics. Currently she fills her time writing YA and MG novels. Earlier this year, Cindy was selected to participate in the #publishyoself program with the Children’s Media Association. Her writing will be featured in a collaborative Middle Grade ebook slated for release in January 2015. Connect with Cindy on Twitter at @mcdircks, on Facebook, Linkedin or her website: www.cindymccrawdircks.com.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/4009/

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.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/a-z-challenge/x-rated-should-ya-books-have-a-rating-system/

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.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/a-z-challenge/love-in-ya-the-problem-with-insta-love/

Dropping the F-Bomb in YA Lit

AtoZBadge-Letter F(Yes, I scored the letter “F” in the A to Z Blog Challenge!)

At a writing conference the topic of swearing in YA lit came up. I was surprised some writers vehemently believed you couldn’t put the F-word in a YA novel. They claimed no agent or editor would publish it with that word (or even other lesser curses) on the pages. I looked at them in disbelief because I devour dozens of YA novels a year and encounter swearing in… well, I couldn’t tell them an exact percentage or which books, except for a handful that were especially profane due to the characters’ circumstances. The rest? I was sure they all had the odd swear word, but I had no stats.

So how common is swearing in YA novels? For the answer, I hit up Google.

Just one study popped up: Brigham Young University. If anyone else has run numbers on the amount of swear words in YA books, I couldn’t find the information. (If you have more information, please tell me! I’m curious.) The study out of Brigham counted all the swear words in 40 YA books on the bestsellers list (this was in 2012). Out of those 40 books, 35 had profanity in them, and the number of swears per book averaged 38.

One study is hardly the be-all and end-all, but assuming the YA bestsellers list in 2012 wasn’t full of an unusual amount of profanity, we can conclude that the vast majority of popular YA novels include swear words. We can also conclude that cursing is used sparingly – an average of 38 words out of 70,000 is not a lot.

That probably explains why I don’t notice swearing in books unless it’s super prevalent. The odd word dropped in when a character is angry or upset doesn’t even register on my swear-dar because it’s realistic. This was certainly the case for IF I STAY by Gayle Forman.

I had no recollection of swearing in this novel until, while researching the subject, I came across Forman’s blog about her reaction to everyone else freaking out about swearing in IF I STAY. There’s not that much, especially since the main character isn’t prone to cursing, but other characters swear. Forman’s response is basically: real people swear, so it wouldn’t be realistic if her characters didn’t.

On the flip side, some authors avoid swearing in order to ensure their books aren’t banned from school libraries or rejected by booksellers. James Dawson is such an author. He explains why here.

Then there are books like THE MAZE RUNNER where the author makes up slang words for his characters that are clearly swears to them but not swears in our society.

And those are basically a YA Writer’s 3 Options when it comes to profanity:

  1. Swear and face the consequences.
  2. Play it safe and don’t swear.
  3. Make up your own swears.

The presence of profanity in your novel isn’t going to stop it from being published, but it may limit the book’s exposure. Then again, controversy is gold and being on the banned book list may help! This book (WHEN MR. DOG BITES) hasn’t even come out yet and the hubbub around it sure brought it to my attention and made me put it on my reading list!

Though keep in mind that swearing just because you can is never the way to go. The words must be motivated. They hold weight. Use them wisely for ultimate effect.

In conclusion, the evidence states that you absolutely can use the F-word in YA lit, but you don’t have to. Like most everything in life, it comes down to personal choice. What kind of writer are you? What sorts of characters are you writing? Would they drop the F-bomb? Or would they say “eff it” or “darn” or “fiddlesticks”? It’s up to you!


Tomorrow in the A to Z Challenge… Jenn has the letter “G” and she’s blogging about Gender Questions: Why Can’t A Woman Write More Like A Man?

Next Up from Heather… I have the letter “L” and I’ll be explaining how insta-love ruined my love life for a little while in Love in YA Lit.

Click here for more posts by Heather.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/a-z-challenge/dropping-the-f-bomb-in-ya-lit/

Friday Inspiration: Seven YA Books that Inspire Me to Write Better

Great books inspire great writing. Without further ado, the novels that push me to be my creative best…


BookCover-SpeakSPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the first YA book I ever bought. I read it yeeeeeears ago, when I was about 22. Though I can’t remember the details, I do remember the issue and feeling like this was a very real story that could have happened to me. After reading SPEAK, I vowed to make everything I wrote, even fantasy stories, feel this true.



BookCover-LullabiesForLittleCriminalsLULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS by Heather O’Neill

This novel is something I could never write because I haven’t lived in the destitute streets of Montreal. As Jennifer wrote in her last post, I too believe authors need experience with certain tragedies to be able to write about them faithfully. But what I took away from this novel is the importance of voice. In LULLABIES the protagonist is resilient and hopeful and never wallows in self-pity, despite the horrific things she lives through. I learned that’s the kind of character who can pull readers through the darkest of stories.


BookCover-i-hunt-killersI HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga

I love scary mysteries, and these are hard to come by in YA. Lyga set the bar and I haven’t read anything this good since. I HUNT KILLERS is the trifecta of awesome writing – solid whodoneit, suspenseful danger, and a tortured protagonist. Jasper Dent is the son of a serial killer and worries he’s going to become a psychopath like dear old dad. These deeply personal stakes make this mystery so much more compelling than the basic whodoneit.


BookCover-Drink,Slay,LoveDRINK, SLAY, LOVE by Sarah Beth Durst

This book made me laugh out loud. Finally, a story about vampires that’s not all emo and melodramatic! This parody is sharp and witty, and also suspenseful and dangerous. It is, after all, about blood-sucking killers. DRINK, SLAY, LOVE gave me hope that even in genres that are way overdone, there’s room to be original.



BookCover-SisterWifeSISTER WIFE by Shelley Hrdlitschka

Another tough topic to write about, and Hrdlitschka did it justice by having three narrators with very different points of view on polygamy. Distinct POVs are a must if a novel has multiple narrators.



BookCover-UgliesUGLIES by Scott Westerfeld

A dystopian novel that doesn’t focus on war, but on society’s unrealistic expectations of beauty. I connected with this concept. I imagine most teenage girls would. But what the writer in me took away from this trilogy is how each book wraps up the story, then opens it up to continue in a completely different direction. No infuriating cliffhanger ending, yet you’re compelled to keep reading because what’s happening next is not more of the same, but something different and even more exciting!


BookCover-HungerGamesTHE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

This book is the pinnacle of brilliant writing for me. I could not put it down. In fact, I’ve read it three times, and the third time I tried to read it slower so I could learn about Collins’s writing style, but I still burned through it in one afternoon. THE HUNGER GAMES is a book that demands to be read and will not let you sleep until you find out what happens. I aspire to write a book this compelling. Also, Collins shows us how to do a love triangle without focusing on the boys! Gale is presented so well in the beginning pages that even though he’s not in the rest of the book, the readers don’t forget him. And when Katniss thinks about him, she’s not in the least bit swoony, but we still feel how much she cares about him. Collins proves romance does not need to be in-your-face to be captivating.


So those are the top 7 YA novels that inspire me to write better. What are yours? What did you learn from your favorite books?


For more blog posts from Heather, click here!


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/friday-inspiration-7-ya-books-that-inspire-me-to-write-better/

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