Thursday, June 30, 2011

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! How many 'Point of Views' is too many? And who's telling this story anyway? WRAP-UP

Wrap Up

For fun, I thought I’d reach back into the archives to 1897, to a famous novel which most of you will have certainly heard of...

Bram Stoker’s, Dracula

Bram Stoker used a series of Journal and Diary entries (First Person, Multiple POVs) to craft his world famous, and modern day vamp inspiring, nineteenth century novel.

Cast of Characters...or POVs:

Journal of Johnathan Harker

Mina Murray’s Journal

Lucy Westenra’s Diary

Dr. Seward’s Diary

Letters from Lucy and Mina

Task: Take the following excerpt and write it from Dracula’s or Lucy’s POV. You can brainstorm it on paper, or in your head. This is just for fun.

Mina Murray’s Journal:

17 August.--No diary for two whole days. I have not had the heart to write. Some sort of shadowy pall seems to be coming over our happiness. No news from Jonathan, and Lucy seems to be growing weaker, whilst her mother’s hours are numbering to a close. I do not understand Lucy’s fading away as she is doing. She eats well and sleeps well, and enjoys fresh air; but all time the roses in her cheeks are fading, and she gets weaker and more languid day by day: at night I hear her gasping for air. I keep the key of our door always fastened to my wrist at night, but she gets up and walks about the room, and sits at the open window. Last night I found her leaning out when I woke up, and when I tried to wake her she was as weak as water, and cried silently between long, painful struggles for breath. When I asked her how she came to be at the window she shook her head and turned away. I trust her feeling ill may not be from that unlucky prick of the safety-pin. I looked at her throat just as she lay asleep, and the tiny wounds seem not to have healed. They are still open, and, if anything, larger than before, and the edges of them are faintly white. They are like little white dots with red centers. Unless they heal within a day or two, I shall insist on the doctor seeing them.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, Excerpt, page 90

* * * *

....So if you tried this exercise, you may have found, that writing it from Lucy’s First Person POV, or Dracula’s for that matter, actually weakens the mystery and angst Mina is feeling (and thus the build up of eerie tension) Lucy would most likely display angst, but probably the more confused variety, with strange thoughts, whereas Dracula probably would go on about bloodlust, more lust, you know...lust etc-grin. My point being that Bram Stoker chose the most evocative and effective POV, Mina the perplexed cousin, for this particular scene to intentionally thicken the suspense and tension.

I want to thank everyone who stopped by today, and if you participated even better! My hope is that you took some little nugget away, to better understand why using one POV over another can make all the difference between a bumpy read and a slick and seamless read.

Cheers, Sara

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! How many 'Point of Views' is too many? And who's telling this story anyway?

Lesson Two

Nowwww... a brilliant idea has blossomed within your gray matter. Your fabulous story is germinating at a rapid rate, neurons are synapsing, a character, or three, is/are, taking form in your mind... So, whose story is it, who gets the most screen time?

What you need to decide as a writer, is which narration will serve the overall purpose of your story, and what limitations will be imposed from the POV you choose.

For my 2 year novel in progress, a contemporary romance (with historical and supernatural elements) my main character, Tessa, was birthed a year and a half ago. To decide if I wanted this novel to be in First Person, or Third Person, I wrote a scene both ways:

1st Person:

Perhaps for the last time, I gazed out the third story window. In the afternoon’s muted light I watched two women pushing baby strollers down Forth Avenue. Economical cars cluttered the curb of my tree lined Brooklyn street. I wondered if there was a taxi service on the small Isle in Vermont. Of all the things to wonder about, whether the the little town I would soon inhabit would have a cab available. I smiled at the thought as I lifted my left hand and lay my palm on the cool glass.

My shoulder still ached daily, with varying intensity, as it had for six months now. Ms. Capstone had assured me however, that the physical therapist up in Vermont would be every bit as capable working with me, to restore my left shoulder and arm function to as close to what it had been before the accident.

It was those three words ‘as close to’ that haunted me. My future uncertain, under the best of circumstances, whether I would perform again, brought on a dependable feeling of melancholy that I’d grown comfortable with, like an old wool sweater.

3rd Person:

Two woman were laughing and talking, as they pushed curly headed toddlers down Forth street in state-of -the art strollers. Tessa looked out of her third story window at the clouds hazing the Brooklyn sky and wondered idly if the small Vermont Isle had taxi cabs.

She smiled at the thought, of all the things to worry about, whether the little town she was ‘getting away to’, had a taxi. More likely, they would have an old Dodge truck for hire.

Tessa lifted her palm to the window’s cool glass. Her shoulder ached, as it did daily, though it was blunted now by the pain medication she’d taken earlier. Ms. Capstone had assured Tessa that the physical therapist she recommended up in Vermont would be every bit as stringent in her routine, ensuring the eventual return of full function to Tessa’s arm and shoulder.

The promise of ‘full function’, which Tessa regarded as subjective at best as to whether she would ever perform again, evoked a familiar melancholy that had become her faithful companion of late.

For me, 3rd person felt more comfortable, and because I wanted to include the thoughts of my hero-love interest, and obsessed antagonist, I decided on Third Person Subjective POV (multiple viewpoints). Now with the POV decided upon, I then roughly decided on the percentage of stage time my characters would have in the novel.

Tessa-at least 40%
Michael-at least 30%
Anthony-at least 20%

*Note this doesn’t include some historical sub-plotting which will be weaved in.

Undoubtedly the type of story you are writing will dictate which POV you end up using.

First Person offers the advantage of allowing the reader to feel an immediate connection with your character, and to feel emotions more intensely through your character’s eyes. This POV works well in detective novels, novel’s with confessional, gothic, introspective, or atmospheric facets, as in horror. ( However, this is not to say it can’t work well in adventure, thrillers, sci-fi or fantasy, as Diana Gabaldon so handily demonstrates in her Outlander series).

A few examples of stories written in first person:

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

The Woods by Harlan Coben

One For the Money Series
by Janet Evanovich

*And please don’t forget: First Person, doesn’t have to be a person at all. One of my all time favorite books is The Captain’s Dog by Roland Smith, in which the story is told entirely from Seaman’s POV, Captain Meriwether Lewis’, Newfoundland (with a lovely dog-like perspective, I might add!)

If you have an epic story, secrets, or other characters you want to have the reader identify with, then third person POV may be the better choice. Remember with first person, you know everything your character is thinking, and unless they are delusional or mad, you will know where their loyalties lie, and most all of their secrets (unless they have subconsciously repressed them.) Also with first person, you can’t know what the other guys and gals are doing outside of your sight (see the Jurassic Park example in Lesson one).

Third Person Limited/Multiple Third Person Subjective (I’m lumping these together for brevity’s sake)

This is the most frequently used and widely accepted POV, which allows the reader to have an expanded view beyond the main character’s psyche and thoughts, as I noted in the first lesson. This comfortable narration does have a few cautions to go with it, however. Choose only one character’s POV for a scene or section, DO NOT slip into someone else’s thoughts, or the head hop warden will be filling up your sidebar with admonishments! If you have more than one POV in your novel, plan ahead as to how much air time each POV will have. For instance in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood Series, the POV’s go something like this:

Hard body Alpha male 40%

Beautiful female 30%

Other supporting characters 30% ( but folks there is a whole lot in between...grin)

Developing a pattern as to when each character’s on stage, will clue the reader in so they can anticipate when their favorite character is coming back, and thus prevent your reader from becoming frustrated, or jarred out of the story. Carefully transitioning from one character to the next through scene changes, or even better, using a new chapter to switch POVs, will help you accomplish a solid and satisfying story.

A few examples of stories written in Third Person Limited/ Multiple Third Person Subjective POVs are:

Ashes to Ashes by Tami Hoag

Cold Blooded by Lisa Jackson

Winter Moon by Dean Koontz

It by Stephen King

Invisible Prey by John Sandford

Third Person Omniscient

This narration is used less frequently, but can be effective when used in a novel where there are mixed POV’s such as in Neil Gaiman’s American God’s. The main POV is Third person limited, Shadow’s mostly, and a couple scenes where his dead wife Laura checks in), but has a sprinkling of omniscient scenes revealing what some of the other characters in the book are up to.

A few examples of Third Person Omniscient:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Your Task: Either check in on your own work in progress, or brainstorm something new, then let me know in the comment section, if you’ve chosen First, Third, or Omni POV, who your main character is, and if you have multiple characters, what percentage stage time will each have?

*Wrap up, (with a fun exercise) and at 3pm Pacific Time.

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! How many 'Point of Views' is too many? And who's telling this story anyway?

"You’re only on chapter two, and you're on you're FOURTH POV! Too many POV's! Get rid of them!"
"But how can my 250K manuscript possibly be told from only three POV's??!!!" You cry out in protest, your heart sinking into a self-piteous puddle of goo...

Does the above exchange sound familiar, have any of you experienced this moment of reckoning via a tough editor, or a gestapo-esque critique partner?

To avoid falling victim to the editor’s guillotine regarding POVs aka ‘point of views’, and preserve your sanity, I offer you the following workshop. With some thoughtful planning ahead of time, you too can escape the POV warden’s wrath...

In this workshop we will discuss the use of those slippery POVs, how to use them not only to enhance your tale, but to produce a cohesive and satisfying read. After all, we want the readers to get what we’ve written, not be confused to the point of using your story as a projectile aimed at the out going box to the thrift store, or in the case of electronic books, hit the delete button.

In Lesson One, we will discuss the different POV narrations, and I will site a few examples of different POV’s used by some of your favorite authors, and perhaps some you’ve never heard of.

In Lesson Two, you will have a chance to practice writing short scenes from different POV’s, and see the advantages of one POV vs multiple POVs.

Lesson One:

How many of you as writers have struggled with POV in your stories? In a romance, who gets main billing, the heroine or the hero? In a horror story, is the tension built from just one main character’s richly rendered psyche telling the tale, or from multiple POV’s increasing the tension toward a collision course finale? In a mystery, does your intelligent, yet graceless, detective tell the story while you learn the clues as he does? In science fiction and fantasy can you tell your massive story, with beautifully wrought techno worlds and kingdoms, from only one person’s POV, or do you need ten? In paranormal urban fantasy, should you weave the plot using only your first person, 'kick your butt female', wielding a sword, while her love interest sits mutely on the sidelines?

These are all questions a writer confronts at one time or another when they embark into a new story. So you ask: what are the rules regarding Point of Views? Are there any?

Lazette Gifford, writer, editor, and site owner of the online writing group/forum, Forward Motion for Writers, maintains: “the only ‘rule’ is that all the POV characters be equally exciting and important to the story.” However, she is quick to add: “a reader needs to change gears in their head every time you change a POV, so... too many POVs can diffuse the power of the story.” 

An example of multiple POV use can be found in Anne Rice's The Mummy: by page 36, seven POV's have weighed in...

Lawrence (Archeologist and heroine's father)

Elliot (friend of Lawrence)

Julie (Lawrence's daughter)

Clerk (reading about Lawrence's death newspaper-his thoughts)

Randolf (Lawrence's broke brother)

Henry (villain)

Daisy (Henry's mistress)
The Mummy-Ramses

Could Ms. Rice have done it with fewer POV’s? Probably. Julie, the heroine, Henry, the Villain, Ramses the Mummy (hero-sort of) are keepers to make the story, but the clerk and his thoughts could have been absorbed, Daisy could have been introduced and described adequately from Henry, the villain’s, POV (and thus Daisy’s POV done away with), and well...the jury is still out on Elliot and Randolf.

The editors at Muse It Up Publishing also agree: keeping the POV’s tight to one or two main characters (with just one or two secondary character POVs) not only keeps the reader invested in the story and prevents “jarring” the reader out of the main story-line and plot, but strengthens the lead character as well. Although, these same editors will admit that there are times when the scope of the story may call for additional POV’s, especially if said POVs offer something of value to the whole story; then the editors will work with an author to obtain a happy medium.

In my quest for opinions regarding POV’s, I did an unofficial survey in one of my writer’s groups asking the question: what are the rules in regards to POV’s, and how many is too many. The answers were as varied as the writers themselves. Their common theme: use as many POV’s as necessary to tell a good story.

For instance, George R.R. Martin has a full cast of characters in his series, A Song of Fire and Ice, all fully fleshed out, and important to the story, whereas, Diana Gabaldon deftly weaves her richly detailed historical romance series from first person only; through Claire Randall’s eyes, the reader is drawn in and shown the lovely yet harrowing world of eighteenth century Scotland in a way you will forget you are reading from first person.

From the horror camp, Mary Shelley tells the story of her tragic monster from Victor Frankenstein’s first person POV exclusively. Stephen King wrote Misery from just one character’s perspective as well, however, Paul Sheldon’s tortured POV is written in third person limited, instead of first person, the effect...quite horrifying, in a visceral kind of way.

Within the mystery circle, Tony Hillerman crafted Skeleton Man, with a predictable pattern of several third person limited POV’s, the main characters, Detective Joe Leaphorn, and Sergeant Jim Chee, getting most face time, but interspersed throughout, in an expected order, are Joanna Craig (daughter of deceased man who died in plane crash), Bradford Chandler, (bad guy), Bernadette Manuelito (Jim Chee’s fiancee). Now, in vivid contrast to Tony Hillerman’s style, Janet Evanovich’s smart talking heroine, Stephanie Plum the bounty hunter, recounts her adventures and hilarious thoughts from first person POV only.

And in his dark fantasy, American Gods, Neil Gaiman spins this darkly rich tale through Shadow’s third person limited POV eyes, with a few interludes sprinkled throughout in third person omniscient POV.

But...before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here is a quick review of the different point of view narrations:

First Person: The story is told from one person's POV, from inside their mind only. Usually the first clue is the ‘I’.

Example: I woke up with a headache that made having a root canal seem like a picnic.

Third Person Limited: This narration is less limiting than first person, in that it allows you to widen your vision to what’s happening outside your character’s mind,

Example: Tony thought a root canal would be preferable to the ice pick stabbing his brain, the pain so intense, he missed the figure lurking down at the mouth of the alley. (In first person you are limited to the thoughts and reactions inside your character’s mind only, therefore in this POV, your MC could not know there is a shadow lurking at the mouth of the alley, but using third person, you broaden the MC’s horizons, so to speak.)

Third Person Subjective Multiple Viewpoint: This is simply having several character’s written in third person limited POV throughout a story (not to be confused with head hopping). There are your first level characters (your MC, hero or heroine, estranged friend or family, and or villain) and your second level characters (friend, sidekick, partner, medical expert, weapons expert, clergy, etc.)

A good example of multiple POVs used in a novel would be: Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton:

1st scene: Mike Bowman, real estate developer on west coast of Costa Rica (whose little girl is bitten by strange lizard).

2nd scene: Dr. Marty Guitterrez, contemplating strange bite on Mike Bowman’s little girl.

3rd scene: Elena Morales midwife in clinic in Bahia Anasco, finds baby attacked by strange birds.

4th scene: Introduction of Dr. Alan Grant, paleontologist (hero) outside Snakewater, Montana.

5th scene: Introduction of Ellie Sattler, Alan Grant’s estranged wife, and paleobotanist, also at dig in Montana.

6th scene: Donald Gennaro, general counsel for InGen, concerned about strange happenings down at Dr. Hammond’s amusement park.

7th scene: Tim the smart kid (Hammond’s grandchild) down at the Park.

And so get the idea. All these POV’s setting the tone, and leading up epic action adventure. The above demonstrates, that multiple POV’s with the right plot, especially used in Medical, Sci-Fi, and Spy thrillers, can be very effective.

Third Person Omniscient: This POV reveals the thoughts of everyone in the scene, if the writer so chooses. This POV, in my opinion, is effective when used sparingly in this day and age, because a whole story in which you know what everyone is thinking, outside of a purely literary piece, doesn’t leave much in the way of suspense, or hiding secrets; but most leaves the reader lacking that personal connection with the characters. Here is an example of third person omniscient:

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged woman, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious school-boys, understanding little of the matter at hand, except that it gave them a half-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare into her face, and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast.

-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Second Person: I don’t have much experience with this narration, but from what I’ve read, the second person POV is best reserved for instruction manuals, but has been, and is used in fiction as well. (If anyone has examples of how this POV is used in fiction--well, then please share)

Task One: Take the first 3 books you find off your shelf, or off your e-reader. Go to first chapter (skip prologue if the story has one) and from the first page note: whether the scene is in 1st person or 3rd person, and whose POV is talking. Share your answers here in comments for fun.

* Next Lesson posted at Ten am Pacific Time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Is the Difference Between Writing for MG and YA?

Who Am I?
Hi. My name is Rebecca Ryals Russell and I write Children’s Books. Currently, I have 7 Middle Grade and Young Adult books under contract as well as an adult Horror short. My WIPs include a half-finished YA Dystopian, a newly planned YA Dystopian, an Early Tween Series for use in the classroom, as well as completing the 2 series I have going right now.

I’ve done something I believe to be unique in publishing. I have a basic story I want to tell, but I want it to be read by young Middle Graders on up through Twenty-somethings. As you’ll see by the end of this workshop, you can’t do that with just one style or one book (series). They are too different. So I have written a YA series called Seraphym Wars Series and a MG series called Stardust Warriors. But although the basic story is the same for both series, they are nothing alike.

The YA series is written in first person using 17-year old protag’s POV. There are also various Antag POVs in separate chapters. The YA series also contains a romantic subplot that the MG does not have, as well as more violent scenes, which I left out of the MG.

The MG series is written in third person limited using 14-year old protag’s POV and a narrator’s POV who tells about the antagonists. The MG books are also about half as long as the YA.

But wait, there’s more! I’ve taken the characters and world one step further. I’m in the process of writing Picture Books and Early Reader Chapter Books based on the more fun characters when they were the reader’s age of the book I’m writing for. So far I have about 5 stories written. The names of the world, creatures, and other aspects remain the same throughout all levels of the books.

It’s an interesting experiment. I’m excited to get everything finished and into readers’ hands to see how this works.

 Book Basics 
Whether you write for children/teens or choose books for them, you should probably be aware of the differences between books written for older teens, younger teens, middle graders young and older, even early readers with Chapter Books. Believe it or not, there are definite differences.
            First, let me explain some basics about the various reader levels:

Picture Books
·         Ages 0-7
·         Read TO child
·         1,000 wds max; 500 wds avg
·         Child’s world-neighborhood, home
·         Can be real people or anthropomorphic (animals acting like people)

Beginning Readers
·         Ages 5-8
·         Leveled Readers
·         Read on their own
·         Short sentences, limited vocab
·         500-1500 wds
·         Child’s world-incl school

Chapter Books
·         Ages 7-9
·         Becoming fluent readers
·         4,000-12,000 wds
·         Main character usually 8 or 9
·         Real life and Fantasy, Humor, Mystery, Adventure
·         Plot w/ setbacks

Middle Grade Novels
·         Ages 8-12
·         20,000-60,000+ wds, dep on pub
·         Any genre
·         Plot lines geared to 10-12 yr olds

Upper Middle Grade Novels
·         Ages 10-14
·         Emerging division-more serious MG books not quite YA
·         Length can go MG or YA

Young Adult Novels
·         Ages 12+
·         40,000-90,000+ wds –exceptions both ways
·         Any genre
·         Any subject matter from lite romance to high fantasy
·         Edgy YA-taboo subjects: sexuality, abuse, mental illness

Remember, these are guidelines—not rules. Always read the publisher, agent or editor’s requirements if in doubt.
Next, let’s discuss some basic terminology. As with any job, writing has its own jargon as well. It helps to know: 

Common Terminology

Anthropomorphic- animal characters that talk and behave like humans
Multicultural-stories emphasize cultural diversity; pop rite now
Published Clips-samples of published work; for mags usually
Query-letter or email that describes proposed book or article
Royalties-money pd to writer by pub; taken from future earnings
SASE-self addressed stamped envelope
Seasonal Material-stories, articles or books with seasonal setting or relate to a holiday (anthologies)
Sidebars-supplemental material that accompanies a main article or book (recipes, charts, anecdotes, quizzes, games) Teaching guides
Simultaneous submissions-MS sent to more than one place at a time; depends on pub/agent
Synopsis-page long summary
Tweens/MG, teens and YA-tweens aged 10-12; teens and young adults used interchangeably to refer to ages 12-18
Unsolicited MS-writer submits ms to pub or agent without request

What Are Middle Grade Readers All About?

Okay, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. ARE there differences between Middle Grade readers and Young Adult readers? Most definitely:

Middle Graders:
·         have strong opinions & freely express them
·         care deeply for things & people; not afraid to take a risk
·         are thinkers
·         daydream about their future
·         enjoy planning & organizing tasks & events
·         have great imaginations & creative ideas, but difficulty following through
·         Like games w/ more complex rules
·         Appreciate jokes, riddles & tongue twisters
·         Learning how they operate w/in own world
·         Solidifying own identity
·         Experiencing physical & psychological changes of puberty
·         Taking on new responsibilities
·         read books for characters they care about & want to know better
·         friends & school more important than home & family
·         realizing parents/author figures can make mistakes
·         some defy parents/author figures
·         ‘black and white’ thinkers-see things as right or wrong; no gray
·         Interest in opposite sex-teasing, joking, showing off
·         Verbally cruel to classmates-name calling, nasty put downs

Books should be:
90% action & dialogue
10% description

So, what are the various aspects of good MG books?


·         Personal struggle is the focus; conflict viewed by ‘how it affects Protag’
·         Must be ‘doer’ not ‘watcher’
·         Must solve problem-NOT adult
·         Self-sufficient hero
·         Venture out and conquer new territory


·         Friendship
·         School
·         Relationships w/ siblings
·         Relationships w/ peers


·         React strongly to color, size, shape, sound, smell, feel
·         Include changing weather
·         Seasons
·         General background (city, farm, forest)
·         Work descriptions of setting into action


·         No problem=no point to story
·         Protag’s greatest desire-not easily obtained; something vital at stake
·         Severe consequences if Protag fails


·         Late for school
·         Finding out adopted
·         Family member dying or ill
·         House burning down
·         Someone close having accident
·         Followed by stranger
·         Kidnapped


·         Must be realistic for age of char
·         Vocab and knowledge –age appropriate
·         Use slang sparingly-changes quickly

Example books:
Charlotte’s Web by EB White
View from Saturday by EL Konigsburg

Okay, so now we know what Middle Grade readers prefer in their books and it’s up to you, the writer, to provide it—if you want them to read your books. Let say you have a great idea that doesn’t fit any of these preferences and you think maybe it would fit Young Adult readers? Let’s look at what older teens prefer.

What IS YA Literature?

ALA (American Library Association) definition:
Any book written for and marketed to youth age 12-18. Too broad.
Publishers say:
Books written specifically for ages 14-21 with a YA protagonist and are about issues these young adults deal with or may have to face in the future.
BUT-YA lit can also include what teens are reading during their free time: from adult books pushed to a YA audience like Michael Crichton, Stephen King (some), Danielle Steele, John Grisham or any book marketed as YA by a publisher.

YA Lit has certain unique features

·         Almost always First Person POV
·         Teen protag
·         Marginal Adult Char
·         Brief Time Span (summer, Holiday, few weeks)
·         Limited number of Chars
·         Universal and Familiar Setting
·         Current Teen Language, Expressions, Slang
·         Positive Resolution w/o Moralizing
·         Focus on Experiences and Growth of ONE Char
·         Main Char whose decisions/choices drive the story
·         Problems Specific to Adolescents crossing into Adulthood-Coming of Age
YA Lit – more than age range; addresses emotional intensity of teen’s journey thru adolescence.
YA Fiction – world in flux and teen exploring it, surviving it or just navigating w/o compass.

YA Characters Are Consumed By

·         Who am I?
·         What am I going to become?
·         Where am I going and how can I possible get there from here?
·         Their emotions and desires are intense-have huge impact on how they make decisions.
·         YA Protag in Adult Lit knows these answers (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold)

Differences Between MG and YA

Reader’s age
Protagonists’s age
Word count
Point of View
Third Person
First and Third Person
Main w/ 1 sub, min secondary
Main w/ 2+ sub & secondaries
External struggles
Internal change
How Protag fits into World
Self-understanding, discovery
Wide: Protag’s family, friends, community-Protag as hero
Narrow: Protag growing into adulthood, relationship w/ society
Sweet only
Limited to Edgy*
Adults in the Story
Incl but Protag solves problem
Understated values lesson
*Edgy YA depends on Publisher-some are actively searching it out, others avoid it completely. Usually moves classification up a bit to Reader Age 14+.

Elements of a YA Novel

PLOT--5 basic plot elements

  • ·         Character
  • ·         Setting or Situation
  • ·         Important Goal (char has high stakes/strong desire for
  • ·         Conflict
  • ·         Disaster (resolution to disaster=climax)
  • ·         Universal (big picture) Theme

Genres have specific Plot Structures
Romance-hero & heroine must meet w/in first 2 chapters
§  Intense repulsion/attraction
§  Eventual attraction/consummation
§  Conflict keeps them apart
§  Overcome-HEA (happily ever after)
Western-hero has goal, villain tries to thwart him=conflict
§  Hero tries harder-Villain tries harder
§  Hero wins

Strong Plot has

·         Likeable characters
·         Rising tension
·         Universal theme (The Pearl-first glance tale of man who discovers pearl that leads to great wealth. Small Pix-What will happen to man & wife? Big Pix-Can wealth ever buy happiness?

According to Larry Brooks in his Story Structure Series at
What is the conceptual hook/appeal of your story?
What is the theme(s) of your story?
How does your story open?  Is there an immediate hook?  And then…
§  what is the hero doing in their life before the first plot point?
§  what stakes are established prior to the first plot point?
§  what is your character’s backstory?
§  what inner demons show up here that will come to bear on the hero later in the story?
§  what is foreshadowed prior to the first plot point?
What is the first plot point in your story?
§  is it located properly within the story sequence?
§  how does it change the hero’s agenda going forward?
§  what is the nature of the hero’s new need/quest?
§  what is at stake relative to meeting that need?
§  what opposes the hero in meeting that need?
§  what does the antagonistic force have at stake?
§  why will the reader empathize with the hero at this point?
§  how does the hero respond to the antagonistic force?
What is the mid-point contextual shift/twist in your story?
§  how does it part the curtain of superior knowledge…
§  … for the hero?…  and/or, for the reader?
§  how does this shift the context of the story?
§  how does this pump up dramatic tension and pace?
How does your hero begin to successfully attack their need/quest?
§  how does the antagonistic force respond to this attack?
§  how do the hero’s inner demons come to bear on this attack?
What is the all-is-lost lull just before the second plot point?
What is the second plot point in your story?
§  how does this change or affect the hero’s proactive role?
How is your hero the primary catalyst for the successful resolution of the central problem or issue in this story?
§  how does it meet the hero’s need and fulfill the quest?
§  how does the hero demonstrate the conquering of inner demons?
§  how are the stakes of the story paid off?
§  what will be the reader’s emotional experience as the story concludes?

Secondary vs Subplot

·         Secondary Plot-POV Char’s fictional lives
·         Subplot-POV Char’s minor story in addition to main one
·         No Limit to either
·         Beginner-2-4 POV Char w/ plot line and Protag w/ own Subplot

**Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
**The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler


A Definition of Character (from Larry Brooks
“A hero takes a stand, takes risks, makes decisions, dives in and executes.
A villain rationalizes behavior and is insensitive to, or refuses to accept responsibility for, the associated costs and violations of accepted social standards.
Character – in this sense defined as moral substance, or lack thereof – is defined not by backstory or inner demons, but by decisions and behaviors.
You may have been angry enough to kill someone, or at least punch someone’s lights out, at some point in your life.  But you didn’t.  Why?  Because of your character.  That decision defines you.
Now imagine that you had yielded to that impulse.  Same backstory, same inner turmoil and agenda, same inciting series of events, same emotions… different decision. 
And because of that decision – you cold-cocked the bastard – a completely different dimension of character manifests.”


·         NOT cliché – no stereotypes
·         Strong sense of self


·         Reader Age (read 2 years older than chron age)
·         Character’s role & Purpose in story must be clearly defined
·         Usually young adult ages15-21
·         Can be ages11-13 (readers read up about 2 years from their age)
·         Show teen readers they are not alone, same feelings, desires, problems as real teens
·         Familiar yet Unique; readers see some of themselves in char but also quirky trait for interest
·         Believable traits and skills; protag must be capable of solving problem
·         Correct age
·         Strong voice; thoughts, tone, word choices consistent and self-assured
·         Combination of good and bad; never all good or all bad

***Protag MUST have High Stakes/Strong Desire to solve conflict


(A strong villain creates a wake of tension and conflict for the hero. They lie, steal, cheat, kidnap, backstab, hijack, blow up things...the list is endless. So, what makes a memorable villain?)
·         Does the villain have a believable, clear goal?
·         Does the villain's goal stand in direct contrast with hero's goal?
·         Does the villain have redeeming quality?
·         Is the villain as powerful or more powerful than hero?     

  • ·         World Building
  • ·         Use character POV to Describe Setting
  • ·         Embed time and place into action and events
  • ·         NO long blocks of description

  • ·         Same as Mainstream Adult Novels
  • ·         Action and Reaction
  • ·         MUST complicate Protag’s life and move story forward
  • ·         Ending can’t be predictable

  • ·         Parents
  • ·         School
  • ·         Peers
  • ·         Society

THEME (Hero’s biggest inner problem-ethical focus of story)
  • ·         Sex
  • ·         Drugs
  • ·         Music
  • ·         Coming of Age
  • ·         Dating
  • ·         Fitting In
  • ·         Friendships
  • ·         Self Esteem
  • ·         School
  • ·         Relationships w/ parents & siblings
  • ·         Bullying
  • ·         Sibling rivalry
  • ·         Teen pregnancy

10 Common Themes (completely cliché but true)

o   Power corrupts even the pure
o   Light at the end of the tunnel
o   Opportunity seldom knocks twice
o   Love conquers all
o   No one is beyond redemption
o   Dreams always come true
o   Honesty is the best policy
o   Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
o   When it rains, it pours
o   One man’s food (trash) is another man’s poison (treasure)


Point of View can be very confusing. And even when you think you understand it, you can be rolling along then go back later and read what you wrote and find all kinds of confused POV. So here’s a basic primer.

§  First Person
o   ‘I’ viewpoint
o   Most pop for YA novels, poetry, detective/PI, gothic
o   Reader ‘relates’ to narrator/story teller
o   Creates sense of foreboding

§  Second Person
o   ‘You’ viewpoint
o   Associated with literary works
o   Small doses
·         Prologue
·         Italicized scenes

§  Third Person
o   Limited
§  “he said” or “she said”
o   Subjective Multiple
§  Reader remains in one narrator’s head until scene or chapter shift, then goes into narrator’s head
§  Used in detective/mystery novels
o   Omniscient
§  Panoramic, bird’s eye view
§  Complicated plot and multiple characters

§  Mixed POV
o   No POV rule
o   Third Limited to Third Omniscient
o   First for Protagonist and Third for Antagonist

Something that confuses new authors about POV is this. They write a story in first person, using I and me to represent the narrator/protagonist. But what they forget about is the POINT of VIEW for first person is LIMITED TO ONLY WHAT THE PROTAGONIST WITNESSES PERSONALLY. The minute you tell what another character is feeling, thinking or doing out of the Protag’s visual—you’ve stepped OUT OF POV or HEAD HOPPED. And this is a big no-no right now. So when you choose your POV, keep in mind the story must be told strictly by the Protag’s or narrator’s sensory reach. If you want to have more than one POV in a book, it is possible to do. One method is having a separate chapter per POV. But for YA, your POVs should be limited to 3 maximum, preferably 2. For MG, limit POV to a max of 2. The other way to cover multiple POV is using asterisks to separate whose view we are experiencing.
            Here’s an instance where I had to cover several POVs within the same chapter. This is how my editor and I solved the problem:

“Did you check on the guys?” I asked Brigid.
“No answer at their door. I figured they’re either sleeping or went out.”
“They may have gone into town looking for us.” I shrugged.
 * * * *
Inside Myrna’s bag, the wand began to change. It softened and became flesh and blood. The demon wand grew a head with tiny black eyes and two sharp fangs filled with venom in an arrow-shaped head. The tail grew long and sharply pointed. He slithered out of the bag through a gap on the side and crawled across the dingy gray carpeting of the motel floor. Momentarily distracted by spiders and roaches found along the path and consumed, he chuckled about living too closely the lives he imitated as he shapeshifted throughout history; he quickly reminded himself of today’s ultimate destination and goal. A long forked tongue flicked out. The snake found his way by the taste of the air surrounding the girl he sought. 
Tien knelt beside me. She put her finger on the snake’s belly. “I feel his stomach muscles moving. I think he’s waking up.”
I leaped backward between the beds. The snake came to, rolled over, and looked around.
* * * *
“Hello, again.” Tien thought. 
“You again! Get out of my way, little girl, or suffer the consequences,” the snake hissed back at her angrily. 
“I told you, you can’t have her. Who sent you? How did you get in here?”
“I will not tell my master’s name. As for the other question, here is a riddle: I once was stiff and could not move; but now I slither and I groove.” He snarled and began quickly slithering toward Myrna, who sat mesmerized on the floor. Brigid reached down and grabbed her arm, pulling. 

As you can see, I needed to have the demon-snake think at one of the girls and hear what she thought back to him. But we also needed to see what was happening in the room between the three girls. So the different POV was separated by **** asterisks.

Adding Adult Characters to Children’s Books

      Role Model
      Good Villains
      Portray Weakness, Flaws
      Must Serve Purpose
      Small Number of Well-Developed Adult Characters
      Can have child-like qualities, curiosity, quirkiness
      ****Child Protagonist MUST solve conflict WITHOUT Adult’s assistance
      Fewer Adults in YA Lit

Word Choice
      Challenge Vocabulary but use context clues
      Can Set the Tone
      Promote Visualization through descriptions
      Avoid Wordiness and Redundancy
      Delete Unnecessary Adjectives and Adverbs
      Cut Dialogue Tags
      Eliminate Repetitious Sentences and Paragraphs
      Use Writing Resources

Okay, your turn to do some work. Read these two statements and decide which has the better wording:

  1. She had cold gray eyes.
  2. …her eyes were flinty gray chips like the touch of freezing water

  1. She stared at him.
  2. Her eyes gleamed like razors.

Did you choose the second sentence each time? That’s what is meant by ‘show don’t tell’. Effective, isn’t it?

More Word Choice

Here’s a piece from (p 151) City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. Read it through and record any words that ‘show’.

            The sun had set completely and the moon was up, a wedge of creamy white casting its reflection onto the pond. It wasn’t quite full, but shadowed at one edge, giving it the look of a half-lidded eye. Night wind rattled the tree branches, knocking them against one another with a sound like hollow bones.

  • What mood is Cassandra creating here? 
  • What words did she use to depict that imagery? 
  • Could she have used other words as effectively? 
  • What would happen to this sentence rewritten a more basic way?

Night wind rattled the tree branches, knocking them against one another with a sound like hollow bones.

The wind blew the branches.

The wind blew the branches of the trees making a mournful sound.

Still More Word Choice

Let’s talk about dialogue tags for a moment. Again, using Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes:

Jace’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, now…”
“It’s fine.” She waved a hand at him. “It’s me. I panic way too easily these days.”

Notice there are NO normal tags such as ‘he said’ or ‘she replied’. Cassandra used ACTION as tags, which also moved the story along. Also notice—and this is critical, your editor will love you if you get this—when using action tags, THERE ARE NO COMMAS. EACH PHRASE ENDS WITH A PERIOD.

5 Mistakes New Children’s Writers Make

1-Not researching the Children’s Publishing Market
2-Creating only well-behaved characters
3-Forgetting Conflict is required
4-Making the Moral Lesson transparent (doesn’t apply to YA)
5-Letting Adults save the day

10 Things to Remember When Writing for Children

If you want an agent or editor to get past the first chapter of your story, here are 10 things to keep in mind:

1. Make your main character want something. Desire is the engine that drives both life and narrative. Characters who don’t want anything are rarely interesting.

2. Make your main character do something. Your story can start with a character who is the victim of circumstances, but afterward the character needs to move quickly into action. Readers like characters who take charge.

3. Let your readers know the story’s premise right away. If they get to the end of the first chapter and still can’t answer the question—what is the story about?—they probably won't keep reading.

4. Get conflict into the story early on. It doesn’t have to be all-out bickering or deception between characters, but let your readers know things will sticky.

5. Skip the omniscient POV. Let the reader experience as much of the story as possible through the eyes of your main character. This is how readers bond with protagonists. If you shift POVs, put in a line break.

6. Introduce characters one at a time with a little physical detail and a little background information for each. (Ella was five-eight, bone thin, and worked for IBM.) Too many characters all at once in the first few pages can be overwhelming.

7. It’s okay to tell sometimes, instead of show. Not every character reaction has to be described in gut-churning, eyebrow-lifting physical detail. Sometimes it’s okay to simply say, “Jessie panicked.”

8. Don’t over write. Nobody agrees on what constitutes good writing, so trying to make your writing stand out will probably work against you. The best writing doesn’t draw attention to itself; it just gets out of the way of the story.

9. Avoid word repetitions when you can. Read your story out loud. You’re much more likely to hear the repetitions than see them.

10. The components of a novel that readers (and publishers) care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, setting. If you have to sacrifice something, start at the end of list. Never sacrifice the story for anything else. 

Helpful Links  (Adventures in Children’s Pub)  (MG Book Blogs)