Tag Archives: Young Adult Fiction

Writing the Farm Book

Study shows cattle temperament affects feedlot performance ...

I am currently writing a middle grade book series about living on Australian farms. No horror, no fantasy, no Science Fiction themes … SHOCKING! Just the reality of farm living and some of the agricultural science behind farming practices.

There was a point in my life when I was doing a degree in agriculture, and then swapped into zoology. I love farms, because I spent holidays on farms as a child, and I love animals. My experiences with farms makes it easy to give my farm books plenty of real life incidents and so plenty of verisimilitude.

My biggest problem was finding my writing voice. Once I managed to tap into the mind of a preteen girl, it all started happening. I really like this character, because she is open to the lifestyle changes that come with living on a farm. All the conflict comes from the animals and the character missing her friends & family lift behind when her family moved to the farm.

She is going to have fun over the next four books.

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Filed under Farm Book, Humour, Inspiration, Science, Writing Career, YA Work in Progress

Is your Villain more interesting than your Hero?

250px-Captain_Jack_Sparrow

There has been an interesting trend in literary media in the past few years. Villains are no longer allowed to have a simple motive like “I want to rule the world” or “I will revenge myself on everyone”. Villains are now shown to see themselves as the good guys; which only makes sense, when you think about it. A villain who is a human being should be a mixture of good and bad traits. It is the conflict this mixture creates that makes a villain interesting.

Think about the greatest villain to come out of the movies in the past fifty years: Darth Vader. When we first meet him, he is just tall, dark and menacing. As the series progressed, we learnt more about him. In fact, I would argue that the six Star Wars movies are more about Darth Vader than they are about anyone else, since he is a central character in all six. What makes Darth Vader/Anakin so interesting? We all know he has a kernel of good in him, and that in the end it is the good in him that wins out.

Disney is right on trend with Maleficent. With that movie, we are given a much deeper look at one of the greatest Villains in the Disney catalogue. This retcon of the original story has our wicked fairy as simply misunderstood, rather than evil to the core. The same thing happened to Frozen, with our Snow Queen no longer a villain but now an anti-hero. I actually like Frozen and Maleficent for presenting us with female hero/anti-hero duos at the centre of these stories, even though I was disappointed with the way the real story of Han Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen was completely obliterated in Frozen. (I would still love to see a Disney version of the Snow Queen.) Their complexity of characterization made the ‘villains’ more interesting than the heroes.

For some reason, storytellers feel they can give their villains some redeeming qualities (which makes their downfall also a tragedy), but won’t give their heroes a few flaws. This is why we all love Marvel’s Loki even though we want Thor to win (and save the world). Thor – as a character in the Marvel universe – isn’t as interesting as Loki. They’ve tried to make him more ‘human’ by giving him a human love interest, but he is still a much less complicated character than Loki. And even while we are cheering when the Hulk is waving Loki around like a flag, even after he has torn our hearts out by killing Agent Coulson, we still feel sympathy for this character. Thor is white bread; Loki is a fruit and nut loaf. I don’t know about you, but I prefer texture and flavour over blandness.

So, do you find that your villains are more interesting than your heroes? How can we fix that? Most Young Adult Fiction overcomes this by have an angst-ridden loner as the protagonist of the story. And another way is to give your protagonist a few realistic flaws. Something a bit more interesting than biting her biting her nails or having fly-away hair. You have to avoid giving the protagonist ‘flaws’ that are actually virtues-in-disguise, because a savvy reader will pick up on that. (And aren’t all your readers intelligent individuals with excellent taste? Of course they are.)

Look at Sherlock Holmes and his current popularity (not that he is ever really unpopular). Sherlock is seriously flawed. No one likes a smartass, and that is what Sherlock is. In fact, if you were to list his characteristics, you would find a lot of them make him an excellent candidate for being a villain … look to his willingness to bend the truth and break the law on behalf of a client, often lying to the police, concealing evidence, manipulating emotions of bystanders, or breaking into houses. He redeems himself by being completely committed to his clients, and by the warmth of his friendship with Doctor Watson.

So, don’t be afraid to give your protagonist some really serious personality flaws, so long as they aren’t repellent like cruelty to animals or setting fires in nursing homes. Not only will she have to battle the villain, but her own nature. By overcoming both, she will win not only the battle, but the hearts of your audience.

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Filed under Characterization, writing, Writing Style

The Holiday Work in Progress

 Witchy Kitty

I am having a busman’s holiday at the moment. I am writing a young adult/older child chapter book at the moment, with a goal of writing 20,000 words by the 14th of January. This gives me a break from my editing and job seeking, while at the same time giving the muse an outlet for a build-up of writing energy and inspiration. It is a win-win situation.

My protagonist is a witch who specializes in breaking curses. This is a theme I’ve visited before, in another novel aimed at an older audience. This is a very different take on the theme, with my protagonist very different to the heroine of that other narrative. Coriander Jones is currently trapped in the shape of a small black pig, due to the backfiring of a curse. However, she finds that people tend to talk more freely to a pig, and hasn’t been in any rush to lift her own curse.

My background notes for Coriander:

Coriander Jones is a powerful witch who has unfortunately been turned into a pig by a curse.  She is a trim and neat black sow with a white saddle, not fat but plumpish, with the floppy ears of the Cornish Black breed. Because pigs can’t ride a broom, she travels by a living chair with wings. Her grandmother was Mrs Corrie (of the Mary Poppins fame), her mother was Annie Corrie, and her father is David Jones (a son of the infamous Davy Jones (Locker) family).

Mother Carey/Corrie is a supernatural figure personifying the cruel and threatening sea in the imagination of 19th-century English-speaking sailors. She was a similar character to Davy Jones. Mrs Corrie is a Fay or nature spirit: Mother Carey is a Mother Nature figure, the “Angel of the Wild Things”, who favours the strong and the wise but destroys the weak: “She loves you, but far less than she does your race. It may be that you are not wise, and if it seem best, she will drop a tear and crush you into the dust” from Ernest Thompson Seton.

As you can see, I have been inspired by reading the Mary Poppins books late last year. I was intrigued by the Mrs Corrie character and her two daughters, particularly after reading about the Hempstock family in The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Word of God from Mr Gaiman:  I’m writing a story about Lettie Hempstock. Who may be distantly related to Daisy Hempstock in Stardust and Liza Hempstock in The Graveyard Book. This got me thinking about strange families (seeing my own family over Christmas probably contributed to this train of thought). So, in this new story I have twin sisters witches, and a mother and daughter as witches.

How would magic run in families? One thing I know, a powerful witch would come from a powerful family.

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Adapting Victorian Settings to the Steampunk Genre.

Victorian-era Burial Vaults.

Victorian-era Burial Vaults.

Not every Steampunk adventure needs to be set upon an airship or in a laboratory. In fact, I would encourage using a range of settings to give added texture to the storytelling. The Vicwardian era had a lot of places that don’t have an equivalent in today’s society. As shown in the picture above … when was the last time you visited a burial vault? Or even seen an example of a proper Victorian drawing room?

Balloon Reading Chair

Balloon Reading Chair

Hall Chair

Hall Chair

Victorian Lovers Seat ... reupholstered in modern material.

Victorian Lovers Seat … reupholstered in modern material.

Even the furniture was different. The Victorian believed that there should be a tool for every job. This meant they made special furniture for everything. A chair just wasn’t a chair. There were reading chairs for libraries, armchairs, sofas, chaise longues, day beds, piano stools, a special chair used for carving a roast, desk chairs, lovers seats, grandfather chairs and grandmother chairs, commodes, dining chairs, nursing chairs, slipper chairs, bedroom chairs, hall chairs, high chairs and the list goes on and on. So, when you are describing a ‘standard’ room in a ‘standard’ house, there will be unfamiliar items in the décor. You can’t take it for granted that a Steampunk bedroom – even without taking any gadgets into account – looks like a modern bedroom.

Everything will seem overdecorated to modern eyes. And garishly coloured. This was an era when wallpaper hit the bigtime. This was the era of the curiosity cabinet and the whatnot. You think your Great Aunty Edna’s house is cluttered? You should have seen her grandma’s house!

Ipswich Open House visit 2014 101Ipswich Open House visit 2014 187

The Steampunk literary genre isn’t a modern story with cogs glued on. A correctly constructed setting will give your characters the perfect frame for their adventures. Think of your setting as another character in your scene, and give the setting its own ‘dialogue’.

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Filed under Setting, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, writing, YA Work in Progress

The Highs and Lows of Editing in the Steampunk Genre

Nivatima Dimentia, Steampunk at its finest.

Nivatima Dimentia, Steampunk at its finest.

Steampunk is:

  • A subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world. (Dictionary.com)

  • A subgenre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. (Wikipedia)

  • a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology. (Oxford Dictionary)

I am currently in the middle of edits and rewrites for my current Work-in-Progress (WiP). I am concentrating on the genre markers and subtexts at the moment, strengthening the scaffold of my story, and filling in holes. I’m making sure the characters stay true to the natures I have provided them. If something tries to twist away on a tangent, I make a note of it but abandon working on it for too long or too hard. I want to leave that for the third edit.

This is how my process goes:

1/ First draft – written just to get the story down. Full of gaps and bad writing.

2/ First edit – getting an overall feel for the story. Seeing what works and what doesn’t. Getting the story into a good enough shape that I can show this to someone else.

3/ Second draft – Where I am now! Building up the characters, themes, settings, and fixing the plot holes.

4/  Polishing – A repeat of the first edit and second draft.

5/ Beta-reading stage, where the final tweaking occurs and the line edit occurs. Where I have to draw a line in the sand and call it a day.

So, I am halfway through the second draft. This is the longest stage for me. This is probably due to my constantly fiddling with the story. I always want to add more of everything. I don’t know when to stop researching, because I am always finding out new details that will enrich my narrative.

I am not an over-writer, like Stephen King, who writes more words he needs and then prunes his block of words into the sculptural intricacies of a plot. I am an embroiderer, starting off with a fairly plain cloth and then building up layers of colour to create my patterns. By the end of this second draft, I will have a huge file of false starts and deleted scenes. But I will also have some great stuff that would never have occurred to me without having the bulk of the first draft in place.

Some people forget the journey should be as much of an experience as the destination. The journey of my WiP gives me a great deal of satisfaction. If you are interesting in seeing some of my research, I have a page on Facebook you can investigate: https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkSunday

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Filed under Editing, Genre, Steampunk, YA Work in Progress

Update on the Steampunk Work-in-Progress

Steampunk Ghostbusting portrait

This past week has seen some major editing being done on the Steampunk YA work-in-progress. I’ve been taking my own advice, as well as taking hints from other writers’ blogs on WordPress. All-in-all, I have finally tapped into the enormous potential WordPress has for supporting a writer, by providing a community context for what is essentially a solo occupation. So, what did I achieve over this week?

I’ve rewritten the start of the novel, to plunge the reader straight into the action. Personally, I don’t mind a slow reveal at the start of a novel, but as an emerging writer I shouldn’t try to be too clever and lose my audience. I’ve shared this new start here on the blog. I was uncertain whether to do that or not, as it was a first draft, and it will most likely be much changed in the final draft. Then I decided What the heck! This blog is about writing, and like to see other writers’ processes, and I figure I’m not the only person fascinated with the writing process. A new beginning means a change in intent, atmosphere and expectations, and the rest of the novel has to adapt to that change.

I’ve added a couple of ‘walk ins’ by historical personages. Mary Somerville, Arabella Buckley and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) are all now scheduled to make an appearance in the narrative. As prominent women in science, I have Mary and Bella giving my protagonist some feminine support against the patriarchal world of Victorian British Science. Dodgson should have been an obvious inclusion, since my Alice works with talking flowers, (well, a talking tree man). I can use references to Alice in Wonderland as a thematic device in my novel. After all, the Steampunk literary genre does allow for these cameos of real historical personages.

“Good afternoon. We haven’t been introduced, but I am a great admirer of your books, Mrs Somerville. My name is Professor Alice Saint de Cologne,” she said, and gave a tiny curtsey.

“You have probably guessed that I am Mrs William Somerville, and this is Miss Arabella Buckley, my editor,” said the elderly woman, accompanying the introduction with a kind smile. “I’ve heard of you, my dear.”

“I have also heard about you,” said Miss Buckley. “And I have quite a few of your creations bearing fruit and flowers in my gardens.”

“I hope everything you heard of me was good,” said Alice.

Miss Buckley flushed and pursed her lips. She looked embarrassed, and couldn’t meet Alice’s gaze. Alice felt herself start to blush, and wished herself a thousand miles away.

Mrs Somerville glanced sharply at both of them. “Oh, look at the both of you,” she said in an exasperated tone. “Of course Bella and I will have heard some silly, pompous men make claims that you, Professor  Saint de Cologne, are impertinent and have ideas above your station, and other nonsense. We need not take any heed of such idiocy, as sensible women.”

I have decided to use Victorian food as a sustained metaphor throughout the novel. Victorian dishes range from stodgy to magnificent … what a great way of lamp-shading what is going on in a scene. Bad food hints at bad events, and visa versa.

Currently the novel is standing at over 115,000 words in length. This will vary over the next few weeks as the editing process prunes away the deadwood, and adds fresh wood to fill in the gaps in the hedge. Wish me luck!

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Filed under Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, writing, YA Work in Progress

Thinking like a Teen: writing for young adults

The Green Man

I am in the process of editing two YA works-in-progress, which means a lot of rewriting as I take my fingers out of plot-holes in the dyke of my story and seal them up properly. At the moment, it feels like seven new leaks appear for every gap I block, but I know I will eventually find all the holes I can see. Then it will be time to turn it over to other people to check.

I write for young adults for two main reasons. Most importantly, it is the genre I read the most in, and enjoy the most. Secondly, I find it very easy to slip into the mindset of a teenaged person, because I know a lot of teens, and my tastes never really grew up. I love anime, animated movies, comics, and graphic novels, and I have no intention of putting these aside for more so-called adult interests. Just try and come between me and my Terry Pratchett books and Neil Gaiman’s the Sandman series and Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle – the book and the movie.

Most people who write for children and teens aren’t that age, but understand the passions and interests of young adults. This can’t be faked, as kids can spot a fake in under a minute. Children and teens aren’t cut-down versions of adults, and these writers know that. Is doesn’t do just to think ‘I’ll take an adult and shift them up a notch in energy’ to create the character of a teenager. Nor will it work to plaster some adult traits onto a child and hope for the best. The teen years are a period of great transitions, and puberty is just half the story. Sure, the ‘raging’ hormones contribute to mix, but teenagers are also making the transition of carefree childhood to responsible adult. That is both scary and exhilarating.

YS writers still know what it is like to be on the outside of the cool kids and enjoying the notoriety of being an outsider, and yet still longing to be accepted by the cool group. They understand that even members of the cool group have their own problems and worries. They understand the motivations of the adults, and still manage to make adults seem unfriendly and perverse (at times).

Professor Alice

There is good and bad in everyone, even an angst-battered teen, in fact, ESPECIALLY in a teen that is swept away with strong emotions every fifteen seconds. One minute, an individual teenager is a rainbow-eyed idealist who wants to save the world, and in the next minute that same person can be a cold cynic who loathes the entire human race. Teenagers still haven’t figured the world, or who they want to be, and find it easy to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Mind you, breakfast may be at lunchtime, giving them more time to get the impossible done.

Modern teenagers are tech savvy. This doesn’t mean every single one of them has the skills of a hacker, and they are much more in touch with world news and world trends, thanks to the internet. They like to use their own jargon, but I recommend keeping jargon to a minimum because it dates very quickly and is also very location specific. Both boys and girls like to experiment with their looks and their clothing and their sexuality. They don’t ‘rebel’ against their parents so much as against society; older teens tend to stay at home rather than move out with their friends into cheap accommodation, while they save for overseas trips or education expenses or a car of their own. You get the reckless teens and the socially responsible teens in the same group of friends, and they look out for each other.

Modern teens often feel let down by society. They can’t understand why some adults can’t see the problems with racism and climate change. Many more teenagers suffer from depression than in previous generations; I don’t know whether this means society is putting too much pressure on teenagers or that modern medical practices are better at diagnosing depression.

The very best way to understand young people is to talk to them. Not as a parent or teacher, but as a friend. Never talk down to them, and they will tell you what you want to know.

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