Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Insider advice on writing YA novels.(Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, From Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing

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Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, From Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal by Regina Brooks. Sourcebooks, 188 pages. Paper, $14.99.

THE YOUNG-ADULT fiction genre has been growing rapidly over the last few years, and successful YA books have even begun crossing over into the adult market. Consider mega-bestselling YA crossover hits like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which have led the recent YA boom. Veteran agent Regina Brooks tells you how to write and market your YA book and shows you exactly what's so challenging about the genre.

In addition to using her own experience inside the YA publishing world, Brooks has interviewed several successful YA authors and passes on their wisdom, too: "My intention is to give you the sense that you have a panel of experts standing at the ready to guide you through the writing process," she explains. Her excellent manual gives you the YA rules--all the do's and don'ts--and shows you how to get great YA fiction ideas. She also tells you how to organize stories, craft compelling dialogue and revise your manuscript--and how to get it published.

Brooks begins with five rules for successful YA fiction writers. For example, you must convince your YA readers that the protagonist is one of them, and you must avoid preaching to YA readers by offering them neatly packaged "life lessons." How do you find the voice of YA characters? Brooks offers an important tip: "Read, read, read today's YA fiction. ... It will familiarize you with what's selling, how kids today talk, what they wear, what issues concern them, and so on."

Finding story ideas is a matter of being open to them and looking in the right places, Brooks says. "Keep up with the news," she says, especially issues impacting young adults. "Listen to conversations," she adds. "Spend time in a Starbucks located near a high school and keep your ears open." And, of course, since YA readers are so savvy with technology, Brooks urges you to go on Facebook and other social-networking Web sites. YA authors need to inhabit the world of their readers, and Brooks offers lots of ideas for getting you there.


In several ways, the process of writing a great YA novel is little different than writing a great adult novel, and Brooks' advice often reflects that. You need to know your protagonist inside and out. To do this, Brooks recommends that you "start creating your character's backstory, list everything that comes to mind about the protagonist you want to flesh out." You must also think about what the protagonist wants, what motivates the character to action, and what obstacles stand in his or her way.

The basic plot structure for a YA novel is similar to the structure of an adult novel. You need to create a believable setting, craft strong characters with powerful motivations, and steer them into conflict. In explaining how to create story conflict, Brooks adopts a classic approach: "The objective is to create a steadily increasing suspenseful atmosphere in order to pull the reader into the story and to keep him reading to find out what happens to the characters."

Brooks fills her book with clear examples that illustrate her points. For example, she says that "[p]lot, theme, and character are all linked ... if the cheerleader girlfriend of your main character abruptly breaks up with him and refuses to say why, your theme will probably have something to do with anger and loss."

Brooks includes a long section on typical plotting mistakes she's seen in YA manuscripts. Too many YA plots end with a preachy conclusion, she notes, or fail to tie up the loose ends. "A reader," Brooks writes, "should never finish a novel wondering what happened to a character or situation that was important at the beginning and now has inexplicably disappeared." YA readers are not simpletons, she notes, and they need a satisfying, organic story ending that logically follows what's come before.

Perhaps Brooks' best advice comes at the end, when she uses her experience representing YA authors to show you how to approach agents and editors. She tells you exactly how to craft an attention-grabbing query letter to an agent, and how to write a book proposal that will look professional and give you the best chance of getting a book contract. If you're looking for an A-to-Z guide on writing and publishing YA fiction, Regina Brooks' how-to is the place to go.


* So You Think You Can Spell?: Killer Quizzes for the Incurably Competitive and Overly Confident by David Grambs and Ellen S. Levine. Perigee/Penguin, 288 pages. Paper, $13.95.

* what Happened was ...: On writing Personal essays and Memoir by Genie Zeiger. White Pine Press, 128 pages. Paper, $15.

* Write for Your Lives: Inspire Your Creative writing with Buddhist Wisdom by Joseph Sestito. Watkins, 192 pages. Paper, $19.95.

* Writers Workshop of Horror edited by Michael Knost. Woodland Press, 262 pages. Paper, $21.95.

Contributing editor Chuck Leddy, who lives in the Boston area, is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His book reviews appear regularly in The Boston Globe. He has also contributed to The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.

Named Works: Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, From Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal (Nonfiction work) Book reviews

Source Citation
Leddy, Chuck. "Insider advice on writing YA novels." The Writer Nov. 2009: 41. Academic OneFile. Web. 11 Nov. 2009. .

Gale Document Number:A209105141

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