Writing Corner: Is My Book YA?

For today’s Writing Corner, I’m going to talk about categorising your novel by age. I see a lot of people on Twitter and forums who aren’t sure where their novel fits, or how much it matters. If you want to be published, it does matter, because that is how the publishing industry categorises fiction, but don’t get too hung up on it.

Middle grade (MG)

MG is generally written for, and features characters, aged from around 8 to 13 years old. These books are usually shorter than young adult books, and don’t have as much romance or violence. They often (but not always) have fun adventures and although they can touch on more serious subject matter, don’t explore it in as much detail as young adult books.

Young adult (YA)

YA is aimed roughly at those aged 13-18, with characters in that same age range, though characters are most commonly 15-18 years old. YA explores more serious subject matter than MG, including more mature content, with romance playing a much bigger role. YA also has more self-reflection and focuses more on the personal evolution of a central character. These novels are often coming of age, looking at the ups and downs of being a teenager. They can explore relationships, sex, mental illness, death etc. far more than MG. As well as this, they can often present more of a reflection on our society and current issues, and explore the characters finding their place in the world.

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Writing Corner: Your Cast of Characters

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about writing, so I’ve decided it’s time to get back into the swing of sharing my thoughts. I’ve been writing for around 13 years now, and have completed four novels and one novella. I’ve learnt a lot over the years, and hope someone will find these posts useful. It is always important to remember though, that writing is a constant learning process! No matter how long you have been writing for, there is always more to learn and discover about the craft, and your own processes.

The cast of characters in your books includes all of the named characters. The protagonist is the focus of your story, but the other characters, and the overall cast, are also really important.

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A Writer’s Journey – Part 2

You can read part 1 of my writing journey here, or dive straight in with part 2.

In my last post, I told you about my early writings and how my writing developed over my teenage years. Finishing the novella was a significant moment and gave me so much more confidence. In 2013 I started work on a new book for the Extended Project Qualification. The project was alongside my second year of A-levels, so it was a very busy time. Most other people wrote essays, I could have written a short story. For some reason I decided to write a whole novel for a qualification I’d get an actual mark for, when I’d not yet finished a whole novel. Perhaps it was over-ambitious, but I had the belief that I could do it.

This was the first novel I planned out chapter by chapter, in the hopes it would keep me on track. And it worked. I finished it in three months. At the age of 17 I finished my first novel. Inspired by studying psychology, the book was about a girl who develops schizophrenia and her journey. It was more serious than anything I’d written before, although it was still in the young adult genre. I wrote it almost in a trance. The words just poured out of me. I’d never had a feeling quite like it before. It all came together, and somehow it just felt right. That book will always have a special place in my heart, and I would like to see it published some day. I haven’t touched it since then, because I knew I would need to develop my writing skills more and come back to it to be able to make it the best it could be.

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Writing Corner: Word Counts

This blog post will be looking at the differences between the different lengths of fiction and what the pros and cons of each are. Generally poetry, drama, the short story and the novel are what pops into people’s heads when they think of types of writing. People often forget about novelettes and novellas.

Micro Fiction: 1 – 100 words

Flash Fiction: 100 – 1000 words

Short Story: 1000 – 7000 words

Novelette: 7,500 – 20,000 words

Novella: 20,000 – 50,000 words

Novel: 50,000+ (though more than 110,000 is often called an ‘epic’)

(Word counts are approximate and opinions on exact boundaries may vary.)

Micro fiction is incredibly difficult to write but can be really powerful. So much meaning can be expressed in only a few words. The other interesting thing about this length is that because it is so short often the reader is left to interpret it to find their own meaning. Can you make a story out of only 7 words? It is indeed possible.

Although I put that flash fiction is 100 – 1000 I would generally consider it to be most often 350 – 800. This length allows for more description than micro fiction but still restrains how much you can say and means you have to choose the few words you do carefully to create the most meaning.

The short story is probably the most common prose length other than the novel. This is a really accessible length to write and often very rewarding. A good way to think about it is that it is basically a mini novel (going back to the previous post this works for novelettes and novellas too), it still needs all the same components as one – characters, plot, rising action, climax etc. – but is compressed into a smaller word count. Like with the other short forms, every word counts and can be used to create meaning.

All of these lengths will be published in some kind of magazine, literary journal, or anthology. There are tonnes of opportunities for publication of these lengths and so many competitions out there. It can be a great opportunity to get your work out there.

The novelette is a short form, but not short enough to be a short story. This length can allow more development of characters than a short story. As the novella is longer you can explore more complex plots than in a novelette.

In terms of publishing, novelettes and novellas don’t generally get published in magazines (as they are too long) or as a book (they are too short). However, you sometimes see novella’s by already established authors. Novel lengths vary vastly depending on the target age group and the genre. In terms of publishability (I think I may have made up that word) a shorter debut is more likely to be published.

But, all these are just numbers. What should matter is what you want to write. I think a story should just end up being the length it ends up. Forcing a story into a novel length which doesn’t have enough substance for it can mean it being full of fluff. On the reverse, trying to cut down the length of a story too much can make it loose the intended meaning or create plot holes unless it is done carefully.

From my personal experience of writing a novella, it can be a good step towards completing a novel because the shorter word goal makes it feel more attainable and completing it motivated me to finish a novel. If you’re struggling to finish a novel why not try completing a novelette or novella?

Writing Corner: Choosing a Point of View + Beginning Your Story

A lot of writers have a point of view (POV) they like writing from best i.e. first person or third person. It can be challenging to move out of your comfort zone but sometimes experimenting can be a lot of fun. When choosing a POV for your novel there are several things to consider, and pros and cons to different viewpoints.

First Person

First person narrative can be really great for getting inside a characters head. You can use this type of POV to really show the emotions and feelings your character is going through. One of the limits of first person, though, is that you only get to see the story from one characters POV. It is possible to switch to another characters first person POV for some chapters but be careful when doing this! It is very hard when doing this to make sure the narratives of the characters are different. For the most part, I would say only do this if absolutely necessary or if it gives something to the story.

For example, in my novel The Water That Sings is part is written from the first person POV of a different character. But I did this for a reason: to show how mental illness impacts on not only the sufferer but also their family and friends. In this case, it was very important to me to use both first person and multiple narratives.

Third Person

When your story has multiple protagonists third person can be very useful. It isn’t as personal as first person meaning it can often be more difficult to portray the characters feelings. But it is more flexible than first person and so works well with multiple characters.

Past or Present Tense

Most books are written in past tense and I know a lot of people find it difficult to write in present tense. I think present tense works best when combined with first person, but it is hard to pull off, so only write this way if you feel comfortable with it. If present tense seems like a daunting challenge then just stick with past tense.

Which Character?

Usually, it is very obvious which character’s POV the story should be told from. But it can be interesting to go for the less obvious choice and can give a new spin on things. How about writing from the best friends POV? Think about this, and come to a decision about who the plot impacts most. But also think about whose POV would be most interesting.

The Beginning

The opening of your story is vital. You need to grab your reader, and if you are trying to get published then you need to grab that agent/publishers. The ‘beginning’ of your story is comprised of your first line, first paragraph, first page, and first chapter. One way to grab the reader is to start with action. No nonsense, just diving straight in. But not all well-known books have an action-packed first chapter, but in that case you need to make sure your style and character(s) is captivating.

First line/paragraph – you need to come up with a clever and imaginative way to open.

First page – make sure you don’t dawdle in your first page, or your reader won’t bother making the effort to turn to the next one. E.g. the main character (MC) getting up for school one morning is one that annoys me (personally) intensely. It isn’t interesting at all. Start with something more interesting!

First chapter – this needs to show your style and character to the reader. They need to get a sense of what the story is going to be like and the personality of the MC. Your main plot probably won’t be revealed until the third+ chapter. But hinting the plot or alluding to a sense of mystery can help make the reader interested.

Writing Corner: What to Write?

So you’ve decided you want to write a book, but you’re not sure what to write. Maybe you have a few ideas and you’re not sure which to pick. Hopefully this short guide will give you a few things to think about.

Firstly, why are you writing? Are you writing for fun? Do you hope to one day be published? There are many ways to approach what to write. You could come from the direction that you want to pick something that is highly publishable in the current market. I, personally, dislike this view and think that you should write whatever you want! Just because something isn’t popular now, doesn’t mean it won’t be a few years down the line.

If you hope to finish writing your book you need to pick a project you love and will enjoy writing. You need to pick an idea that makes you excited and passionate. Writing about something you really care about will produce the best results.

If you have several ideas and aren’t sure which one to work on set them side by side (physically or in your head) and consider: how original is the plot, do I like the characters, does the idea excite me? If you’re really not sure you could put them in a hat and pick one at random!

Or, you want to write a book, but you don’t really know what to write about. Don’t force any ideas, let them come naturally. Immerse yourself in music, films, games, books, art, anything that you could draw inspiration from.

Whatever you do, just remember to actually get to the writing part!

 

Ideas suggested in Writing Corner are just that, suggestions, and may not suit every writer.