With so much wonderful information out there on the craft of writing, I wondered what I could contribute that’s different and new. So I thought twice a month I’d post a series for teen authors. Over the past 3 1/2 years I’ve been an agent, I’ve received several queries from teen authors. First let me say, you guys are brave and awesome. It took me many many years to send my first query, and in my late 30s, I was still a hot mess of nerves. So so brave teen authors!
Ultimately, I found those queries I received still needed work. Some premises were great, some derivative or too similar. Most times the narrative hadn’t quite hit polished yet and sometimes they reflected cliched openings or again something too similar to already published novels. So I though I would start a series directly to teen authors with one bit of writing advice and/or one great resource to explore every two weeks. And maybe authors of all ages will find this helpful.
In this first post, I’m going to talk about reading critically. I’ve written a more general post HERE about it a few years ago, but I’m going to dig a little deeper in this post.
So my dear teen authors, I know everyday in school you are reading classic texts with that critical eye. It’s not fun. Good lord do I remember having to read Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment, boy is it a punishment. But having to read those texts helps build skills you as an author can put in your author toolbox as the first layer foundation. Examining theme and metaphor and symbolism and dialogue, ect. ect. ect, so that you recognize it and can apply it to your work.
But the books you’re reading and completing essays on are classics. Blech. And the books we love to read don’t sound like or reflect those classics. What we write now reflects our world today, even historical novels are more accessible to us than good ole Dostoevsky’s Russian doorstops. But as authors we have to be able to deconstruct our favorite and even not so favorite books to see them critically in many the same ways we do with classics in English class. We need to be able to surgically figure out what the author did right and maybe not so right and apply that to our work in progress.
Every time I read a book for pleasure, I try to find at least one thing craft wise to focus on. And I challenge each author to do the same. For example, as I mentioned in the older post linked above, when I read Jody Meadows’ The Orphan Queen, it really hit me how creating fear – or even building and rising stakes for the main character need to be. Recently, I listened on audio The Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan. This is a more literary work of historical fiction, but as I listened I picked up on the fabulous, well-crafted use of metaphors to help paint the narrative, or the setting, or to evoke certain emotions from me. Another example, in Six of Crows, I gained insight into building intricate plots, how to hide certain elements to pull off an insanely well-crafted heist, and creating nuanced voices. I’d even say, though at the time I didn’t realize it, that reading the Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series helped me to develop witty, sarcastic dialogue. I even wrote out beat for beat The Red Queen, the plot points, just to do it.
So my challenge for you is to take one of your favorite books recently read, preferably written in the last few years, or maybe a book you’re about to start, and find one writing craft thing to focus on. And here’s a list to start you thinking critically of your favorite books. The good news is, there’s no test on this project.
2.) Metaphors that amplify emotion or help flesh out description.
3.) Main Character’s stakes – if you aren’t sure, stakes are consequences to your MC’s actions while pursuing their goals and they should keep rising and getting more personal through the story.
4.) Plot structure – does it have the 3 Act structure and rising to a climax with peaks.
5.) Opening lines and hooks – is the opening cliched, i.e. someone waking up or arriving at a new school or home. But really look at whether the opening sets up what the story is going to be all about.
6.) Full fleshed out characters – does each character feel different, have their own story and backstory, even the secondary characters. Is their voice nuanced and different from the other characters.
Hey that’s a pretty good start. And if you want to post what you discover in the comments, please share!