Saturday, January 10, 2015

SiWC 2014 Workshop #1 Catcher in the Wry: Writing Novels for Teens

I am finally getting around to posting the SiWC notes from October. I know everyone was pretty happy I posted my ones from last year, so these will go up once a day for the next few days.

And just like last year, please forgive any weird wording/spelling as I was typing really fast and after a couple panels/workshops in a row, my brain was on the 'creamed-corn' end of things.

So here you go: proof a dyslexic writer can listen and type at the same time (just don't ask me to chew gum and recite my phone number... inevitably things will go very, very wrong).

Catcher in the Wry: Writing Novels for Teens
Anita Daher

Handout - evolution of YA over the years.
YA - marketing term, to address a need. Before WW 2, only a society of adults and children

Young Adults caught in between, intelligent to understand complex literature, but not yet personally mature.

Catcher in the Rye originally published for adults, today considered YA, but also the first in the style we most consider YA today. themes of identity/connection/belonging also in first person and has an authentic voice.

Before CitR there was an innocence. No sex, drugs, gangs, etc.

‘Tom’s Opinion’ 1881, used as a ‘reward book’ given out in Sunday School/etc

Today we don’t talk down to our readers.

General rule between MG/YA/NA, protagonists are the same age of the reader, or a couple years older. There are exceptions, like ‘Dust’, which has a 12 yo protagonist, but was complex enough to appeal to young adults

MG - Grades 2-6, pets, family, siblings, humour, mysteries, gross stuff, usually 1 pov in the younger grades since it’s confusing to jump around into the heads of different characters. Chapters can be as short as 1-3 pages.

YA - jobs, first love, difficult first situations, all the complexities of adult novels. Protagonists are in school, or have just left. Can handle more than one pov. Want to see growth/arc/etc of all pov characters.

NA - newer category, more the racier, older YA that evolved and there was a market, for YA readers who want something a little older, 18-24 ish, university, first career, serious relationships etc.

No matter what, you want to grab attention/get to the story quickly and a strong sense of the MC. Who they are and what they want (in 1st chapter)

Plot - UK author Keith Grey ‘Ostrich Boys’ Instead of thinking of a story having beginning, middle & end, he says it’s better to think of it as ‘dilemma, confrontation, resolution’.

Exercise: Plot checklist

What does your MC want?
What/who gets in the way of what your MC wants?
Is the primary conflict internal or external?
How does your MC plan to get what s/he wants?
How will you maintain tension?
How will your MC be the ‘hero’ in terms of the story climax/resolution?
What is your character’s growth/arc - how are they changed from beginning to end?
How will you begin your story? (keep in mind the beginning can/will change)

Setting -  mood of the story, can help reveal character, how the MC approached space reveals them/their mood

16 teen encountering a busy marketplace on holiday
same marketplace, character is a runaway - being chased

If you want the character to be tense, use shorter sentences, not many details
If relaxed = more contemplation, description, internal etc.

 Setting: enough details to draw in, a few very vivid words, but not so much that it feels like a dump.

Same with appearance of MC’s, fill in just enough details of that the reader won’t fill in the wrong details if something specific to the story is important.

Backstory: author needs to know everything, but if it’s not important to the story, don’t include it

Teen dialogue: age/era specific lingo, be careful and watch for it.


  1. Interesting. Typically I consider 6th-8th grade MG, with 2nd-5th grade being simply chapter books. One point to make, teen lingo varies greatly depending upon who you're talking to and where you are. It's pretty much impossible to get it "right" or "wrong."

    1. I think there are some things that can be considered 'right/wrong', like, if a teen in a historical fiction taking place in the 19th century is throwing around terminology from the 20th century...

      It's not something I overly worry about though, because I'm already pretty OCD about getting character voices *correct* for the individual characters.


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)