Posts Tagged ‘Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies’

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson is a thorough guide for authors ready to dive into novel writing for young readers. Most of the information and tips could be used in writing either young adult or middle grade fiction.

From the get go, Halverson makes a few assumptions about her readers: They want to be published, they have a story to tell, they want to be better writers, and they want to enlighten and entertain young people between the ages of 9 and 17.

If this fits you, then this book is worth a look.

This clearly and succinctly written book is organized into five large topic areas:

  1. Getting ready to write young adult fiction. General information on young adult literature and its audience as well as the actual how to find space and time to write.
  2. Writing riveting young adult fiction. The crucial story elements are explored here–I definitely sense that Halverson knows even more than she could include in this format; but she briefly explores writing the almighty hook, character development, plot with teen-driven action, setting, and creating an authentic voice. She even suggests places to find inspiration for captivating and relevant stories.
  3. Editing and Revising with Confidence. She provides a comprehensive self-editing checklist and also discusses the how-to of being in a critique group, along with a critique checklist too. She then moves on to formatting and polishing.
  4. Getting Published. The nitty-gritty details of submitting are explained here as well as consideration of self-publishing to help make an informed decision regarding that choice. She goes on to discuss marketing strategies as well.
  5. Common pitfall in writing young adult fiction. This is brief but helpful list of things to check for and to consider in writing your story – I’d suggest checking this chapter as soon as you have a story idea to prevent writing yourself into a sort of fatal hole.

My favorite part of this how-to book are the personal thoughts, tips, and anecdotes from authors, editors and agents.

  • Darcy Pattison on marketing and book trailers.
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith on paranormal fiction.
  • Mary E. Pearson on beating writer’s block.
  • Deborah Wiles on the use of dialect in dialogue.
  • Jennifer Donnelly about setting and place.
  • Gary Soto on developing plot, complication by complication.
  • Kathi Appelt on raising the stakes and making the reader worry.
  • Erin Murphy on making quiet books loud.
  • Karen Cushman on character.

Obviously, Halverson tackles a wide range of topics and issues to consider – and does so in an easy to read, easy to follow style. Perfect for beginners, but worthwhile for more experienced writers as well. I think it would make an excellent textbook in writing courses.

Don’t forget to check out her “Free First 20 Pages Critique Giveaway!

You don’t even have to be a dummy…

Sarah Wones Tomp



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Deborah Halverson, editor, author, (and previous Writing on the Sidewalk spotlight star),  gave a fantastic presentation at the San Diego October SCBWI meeting.

Articulate and informative, Deborah gave the audience some concrete tools to use in writing for the young adult reader. Her presentation was a companion talk to go with her new craft book, WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES.

Which has a new book trailer out this week:

In honor of its debut, she is offering a “Free First 20 Pages Critique Giveaway” – I would very much like to win!

On to a few highlights from her talk…

I loved the way she obviously respects adolescent readers and treasures that  very particular developmental stage of life as a time of great feeling and passion. She reminded us oldies in the audience that most teen behaviors and attitudes (of over-reaction and exaggeration as well as grandiose perceptions self, for example) – in other words, the things that make parents nuts – are a natural part of adolescence and growing up.

In writing for teens, we can hope to build vocabulary, open and expand minds and imaginations, and create life-long reading habits; BUT she reminded us why teens read… to be entertained!

As Deborah said, “Show, Don’t Preach.”

A few more tidbits from her talk:

  • Most teens judge-act-react-deal with consequences. They don’t over-analyze the why of what they do.
  • Think big, push hard. This is what teens do – and what authors should do in the books written for them.
  • Know your character’s goal, flaw and strength that will help them overcome their flaw.

I plan to share my thoughts on her craft book later this week. Be sure to check out her Dear Editor blog where she answer a multitude of questions from real live writer-readers. You could get your questions answered too!

Sarah Wones Tomp


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This week we are pleased to feature Deborah Halverson for our newest Author Spotlight. I met Deborah at our recent SCBWI Published Authors Brunch and was impressed by her knowledge and love of writing. Deborah is a highly talented author/editor and the mother of triplet boys (Yikes). She is truly an inspiration.

Author Bio:

Deborah Halverson is the author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies and founder of the writer’s advice website DearEditor.com. Deborah edited young adult and children’s fiction with Harcourt Children’s Books before picking up a pen to write the award-winning teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth . www.DeborahHalverson.com

Author Spotlight:

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

DH: I secretly wanted to be a published author since childhood—but I have a practical streak that convinced me the money was on the business side of publishing. (The accuracy of that is debatable in hindsight.) But that was my play. Armed with a BA in English and a copyediting certificate, I landed a job with an information publisher (think databases and catalogues) writing and editing video game instructions. My job required me to play video games, of course—not a bad gig if you can get it. But I wasn’t editing novels, and that’s the real game I wanted to play. I got my chance with Harcourt Brace Children’s Books in San Diego, my hometown. Imagine, working for a major trade publisher without moving to New York! At Harcourt, I learned how books are made in the managing editorial department and then moved over to developmental/acquisition editing. Finally, I was editing debut authors and bestselling veterans. Boy, did I love that job. Alas, when I became the mother of triplets boys, a full time office job was no longer tenable. That was about the time I decided that I needed to live that secret dream of mine or leave it. So, I sat down and started typing. When I stopped, I had a teen fiction manuscript called HONK IF YOU HATE ME and a two-book contract. I wrote the second book, BIG MOUTH, while my babies napped. My dream had become reality. I’ve kept my hand in the business side of publishing since then as a freelance editor, writing instructor, and speaker. My experience on both sides of the desk led to founding my writers advice website DearEditor.comand penning WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES. I love that I get to combine all aspects of booklover me within a single cover that can, I hope, help other people realize their dreams, too.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

DH: I think outlining is The Bomb in the most awe-stricken, teen-age slang sense. The organization freak within me gets giddy at the thought of laying out my plot before I commit myself to the writing of several hundred pages. Alas, that “bomb” completely annihilates my creativity. I can’t write after I’ve outlined—and believe me, I’ve tried. Instead, I go into a project knowing certain benchmarks I want to hit in my story, and I usually have an end goal in mind, but otherwise I’m at the mercy of the ideas that pop up each writing session. Nonfiction like the For Dummies book works differently for me, though—for that, I outline, outline, outline.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

DH: I’m moving several fiction projects off of the backburner now that WYAFFD is published. It’s hard deciding which one I want to write more, but I figure that’s a good problem to have.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

DH: For years I worked in a loft in my house, surrounded by bedrooms. My sons, who were infants and then toddlers during that time, napped or slept around me while I wrote, emitting the peaceful white noise that only sleeping children can emit. This summer, though, the boys—now six years old—commandeered the loft and turned it into a Lego playroom. They banished me to the kitchen table. Luckily, that table is just down the stairs from Lego Central, so I get to work with the peaceful white noise that only three six-year-olds playing with Legos can emit.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

DH: I’ve often wished I could be one of those TV characters who gets to jump into other people’s bodies. That way, I could spend an hour each week doing someone else’s job. Honestly, I’d love to know what it’s like to be a surgeon without spending a dozen years training—and without all that responsibility. I’d like to be President of the United States for an episode, without having to engage in politics for decades and then survive a campaign and then, criminy, have to solve the nation’s seemingly unsolvable problems. I just want to pop in and pop out. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I am very curious about what other peoples’ lives are like.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

DH: I like noise. Scratch that: I love noise. Silence distracts me. When I want to concentrate, there’d better be music or little boy chatter or a full café around me. This ties into the other secret dream I’ve recently exposed to the light of day: to be a rock drummer. No, I’m not gunning for the latest Van Halen line-up. But I am taking drum lessons on a pink drum kit and loving every noisy minute of it. I can play the first minute and a half of Rumor Has It by Adele now—but a minute and a half is as far as I get before my boys race in with their own drumsticks and start banging away. Apparently they love noise, too.

WOTS: How do you juggle being a writer and the mom of triplet boys?

DH: I’ve tried all the tricks other mom/writers have tried, I’m sure. Ultimately, my strategies vary from month to month and year to year. When the boys were little, I pushed the triple stroller 4 miles in the morning and 4 miles in the afternoon. As I pushed, I thought of things to write and left voicemails for myself. In the middle of the day, when the boys napped, I retrieved those voicemails and went to town on my keyboard. I wrote BIG MOUTH in five months using that method. But now the boys are all in school and I have more regular work hours. Gotta say, that’s pretty darn swell. Well, except for the fact that the house is so very quiet with them away.

WOTS: Your newest book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies is a departure from your previous work, was it difficult to make the transition from fiction to non fiction?

DH: I discovered that I love writing nonfiction. I get to outline exhaustively, but my creativity feels indulged because I challenge myself to find unusual, compelling ways to say otherwise dry things. For example, my first draft of the dialogue chapter in WYAFFD begin with me stating that strong dialogue is a key element of young adult fiction. That’s what my outline said to put there. Then I took my creativity out of the can. Now that chapter starts off with, “Talk may be cheap in the real world, but in young adult fiction, it’s made of gold, wrapped in C-notes, and sprinkled with diamonds with a bow on top.” My inspiration for fun nonfiction is the wonderful Bill Bryson. Anyone who can make statistics about stair climbing fun to read is a super star in my book.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

DH: I plan out my work calendar meticulously. (Organization freak, remember?) That doesn’t mean I always keep up with it . . . but my stress builds when I don’t move through the calendar as planned, so I’m mostly proactive. Not totally, but mostly.

WOTS: Thanks Deborah. 

If you would like to know more about Deborah be sure to visit  www.DeborahHalverson.com  and  www.DearEditor.com.

Deborah has graciously provided us with a Cheat Sheet from her book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, be sure to check out this valuable resource.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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