Friday, 11 January 2019

Writing for Young Adults – creating the young adult protagonist

General definition of a young adult

         They tend to be post- puberty
         They may or may not be sexually active but are capable of producing a viable child
         They are often referred to as “adolescent” but in fact this term covers puberty and post-puberty.
         However the young adult still has other changes going on.
         Changes happen at different times for individuals. 
         Males become more sporty, females become distracted    

Changes in the brain

There are lots of changes going on:
      Neurons and synapses grow rapidly and cut back rapidly also.  
      The frontal cortex is the last to finish this process. Is this where “common sense” resides and therefore there is no common sense?
      These young people tend to reason with amygdale, the seat of raw emotions.  
      These processes are usually complete by 17 at the latest. As puberty is normally complete by 14, we define young adult as 14-17.
      Several confusions in thinking processes arise because of these changes.
         This all leads to chaotic, despairing and impulsive behaviour.
Recommended reading: Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan, 2007 Walker Books. Nicola Morgan has consulted the scientific research and presented this in a book that is easy to read.  

Effects of dopamine

         In addition higher levels of dopamine exist in the adolescent brain. Dopamine triggers the desire for pleasure and can increase related risk-taking. Food, sex, alcohol and drugs further increase dopamine levels.
          This can lead to such extreme activities as joy-riding and drug-taking. 

The young adult and sleep

         All the extra activity means they need more sleep – as much as a toddler, in fact.
         Melatonin, the sleep-inducing chemical, arrives later in the adolescent brain than in the adult brain. In adults it starts about 9.00 p.m. and in young adults 11.00 p.m. or later.
         Often therefore young adults do not get enough rapid-eye-movement sleep – they do not dream. This can often lead to mental health problems.
         This one trait often lasts until early 20s. There are implications here for higher education.  
         Many High School in US therefore do not start until 10.00 a.m.    

Examples of young adults staying up late in literature

You find this in the works of:
of Judy Blume, Ann Brashares, Kate Cann, Douglas Coupland, Hazel Edwards, Monika Feth, Catherine Forde, Cathy Hopkins, Christine Nöstlinger, Tabitha Suzuma and Judy Waite.

In summary, general characteristics

      They have to take charge of the world but are not so sure of themselves as younger teens – they see the shades of grey
      They often become head boy or head girl at this time.
      They may become interested in religion.
      They begin to hypothesise and can think abstractly. They can and tend to use and understand symbols. They are capable of theorizing
      They have a distorted image of themselves.
      They are hypersensitive and suffer from mood swings.
      They don’t recognise facial expressions and often misinterpret them.  
      They tend to reason with the emotions rather than logic.
      They need a lot of sleep but probably don’t get it. They stay up late and get up at the normal time when they actually need at least 9.25 hours sleep a night.
      They need bigger thrills to obtain gratification. They are big risk-takers. 
      They are prone to the onset of mental illnesses.
      They are socially and emotionally clumsy.
      They are disappointed with what adults have done with the world though are afraid of taking responsibility for it. They know they have to reorder their world.
      They feel peer pressure.
      They are beginning to make choices that may determine the rest of their lives.
      They are at best curious about drugs and at worst become addicted.      

Creative writing exercise

Young Adult Character Questionnaire

The young adult faces a lot of pressure:
  1. Physical – hormones, sexual development, brain, growth spurt
  2. Mental – thinks with emotions, not logic, pressure to do well at school, has to make decisions
  3. Emotional – relationships, peer pressure, loss of parents, need for other mentor
  4. Main motivation – need to create their own world.     

Answer the following questions for two friends in a story you might create:
  1. What do they look like?
  2. How sexually active are they?
  3. How used are they to their own height and strength?
  4. How are they doing at school? What are they good at, what are they bad at?
  5. What sort of thing might they want to do later?
  6. What do they worry about most?
  7. Who are they getting on well with?
  8. From whom do they feel peer pressure?
  9. Who has replaced their parents?
  10. What are they most concerned about in this scene? 

Now write a short scene between two of you characters.  

Would you like feedback on your work for just £5.00? 


Friday, 7 December 2018

Writing High-Lows

A high-low, sometimes also called a hi-lo, is a text with high concepts for the mature reader but written for a lower reading age so that poorer readers can still access a good story. More often than not, writers produce a normal text and expert editors turn it into a “high-low”. However, as ever, restrictions can enhance creativity so it might be fun to produce a high-low text.     

There are many imprints, both trade and educational, that produce these texts and they may address specific difficulties or generally aid slow readers. They are often sold in packs of materials for teachers.  


Characteristics of the High-Low novel

         Compelling storyline and credible characters
         Topics and issues with which readers can make personal or emotional connections
         Supportive formatting that includes illustrations and appropriate text placement on the page
         Careful introduction and reinforcement of difficult vocabulary and concepts
         Straightforward plot development
         Simple sentence structures


How do the texts help

         The length may be appropriate – they are often much shorter than novels for fluent readers.  
         They may use simple fonts which are also larger than normal. The texts are often formatted ragged right.   
         They are often similar to emergent reader texts.
         Chapters are usually very short.  
         Simple words are used.
         Sentences and paragraphs are often short.   
         Illustrations help to give meaning.


Reluctant readers

These may be competent readers who do not want to read or readers who struggle.
The fast story-telling of high-lows aids both these readers.
Both types of reluctant reader are not reading “ludically”. A “ludic” reader no longer notices that she is decoding black marks on a white background but just gets a film in her head.  Some very intelligent people do not manage to read ludically. For those of us who do, this is almost impossible to imagine.

Deconstructing a high-low   

Does your text have:
      A compelling storyline and credible characters
      Topics and issues with which readers can make personal or emotional connections
      Supportive formatting that includes illustrations and appropriate text placement on the page
      Careful introduction and reinforcement of difficult vocabulary and concepts
      Straightforward plot development
      Simple sentence structures
How does the text help?
      Similar to emergent readers?
      Length of chapters?
      Words? Sentences? Paragraphs? 
      Help from illustrations?


Turning a text into a High-Low

  • Introduce difficult vocabulary carefully
  • Reinforce it
  • Shorten the text
  • Simplify sentences
  • Consider changing typography
  • Shorten chapters
  • Make rules for :
    • Words
    • Sentences
    • Paragraphs
  •   Consider how illustrations may help 

Finding sample high-low texts

These come and go rapidly. They tend not to become best sellers. A search on “high-low” or “hi-lo” on some book sellers’ web sites will find examples.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Writing Graphic Novels



All about the books

A graphic novel is “a story told in words and pictures ordered sequentially, in book form” Will Eisner is reputed to have coined the phrase in late 1970s, though this is disputed.
 Even as early as the 1940s there were some comic books in libraries.
1968 Bill Katz recommended adding comics to libraries (‘Magazine’ column in Library Journal)  
1980s – more libraries and educators began to use comic books in education
1983 Cartoons and Comics in the Classroom : A Reference Guide for Teachers and Librarians by James L. Thomas
1990s more articles appearing in Booklist, Library Journal and School Library Journal
1994 VOYA offered regular coverage of graphic novels
Review column named “Graphically Speaking” in 1994
1992 Pullitzer prize awarded to Maus, Volume II by Art Spiegelman.
The graphic novel started appearing in American libraries 2002
2003 Booklist started publishing a ‘Graphic Novels Spotlight’
Note, the graphic novel is a format rather than a genre.  
Some classic examples:
Marjane Satrapis: Persepolis
Brian Talbot The Tale of One Bad Rat
Judd Winick’s  Pedro and Me
Note the great tradition of French graphics - not just for struggling readers, e.g. Tin Tin, Asterix. Picture books for adults are also popular in French-speaking countries.   


Manga literally means “humorous pictures”
It covers all genres except superheroes
It contains casual nudity and toilet humour – even in books for children.
It comes from Japan – hence you tend to read the books backwards.  
In Japan, it is read by most people but in the Western world it is more popular amongst teens.
Anime is the film version. In the west, manga is based on anime, in Japan anime is based on manga.

Some characteristics of graphic novels and manga  

There is an etiquette and a grammar that comes from the comic tradition.
The pictures may help less fluent reader absorb text but only if they understand the conventions of the comic book. However, manga is read by both fluent and reluctant readers.
It uses a special typography.  
There is a balance in the combination of pictures.
There are some “silent” pictures – how does this compare with film?


There are icons. Certain pictures always mean certain things.
They offer a simplified reality.  
The “mask” refers to facial expressions. Again, this is a language we learn.  
The reader becomes the cartoon character.
Often, the characters are two-dimensional cartoon but the backgrounds are three dimensional and realistic.

Moving from cell to cell  

From panel to panel we get:  
  1. moment to moment
  2. action to action  65%  
  3. subject to subject  20%
  4. scene to scene  15%
  5. aspect to aspect
  6. non sequitur
Those produced in English are all pretty similar. Japanese ones are quite different with much of 5. Maybe this is because of the length? It is interesting to study how the passing of time is shown.  

Six steps to creating the graphic novel

  1. First you think of your idea.
  2. Then you decide on the form.
  3. How are you going to include idiom? How will you make the abstract concrete?  
  4. Your graphic novel needs just as much structure as your prose novel.
  5. You apply your craft (writing and drawing).
  6. You work being aware of the graphic surface.   
Is this valid for all creative acts? For comics, graphic novels and manga there is a movement between the mind- hand- paper– eyes –mind.

Deconstructing a graphic novel

Using the text in front of you, look for the following:
  1. Is all script UPPER CASE BOLD FOR EMPHASIS (but actually not always)?
  2. Is the art sequential? 
  3. Is it sequential visual art?
  4. How does pace do here for comics what time does for film?
  5. How is time shown generally?
  6.  How are icons used?
  7. How is reality simplified? 
  8. Can you identify examples of the mask?
  9. Whose point of view is this story?
  10. Which role does the reader have?
  11. How do the characters contrast with the background?
  12. Does every picture read towards the bottom of the cell?
  13. Look at how the story moves from panel to panel. Can you identify:
    1. moment to moment
    2. action to action 
    3. subject to subject 
    4. scene to scene  
    5. aspect to aspect
    6. non sequitur
  14. What about the effect of:
    1. Angry reds
    2. Placid blues
    3. Anxious textures
    4. Liquid shapes
    5. Quiet lines
    6. Cold greens
    7. Shapes of speech bubbles

 Creating the Graphic Novel

Move through these stages:
  1. idea
  2. form
  3. idiom
  4. structure
  5. craft
  6. surface

BUT – also remember the other aspects of story structure, showing telling, dialogue, pace etc.

Submitting a graphic novel

Normally you only send a synopsis and a few pages of text.  You don’t normally complete the text until you have a contract.    

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Writing for Young Adults


Who the reader is

This reader is generally in Key Stage 4 and 5 in the British school system.  They are aged roughly 14-17. They are post-puberty and fully functioning sexually. They may or may not be sexually active.

They do have problems with their brain and tend to reason with their emotions as the frontal lobes, the area of reason and common sense, are the last to develop fully.

They have more dopamine in the brain than the adult or the child, so they tend to take bigger risks to get thrills – “joy riding” is such an apt expression for those young people who steal killer machines and ride off into the night.

They will have some involvement with the drug world – curiosity, experimentation, addiction – escapism or risk-taking    
Melatonin, the sleep-inducing chemical, arrives later so the young adult goes to bed later.

There is a rapid growing and cutting back of synpases.  If you don’t use it, lose it.  This is perhaps represented in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials where the adolescents’ daemons change rapidly. They need as much sleep as a toddler in order to process all of this. Because of the late arrival of the melatonin, and the late hour at which they go to sleep, though their days still start at the same time as they do for adults, they are deprived of dreams and sleep at a time when they need more sleep

They suffer from mood swings, confidence swings and unjustified depression. There is a lot going on so they become self-obsessed.

They still want to order their universe, just like the younger teens, but this is more complicated than they thought earlier. They are seeking their identity – the world has changed.  

Nicola Morgan has written the book Blame My Brain which discusses all of this in more detail. She gives a student and teacher- friendly version of the research conducted by Jay Giedd and Robert McGivern.


What the books look like

The protagonists and other characters look like their readers, though possibly they are about two years older.  So, more stable adults will act like young adults. For this to seem believable we have to have very high stakes.

The books are often multi-genred and multi-themed.  We can call these genres and themes “traits”. The average number of “traits” in a YA books is 8.9. This would be a nightmare for publishers or book-sellers. But for YA it is simple: the text is defined by its reader not by its genre or theme.      

High emotions are involved. There is an emotional closeness between the narrator and the reader. A first person immediate narrative is often used. The voice is often one of a best mate telling a story that (s(he) has yet to rationalise.

The pace is fast.

The reader has control of the story. S(he) often decides what has actually happened at the end and how the future might pan out. The reader is often also left to decide what is happening within the story itself.

The YA text frequently pushes boundaries. Educationalist are pleased that young people are reading so they accept edgier texts. This renders those texts less acceptable to the young adult. Writers then have to produce even edgier texts. There are also some chicklet-lit texts (like Chick-Lit but for a slightly younger readers and often a little more serious).  Some texts resemble adult or children's novels. Books read for GCSE and A-Level are often labelled as “YA” by book sellers.   

The young adult is almost always a Bildungsroman, often to do with identity and often following an epic voyage. We see the growth of the young person.

There is a narrative dilemma. Emotional closeness slows the pace. However, if the stakes are high, pace and tension are achieved thought the emotional response to them.   
We can even adapt the Campbell, Propp, Vogler joint story theory to be a story of adolescence.


The Story of Adolescence

Joseph Campbell, Vladimir Propp and Christopher Vogler
·         Ordinary World  (V) Childhood
·         Call to Adventure (P) Invitation to become adult through the onset of puberty.
·         Refusal of the Call (P) The adolescent sometimes wishes to continue to behave like a child.
·         Meeting with the Mentor (V) Supernatural Aid (C) trusting other authorities from childhood which had parents and school. The trappings of teenage life – clothes, make-up, music, and possibly also drugs and alcohol give supernatural help.
·         Crossing the First Threshold (P) Going through  puberty.
·         The Belly of the Whale (C) Trials, Allies, Enemies (V) The Road of Trials  (C) The ups and downs of becoming an adult, changes in the brain, hormones going mad, and could the belly of the whale be the typical teenager’s bedroom?
·         The Meeting with the Goddess (C ) The seduction by the opposite sex, or same sex role models put upon a pedestal – idol worship / footballers / pop stars
·         Woman as Temptress ( C ) Sexual experimentation
·         Approach to the Inmost Cave (V) Going deep into oneself to find true identity.
·         Ordeal (V) The struggle to find one’s own truth.
·         Atonement with the Father (C) Reconciliation with the old way of life and the essence of the personality.
·         Apotheosis (C) Emergence of a beautiful new adult.
·         The Ultimate Boon (C) Reward (V) Finding a role in life.
·         Refusal of the Return (C) Denial of roots.
·         The Magic Flight (C) Reaching out to those roots with the new adult knowledge.
·         Rescue from without (C) Facing the realities of the world.
·         The Road Back (V) Reconciliation between the new and old orders. (Parents who had seemed incredibly stupid when one was fourteen, now that one is seventeen seem not too bad after all.) 
·         Master of Two Worlds (C) Resurrection (V) The new adult takes up the new position in the world but still appreciates what has come before.
·         Freedom to Live (C) Return with the Elixir (V) Self-esteem and self-knowledge.

Looking at a Young Adult text

What are the characters like?
  1. Post-puberty
2.      Fully functioning sexually.
3.      May or may not be sexually active.
4.      Problems with brain:
5.      Reasons with emotions
a.       Frontal lobes – area of reason- last to develop
b.      More dopamine  - so needs to take bigger risks to get thrills – “joy riding”
c.       Melatonin arrives later so goes to bed later  
d.      Rapid growing and cutting back – if you don’t use it, lose it – think of Pullman’s daemons
6.      Mood swings / confidence swings / unjustified depression.
7.      A lot going on so they become self-obsessed 
8.      Want to order their universe – but this is more complicated than they thought earlier.
9.      Seeking identity – the world has changed.
10.  Deprived of dreams and sleep at a time when they need more sleep.
11.  Have some involvement with the drug world – curiosity, experimentation, addiction – escapism or risk-taking    
The text? 
1.      Multi-genred and multi-themed (traits)  
2.      High emotions are involved
3.      Fast-paced
4.      Leaves control to reader – within story and at end.
5.      Pushes boundaries – though may be Chicklet-lit or resemble adult or children's novel 
Bildungsroman – often to do with identity and often following epic voyage – Campbell, Propp, Vogler joint theory as “Story of Adolescence” 

Find a scene that includes emotional closeness.  How is this achieved?
      Inner monologue
      Real time
      Physical description of emotional reactions
      Show a range of powerful emotions
      Voice – one young adult talking to another – though take care not to use too many trendy words
      Use of appropriate narrative styles – maybe journal, letter or email     
      Lack of logic

How much is the text showing and not telling? Has the writer followed these rules?
      Use real time
      Write with senses
      Be specific
      Create a film for the reader
      Avoid exposition
      Take short cuts with description
      Make characters speak
      Take care with backstory – tell it in scenes or careful inner monologue

How does the dialogue work? Does it follow these rules?
      Must always have a function – show character, sub-text, move plot forward, create atmosphere or some or all of these
      Must not be too natural BUT
      Must be in the voice of the speaker
      Must be carefully assigned:
     Often no ‘said’ needed if only two people speaking BUT
     Needs more assignation for young people
     Use action instead of assignation
     Occasionally ‘whispered’, ‘shouted’ or ‘asked’ is fine   
      MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW TO SET IT OUT CORRECTLY if you are going to write for this reader.

How has the narrative dilemma been solved?
      Emotional closeness is best shown, not told.
      Showing and not telling slows the pace.
      A lot of dialogue slows the pace.
      Young adults want fast pace and risk-taking 
     Balance of narrative techniques
     High stakes 
     Write with senses to create film


How to do it

Think of your characters and your story.

Now write a scene that:
·         Brings the writer and the reader close together
·         Shows and doesn’t tell
·         Has some dialogue in it
·         Resolves the young adult narrative dilemma

Is your text working? Show it to someone and see what they “get”.  

Some books to study

Bertagna, Julie.(2004) The Opposite of Chocolate. London: Young Picador
Brooks, Kevin. (2014) Lucas. Frome: Chicken House 
Burgess, Melvin. (2016) Junk first published 1996. London: Andersen
Burchill, Julie (2004) Sugar Rush. London: Macmillan Children’s Books  
Cann, Kate. (2001) Breaking Up. London: The Women’s Press     
Chbosky, Stephen. (1999) The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Simon and Shuster 
Landy, Derek. (2015) Demon Road. London: HarperCollins
Weatherly, Lee. (2013) Angel Fever. London: Usborne