R. R. Smythe

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies Deb Halverson

by R. R. Smythe

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.

So, tell us about your writing journey that led you to your new book.

My journey started with a secret. I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I’ve been old enough to think about what I wanted to be. But I didn’t tell anyone. Not when I was a kid and adults asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Not when I was in high school and actually thought seriously about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Not when I told my dad I wanted to major in English and he asked what in the world I wanted to do with an English degree (“Be a lawyer,” I replied with a straight face). Not when I graduated from college with an English degree or when I began my career as a children’s book editor or even when I started writing my first novel at age 34 and my husband asked what I was doing: “Oh, just typing,” I answered. He knew, though. But he let me have the space to do what I needed to do—which was, finally, to find out if that dream I carried within me was really something worth carrying any longer. I guess it was, because that “typing” led to my debut teen novel Honk If You Hate Me, which was followed very quickly by my teen novel Big Mouth. And now here I am, writing about writing in Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies. All the things that happened to me during my writing journey—becoming a children’s book editor, leaving the office job to raise triplets and freelance edit, teaching writing to college students and writers’ groups—added to my understanding of the business as well as the craft of writing, and it’s all finally coming to play in one book.

Any advice for writers?

No matter what genre or category you write for, keep your language and phrasings dynamic. Who wants to read about a character who sits or runs or gives up their wild ways when they could read about a character who lounges or bolts or stops with all the hoo-ha? Inject personality into your narrative with flavorful, evocative words and phrasings.

What about attracting readers, what have you found most helpful?

To attract readers, you’ve got to give them what they want: a great read. And then you’ve got to give them what they don’t know they want. That is, make sure your story has unexpected elements. That means crafting unpredictable endings, of course, but it also means thinking out of the box at the concept stage. Always strive to develop a project that fits a particular genre and category in the marketplace but which also offers that market something fresh. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for an extreme (and gory) example. Or perhaps a Revolution-era historical fiction in which the son of an African princess is raised wearing the finest clothes in the finest home with the finest education—only to discover that he’s really an enslaved captive in a twisted philosophical experiment. (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation). Fit your story into a market but then make it stand from that market. That’s how you get readers to stop browsing the shelves and pick up your book . . . and then discover your fantastic work within it.

What’s next for you?

I’m pleased to be turning, once again, to a novel I started writing before Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies came into my life. I’m very proud of WYAFFD and believe it offers techniques and insights for writers of all levels, but I have to admit that there were moments when I wanted to set to stop writing about writing fiction for a few days so that I could write some fiction myself. Now I can—and huzzah for that!

THANKS SO MUCH for stopping. Two lucky readers will win a book, just post your comment for your chance to win!

21 Responses

  1. Welcome to the muse, Deborah! It’s wonderful to have you here. Especially since I’ve been spending this summer among the YA stacks at the library. I was drawn there through my daughter, but I’ve stayed for all the wonderful books there. It seems to me dystopian stories are all the rage right now, but do you see a new big thing out there on the horizon that hasn’t quite hit its stride yet?

    • It’s so true! Once you wander into the YA section, it’s darned hard to wander out again . . . especially with your hands empty. I was up all night last night (one Pepsi and sleep is history; how do coffee drinkers ever get shut-eye?) so my crystal ball isn’t working, but I’ve heard a lot of scuttlebutt about some intriguing twists on paranormal in the pipeline. Cross-blending of genres, like paranormal and historical fiction. The YA section could be getting just a bit funkier soon… and more alluring than ever.

      • Well heck, that’s what I do with my adult Regency-paranormals!
        Who knew I was a trend-setter?! :)
        Thanks for the update and best of luck with the book.

  2. R. R. Smythe r r smythe says:

    YEA! Thanks so much for stopping!!! We wish you mucho sales

  3. Marlo Berliner Marlo Berliner says:

    Thanks for being here, Deborah. Congratulations on your writing journey and your book! I write YA so it sounds very interesting. There’s always something new to be learned.
    Wishing you mega-sales!

  4. Grace says:

    You’ve given me an idea for a new book: 100 Reasons not to be a lawyers when you can write a book instead. You made the right choice, and best of luck with the new direction(s).

    • You know, NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” featured a guy who dropped out of law school to become a comedian. It seems like the profession to avoid—and then toil just as many long hours. :)

  5. M.V. Freeman says:

    I laughed about hiding your dream as a writer. Why? Because for years I did the same thing. I think it is fabulous you ended up an editor and a writer–what great gifts! I hope that you never again have to deny that you are writer.

    I agree with you about the story for YA, make it a good one! Who are your favorite authors for YA? Do you prefer paranormal, contemporary, or a mix?

    • I enjoy the silly and the quirky, which may explain why I’ve been a drooling, tongue-tied fan of M.T. Anderson for years. I’m so honored that he wrote the introduction do Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies. I do read across the YA spectrum, though, with Karen Cushman’s historical fictions totally knocking my socks off years ago and staying in my reading loop (I reread very rarely, so that’s a big deal for me). Karen’s got an amazing talent for narrative voice.

  6. CC James says:

    Good advice about using dynamic language. I’m really trying to make my teen characters say and do things that I was much to shy to consider–remaking my inner child could-have-dones I guess.

  7. Nancy Naigle says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! Do you think more and more YA readers are expecting a mature read? It sure seems like they are wise beyond their years.

    Best wishs on YA for Dummies.
    I’m sure it has great tips for the smarties, too :)
    Happy writing,

    • Thanks for the good wishes, Nancy. I’m glad to say there are lots of mature reads for young people ready for such fare (and older folks like myself who still adore reading YA). But the great thing about fiction for young adults is that it covers a great spectrum, giving us the silly, the satirical, the serious, and the just plain plain entertaining without being limited to one thing. That’s something that those who don’t venture into YA aren’t really aware of. It is such a broad category, both in audience and in content.

  8. I enjoyed reading about your secret passion for writing. I’m sure that over time it became very strongly evident to those around you where your heart was.
    Raising triplets must have given you a wealth of information from which to write. I applaud you! I wrote some of the wittiest juvenile pieces when I was surrounded by little ones. They certainly are fodder for the keyboard. Now, I write for adults and young adults. I look forward to reading your book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies.

  9. Thanks for visiting the Musers, Deborah. This was very timely as I’m struggling to pull ideas together for a YA. I’ll look for this book. Good luck with your fiction writing!

  10. Lulu says:

    Congratulations on the new book!

    I am starting out in YA and am always wondering if I’m going in the right direction. I juggle writing with my business and two overly curious twin toddlers, so I know where you’re coming from on that! ;-)

    Best of luck with everything.

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