Friday, January 14, 2011

What I've Learned - Writing Great Books for Young Adults (2)

I know I'm a day late on this, but I figure better late than never!

Last week I talked about some of the rules for writing YA novels from the book Writing Great Books for Young Adults. Now that we've gone over those, we can dive into the rest of the books valuable pointers.

Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal

Today I want to talk about plot. This is a part where I tend to struggle. I'm good up until a point, but then everything goes haywire and I can't come up with a decent ending. I think I've changed my ending to my current WIP about 7 times already. And it's going to go through at least one more change because it's still not exactly right.

The book discusses seven basic elements through which every plot should progress (CHAPTER 4).

  1. Ground State. This is the character's world before whatever happens. It's important to give a glimpse of this, so the reader has something to compare to when you move on to the next phase.
  2. Conflict and incitement. This is what your story is going to be about. It sets the rest of the plot into motion. Ideally, this should happen within the first few pages in a YA novel and it should be something your protagonist really cares about. Otherwise, why even tell a story about it?
  3. Complications and Rising Action. This is the fun part. When you get to throw all kinds of obstacles into your protagonist's way. Brooks notes that "the difficulties should increase primarily as a result of action by the protagonist, not just from outside forces." In other words, don't make it seem like your protagonist is just ambling along and bad things are happening. Have them make some bad decisions that put them in even deeper water than they were before. They can't grow if they don't make some missteps along the way.
  4. Crisis. This is it. The highest point of tension in the entire novel should occur here. If you think of your novel as a trail of bread crumbs, this is the place where they should lead, with one final load of bread sitting at the end that ties it all together.
  5. Climax. This is like the point of no turning back. Your protagonist has just had a huge crisis moment, and now they must take action to resolve it. Brooks warns, "the climax should not be a complete surprise. Immediately after, the reader should be thinking, 'Of course! I should've seen it!'."
  6. Falling Action. This is your chance to tie up loose ends. I don't know about you, but I hate when I read a book and I'm left thinking, "But what ever happened to so-and-so...?" Open endings are one things, but I need to have an idea of where it's all heading.
  7. Denouement. Congratulations! You're at the end. Brooks lists several ways to end your novel: Resolution (victory is claimed), Revelation (something hidden is revealed), Decision (protag chooses something - often a difficult choice), Explanation (solution to mystery) and Trick (surprise!).
Does your novel have all of these parts? With which one do you struggle the most?

Read Part One - Basic Rules for Writing YA and stayed tuned for next week when I talk about what the book has to say on dialogue.


  1. I almost struggle with the beginning most which is BAD. BUT - on the slipside - when I come up with the beginning first? They usually flow really well. So, yeah, that's my hard part - the beginning, the first chapter, the one everyone will judge my book on...

  2. I'm plotting out the revisions for my WiP now, and this is so helpful! I have to make sure the climax is character-driven: right now, not so much. Thanks!

  3. This is great! I'm going to try to get a copy of this book ASAP!

  4. Wow! Looks like an amazing book. I like to think my book has all these things lol

  5. As you know, I have issues with plot in general. :-\

    I'm reading this book right now...I love it!

  6. This post is soooo helpful! I really need to work on #3. I've realized that a lot of bad things happen to my MC - she needs to go out and make her own mistakes! Back to revising:)

  7. I also have difficulty with the beginning. I can never seem to get it right!

    But I'm working on it. This sounds like a great book. This is the one by an acting agent, right? Or maybe I'm thinking of a different one.

    Anyways, this is a great post!

  8. Oh no! I don't have a ground state. I'll have time to write it when I finish the book, lol.