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Geraldine Meade’s Advice on Writing YA Fiction

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Writing for Children & YA

Geraldine Meade

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So when it comes to writing young adult fiction, there are a few key ingredients that you must have. The first is to find your own voice. For years I read books and wanted to write stories that were similar to the authors I loved. Trust me, it doesn’t work. It is good to read books from the genre you love and want to write in but more importantly you need to start writing, it’s how you find your own voice. So picture it, you’re sitting there but haven’t a clue where to begin, you don’t even know what people mean when they tell you to find your own voice. Well just start writing about anything – something that happened today, something from the news, how you’re feeling, it doesn’t matter. Every day tell yourself that you’re going to write a page or two or three, you choose. Don’t stop to read over, correct mistakes or analyse what you’ve written, this is just an exercise to get the juices flowing but if you do this on a regular basis you’ll soon find the thread of a tale or the shadow of a character and slowly a story is born.

Once you start writing you’ll be amazed at the amount of ideas for stories that you’ll think of. For me it was while writing picture book stories that I thought of the idea for my debut novel Flick. Flick tells the story of a young sixteen-year-old girl, Felicity Costello (aka Flick) who’s struggling with her sexuality; it’s a part of her that she wants to hide away from her friends, family and the world, no matter what the cost. Of course, trying to be someone we’re not always leads to trouble and in Flick’s case it leads to a lot of trouble.

So people keep asking how the heck I wrote such a story and whether I was a lesbian? Am a lesbian? Or want to be a lesbian? It doesn’t really matter that the answers to the above questions are all no, because love is love regardless of whether it is two boys, two girls, or a boy and a girl. So writing the story was easy. It was easy remembering times when I liked a boy that had absolutely no interest in me and times when I was nervous and excited when somebody did.

Those memories mixed with a lot of imagination led to the story of Flick. I wrote sincerely and honestly as if I were Flick, I constantly put myself in her shoes, OK all of my experiences were with boys but the emotions and feelings were the same. I found it easy to remember my own teenage years, I think for many of us they are an intense part of our lives, every thing is heightened. We think we’re adults and we’re ready for the world, we’re dying to cut the strings that have bound us so tightly to our parents, we’re ready for freedom and we want it now. For most it’s the first time for so many things, smoking, drink, drugs, first boyfriends, girlfriends, love, sex and much more. We think having and doing these things will make us more confident, look cooler but sometimes there are costly lessons to be learned along the way. That’s exactly what happened with Flick, she tries to fit in and does everything she can to prove that she is ‘normal,’ she thinks the drink is helping to cover it all up but really it  just gets her into more trouble until Flick can see no way out.

The next ingredient is your plan or outline for the story. Many writers have different formats for the way they write, some need to have a detailed plot before they begin, they want to know exactly what’s going to happen and when, it’s their map for writing their story. For others once they have a character he/she dictates the story. In my own case I had an idea of writing a story that began with a dream and it seemed to go from there. I just began writing and the story took over, I never knew where it was going, one thing just seemed to naturally lead onto another so you could say that the story wrote itself. My characters and plot grew as my book did. You’ll find a lot of people, not just authors but musicians, artists or anyone in a creative field saying that their work took on a life of their own.

Unfortunately I have to mention that four letter word that most people hate, yes I’m sorry to say it but you have to EDIT. When I finished my debut novel it was 150,000 words and even though I went back over my work on numerous occasions it stays at around this figure. Luckily an editor whom I had sent the book to saw some good in my extremely long story and took time to talk to me. The main thing she told me was that it was way too long and I needed to cut back. I nodded in agreement but told her I wasn’t sure where to start. She gave me a great piece of advice and told me to go through every paragraph and ask myself if it pertained to the main story or if my story could work without it? Needless to say I was slow to start hacking at my beloved creation that had taken not months but years to write. But in the end I took the advice of a brilliantly experienced and gifted writer, editor and publisher. After being told an awful lot of times to just ‘get rid of another ten thousand words,’


I ended up with a novel with 65,000 words, a novel that was all the better for it. So don’t think that anyone else is going to do it for you, (you wouldn’t want them to anyway) try to be critical, if you have to cut out pieces that you like or love as I did (my inspired opening and the first six chapters disappeared in one fell click of a button) save them in another word document so you might be able to use them again. Remember try to have your book looking as professional and perfect as possible.

The next ingredient is to believe in yourself. Ignore the stats; ignore people saying it can’t be done. If you believe you can do it you can. Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re probably right.’ For years the idea of being a writer never entered my head and when it finally did I had so little faith in myself. I shrugged off what I was doing or closed my computer when others were around. ‘It’s nothing,’ I used to say but actually it was something, it was something that I loved doing, something that I had a passion for but it was only when I started believing in myself and I let in that chink of light and said ‘maybe I can do this,’ that things started happening for me. I became more confident and focused on my writing. I began to take it seriously and I allowed myself to dream. Everything begins with a thought and if you can focus on something that you are passionate about and work towards a goal then you can succeed too.

Edgar A. Guest puts it perfectly when he says

‘You can do as much as you think you can,
But you’ll never accomplish more;
If you’re afraid of yourself, young man,
There’s little for you in store.
For failure comes from the inside first,
It’s there if we only knew it,
And you can win, though you face the worst,
If you feel that you’re going to do it.’

Finally add persistence. You have to persist, never give up on something you love; you have to keep going because success is just around the corner. Enjoy your journey.

About the author

(c) Geraldine Meade, October 2011.

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