New Rules for My YA

Post Date: May 7th, 2012

When I was in kindergarten, I dissolved in total melt down over a snowman project.

“No scissors today,” the teacher said. “We’re ripping a snowman out of paper.”

I was already quite handy with the play scissors, or so I thought. No way was I going to tear when I could cut!  A snowman needs smooth circles, not raggedy edges!

Image found here

I burst into tears and the project came to a screeching halt. The teacher had to explain to my mother later why the day didn’t go so well.

39 years later, I find myself tearing a snowman out of a big blank piece of paper, white and blank with emptiness save for the big old question mark of HOW WILL YOU REWRITE THIS NOVEL?

So in this blizzard, this wilderness of white cold powder, when and if you learn something, it’s like the hut you come across in the storm, where you can build a fire for a night. Cling to these epiphanies.

Here’s what I know thus far about writing YA:

  • If your character has a strong, clear voice, one that won’t stop speaking to you, love that voice with all your heart. Trust the sound of the character’s words in your head. Ever since Wendy started speaking to me, I listen. Voice is attitude, angle, words said and words thought; it’s rhythm and inflection and pacing and tone. I tell myself not to ever lose that sound and keep revising till she says it right, just like only Wendy would. 
  • Anything an adult says is suspect. Every time you write a scene where the adult gets too much airtime, face time, anytime, question it. The hero’s journey of YA is to prevail sans adults, against adults, in spite of adults. Young adults want to redefine adulthood. One of YA’s main themes is, This is how we do it. Not like you did. You people screwed it up.
  • Avoid, “I wake up and then I did this and then I did that…” No matter how interesting the dream, no matter how interesting the next moment after waking, find a way to start in medias res. Begin in the middle of things in as many times as you can during your story. Hook readers at the beginning of every chapter.
  • And leave them hanging at the end of every chapter.
  • Outlines are made of silly putty, not bone. Write the outline, then write the scenes. Step back, and write a new outline based on the scenes you have. You’ll be surprised to see how you’ve deviated from your intended outline, if you write the way I do. See if this new outline is working. If it works, return to the scenes and remove whatever clutters. 
In the midst of all the rips and ragged edges, a shape is forming. I’m building that snowman. Somedays it’s a shadow in the blizzard, but most days, there’s something, something, up ahead!

Writing Prompts:

  • Scissors or rips? Which kind of writer are you?
  • What snowman is giving you trouble lately?
  • What rips and ragged edges are hardest for you to accept?
  • Do you need a clear path out of the blizzard, or when you write do you take it step by step without headlights or GPS?
  • How do you define revision? What epiphanies have you had about it lately?
  • Write about snow and cold and ice; write about confusion and seeing a light in a hut ahead in the blizzard.


  1. Andrea says:

    As I delve deeper into this venture called fiction I find that I tend to throw out the GPS and make my own trails. I’m letting my characters blaze the trail for me. However, I think I am a scissors person in other respects. Strange?

  2. Hi, Andrea,

    I think you might have the perfect combination of risk-taking and meticulousness. The writing process, I find, requires both. The very first draft of my novel, Wendy got to do and say whatever she wanted. She also got to hide out a lot in her room and in her mind. So now that I’m in scissors phase, she has to take more action, and this cutting and rewriting is hard, hard, hard. But I think I’m getting better at it. That said, I would never have been inspired or excited about her character if I hadn’t let that first stage of meandering and trailblazing happen.

    So not so strange at all to me!