Friday 7 May 2010

Writing Novels for Young People

This is the title of one of the modules I teach at the University of Salford. We are very close to the time now that they give in their final assignment. They have already submitted a synopsis of their novel. This means they have thought carefully about their plot and made an accurate précis of that.
It was a small select group today: assignments are due in every day at the moment, so attendance dips dramatically. In fact I’ve picked up their second assignment but we talked about the third one today.
We started off talking mainly about the publishing industry – how you submit to publishers. It’s a little surprising how much they don’t know as we talk about it on every module. And we also discuss how there’s also something about doing creative writing at university that takes it beyond the commercially publishable. There is room for experiment. This may be one of the only chances.
We did then go on to look at the editing process. I see editing in three basic chunks but actually go through eighteen processes myself.
The first stage is to do with overall structure. I include also roundedness, believability and growth characters. Then there is suitability for reader and conformity with the market. So, as we’re talking young adults, we’re talking about characters looking like their readers, emotional closeness, fast pace and stories of growth. I think it’s a good idea at this stage too to check that time works correctly. I actually pre-empt this anyway by knowing exactly when each scene takes place and how long it lasts. No three year pregnancies please!
The second stage includes many technicalities in the actual writing. Is there a balance of pace? Is there cause and effect? Are you showing instead of telling, knowing the difference and also knowing when telling is appropriate? Are the characters consistent? Does the dialogue work correctly? Is there a balance of narrative styles?
The third stage then is line by line. This is where you are looking at the language itself. Are there clichés that would best be replaced with something else? Or should you leave the cliché because it actually works rather well? Do you have a few darlings that you need to kill off? What about overall flow? This is the point where you should read it out loud. Lastly comes the proper copy edit with an emphasis on spelling, grammar, and sense.
My students seemed to lap this up and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to them about it. This group is particularly responsive.

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