LUW Conference – Notes Part 3

I caught the tail end of the morning keynote by Sophie Littlefield (Garden of Stones) and decided she would be one of the first panels I attended. She’s very entertaining and keeps the panel lively, so if you’re putting together a writers conference, she may be one you want to call. Her panel was called:


Start with yourself. We were all YA age once. Some of us may not remember all of the details of our YA age, but with a little thinking you can pull out those YA thoughts and feelings and infuse them in your fiction. So when asking yourself these questions, reach inside for that 14-year-old self and let’s begin.

Who am I – IN MY ENVIRONMENT. What difference does my presence make to my family, school, community, neighborhood?

Who am I – IN MY OWN HEAD. What emotions do I experience on an everyday basis? What is my emotional “resting state?” (For example, you’re typically a crabby person, a happy person, a shy person, etc.)

Who am I – WITH OTHER PEOPLE. What do others think of me? Am I well liked? Do I like others? Whose opinion matters to me? Who does my opinion matter to?

When writing YA don’t focus on the parent, unless they are a story trigger.

Now that you are 14 again…. How does it feel in your body? What emotions dominate? How is it different from being an adult? What do you care about that an adult doesn’t? What matters to you?

There are different types of approaches you can take to your story and more specifically the focus you’ll take in your story. One of the biggest themes of adolescent fiction is the forming of identity. Consider the “who am I” questions with your character in terms of identity.

And since we’re talking themes, let’s look at the themes that most appeal to teens:

  • Romance and darkness (paranormal/dystopian) – on the wane
  • Empowerment – a chance to control their destiny (when in reality they often feel powerless)
  • Real-life issues – fiction as safe exploration
  • Changeability of identity – reinvention, shifting, dual identities
  • Social issues – war, environment, futuristic interpretations of the world around them.

Sophie took a moment to make this aside:

Write what you want to write, don’t worry about trends, no one can predict them anyway.

People are always certain something is gone and dead forever and then someone else comes along and breaks that expectation and suddenly there’s a swarm of vampire novels, or zombie novels, etc. Write what you’re passionate about and focus on telling the best story you possibly can, no matter what it’s about.

(Some YA Novel examples she named: most Laurie Halse Anderson novels, Me Earl and the Dying Girl, Shadow and Bone, Graffiti Moon, Sons of the 613, Captain Underpants, I Hunt Killers)

Young adults want a lot of twists, and action from the start. Don’t waste their time with pages of flowery descriptions.

Story Arc (plot)

Your hook/pitch is (or should be) a brief summation of your story arc. Your story arc will be supported by character arcs, internal conflict, external conflict and objectives and superobjectives. Know what these are, especially if you are putting together a hook/pitch.

Who needs a character arc? Every major character in every book. Secondary characters over a series. Secondary characters, if you want them to be interesting. Don’t forget villains.

Constructing a Character Arc What does each character most want? (What is her story objective? If this is a series, what is her series superobjective?) What does the character most fear?

EX: Beauty and the Beast

Objectives: Belle – likes her ordinary world. Wants to read books.
Beast – Wishes he was still a handsome prince. Wants companionship – especially a pretty girl.

Fears: Belle – at first, she fears for her father’s health. She fears the beast for awhile. In the end she fears losing him. (We added that she feared being stuck married to a man who didn’t really love her, not able to be the person she wanted to be/not being appreciated for who she is).
Beast – Fears…himself? Afraid he truly is without worth.

Next: Layering Emotion

Create an emotion table for each major character (Include only those emotions at play in the story). For each emotion, describe in detail how the emotions feels physically and how your character manifests it.

Sophie suggested when we are feeling a strong emotion of any kind, take not of how it feels:

  • In your head.
  • In your gut.
  • In your nerves.
  • How are you breathing?
  • How fatigued/excitable are you?
  • Are you sweating?
  • Tearful?
  • Are you blushing/ruddy/pale?

We also brought up the Emotion Thesaurus (a book I personally own and recommend. It’s supremely helpful for getting out of telling and showing more.)

The rest of the time we spent working on and discussing pitches. It’s good to have something succinct that gets the meat of your story. Here’s what I volunteered:

Shadow demons destroyed his home, murdered his father and unless Logan learns to control them, they’ll consume him next.

Just simple and clean. Although she advised me, in the query, to include the details that make my story unique. That’s why, if you read Wednesday’s post, I made sure to mention bone swords and a demon dog.

Think over your book and pull out your unique details. Put together a very succinct elevator pitch and then see how you can work it and your unique details together in a query letter. But you should always have an elevator pitch at the ready in case you run into anyone you want to be networking with.

One thing she said that I didn’t know if I agreed with is YA should be from 40,000 to 60,000 words. What do you guys think about that? I’m okay with the 60,000 option, but 40,000 seems a bit short for YA.

Okay, what did you learn? Anything new about YA? Anything to apply to your story even if it isn’t YA? Anything you would add?

4 thoughts on “LUW Conference – Notes Part 3

  1. I agree that 40k is too short for YA. I’ve seen agents on Twitter and blogs say that 50-55k was too short for YA, though they did look into some of those projects as edits could fix that issue. 60k Seems acceptable for me, though I aim 70k when I write YA,

    • 70K seems a nice number. I’m thinking my Clemmings project will ultimately end up in that number. I’ve always been long-winded though. The ideas keep a coming—which is good news for any books I want to make series. But yeah, 40,000 seems MG at best. Glad it wasn’t just me.

      • Yup, 40k is a totally respectable range for MG, for sure. Some say 30k is even okay for MG, but I tend to disagree with that. 35k maybe. But, it is all about editors and agents and so on. Nothing is set in stone.

  2. Wow, 40,000 does seem too short. I’d expect somewhere between 60,000-70,000, but I don’t know how a typical fourteen-year-old would feel about it. Some fourteen-year-olds have long attention spans, while others don’t.

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