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.

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Mini-Reviews: Museum of Thieves, Mockingbird, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

God bless my Kindle and the wonderful ability it has given me to read more books. Now that I’m working on firing my 5am coach—again—I should be able to get more reading done on the train commute (vs. the car because I’m late). But, I still have managed to squeeze in three books, and here they be.


I believe it was Kati over at Mystic Cooking that first brought this book to my attention. Aside from the totally awesome book cover, this is a great MG, semi-dystopian read by Lian Tanner. It brings up some interesting social ideas too, specifically how much freedom we as a society are willing to trade for perceived security.

The main character is Goldie, a girl who eagerly awaits being set free from always being chained to a guardian or her parents—literally. But when a bomb explodes, the city leaders rethink letting the children off the hook so early. Goldie can’t take the imprisonment anymore, however, and runs away. She encounters the Museum of Thieves—a sanctuary for people like her—and soon learns that the ‘safe’ world she came from is much more nefarious than she ever imagined.

If you love visual-writing that doesn’t go over the top, this is the book for you. At times you almost care more about the museum itself than the story because it’s so fascinating (but don’t worry, the story is still excellent). Characters are well written and arc wonderfully, and for me there never was a dull moment. This book is certainly worth a look to see how the author married description with story so they worked together to hook readers. Great read!

My grade for this book: A+

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SMC: Writing YA Novels Kids Can’t Put Down

Storymaker notes continue, this time with Janette Rallison (who also writes as CJ Hill). A night of only 5 hours of sleep was catching up to me at this point, but I think I got the meat of what she was saying.


Remember that kids tend to read up. Write about issues that teens care about. Many of these include fitting in, growing up, and dating. But whatever the issue is, make it important to the teen. Keep the novel fast-moving. Don’t put in too much beautiful description or you’ll bore your audience. Often YA novels will end up being somewhere between 200 and 300 pages. Write it in a voice teens can relate to.


  1. Your MC should want something they don’t already have.
  2. Their goal should be something worthy.
  3. The best goals are important and urgent.
  4. Goals don’t always have to be achieved. (aka they realize something they want more along the way)
  5. All the main characters in your novel should have goals. (realistic support characters will be doing things for their own reasons and should)


  1. Don’t let your character wander around the story without motivation.
  2. Don’t make your character an idiot. (Seems obvious, but don’t have them doing things that your readers will scream is stupid at the book.)
  3. Characters should have both internal and external motivation and goals.

Revenge could have been a great motivation for Obi-wan in Eps 2 & 3. Too bad they killed off Darth Maul in the same scene…


  1. Conflict is two dogs & one bone. (They want something someone else wants just as badly).
  2. Conflict is not the same as arguing.
  3. Any conflict that can be cleared up with a 2 minute frank conversation between characters is not a conflict.
  4. Your characters should come to every scene with a goal and conflict.


Have a strong antagonist, but realize that the antagonist doesn’t always have to be a villain. And when it comes to YA novels, you can’t have an adult solve the teen’s problem. That’s often why you’ll find YA stories about orphans (Harry Potter) or who have useless parent(s) (Hunger Games).

The reader needs to know the dire consequences that will befall the main character if he/she does not reach his/her goal. Otherwise they won’t feel the tension in what they’re reading and may disengage.

And as Dwight Swain says each story should have a problem, character, goal, antagonist, and disaster. Write down each of these categories and make sure you can define each of these when it comes to your novel.

Any tips you would add? Have you found places where you were ruining motivation when you could have been using it? What do you do to make sure you give your characters motivation and conflict in every scene?

One more thing on ruining motivation. In earlier iterations of my novel, I had a main character who started as a great conflicting force for my MC that essentially disappeared for the rest of the book after being in the first few chapters. It took me several rewrites to realize I was killing some excellent motivation for my MC. Now that character doesn’t disappear and I think things are much improved. Scour your own novel and make sure you’re not killing off good conflict before it comes to grand fruition.