One Writer’s Journey

August 24, 2017

Dialogue, Narrative, and Action: Getting the Right Balance, part 2

Yesterday I discussed just how to balance these elements in a chapter book.  In my two page sample, 3 lines were narrative, in this case interior dialogue.  Half of what remained was dialogue and the other half was action. I had been reading about not using too much narrative and wanted to see how much was too much for these younger independent readers.  Apparently, I am going to have to keep it tight.

Middle grade

But what about books for older readers?  Today I have samples from a middle grade novel, Gossamer by Lois Lowry, a young adult novel, The Demon’s Lexicon by Rees Brennan, and an adult novel, The Right Side by Spencer Quinn.  These were chosen without an ounce of science.  Basically all three were within reach of my desk chair.

So how do the various elements balance out?  In the middle grade novel, dialogue (again in green) makes up about 1/2 of the total text.  I counted roughly 26 lines of dialogue.  The rest was split about equally between action (orange) and narrative (pink).  That large block of narrative on the lower left is a flashback.  The rest is interior dialogue.  All in all, roughly 1/4 of the total is narrative.

Young adult

Like the middle grade, the young adult novel is fantasy so I expected it to be narrative/setting heavy.  This time around the blocks are almost equal.  Narrative has a slightly larger portion with 22 lines.  A small amount of this is flashback and even less is interior dialogue.  But I expected very little interior dialogue.  This mean character is not particularly self-aware.  Most of the narrative is setting.  19 lines each are dialogue and action.  So that’s a fairly even balance between the three elements.  And, yes, these two pages were chosen at random.


The adult novel was a completely different situation.  Action takes up half of the total with 31 lines.  Dialogue?  A scant 9 lines.  The remaining 22 lines are narrative.  Before making any decisions on this book, I’d want to do another random sample to see if it would have more dialogue. Why?  Because it felt like it had more dialogue than this.  That said, it is a book about a vet with PTSD.  She is far from chatty so this might be the rule while the parts I’m remember where the exception.

Whether your novel is a chapter book or an adult novel, it is clear that no single element should take up more than 50% of the total.  What works well for your book will vary with the type of book that you are writing as well as the type of scene. A battle scene will likely have more action than other scenes.  A scene where the sleuth solves the mystery might have more dialogue or narrative.

Still, you obviously can’t have any single element take up more than its fair share of space.  Not if you hope to achieve balance.


March 21, 2017

Middle Grade vs Young Adult

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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How can you tell if a teen novel is written for middle graders or young adults?  For some people, the difference revolves around sex.  If the characters are doing it, it must be young adult.  But not all young adult novels feature sex.  Some people think it has to do with the stakes or just how serious the subject matter is.  But some middle grade books deal with things that are all kinds of serious.

One of my favorite examples of an oh so serious middle grade novel is Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand.  In spite of the fact that this book is for slightly younger reader it includes:

  • The main character has clinical depression.
  • Her parents are estranged from her grandparents.
  • Her grandmother is being treated for cancer.
  • Someone was blamed for a crime he didn’t commit to protect the town darling.

And those are just the things that I can remember just over half a year after reading the book.

Here are some of the differences that I’ve noticed.

Middle grade novels:

  • Feature main characters who are younger teens or tweens.
  • They have less autonomy thus may be sent to stay with grandma.
  • They sometimes require the help of an older teen to solve the story problem.
  • They are most often trying to find their place within their family or social circle.
  • If there is attraction, it is generally pretty innocent — kissing, hand holding.

Young adult novels:

  • Feature high school aged characters.
  • They have a lot more independence and usually don’t need anyone to drive them around.
  • They may require help but are more likely to go to a contemporary than someone older.
  • They are often trying to break away from their families or social circle.  They are becoming their own people and often rock the world back in doing so.
  • These novels are longer and more complex with more subplots.

These aren’t the only differences but they are a start to developing an understanding.  The more children’s novels your read, the more easily you will be able to tell the difference.  Teens question everything.  They know that adults are clueless.  Middle grade readers have begun to suspect and may gather the proof they need in the course of the story.



January 6, 2017

Books with Chapters vs Chapter Books: Why You Need to Know The Difference

writing-termsLast night we had someone new at critique group. I don’t just mean new to our critique group.  I mean new to any professional critique group.  I realized this when I noticed that she called anything and everything that has chapters a chapter book. This really drove home why it is so important to know the terminology before you start to submit your work.  Use a term wrong and editors will realize you don’t know the industry.  Here are a few of the book related terms you need to know.

Board Book: This is a book for toddlers.  It is made out of cardboard and is meant to hold up to small people who don’t have the finesse not to damage a picture book.

Picture Books:  These fully illustrated books are written for children preschool-aged through grade school although most of the audience is preschool through about 8.  The text and illustrations work together to tell the story, each telling slightly different parts of the story.  Because of how they are printed, they are most often 32 pages.  The text may feel advanced since it is read to the child.

Early/Beginning Readers:  These books have a smaller trim size than a picture book.  This gives them the appearance of a “big kid’s” novel.   Many are fully illustrated but instead of expanding on the story the illustrations are there to help the reader decipher the text.  The text is easier than that of a picture book.

Chapter books:  These are for readers who are reading independently.  They aren’t ready for the longer books that middle graders read but they want the chapters.  The still enjoy illustrations but most if not all illustrations are black and white. Think Magic Tree House.  No subplots.

Middle grade novels.  These are for older grade school students.  Yes.  Older grade school.  Remember kids tend to read up.  Subplots are to be expected but these books aren’t nearly as edgy as young adult books.  There is a lot of diversity in terms of reading level and maturity of content.

Young Adult Novels.  These are novels for middle schoolers and high schoolers.  In spite of what some people think, all young adult novels are not super sexy but these kids are heading toward adulthood.

Using chapter book to describe true chapter books, middle grade books and young adult books is going to mark you as a newbie.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Read.  Learn the terminology.  Talk to other writers.  Then submit your work.  Otherwise the first impression you make on the editor will be one of confusion vs giving your work the opportunity it needs to shine.


February 27, 2014

Capstone Press

This fall (2014) Capstone Young Readers is launching a YA imprint, Switch Press.  Switch Press will publish contemporary nonfiction (cookbooks, craft and how-to titles) narrative nonfiction, historical fiction, fantasy, graphic novels and poetry in both hardcover and digital formats.

John Rahm, Capstone Young Readers senior product manager, will oversee Switch Press.   He will be assisted by both of Capstone’s editorial directors, Michael Dahl (fiction) and Nick Healy (nonfiction).  Rahm explained that Switch Press aims to turn YA readers on to new ideas.

The fall titles include:

  • The Isobel Journal, an illustrated memoir by 18-year-old Isobel Harrop (August)
  • Grace and the Guiltless, a historical novel with a Wild West setting, by Erin Johnson (August)
  • Half My Facebook Friends Are Ferrets by J.A. Buckle, contemporary fiction (September)
  • and a second historical novel, this one set in Victorian London, The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling (October).
These will be followed by 4 to 6 titles in the spring and 8 to 12 each subsequent year.  
The web site will launch this May with book trailers and chapter previews.
You can find out more at Publisher’s Weekly.

February 18, 2014

Call for Manuscripts

If you have written a young adult or new adult novel, then you might want to take a look at Clean Teen Publishing.  When I first saw the name of the publisher, I thought that they must limit what they publish.  No sex here!   But that’s not how the approach it.

This publisher acknowledges that some teens won’t read a book that isn’t at least a little sexy while others aren’t comfortable with much beyond a kiss.  That’s why each Clean Teen book receives a rating in four different areas:  substance, swearing, violence and sex.

Where many publishers want one book and, following a view of your sales, will decide if you have a series, Clean Teen wants more.  They want either the first two novels in a series or a novel and a prequel novella.

I don’t know much more than this about Clean Teen but I find their approach intriguing.  For more on their submissions guidelines, click here.

Good luck!


December 31, 2013

Call for Manuscripts

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:48 am
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An update on what Red Squirrel wants as well as Amazon Children's Publishing.

For one week (1/6 – 1/12/2014), Carolrhoda is open to unagented debut authors of YA fiction.  This means:

  • A first book-length work in any category.
  • Young adult.  NOT New Adult.

If you have a manuscript that you think is perfect for Carolrhoda but have been unable to submit to this closed house, warm up your printer.  But before you get ready to submit your work, check out both the call for manuscripts and their general submissions guidelines.

May the odds be ever in your favor.  (Sorry.  Just rewatched this last night so I didn’t even try to resist.)



February 27, 2013

Who Are These New Adults You Speak of?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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Title #1 on the Goodreads list.

Just last week, I came across a new literary term — New Adults.  You can write for a middle grade audience, a young adult audience or a new adult audience.  Aren’t these what we’ve been calling cross over books?  I decided to click and read and see how various other people are defining this category.

At Dear Author, Jane explains that these characters are post-high school but not yet loaded down with adult responsibilities.

Kelly at Stacked , points out that this is more of a marketing term than anything else.  They use it to indicate books with a YA feel but more adult content.

At Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, they explain that this is meant to fill a gap between 18 years old and 30.

So . . . as always there seems to be very little agreement.  Lots of kvetching about it being more than just sex, which leads me to believe that there must be a lot of sex or there wouldn’t be a need for all the kvetching.

Jill Corcoran had a link to the Goodreads new adult reading list.   Lots of skin.  Lots of snogging.

So what is New Adult?  Cross over plus?  Prime time?  I’m still not 100% certain, but none of my work is a fit so it isn’t a huge issue for me just yet.



March 30, 2010

The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve posted a review of Janice Hardy’s The Shifter. It is on my review blog, Bookshelf: What We’re Reading.

For those of you who aren’t quite certain what the difference is between a middle grade and a young adult novel, pick up this book as well as The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Both books deal with life and death situations, deceit and sexual tension. They both have teens fixing problems created by adults.

But one is for tweens and the other for teens.  Read them and see if you can pick out just how the authors have done it.


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