Building a World for Your Teen Characters in Young Adult Fiction

This is an excerpt from my book The Young Adult Writer’s Journey. I drew the sketches in this book.

Laying the Foundation: Characters Characters are the foundation of your story. They’re the concrete pad you pour your plot and action on top of and into. Without great characters you don’t have a story. You have a two-dimensional, flat house, no walls, no sides, no floors, and it certainly isn’t going up. Real, three-dimensional characters can take your book to the stars.


drawing homeless coleHow many siblings does your main character have? Do his/her parents work? What kind of home does the character live in and in what world? Is it inner city or Middle Earth, the suburbs or some deserted island? If you chart what your character’s bedroom looks like, it will be there to refer to throughout the book. How much time did you spend in Bella’s room? In Edward’s? What did it tell you about them? Well, for one thing, Edward didn’t have a bed. What did that tell the reader? Maybe your protagonist is homeless or from a broken home. Maybe they spend fifty percent of their time with different parents who have different families. Chart it, even if you add to it as the character tells you about it throughout the story. Religion could be important to your character’s background. It could affect their behaviors, motivations or ideals, even who they choose as friends. Do they own pets? Chart the pet’s name so you don’t accidentally change it halfway through your book. Is it his ever-present companion, like another character in the book? Does it interact well with others? Does the character talk to his pet, rely on the pet for comfort, protection, or friendship? When you refer to your character’s family life, make notes about her childhood. Was it happy or troubled? Did she have a mean grandma who babysat her? Note her earliest memory and her saddest. Details like this make your book more real. Even if you don’t use every detail, it gives you a better insight into the character, which helps you reveal more about him/her to the readers, just not in a huge, sappy background dump that doesn’t move the plot forward in some way. Does your character have a soft heart or is he cold and unfeeling? Why? Is he terrified to speak in front of the class or outgoing and boisterous? Is your character generous or selfish or somewhere in
The Young Adult Writer’s Journey
between? If he was an only child, sharing might be an issue. Is your character empathic and sensitive to others’ needs or self-absorbed?

Recipe for a Successful Synopsis

I’ve heard writing a synopsis is one of the hardest projects a writer can take upon themselves. I’ve been successful with my method, selling over twenty books using only a synopsis. Writing a book that already has a home is a wonderful thing.

Here is my recipe.

Recipe for a successful synopsis



  • Introduce your protagonist or your lead character. Give that character Goals for his or her life and goals for this story. Give your lead motivation—the reason he or she behaves as they do – and the backstory that made them who and what they are.


  • Label your lead character’s inner and outer conflict – If it’s romance, the basic reason she and the hero can’t fall in love and get married on page 2. For example: Katy will never be able to love Matt until she truly believes that he loves her enough to accept all of her responsibilities as his. Katy has to learn that her burdens aren’t as onerous as she thinks. She needs to learn from Matt to set herself free of her self-imposed restrictions, restrictions that exist only in her mind. Katy’s outer conflict is dealing with her klutz problem and the resulting sprained ankle. Yadayadayada . . .


  • Introduce your secondary lead as you did your lead.


  • If it’s a romance, label their conflict. Before Matt Jeffers can love Katy he has to change from the pleasure loving playboy into a family man. This change can’t come about until he realizes that one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings is their family. Katy and her family will teach him this. Matt’s outer conflict is learning to deal with Katy’s life a complete culture shock for bachelor Matt.


  • Introduce any important characters such as the antagonist, the bad guy. Make sure he or she has motivation for all their actions, a goal for his life and a goal for the story and the necessary backstory.


  • Introduce any secondary characters critical for the plot.


  • Brief outline of your story including all the major turning points.


  • Statement of conclusion—how you resolved their conflicts, what your characters learned and how they changed.


Always include the ending. There’s nothing an editor dislikes more than having an author give some cute little note saying, you have to read the book to find out. They read your synopsis. Feel privileged and tell them the ending.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye–no Girl!

I loved the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and all of Stieg Larsson’s three-book series. I read he died before seeing it become so popular, and his estate hired David Lagercrantz to continue the series. The newest book in the series, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by Lagercrantz has maybe 50 pages which include the key character Lisbeth Salander. They are rushed and the characterization shoddy. The book is supposed to be about her. Apparently, Lagercrantz became enamored of a subplot about twins separated at birth and brought up in some wacky Swedish program to study twins. He spent most of the book going on and on about the twins, a pair I cared nothing to read about, delving into their past while he created a non-existent tie between them and Salander by using an evil researcher interested in twins. Salander had a twin. This tie between the pairs of twins is vague and barely part of the story.

If you’re a Salander fan, don’t read this book. The previous one by Lagercrantz was poorly crafted, long winded, and began the gradual dis-inclusion of Salander in her own story. I’m not saying Eye for an Eye is a bad book. No wait, it is a bad book. I really didn’t like it. I’m also saying it’s not about Salander. Some of the action scenes including her are so bad, I slammed the book down. Lagercrantz seems to think small, thin women can take one hell of a beating. He uses Salander like a punching bag, and her spirit, the thing you love the most about her, is missing. Lagercrantz has no feel for her character and there’s a general sense he doesn’t really like her.

Eye for an Eye is not about Salander. The Eye for an Eye part, is so minute as to be irrelevant. The book delves deeply into the psyche of the twins, their history, their thoughts, their feelings, and the story is totally about them. They had no part in Salander’s revenge which was taken for a Bangladesh girl Salander befriend’s while in prison, something Lagercrantz turns into a minor subplot. As I said, out of 347 long pages, only 50 may actually include Lisbeth Salander.

I looked into the bestowing of the right to write the Salander series and Larsson’s long-time girlfriend Eva Gabrielsson, has the same opinion I do. She said Larsson would be as horrified by the butchering of a wonderful character as I am. Don’t patronize Lagercrantz and don’t read his books. They suck.

Should I buy a Stallion? Uh, No!

 Should I Buy A Stallion? Uh . . . No!


When I was a kid I devoured Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. It was awesome. Then I grew up and had a series of reality checks. One of the biggest, stallions are not pets, not cute, don’t belong in your back yard and they are very dangerous.

Scariest job on the planet is holding a thoroughbred mare while the stallion mounts her. Usually the mare is restrained and sometimes muzzled so she can’t damage her lover. The handler stands at her head. The stallion, teeth bared in a terrible smile, lunges up and covers her. He looks like he is coming for you, all 1400 pounds. It’s enough to make you wet yourself.

There are far too many stallions in the US. The only animals that should be left entire are those with terrific pedigrees, beautiful dispositions, and great conformation. A mutt in the horse world is not smarter or stronger. They are more likely to be a mish-mash of awful conformation and bad temperament. The paint world is one of the worst offenders followed closely by the appaloosa world. They breed for color…nuff said. That leads to crop outs, lots and lots of crop outs. A crop out is a horse bred for color, born with none. I had one here to train recently. He was free because no one wanted him, a black horse with three white socks, ewe-necked; cow hocked with gaits that jarred your teeth.

Stallions are banned from most shows for a reason. They are dangerous. You can’t have them around mares. Stallions that don’t ever get bred are usually better behaved, but if you breed them, they become hard to manage. I used to be married to a cowboy. The cowboy believed in castrating, and because he knew how to do it, other cowboy-type individuals, farmers, and poorer horse owners knew he did it, they hired him to cut their stud colts. I’ve been to five horse castrations. They are violent, bloody and frightening. The cowboy way means no drugs, just lots of rope. A horse colt can’t be castrated until its testicles have descended fully, which means you have a pretty big two-year old colt on your hands, a stud colt. The only way to do it is throw the colt down, tie all four of its legs to something strong like a truck bumper or a tree or a tractor, and have two or three strong men sit on it while the lucky guy with the knife, always my husband, made two slits, one in each sack, reached in and snatched out the testicle. The organs are then thrown on the roof for good luck. Swear to God.

Romance writers, and I have been one, think all their heroines and heroes should ride fiery stallions. Do your research. Humans have been castrating horses since the Scythians in 600 BC discovered a gelding made a better war horse because it could keep its mind on its business. It takes a strong trainer and a strong rider to manage a stallion, I don’t care how “gentle” they are supposed to be. People don’t want them around their mares or their geldings because they are usually aggressive and will attack other horses.

A significant fence is required to hold a stallion and to keep it out of the neighbor’s yard. Your insurance company won’t speak to you if you buy a stallion. Your neighbors probably won’t either. Stallions are really noisy.

There are few places where stallions are appropriate. One is on the race track where they still cause trouble, but their breeding potential enhances their value. Another is where they are trained for a specific purpose like the Royal Austrian Lipizzaner. The other place is on a breeding farm. I’ve traveled to breeding barns where the stallions were handled all the time and used to having their feet worked on. The cowboy husband was a farrier. In that kind of controlled environment, stallions have a place.

So all you romance writers, please put your heroines and heroes on horses they can manage. If your hero is a cowboy riding a stud he plans to use for breeding, go for it. Otherwise choose a gelding. My cowboy wouldn’t even buy a mare. He said even they cause too much trouble.

Making Your Own Website

I made my own website today. I gotta say it’s amazing I lived through it. However, I have a website complete with photos and even a video, actually two videos both trailers for books on the site.

I decided I needed a new website. The old one is in one of my pen names and I’ve decided to lose the pen name and roll with my real name. Also, the old site was made on a template. I couldn’t download my book trailers or add new pages and it was making me insane trying to do it. I kept hitting the add video button and nothing happened. Not enough alcohol to get through it. So, I contacted a web designer. Talk about sticker shock. He told me his hourly rate was Only $170, and he figured a minimum of ten hours. I listened politely and said I’d get back to him. Like never. I’m completely ignorant and both websites I made took about two hours. What in the hell are they doing for ten hours?

The website designer guy gave me some great pointers which cost me nothing. He told me to use Word Press and that they were the best on the internet with do-it-yourself web designs. He was right. With Word Press I was able to create an acceptable website in two hours and it cost me almost nothing. I downloaded my videos without a hitch. I only needed a modest amount of medication to recover and I didn’t kill anyone.

As an author it’s very important to have web presence. I know this and usually avoid all forms of self promotion until forced by necessity or my publisher. I’m a writer and it takes a lot of my computer time. Sitting at my desk all day is not fun. So, I’m all about designing ways to get the promotion thing done without spending a lot of time doing it. Anyone out there got some ideas, please send them to me.

If you’re planning to build your own site make sure you have book blurbs ready, cover photos ready, bio ready, in other words be prepared because searching through your computer for a blurb you wrote five years ago is not fun, and will add to the amount of medication needed to recover. It also helps to know your way around software, especially PhotoShop-type software. If you’re completely ignorant, don’t try it yourself. Bite the bullet and hire someone.