DSC_6334_smallWelcome to my writing pages!  The main focus of this website is to offer writing tips, prompts, and inspiration to writers, no matter what their genre or skill level. You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:

Monday Sparks: Writing prompts to fan your creative flame.

Thursdays – Writing tips based on a monthly theme

You will also find me on AmazonFacebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Featured post

Experience Any Time Period as a Teen

One of the many great things about YA fiction is that you can sample any genre within the world of YA. So my prompt today is about historical fiction. If you could experience any time period as a teen, which would you choose?

Victorian times have always intrigued me since I fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes stories. I’d love to write stories about the Baker Street Irregulars, the gang of street kids who’d do surveillance and other basic jobs for the Great Detective. But I also would like to research what it must have been like for grandparents to be teens in the teens and twenties. 1910’s and 1920’s, that is,

What era is your top choice Or what YA historical novel do you recommend?

Cliches to Avoid when Writing YA Fiction

If you read enough YA fiction, you’ll find certain characters or plot devices repeating themselves. Here are a few cliches to avoid when writing YA fiction.

All the adults are mean and/or stupid.

All the characters in a book should have an understandable motive for how they act. In YA fiction, the adult characters should be as well developed as the teen ones. If the father of the main character is cruel to him, the author must provide a reason other than it’s convenient for the plot. If the parents don’t know what their teens are up to, it shouldn’t be because they are too stupid to realize their kids are getting into trouble. When I come across adult characters who are too mean or dumb to be believable, I close the book.

The importance of exploring character motivation was brought home to me by my friend, author Cindy Thomson. With both your major or minor character, she said I needed to keeping asking why characters act the way they do. I think this is especially important when developing a villain or developing a flaw for a character. Her motivation to do bad things can’t simply be because she’s bad.

Private Schools

Another cliche to avoid when writing YA fiction is the private school. In YA book after YA book, I find this setting. In Christian fiction, it’s often a private Christian high school. A variation is for a kid in a private school to lose her money and be forced to attend a public school. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think most American teens never attend a private school, certainly very few attend a private high school. My kids don’t. The teens in my church don’t.

When I was in junior high, I read a short story about a boy who cheats during a test at a private school. (The main character’s name is P.S. If you recognize the short story, let me know. I’m curious to reread it). The whole story puzzled me then because the setting and his problem seemed so far removed from my life. If I remember correctly, he was expelled, he and his father had some kind of breakthrough in their relationship, and he would be sent to another private school. The consequences didn’t seem all that bad to me.

I see some advantages of this setting. The teens have less oversight if they board at a private school, giving the author more room to get them into trouble. It’s also an easy way to employ the fish-out-of-water plot: poor, deserving teen wins a scholarship to snooty private school and is set upon by rich brats.

Authors can use this setting well. It was especially effective in the novel The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks . But new authors should find other ways to get their characters into trouble or throw them into uncomfortable situations. The private school is growing old. And I think readers would appreciate seeing characters in a setting more familiar to them.

Hospital Denouement

I’ve found this scene in many YA books across several genres. The hero survives the thrilling climax, suffering injuries that usually causes him to pass out at the end of it. In the next chapter, he’s in the hospital, waking up after being unconscious for several days. A friend or relative is at his bedside and explains to him everything he’s missed, nicely wrapping up the ending for both the reader and the hero.

This technique goes all the way back to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, one of the granddaddy’s of young adult fiction. Like the private school, I understand this is a handy plot device. An author can work in a lot of explanation without worrying about “showing vs. telling” because it makes sense for one character to inform the hero since he’s been out of the action for awhile. It’s a time- and page-saving device.

So it’s not bad. Just overused. I almost employed it when writing my denouement for my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow. I was trying to write a hospital scene, and it wasn’t going anywhere. It hit me that I’d read this kind of scene many, many times before. So I eliminated the setting and created another one for my wrap-up.

This post is an update of a previous one. For for more tips on writing YA fiction, click here.

What are some cliches you’re tired of reading in YA fiction?

Fantasy Prompt for YA fiction

As a fantasy prompt for YA fiction, this photo provides a choice for the point of view (POV) character. The dragon could be a teen dragon, testing a new friendship with a human. Or the girl could defy what the elders have taught her and tames a dragon that’s supposed to be too wild to be safe around humans.

Which character would you choose to write a story from and why?

For more fantasy prompts, click here. And to find more YA prompts, click here.

How to Write Realistic Characters by Candice Yamnitz

One of the reasons I love having guest bloggers is that they can give you a new perspective on topics. I’m excited to have the guest blog today, “How to Write Realistic Characters” by Candice Yamnitz. Candice is new to “JPC Allen Writes”. I met her on Instagram and have been following her journey toward publication. Take it away, Candice!

Think of a character you adore. What makes that character feel real to you? There are many layers to this question in any story. I’m going to review the ones I find most important.

I’m a YA fantasy author whose debut novel, Unbetrothed, comes out February 2022 with Illuminate YA. I wrote it back in 2018. Rounding out my characters took about ten drafts. I’m hoping I can give you some insight, so you don’t have to go through so many drafts.

Give Your Hero a Lie to Believe

Every hero believes a lie. This isn’t just a matter of having an imperfection. Your character needs something ingrained into their thinking. It should be related to their goal or in contrast to their goal. 

For instance, in Unbetrothed, Princess Beatriz wants a betrothal to her best friend. In order to do that, she needs a magical gifting.  She believes that a person’s value is found in their magical gifting. If she didn’t believe this lie, why strive so hard to get a gifting? Yes, wanting to marry prince charming is a good enough desire to send a person on a crazy quest. But with the lie, my character has more motivation and a thought process I can use in all her interactions.

Give Your Character Quirks

In real life, I love love love quirky people. It’s so much fun to find out that a friend you’ve known for years has a strange way of eating a candy bar. Then there’s the friend who can’t stand certain textures or the one who has a squeaky laugh. 

Give your characters fun little details. Consider giving your character a tick, a strange habit, and something they always do when they’re angry, nervous and happy. Plan these all out for your main set of characters and make the quirks distinct. Also, keep track of which character has which quirk by keeping a character journal. Please tell me I’m not the only one who forgets a character’s eye color twenty chapters into the novel.

Yes, you’re not alone. I also discovered that I’d given way too many characters brown eyes and had to go back and throw in some variety.

Build a Backstory

Backstory doesn’t belong in chapter 1 and needs to be sprinkled into the story. Even so, I recommend writing short stories about scenes in your characters lives before the story takes place. When I first wrote Unbetrothed, I just wrote the main story. The novel didn’t get more depths until I had written several prequel short stories.

I understood my characters more deeply. I knew and felt their wounds. I understood why certain characters behaved strangely. I could hear the hidden messages they sent in their dialogue. This doesn’t happen unless you get into your characters’ experience. 

Consider writing:

  • Your main character’s deepest wound
  • The start to the story if you were writing from the  antagonist’s perspective
  • The protagonist’s mentor’s story (ie. I wrote about Princess Beatriz’s mom.)
  • The same story from another person’s perspective
  • Your main character’s most treasured memory

A Note to the Adult YA Writer

When writing YA, you have to put yourself in the teen mindset if you’re not there. Go back to grappling with your identity and insecurities without adult experience. Emotions tend to be rawer and more pronounced.

I spent my college years, young adult years, and beyond mentoring in youth group. This haa given me insight in talking, emotional, social, and dating patterns in this age group. I love this age group because it’s where God reached me. Please consider spending time with teens if it’s not fresh in your mind. This will help you get the right voice, and you’ll know your audience.

Writing Sidenote: I am not a plotter. I write chapter 1, a page long synopsis, and then dig into writing my manuscripts. If you’re a planner, you might want to do all the backstory work beforehand. That’s not me. I tend to write draft 1 first. Everyone has their own process. I hope this helps you write more realistic YA characters. If you’d like clean teen book recommendations, book giveaways, and to learn about my writing journey, sign up for my newsletter here. I have some really exciting news coming up over the next few months. I can’t wait to share the cover, the exact release date, and the swag for my book.

Thanks for much for the great tips, Candice!

If you’d like to read an interview with another YA author, click here.

*****

Blurb for Unbetrothed, coming February 2022. Candice drew these portraits of her main character Beatriz. Aren’t they gorgeous!!!!

Around Agatha Sea, princesses are poised, magically gifted and betrothed.

So, when seventeen-year-old Princess Beatriz still fails to secure a betrothal, her parents hold a ball. Forming an alliance could mean the difference between peace and war, but Beatriz doesn’t just want any suitor. She’s in love with her best friend, Prince Lux. Marrying Prince Lux will always be a silly dream as long as she has no magical gift.

Princess Beatriz will do whatever it takes to obtain a touch of magic, including make a deadly oath to go on a quest to Valle de Los Fantasmas. A valley where no one comes out alive.

If she can manage to succeed, Princess Beatriz could have everything she desires and secure peace for her kingdom. If she fails, she’ll lose not only her greatest dream, but her kingdom, and maybe even her own life.

*****

Candice Pedraza Yamnitz fell in love with The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice in high school and hasn’t stopped reading since then. She taught in a bilingual elementary education classroom for years until she decided to stay-at-home, teaching a crew of imaginative children. So in between reading lessons and converting cardboard boxes into pirate ships, she writes YA novels with a Latin twist. She lives in her native Chicagoland.

You can follow her at Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

What’s the YA Story Behind the Hand?

This photo presents so many possibilities. Who is the boy? Who is taking the picture? Where are they? What’s the YA story behind the hand? Please leave your inspiration in the comments. Here’s mine.

What’s up with Braden? He threw up his hand just like he did when Ollie tried to take his picture at lunch.

“It’s cool, Braden.” I lowered my phone. “We’re in my front yard, not school. My mom won’t give us lunch detention for posting pictures of each other.”

He held his arms away from his body, like he was ready to cover his face again. “I don’t like people taking my picture.”

“You can take pictures of me. That’s fair.” Now that I think of it, in the two weeks since I’d met Braden at school, I hadn’t seen him with a phone. “And I’ll show you exactly what I’m gonna post before I do it. If you don’t like it, I won’t post it.”

He looked to his feet. “I gotta go.” He hopped on his bike and pedaled like a bear was chasing him.

I stepped out on the sidewalk. I could just make out Braden stopping at his new house, dropping his bike in the front yard, and running inside.

For more YA writing prompts, click here.

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