NAWE 2016 Good Girls, Bad Girls in YA fiction

Looking forward to co-presenting the Good, Girls, Bad Girls creative writing workshop this Saturday as part of a brilliant and packed programme at NAWE’s annual conference. The workshop will explore how to write distinct female characters, ask what makes a memorable, relatable protagonist and, just as importantly, our antagonists. Although we’ll dip into a few examples from fantasy/sci-fi/supernatural as writer’s our interests are focussed firmly in contemporary realist YA fiction.

We’ll begin by discussing what moves us in a YA fiction heroine, which characters make an impression, stay with us and why. Identifying key traits and thinking about how to develop the internal and external world of our characters; then we’ll think specifically about the challenges of writing convincing, relatable YA characters and focus on writing exercises that will engage these discussion. Who knows? One of those little exercises might just be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship between you and your new YA heroine. Join us!

My co-presenter is the generally fantastic, experienced workshop leader and YA author Liz Flanagan. Liz’s PhD novel Eden Summer is already published and nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2017 no less [too impressive].

Two of my favourite contemporary girl heroines…

Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli [2001]

young adult book quotes
young adult book quotes


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell [2012].

Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.

Writing Exercise: Write a Selfie

Screenwriters often have actors in mind when they write a screenplay. Even if it’s only a wish list actor it can help take the character idea in the mind to something more three dimensional on the page. If you find the idea of a particular actor to pin your writing on too remote, why try a selfie as a visualiser?

A Selfie’s disguise as much as they reveal but they are a great starting point to help a writer flesh out their character idea. Selfies are posed photographs that give us a sense of how a person wants to be seen but who is the real person behind the selfie mask?

Thinking of your characters Selfie immediately puts her in the real, digital world. How would she choose to present herself online? What does it say about her? How does it reveal her character?

Choose 1 of the following selfies and write the moment around the taking of that photograph. Put us in the place where they are – physically, geographically, emotionally. You can include what happened before and/or after. Show us the real person behind the selfie image.

search images-1 images-2 images-3 images


‘The horizons of personality always recede before us.’ Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse.


Writing Exercise: After The Camera Stops Recording…

Another potential source to mine for creating contemporary relatable characters voice and action is to use online video to conjure an authentic voice, appearance and action.

There are thousands of Youtubers many with a pre-chapterised lives via their own channels with hundreds of uploaded video waiting for your pen to draw out the drama and detail that might make a meaningful and lasting story.

Who is this person? What has led her to make this video? What happened after she made this video? Something ordinary or extraordinary? You decide.


Not sure if we’ll have time for that last one but you get the idea.

Hope to see you there!




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