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How To Write A YA Novel

Our favorite author duo, Leila Sales & Rebecca Serle, teach you how to roll like a professional author and totally make up words.

How To Write A YA Novel

We are pleased as punch to be joined once again by our favorite YA dynamic duo, Leila Sales and Rebecca Serle! In honor of their book release today (Rebecca's When You Were Mine is out in hardback, and Leila's Past Perfect is out in paperback, and you need to read both of them immediately), these two talented ladies present a few of the challenges they face on a daily basis when writing a YA novel.

We’ve run into a problem. There are actions that we want to describe in our books, but we don’t have words for them. Some actions are simple. Like “he rolled his eyes.” Easy. But how do you describe that thing people do where they blow air out of their mouths because they are frustrated/disbelieving and it kind of makes a noise? This is the challenge of being a novelist.

But never fear: We are here to give you words for all these impossible-to-describe yet incredibly common human actions! These words will be made up. But let’s just agree that they are official, okay? Just use them like they are real.

Rebecca: He put his hands up?

Leila: But then it sounds like he put his hands up in surrender. Or like he’s “raising the roof.”

Rebecca: But is he “raising the roof”? I thought some chick just broke up with him?

Leila: No, he’s kind of shrugging, because he doesn’t really care about this chick. But he’s not actually shrugging, since his shoulders aren’t moving. That’s the problem.

Rebecca: So why don’t you just have him be actually shrugging?

Leila: Because he shrugged one line ago.

To shrand

“Come on, Elliot, we’ve been over this a million times.”
Elliot shranded. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Leila: She put her lips together disapprovingly.

Rebecca: But what does that actually even look like?

Leila: She pressed her lips together in an expression that would have been a smile if she’d been showing any teeth or joy, but as it was, the slightly upturned corners of her mouth indicated that she was about to say, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

Rebecca: Are there any better jobs out there? Other than being a writer?

To pratt

When she told her best friend that she was going to call her ex-boyfriend to find out if he was really on a date with Kelly, her best friend pratted.

Rebecca: She blew air out of her lips.

Leila: Sounds like she’s whistling. Or sighing. The sound is key.

Rebecca: She exhaled super-loudly.

Leila: Wouldn’t that just be “sighed”? Plus, my editor told me to cut down on unnecessary adverbs.

Rebecca: I love adverbs.

Leila: Me, too.

To sud

She looked at herself in the mirror—same messy hair, same sweaty face. She sudded.

And now a brief word about love scenes:

We find this is an area that needs some better phrasing. Here are a few key points to keep us all on track while navigating these sexy, steamy (ew) waters.

1)  Despite what Gossip Girl depicts, no fifteen year olds are having amazing, awe-inspiring sex. We think. If they are, fifteen-year-old Leila and Rebecca were not invited. So just, you know, keep that in mind.

2)  Similar to “moist,” no one wants to read the word “moan.” Especially not when the moaning is elicited by French kissing. This rule goes doubly for “groan.” If you read this rule and think to yourself, “But I always groan when I’m French kissing!” then please stop doing that.

3)  Here are some making out actions we need synonyms for: “He kissed her harder.” That’s great, but how many times per book can he do that? Similarly, “He pressed her tightly to him.” Very sexy, but this can’t happen in every scene. “He ran his hands over her face.” Is this sexy? Is this a thing teenagers are doing in bedrooms?

4)  It seems that the love interest’s sensitive yet sexual power move tends to be “brushing the hair out of her face.” How does anybody ever hit on short-haired girls? No rule, just wondering.

Finally, some statistics of overused phrases from real-life published novels, Rebecca Serle’s When You Were Mine (available in hardcover on May 1) and Leila Sales’s Past Perfect (available in paperback on May 1):

“Pipes up”:
Past Perfect: 3
When You Were Mine: 2

“Looks at”:
Past Perfect: 10
When You Were Mine: 61

Past Perfect: 31
When You Were Mine: 15

Past Perfect: 15
When You Were Mine: 22

Past Perfect: 7
When You Were Mine: 3

Thanks for scolling! (To scoll: “To read an article on the internet while you’re supposed to be getting work done.”)