Welcome back to the Storyteller’s Inkpot, today we have another great recollection from MFAC faculty member Ron Koertge.  Read on to find out Ron’s secret to writing YA novels.

Every now and then, I teach for a friend of mine at her Writing Pad. She has classes in everything – fiction, screen writing, web-stuff, etc.

This class was called Writing the YA. I had five students, most of whom had degrees in writing of some kind. Working in Hollywood (scripts, pitches, etc.) can be discouraging and these women wanted to try something else. Maybe just a YA; maybe that in addition to other kinds of work.

Teaching all of YA in three hours (tone, pace, dialogue, killer opening page, and more) was daunting, but everybody was curious and willing so we did pretty well.

They asked a lot of questions, but the one that kept coming up is this: “What’s the structure?” 

Almost all of them knew the three-act template for some scripts. Five acts, sometimes, for plays. Most knew the Save the Cat book about screen writing with its many beats and plot points. I told them that Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall) goes into a quiet room, puts two chairs facing each other, sits in one, imagines one of her characters in the other, and then she talks to him or her.

When they asked me what I do I said, “Different things, but mostly I write three pages a day that don’t bore me. If I can do that for a month, that’s 90 pages and the best part of a first draft.”

Them: “And that works?”

Me: “Sometimes.”

Them: “How do you know when you’re being boring?”

Me: “I nod off and drool on my computer.”

I know this sounds glib, but isn’t it just about that simple? Characters doing and saying things that make it impossible for readers to put the book down.

To come back to my five students for a moment: I don’t blame anyone for wanting an alchemist instead of a teacher. Hell – I still want a pony.


Ron Koertge is the author of more than a dozen books, most of them novels for young adults. These include Margaux With An X, Stoner & Spaz, and The Brimstone Journals as well as Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up and the sequel Shakespeare Makes the Play-Offs.

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