Books Told from a Unique POV
Ready to hear stories from compelling voices? These books are all told from unique points of views. Take a walk in someone else’s shoes, and pick up one of these stories.
Rooms by Lauren Oliver
Amanda G. says: This book tells the story of a family that moves into the house of a recently deceased relative. It is told through the point of view of not only the ghosts that inhabit it, but from the house’s perspective, as well. Rooms astounded me. It never occurred to me to write a story told from the perspective of a non-living narrator, whether that be a ghost or an inanimate object. Lauren Oliver inspired me to push the boundaries of what is ‘normal’ in my writing. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a spooky, unorthodox read!
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Alexis G. says: This is a powerful book that I’d best describe as delicately nuanced with the characters it explores, but also so raw and honest about the truths of the lives they lead. The novel switches between being narrated by pre-teen Jojo and his mostly absent mother Leonie. The thing that makes it so unique is that two ghosts, whose (after)lives are intertwined with characters living in the present day, are also given chapters of narration. The interaction of characters through generations allows the ideas of familial relationships and history to be explored in a way that I loved. The language of the story is so rich that it often feels like poetry, and Ward’s playing with perspectives leaves so much room for analysis and symbolism. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for something that will keep you thinking even after you put down the book!
Open City by Teju Cole
Adrianna B. says: Teju Cole develops Julius’ character so expertly, the reader forgets that they are placed into a story where other people exist. Singularly told from the narrator’s perspective (Julius), the reader struggles to understand what to believe, what to dismiss, and even who our main character actually is. An art of ventriloquism on Cole’s part, Julius’ walks throughout New York, Belgium, and our minds interweaves histories with modernity and past with present. It is hard to discern where we end up!
All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
Adrianna B. says: Jami Attenberg writes about family, corruption, and connections in her recently published novel All This Could Be Yours. Playing around with shifting perspectives and what it means to be a family, we follow along in the aftermath of Victor Tuchman’s heart attack. On his deathbed, his wife, Barbara, continues her affliction with silence, his daughter, Alex, questions her father’s dark past, and no one has heard from his son, Gary. Attenberg explores a web of toxicity in her characters. I was able to listen to a talk led by Jami Attenberg through my college in mid-October, which was actually posted about on our Instagram! A talented writer and inspirational orator, everyone should pick up her novel.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Adrianna B. says: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao traces the life of Oscar Cabral and his family from the perspective of an ex-boyfriend of Oscar’s sister, Yunior. Saturated with Dominican history, culture, personalities, and relationships, Junot Diaz does an incredible job of commemorating the cultural identity, while critiquing the ignorance of other countries. Yunior has a very unique and sarcastic voice, and offers his opinion in footnotes and specific chapters. The title is very telling of what to expect in the novel and Diaz beautifully convolutes what certain relationships mean by providing the readers with backstories for more than just our main character. A story for everyone, a story for the reader, and very evidently a story for Yunior, Diaz invokes fantasy, myth, curse, corruption, history, family, and love within the pages of this book. I cannot urge you all enough to go out and grab a copy!
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
Adrianna B. says: Denis Johnson bids his readers farewell in the short story collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Published after his death in January 2018, contemplations on mortality, the past, the universe and more jump off the pages and grab hold of readers. Johnson presents us with his last words, with beautiful prose filled with emotion and kinship. Five short stories come together as a eulogy for the late Denis Johnson and I implore you all to pick up a copy. It is not a long read, but the longevity of the emotions it will arise in you is endless.
Books that Push the Boundaries of the Format
Who said that novels have to focus on one character? Why can’t poetry incorporate visual art? These books ditch traditional genre standards and expand the world of storytelling.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Vivian D. says: Citizen is a poem. It is a multi-media, genre-defying work. It is a collection of racial aggressions. It is, as Claudia Rankine describes it, a true “American Lyric.” This book is truly exceptional—I really love Rankine’s use of the second-person, and the ways she weaves narratives with analytical writing. For me, Citizen changed what a poem could look like forever. I also can’t wait to read Claudia Rankine’s newest work, Just Us: An American Conversation.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Alex L. says: The Color Purple is a touching story of the injustices faced by a queer black woman, Celie, in the 1930s at the hands of the men and white people in her life. She falls in love with a woman named Shug and escapes the grasp of her husband to pursue her. This story shows how although America was built on ideals of freedom, everyone was not truly free. It is a shining example of how the human spirit can triumph even when put through the toughest of times. I would recommend this book if you are passionate about learning history through the eyes of the oppressed. This is a good read because of its loveable, well developed characters, and its captivating style, as the book is written through letters.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
Adrianna B. says: Originally published in 1965, The Crying of Lot 49 follows Oedipa Maas, a seemingly normal housewife, as she finds herself in the middle of a historical conspiracy theory. After the death of her ex-boyfriend, Oedipa is pulled into this new reality, meets a sum of unique characters, and comes out of her journey potentially more confused than where she began. Thomas Pynchon does a groundbreaking job of portraying the postmodern with plays, songs, cartoons, and more all piled into his novel. It is a very fun read, and all the better—the more connections you make, the deeper you can dive into the story!
Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec
Amanda G. says: Each chapter in this novel focuses on a different person within one apartment building. As you go from chapter to chapter, room to room, you find out all kinds of bizarre things about these outwardly ‘normal’ people. Perec sprinkles various literary puzzles and allusions, mathematical equations, crosswords, and chess/logic problems throughout the text. I absolutely adored this book. It was crazy unique and really grabbed my interest. It helped me learn how to develop my characters a bit better in my writing. Perec hyper-focuses on the people in this story, giving the reader details about them that others may never even think to give. It showed me ways in which I can make my characters seem like ‘real’ people by giving them little quirks and curious aspects to their personalities. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a character-driven story with some weird-yet-fun elements thrown in!
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Lisa H. says: This groundbreaking novel-in-verse focuses on a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl whose life is turned upside down as she is forced to leave her home during the height of the Vietnam War. What really compelled me, aside from the style, was the way in which Lai was able to hone in on the smaller moments, sometimes making us readers forget a war is even happening because we’re so focused on the chick her brother tried to save while boarding the boat that took them from their home, for example. The childlike voice carries us through these universal as well as personal horrors, while still being able to find wonder and hope as everything around changes. In the Author’s Note, we learn that much of Lai’s true experience informed her fiction, which explains why this story felt so real and vivid and true. This is a book that breaks your heart and mends it again. I read the whole thing in one day—I just couldn’t put it down!
Books that Make You Think
These books will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Read one of these brilliant stories, but fair warning: they might just change the way you view the world.
A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion
Adrianna B. says: Joan Didion released A Book of Common Prayer in 1977, which traces the life of Charlotte Douglas through the eyes and “neutral” narrator of Grace Strassner-Mendana. Two women’s lives overlap in the fictive Central American country Boca Grande, but how much of what we receive is delusion and how much of it is real? Didion takes the reader on a journey through loss, companionship, deceit, colonialism, and intimacy. Every time you read the book, something new pops to the surface and it is such an enjoyable and thought-provoking read!
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Alex L. says: Tuesdays with Morrie is a memoir written by Mitch Albom that deals with accepting death and appreciating life. Mitch Albom pays weekly visits to his dying college professor, Morrie. Morrie teaches him the lessons that life has taught him. This book makes you think about what lessons you will take from your life, and that accepting death can free your mind. It makes you think about slowing down your life and appreciating the little things, because everyday is a gift. It is truly amazing to see Morrie’s upbeat spirit continue week after week, even as he is faced with the terminal illness of ALS. I would recommend Tuesdays With Morrie because everyone can learn something from Morrie by reading this memoir.
Who Moved my Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
Alex L. says: Although this plot is relatively simplistic, there is a deeper meaning about change woven into the story. There are four characters in this story—two mice named Sniff and Scurry, and two tiny men named Hem and Haw. The mice represent the simple parts of us and the people represent the more complex side to us. The characters go out searching for cheese in a maze. This cheese is a metaphor for what people want in life. The story starts up when Cheese Station C runs out of cheese. This book talks about the fear of change, and how it could prevent you from seizing new opportunities. You can think of change as bad and frightening, or an opportunity for something better. I recommended reading this book before going through a big change in your life. You can take advice from this book and apply it to situations in your own life.
Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita
Adrianna B. says: Tropic of Orange’ takes place in Los Angeles and is told from seven different characters over the span of a week. Yamashita utilizes magical realism, a popular tool in Hispanic literature, to highlight the history of oppression inherent to the lives of all characters we meet in Tropic of Orange. The reader is presented with a diverse lineup of characters who eventually come together at the culmination of the week. A really powerful and subliminally comical story, Yamashita writes about something important that everyone should read.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Alex L. says: This book is a collection of poems written by Shel Silverstein. Shel Silverstein is a clever writer, and this shows in his quirky compilation of random poems. Some are funny, others are confusing. Some are scary, others have happier endings. Each poem has its own theme and corresponding illustration by Shel to help the poem come alive. If you have a creative mind and a large imagination, I would recommend this book to you. This is a worthwhile read that forced you to look at the bigger message hidden in the passage.
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson
Adrianna B. says: This is a 21st century bestiary with a Victorian styled tone. Henderson throws philosophy into every species he writes about and really pushes his readers to question what it means to be human. He also comes off as a fierce advocate for Mother Nature and sheds light on the destructive relationship humans have with nature. It is unique and very different compared to what I normally read, but every chapter taught me something new!
The Classics that you Should Actually Read
Forget your school’s curriculum. Read the classics that actually live up to the hype. We promise—these books are classics for a reason.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Vivian D. says: “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” So begins Toni Morrison’s masterpiece, Beloved. This story follows Sethe, who is born into slavery and later escapes to Ohio—but she does not feel free from the unthinkable things that happened in the past. She’s haunted by the ghost of her nameless baby, whose tombstone was engraved with the word: Beloved. In every way, this story haunts. By using elements of magical realism, Morrison captures an American reality. This book will never leave you. It shouldn’t.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Adrianna B. says: Charlotte Bronte eloquently draws the reader into the life of Jane Eyre as she struggles with marginalization, love, and independence. Jane Eyre, above all else, is so beautifully written. Bronte manages to make the ordinary into something mesmerizing. As the reader, you will cheer her along, hate those who harm her, and feel the pain and toils she suffers. In a world mixed with romance, responsibility, truth, family, and even a little madness, Bronte has given us a beautiful story.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Sophia W. G. says: A young writer, Sal, takes a road trip cross country with his friend Dean in the winter of 1947. On their journey, the men encounter an abundance of diverse people, jazz clubs, and love. This novel inspired an entire generation of beatnik artists and will leave you wishing you too could experience life on the road.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Adrianna B. says: Great Expectations follows the life of Pip as he explores the realms of what it means to be a good vs. bad person. We encourage Pip along the way, and get worked up when he mistreats the people around him that actually care for him. This is a Victorian novel that explores the image of the self and criticizes what it previously meant to be a gentleman. Every character ends up connected in the end and Dickens throws plot twists at the reader left and right. When the story got slow, Dickens expertly knew how to draw the reader back in, if for nothing else but to see what comes of Pip.
Books that Tackle Tough Topics
Read these stories about overcoming adversity to provide context and hope as we all navigate life’s struggles. Even in dark times, these books are a source of light.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Koye O. says: In the summary on the back book cover: “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.” Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe gave me a rare summer feeling in the middle of March. Here’s something I quickly typed out after reading a chapter that made me feel like I was floating: “I’m getting a weird feeling. Like a good type of summer night, the speculative kind spent in star-lighted solitude. But I feel good. It’s telling me that I’m aging and the car I got for my 17th birthday, this bedroom I’ve grown with, will soon be empty.” It isn’t a feel good book, but it does something good to you. It’s making a good change in the way I think of regrets and how I see others. I’m sorry to say it’s a good book, but it’s hard to exactly pinpoint why.
Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee
Abby F. says: In 1989, Bharati Mukherjee published one of her more popular books, Jasmine, which follows a woman going through numerous identities as she travels from her birthplace in India to a small town in Iowa. Her journey through shifting landscapes helps her shifting shelves. She encounters her own changes from girlhood to womanhood, showing beauty and darkness and revelation, which are essential to the journeys of all those who not only want to survive, but grow. I read this a few years ago, and I just remember how it gave me the sense of a girl lost in the world, trying to find herself through her transitions. With her relationships, her transition into motherhood as well as adulthood, and her ability to adapt, this story is a glimpse into a young woman developing her own identity. It’s a great book about growth and understanding oneself, especially when faced with having to completely adapt to new cultures and world views.
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
Amanda G. says: This story follows Hanna—a biracial teen—who moves to creepy, monster-infested Portero, Texas to live with her estranged mother. Hanna struggles with hallucinations and bipolar disorder, making it difficult to fit in. This dark fantasy novel deals with a lot of things that are hard to talk about but important to discuss. It features both healthy and unhealthy relationships, death, mental illness, and characters who have issues with authority figures. I read this book when I was about 18 or so and it really helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in my difficulties.
My Father’s Chinese Wives by Sandra Tsing Loh
Koye O. says: For the spark notes reader, it’s a story about two sisters coming to terms with their cold, distant father’s decision to have an arranged marriage at age 70. For me, it’s about generational trauma, love lost (or love never experienced), and the strife of forgiveness. It’s well worth the 20 minute read.
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Adrianna B. says: Toni Morrison strikes again with her book, A Mercy, that was published in 2008. She writes about a group diverse in race, history, and future, living in the 17th century, ripe with racism, slavery, prejudice, and severe discrimination. Each chapter shifts perspectives and the reader very quickly develops an attraction to the powerful female voices that tell the true stories of experience during this time. Genocide, assault, disease, family, identity, and freedom, Morrison sets out to do it all and does not disappoint. Although it is a very quick read, it is definitely not a light one. Because of the importance of its topics, everyone should grab a copy and follow Florens’ journey.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Our teen writers says: The Hate U Give is an emotional, very real and downright important story following Starr’s life in an inherently racist environment. It mimics the problems of the world we are living in and begs the readers to question their own actions and contributions to racism in our own societies and communities. Thomas does a beautiful job of advocating for minorities and moves her reader through interactions of both blatant racism and equally impactful microaggressions. Everyone should pick up a copy.
Boo! Did we scare you? No? Well, these horror reads will. Pick up one of these spooky books during the Halloween season for a chilling read.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Eric B. says: Count Dracula, one of gothic horror genre’s most notorious figures, originates from the Irish author Bram Stoker’s well-celebrated novel, Dracula, published in 1897. Dracula established many of the modern conventions applied to vampires in fiction and helped to usher vampires into our mainstream culture. The novel itself is told through journal entries written by the main characters of the story, who each recount their own personal experiences, allowing the reader to see through several different perspectives as the story progresses. The story is rather slow paced, and builds its horror through suspense. Although we know who and what Dracula is in our modern day, the book’s earlier readers didn’t, allowing the story to play on the human fear of the unknown. Although the book is quite aged, and reads rather differently than what many modern readers are accustomed to, I’d still recommend this book to anyone with an interest in horror or classical literature who has the time to give it a look.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Vivian D. says: Firstly—content warning for sexual assault & graphic imagery/language. This short story collection is true horror. Machado explores women’s bodies and the violence they experience—the result is queer, feminist, and unforgettable. Despite the genuinely terrifying situations, I love how these stories still play with genre—one is told in list-form. Another is a reimagining of every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. This book scared me more than any Halloween movie ever could—these stories feel true.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Alex L. says: This novel tells the story of children with extraordinary abilities being cared for by the motherly figure who goes by the name of Miss Peregrine. These children have been purchased from society and are being sheltered from the dangers of being different. A young boy stumbles upon a wooden house filled with unique kids. As a dark force threatens to take over the consciousnesses of the children, Miss Peregrine shows that she will go to any lengths to protect her loved ones.
The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allen Poe
Our teen writers says: This eerie compilation of Poe stories is sure to leave you frightened. This compilation includes one of Poe’s most famous poems, “The Raven.” Poe writes in such a way that makes you both scared but also wanting to know more. His creepy tales and language elicit fright and horror. This book also lets you immerse yourself in the life of Poe by reading a biographical text and letters written to family members. This is a great read to prepare yourself for Halloween! If you love horror, I would definitely give Poe’s work a try.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Alex L. says: Personally, this is one of my favorite books. It takes place in a poor town outside Germany during the Holocaust. Lisel moves there after being adopted by Hans and Rosa Hubberman after her mother and brother die. The small city takes the brunt of an expensive and deadly war, leaving scarce food and bomb threats. Lisel begins stealing books from Nazis and the mayor’s library. During the course of her stay, she befriends a boy named Rudy and harbors a Jew inside her house, which would mean certain death if caught. This novel is emotional and tear jerking, but also shows the triumphs of family, love and friendship even through times of great hardship.
Books that are also on Film
Lights, camera, action! These books have all had a big-screen debut. Read one of these stories, then watch it come to life again on film.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Sophia W. G. says: Written in a series of letters, Stephen Chbosky takes the reader on a journey into the mind of fifteen-year-old Charlie. Charlie is grappling with grief, mental illness, and starting his first year of high school. Through the course of the school year, he grapples with an abundance of ups and downs along the way, but he makes some interesting friends to keep him afloat. This novel creates an emotional bond between the reader and narrator. Anyone who has ever felt alone or has stories they are afraid to share must read this book. It will make you laugh, cry, and leave you inspired to discover your infinity.
Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern
Adrianna B. says: Cecelia Ahern adds her own twist to romance in this novel that follows the love between childhood friends Rosie Dunne and Alex Stewart. Told through emails, letters, and first person dialogue, Cecelia Ahern makes you laugh and smile as she expertly captures the coincidences of life paired with the curse of time. Somehow there is always something standing in the way, until … there isn’t anymore. A beautiful read for any season! Once you’re done, be sure to check out the movie based on it, too, titled Love, Rosie.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Alex L. says: The Martian follows the tribulations of astronaut Mark Watney after being left on Mars. He has to use his own intuition and will to survive if he is going to be able to have any chance of being rescued by a returning Mars mission. The Oscar nominated film is also worth a watch, including stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney along with stars like Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, and many more.
The Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Alex L says: This book is all about childhood innocence and how different the world can seem through the eyes of a child. This story takes place in 1940s Germany during the Holocaust. Bruno’s father is a dedicated high ranking Nazi in the German army, and Bruno and his whole family uproot their lives so they can live near the concentration camp he was patrolling. While there, Bruno meets a boy named Schmuel, who wears striped pajamas and sits on the other side of the fence. As time goes on, and their friendship blossoms, Bruno realizes that Schmuel is facing many inequities and being treated differently. Bruno wonders why this is, and his family tells him the people are Jewish. Being a kid, Bruno doesn’t see the issue with that and continues to visit Schmuel. The boys reflect on how they are so similar, yet being treated so differently. They question society’s treatment of people who stray from a designated social norm. This book is a heart wrenching read with many twists and turns that will make it hard to put this book down.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Adrianna B. says: Watchmen is a graphic novel about masked heroes in the DC universe. The story has beautiful artwork, but casts a very dark and jarringly familiar light on the dangers of our world and the human psyche. Despite its morbidity and chaos, it is an incredible read! You won’t want to put the book down once you start. There is also a movie out and a series that I believe is still in development on HBO Max!
The Outsiders by S.E Hinton
Alex L. says: The Outsiders is an incredible story about overcoming hatred and breaking stereotypes. Our story focuses on a group of boys called greasers, more specifically three brothers: Darry, Sodapop, and Ponyboy (yes those are their actual names). They are orphaned when their parents die in a motorcycle crash. A fight between the wealthy group of boys called Socs turns deadly and Ponyboy and his friend Johnny have to go into hiding. As the Greasers and Socs continue to fight, the three brothers experience the devastating effects of lower-class life and stereotypes attached to people in that class. Without their parents around, the three brothers must look out for each other. My favorite line in this book is, “It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Alex L. says: In this dystopian novel, the world of virtual reality is an escape from the horrid reality of what life has become. Life in the virtual reality server called OASIS allows people to escape and become different people. When the creator of the OASIS died, he hid a golden egg for control of the OASIS. Wade Watts is the first person to open the first gate to find the golden egg. He is hunted down by the large corporation IOI and when he refuses their pleas to help them find the egg, a wild goose chase ensues. Wade learns that this is no longer a game and the real threat is in the real world. My favorite line from this book is: “We’d connected on a purely mental level. I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend. None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation.”
This one’s a little different—if you were selling something, what would you sell and how would you sell it? Write about it!
Spend a whole day narrating your actions and writing them down. It is okay to laugh at yourself! You’ll be surprised how much character development you can get out of just paying attention to YOU.
Write about the blues of the ocean or the reds of a sunrise! Make the color your theme and link it to an emotion. Have fun with it! Blue doesn’t have to mean sad.
Reread a paper you wrote when you were younger. Write in the margins of the paper as though you are an editor writing to a new author. It just might spark a new story idea!
Write a letter/diary entry/email to someone you love. Go back and swap out your pronouns from “you” to “me” or “I.” Now you wrote yourself a love letter! Is there a difference in the way you speak to others and the way you speak to yourself? See what you notice when you make this change.
Play with fan fiction! Imagine you are a character in your favorite cartoon. What is your role? How do you get along with the other characters? Where do you live? What do you do?
Write a story or poem involving a magical crystal. What kind of crystal is it? What does it look like? Remind you of? What are its powers? How is it used? How does it help/harm it’s holder, if at all? Where did it come from?
Sugar! Write about something so sweet that it makes your teeth hurt.
Happy Be a Kid Again Day! To celebrate, write about a time where you (or a made-up character) believed (or still believe!) in magic. Embrace your inner child’s perspective for this story or poem.
When you compare yourself to the rest of “society” (whatever that means to you), where do you think you differ? What is unique about you? What makes you stand out? What makes you YOU? Write about it!
What’s life like from your perspective? What goes on in your world? What about your IDEAL world? If you could set the world up any way you like, how would you? What would you change and what would you keep? Write about it!
Happy Pride Month! Jump into your imagination and write about what you think exists over the rainbow.
Happy Pride Month! How do you define pride in your own words? What does pride mean to you? Write about it!
Imagine you could jump into this image. You knock on the door. Who opens it? What’s inside? It could be *anything* so stretch your imagination and have fun!
Write a story or poem about someone who keeps picking up different hobbies but never manages to stick with them. Rather than collect stamps as a hobby, for example, their hobby is just collecting more hobbies!
Create two characters that constantly argue. Show the story from both viewpoints so that the readers can sympathize with both of them. Leave the story in a way that it’s impossible for your readers to pick a side. This is a great exercise in perspective!
Imagine you’re out on a hike and you see something out of the ordinary. What is it that you see? Where are you hiking? Is it Bigfoot in the woods, or the Jersey Devil hiding in the Pine Barrens? Is it a new creature from your imagination? Or is it something simpler, but meaningful, like a butterfly landing on the nose of a crocodile? It’s up to you! Stretch your imagination and see where it takes you!
Where do you find hope? Make a list of all the things you see that make you feel hopeful and see if a story emerges!
Do you have a memory you’re not super fond of? A time you wish you could have done something differently, or you wish someone had reacted in a different way? Write that memory, but improve it by imagining the parts you would have liked it to happen actually happened. If it happened your way, what would have changed?
Did you have an imaginary friend when you were younger? Do you still have one today? What if you were to make one up right now? What would they be like? Challenge yourself to write a story or poem about your imaginary friend!
It’s allergy season—why not let that inspire us instead of kick us down? Imagine your allergies are not coming from the pollen and trees, but something else. Maybe you realize you’re allergic to tennis courts. Or you’re allergic to a very specific color. Think outside the box!
Happy National Poetry Month! Celebrate by writing a poem about poetry! What is poetry in your own words? How would you define it? How does it make you feel? Why is it so important?
Happy National Poetry Month! Celebrate by writing a haiku! Haikus are three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven syllables, and the third has five syllables again.
Happy National Poetry Month! Celebrate by writing a poem from a unique perspective! Imagine you’ve never seen our world before—you’re an alien from another planet. How would you describe what you notice here?
Happy National Poetry Month! Stretch your imagination beyond the world of logic and fact and imagine that you can inhabit “in-between” spaces. What would that feel like? What would you do? Or not do? Write about it!
As the season moves from winter to spring, we thought why not welcome our next seasonal visitor with a personalized letter? What would you tell Spring if you could? What is it about spring that you most look forward to? What about what you could do without?
Write a story about a character who has one very strange fear. What is their phobia? How do they handle it? How does having this fear affect their day-to-day life?
Take an existing story, whether it’s one you lived yourself or one you know (from a friend, a movie/TV show, a book, etc.) and rewrite the ending your way. It could be as simple as having a Disney princess not end up with her prince, or as personal as ending a toxic relationship sooner than you did, for example. It’s completely up to you! This is your chance to write the ending your way!
Imagine you are a sentient snowman. What is life like from your perspective? Consider your life from construction to melting. What does a snowman think about?
What do you predict 2021 be a year of? See where your imagination takes you and remember to save your writing somewhere so you can look back on it next year to see if your predictions came true!
Imagine if plants could communicate with us. What would they tell us? Write about it!
Tell a story about a time where you overcame something you never thought you’d be able to. How did you do it?
The winter season is upon us! Challenge yourself to write a story or poem today about your experience of winter and the changing seasons.
Make a gratitude list. Then, pick one item off of your list and make another gratitude list specific to that item. (For instance, if you’re grateful for your friend, what specific moments with that friend meant the most to you?) Use your second list to inspire a heartfelt letter of appreciation that you can send to spread the love!
Halloween inspired! Write a spooky story to tell around the campfire. You can build suspense by using onomatopoeia (sound words like oOoOoOohHh). Don’t forget to have a big finale at the end to frighten everyone who is listening!
Get into the habit of writing every day. Set reminders for it, just like you would for appointments. Even if it is just a grocery list for the week, the more you push yourself to have a writing routine, the more naturally the writing will come.
Read, watch TV, movies, sign up for a word-a-day in your inbox, talk to your friends, neighbors, family … There are SO many ways to expand your vocabulary!
Have you ever had the most incredible dream just to forget it by the time you’re ready to write it down? Keep a pen and paper by your bedside and always be ready for those good ideas as they come!
Maybe you don’t know what to write about, but that doesn’t mean your friends don’t have ideas for you! If you’re stuck, reach out. See what memories others dig up. Ask what stories your family wishes they could read. Use those answers as inspiration!
Just because you’re meeting your word count goals doesn’t mean your writing is the best it can be. It’s always good to stop and question yourself as you make progress in your story. A few good questions to ask yourself include, but are not limited to: Have I given my characters realistic motivations? Does each scene contribute to character development or plot? Does the POV/narration style feel true to the story I’m telling? Happy writing!
You can learn and be inspired by spoken word artists just as well as you can by novelists. Even books on tape show you things you might not catch when reading on the page. Intonation, pauses, volume, all of these things can come into play when voice is heard as well as read. If you want inspiration or if you are seeking to enhance your own writing style, don’t just read, listen too!
Let your characters surprise you sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you’re the kind of writer who plans meticulously, give yourself some leeway in the early drafts. You never know what you might discover!
In order to develop a strong character, you, the writer, should know much more about that character than you might actually use in your story. Here are just a few things to consider, though we suggest making an extensive list in your personal notes.
1. Their Full Name
2. Their Birthdate
3. Their Place of Residence
4. Their Employment Status
5. Their Appearance
6. Their Hobbies
7. Their Beliefs
8. Their Favorites (food, color, places to go, etc.)
9. Their Secrets
10. Their Marital Status
11. Their Home Life (kids? pets?)
A good way to consider what else to add to your list is to think about your own personal life. What matters most about you? Now what matters most about your character? Happy writing!
Specific details help to ground your readers in your story. Consider these two sentences: “It was dark and stormy outside my house.” OR “The wind was howling as the rain beat against my windows.” Which is more interesting? Which helps you see what the weather was like?
If you are stuck, ask yourself: What would your favorite author do? Where would they carry the characters next? What would they do to get themselves unstuck (both in real life and the story)? Look back to some of your favorite books or do some research on your favorite authors for guidance and inspiration!
Need help eliminating distractions? Here are some suggestions:
1. Prepare your writing space ahead of time so you won’t need to get up (grab your writing tools, coffee or tea, before you sit down).
2. Use a distraction-blocking app on your phone/computer.
3. Turn your phone off and put it in another room or somewhere you can’t easily get to it.
4. Close out of all windows on your computer besides the one you’re using to write (or draft in a notebook and turn the computer off).
5. Spend 15 minutes listening to music or reading a book that reminds you of your story to get you in the zone.
6. Set safe boundaries with your friends/family so they know not to bother you when you’re writing.
7. Set a timer and don’t let yourself take a break until the timer goes off.
If you’ve ever been in a creative writing class, then you’ve heard this advice before. But what does it mean? Here’s an example… Say you have a nervous character. You could tell us she is nervous by simply stating, “She is nervous.” But if you want to deepen the impact of the emotion, you could also show us that she is nervous through her body language and ticks. You could say “She was biting her nails,” or “Her leg could not stop shaking,” for example. This conveys her nervous emotion (showing us) rather than telling us about it. And isn’t that a lot more interesting to read?
Dialogue tags are phrases like “he said” or “she asked.” They attribute a line of dialogue to a character, so that the reader (hopefully) always knows who is speaking. Dialogue tags should mostly be invisible, guiding the reader, but never getting in the way of the story. That’s why we recommend defaulting to “said” rather than trying for more distracting tags such as “exclaimed,” “thundered,” or “purred.”
Sometimes the blank page is so intimidating. Getting started can be hard. So to break through, we recommend starting by making lists. You can list anything! It’s so easy to do. And the best part? You can pull from those lists to give you ideas so the blank page isn’t so scary anymore.
Eavesdropping is not uncommon for writers. We learn a lot about dialogue by watching and listening to people talk in real life. When you have the opportunity to eavesdrop (with respect, of course), jot down the words you hear used. If they speak quickly, try to concentrate on specific sentence structures. It’s okay if you can’t capture every word. Observe the way they move, too. Body language is just as important as spoken language and can convey so much emotion. You might be surprised by how much you learn!
If you don’t know what to write about, write about what’s on your mind for a couple of minutes. What’s going on in your life. Anything at all. Once that’s complete, look for a line or two that you can go off of. Then start writing again. You don’t need to have the perfect idea to begin. You just have to put your pen to paper and go!
To become a better writer, you must become a better reader. Read often, and read everything you can! This will teach you what has been done and what people are doing now to help inform what YOU should be doing in your work. Spend time with short stories and poetry; look into works of both memoir and fiction, character-driven pieces, “the masters,” and rising contemporary authors; explore journals, magazines, and blogs. (We post book recommendations here on this account often if you are looking!) Read as much as you can to find out what you enjoy, so you can write the stories you really want to read!
Sometimes starting a new story from scratch can be difficult. If you’re struggling to get started, try taking a well-known story and changing it slightly, so it has a different ending or comes from a different character’s perspective. For example, if you took Cinderella, you could write from the point of view of the stepsisters and how they felt when Cinderella found her Prince Charming. Or if you took The Little Mermaid, you could change it so she chooses not to trade her tail in for legs—how would that alter the ending? Fan fiction is a great way to dive into your own imagination, so give it a try!
Feeling stuck and stifled? Maybe it’s just because you’ve been sitting in the same chair all day! Try changing the scenery—go for a walk, go to a coffee shop, a friend’s house, the park—and see if inspiration finally hits you then. Sometimes all it takes is a little movement and a new setting to get the creative juices flowing!
Feel like you’ve run out of ideas? Or that you want to write something but it’s outside your experience and you don’t know where to start your research? Try interviewing someone and see if you get any ideas from their perspective! (Of course, be sure to explain what the interview is for, and never mention them in your story without permission.)
If you struggle with writing descriptions, try writing them with a specific intention. Write your description with the goal of showing the reader as much as you can about your character. Pick five key qualities about them, then, without ever mentioning the character at all, describe either their living room or their bedroom to meet that goal.
Find a small group of other writers with whom you trust to show your work-in-progress to. Hearing from fresh readers gives you a chance to develop & strengthen your work. But remember, your work is always yours. You aren’t obligated to take every bit of advice that is given to you. The key is to be open and to treat the creative process as a dialogue. Take the advice that resonates and leave the rest behind!
Sometimes starting a story is the hardest part. If you don’t know what to write about or how to begin your story, try to express yourself in a different art form first. Art inspires art! You might be able to get the feeling across with paint, and then use that painting to inspire the words you couldn’t find. Or dance it out! Whatever feels right for you. A story doesn’t always start with words on a page. It does always start with a writer, an idea, and a form of expression.
When writing, consider the questions: Who is your intended audience? Who are you writing for? What is your goal in speaking to this audience? Maybe you’re writing for suburban teenagers, or maybe you’re writing for your little sister. It could be anyone. If you don’t have a readily defined audience, make one up and work from there. Knowing your audience will help guide your writing process. Maybe you know your great uncle would hate the story you’re writing, but that just means he’s not your intended audience. Write for those you want to read your work!
Do you have a hard time making time for your writing? Or do you have the opposite problem, where you get sucked into a story and forget to do anything else? We’ve found that the same solution applies to both scenarios—set a timer. Create a reasonable amount of time that you can dedicate to your craft, set a timer, and hold to it. When the timer goes off, finish your sentence and walk away! It’s a great way to form structure around your writing practice.
If you know you want to write or should be writing but don’t know what to write about, try using a writing prompt to inspire you. You can find endless writing prompts online, including on our own Instagram account! Pick one that stimulates your imagination and encourages you to get creative, and set your story free!
If you find yourself overusing words, refer to a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary. BUT don’t become too dependent on it, or else you might overcomplicate the meaning and lose your audience. Remember, the thesaurus is your friend, but it’s not your BEST friend. Spend some time with it, but don’t let it take away your true voice!
If you’re on winter break, make time to write by pretending to sleep in. Don’t tell anyone you are up! Instead, work quietly in your room for a little while before making your morning appearance. Be sure to keep your laptop or notebook close to the bed to avoid any telltale bumps or floor creaks as you set up!
Proofread by reading your work backwards. Of course, we don’t mean LITERALLY. If your last sentence is “She lived happily ever after” then don’t edit it by reading “after ever happily lived She”. That’s ridiculous. What we actually mean is to take the last paragraph and read it first, because it forces you to slow you down and notice your mistakes. If you start at the beginning, your mind may be already making unconscious assumptions. Going to the end of your story first stops your brain from misleading you.
When you’re trying to revise a piece of writing, the best way to catch your mistakes is to read your work out loud. You can even record yourself as you read so you can play it back and listen as a reader would, to help separate you from your work. (Of course, you can delete the recording when you’re finished!)
Get published. Share your work. Be heard. This is a comprehensive list of literary magazines, writing competitions, and other opportunities for teen writers.
- 42 Stories
- 53 Word Story Contest
- 805 Lit
- Adroit Journal Prizes & General
- The American Poetry Review
- American Short Fiction
- Bennington Young Writer Awards
- Blue Marble Review
- Body Without Organs Journal
- Brevity Magazine
- Bridge Ink
- Calyx Journal
- Canvas Literary Journal
- Capulet Magazine
- Cosmonauts Avenue
- Crash Test
- Critical Pass Review
- The Daphne Review
- Flash Fiction Online
- Foyle Young Poets Awards
- Gertrude Press
- Girls Right the World
- The Hunger Journal
- The Ideate Review
- Interlochen Review
- The Kenyon Review
- La Vague Journal
- Louisville Review Children’s Corner
- Luna Luna Magazine
- Luna Station Quarterly
- Lunch Ticket (School Lunch)
- Mom Egg Review
- Navigating the Maze
- The New England Review
- New Pages
- The New Yorker
- Not Very Quiet
- The Offing Magazine
- One Teen Story
- Paper Darts
- The Paris Review
- Poetry Magazine
- Poets Reading the News
- Polyphony Lit
- Rattle Young Poets Anthology
- Ricochet Review
- Room Magazine
- So To Speak Journal
- Teen Sequins
- Tishman Review
- The Virginia Quarterly Review
- Winter Tangerine
- Writers of the Future