Master Mondays, Week Five: The YA Novel Recap

Master Mondays, Week Five: The YA Novel Recap

Figure 1. Look! Sam Heughan For No Reason!

Figure 1. Look! Sam Heughan For No Reason!


TL;DR Version

We discussed how not to act regarding book reviews, why we don’t hate Jonah Griggs for assaulting Taylor Markham in Jellicoe Road, book jacket copy, cliches and how characters appear to us as writers.


Unabridged Version

Let’s Not Stalk Our Readers, M’Kay?

We started out class talking about this heinous situation and why it’s wrong on so many levels, highlighting the fact that being published involves getting responses that one must be mature about receiving or ignoring.


Jellicoe Road, up to chapter 18

Then we discussed Jellicoe Road and why in the holy hell is that many of us still LIKE (okay, I LOVE him) Jonah Griggs after he slams Taylor up against the wall for talking shit about his dead dad.

“Well, she provoked him!”

“He was really angry!”

We sounded like apologists for dating violence and WHY? I was kind of grossed out by myself for excusing this in the name of ROMANCE until Sara said it was because we knew Taylor trusted Jonah already. We knew that she wasn’t really afraid of Jonah. We knew this because she kept eye contact the whole time of the incident, but also by what had been previously established behavior between them. We understood there was a history between Taylor and Jonah because Melina Marchetta is a masterful beautiful writer.

It must be noted that a couple of our male students weren’t Jonah fans. We discussed how the “bad damaged boy angle” might not be working on them. It reminded me of this Ye Olde Post I wrote for Wrapped Up In Books last year.


Book Jacket Copy

Keith shared his book jacket copy for his novel, which involves cheerleaders and dragons, and for which we had copies to look over for ideas on how to improve it. The word “dragonocity” was coined out of necessity for this discussion. Invitations for future book jacket copy were made.



One of The Erins (we have two!) in our class had a little Twitter rant about cliches earlier that afternoon, so we spent a little time discussing some of our least favorite recurring cliches in YA.

I did mention that cliches may be in a character’s vocab grab-bag, but often we deploy them as writers as a first, easy option. Think of it as eating cereal for dinner.  You mainly eat cereal for dinner because it’s easy and fast. But our job in writing a story isn’t to do what’s easy/fast. Instead we must think a bit more about what fits our story best. Below is a list of some cliches the class mentioned as being worn out:

– sweaty palms
– clenched fists that give one white knuckles
– crooked smiles
– eye-rolling – especially when done by first person narrator, as this is often something one observes or does unconsciously
– butterflies in stomach
– “releasing a breath that I didn’t know I was holding”
– biting down on lip until you taste blood
– excessive SIGHING
– heroines explaining that they are blushing – can you really tell when you’re blushing or is this something you observe in others?
– romantic “face-cupping” (Steve Brezenoff’s name invoked here)
– digging nails into palms so hard there are “red crescents in your skin”
– voices that get “husky” when things turn romantic
– pupils that go “black with lust”
– boy tucking “stray tendril” of girl’s hair behind her ear in bid to be romantical

 On Characters

Students picked a character in their current work and wrote the “origin story” of this character – what were the first things they knew about the character, where did this character come from, etc.

We discussed then how characters come to appear to us and then I handed out an article from The Writer’s Chronicle by David Jauss that argues against the “know everything about your character” advice that writers are often given.

The Other Erin explained that one of her characters appeared as a reaction to feedback; she needed this character to expand on something that readers said needed embellishment. Piyali mentioned how her character is very much rooted in location; that she believes he would be in the coffee shop where she likes to write and that she knows where he lives in reference to the coffee shop and can see him moving through the exact geographical space.

ASIDE: The students in this class are so cool, you guys. Just so you know. They have such great insight and their story ideas are insanely exciting.

One more class session until we start individual manuscript review! Will I be able to even write blog posts about this, since workshop commenting is pretty specific and semi-confidential? STAY TUNED.


Figure 2. Important safety tip, Egon

Figure 2. Important safety tip, Egon


 Books Referenced: The Fiction Craft Books Edition

1) The Passionate Accurate Story: Making Your Heart’s Truth Into Fiction by Carol Bly
2) Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
3) Burning Down The House by Charles Baxter
4) The Half-Known World by Robert Boswell
5) Alone With All That Could Happen by David Jauss




Leave Reply