Master Mondays, Week Four: The YA Novel Class Recap

Master Mondays, Week Four: The YA Novel Class Recap

Figure 1. Guy In Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

Figure 1. Guy In Real Life by Steve Brezenoff


TL;DR Version

Steve Brezenoff answered questions, we tabled our discussion of Jellicoe Road until next class, talked book jacket copy (some students shared and the results were SPLENDID) and then puzzled over what “voice” in fiction means.


Unabridged Version

Guest Speaker, Steve Brezenoff
Twitter: @sbrezenoff

We started out this class with a special guest visit from my friend and author Steve Brezenoff! Out of respect for Steve, I will refrain from using any Norman Reedus photos in this post. Oh, the sacrifices I make!

Steve talked about his experience in writing chapter books on spec and how that influenced how he plots/writes his own books (it’s a mix of rambling along and then outlining/plotting). He also talked about the worst writing advice he’s ever heard (“you’re not a writer if you don’t write every day”) and the best (“just sit down and write.”)


Flap Copy 

I challenged students to write their own flap copy. A couple of them attempted, and read theirs out loud. Amazing! I was very impressed – flap copy takes the wind out of my sails. We discussed how this is related to querying but also how it can help you clarify wtf you are actually writing about while you are still drafting. Hope more students share as the class goes on; it’s my goal for each student to have a working draft of flap copy in hand after 12 weeks together, as it’s a different kind of writing entirely but very necessary to do for purposes of query letters.

(Queries letters are just so gross.)

As always, I’m constantly heartened by the cool story idea students at the Loft share. Seriously. Sniff around the classrooms, agents, if you’re looking for some fantastic concepts. I’m a little jealous.



I had students write down their thoughts on “voice” and what it means to us as readers and writers, then collected some of the terms they listed on the whiteboard: diction, punctuation, cadence, syntax, style, tone, trust, vocabulary, likeability, sympathy.

When some people are talking about “voice” they are really talking about the character who is narrating. Others are talking about the language the author is using in the narration.

The whole concept folds over itself like cake batter. What part is the butter? What part is the flour and eggs and vanilla? Do we really need to know this? Does it matter? Is a “good voice” a matter of opinion? How can you learn to write a “good” voice? Does God exist? Why do people wear rings on their toes? Is art necessary? What is the sound of one hand clapping?

I have no idea. The best piece of advice on nailing “voice” in your story came from my friend and author Swati Avasthi: “Know your character and you will know her voice.”

I explained that the element of voice I am most concerned about is diction. Ah, diction! That lovely word I would never want to teach a lesson on to 9th graders! We talked about the personal vocabulary all of us default into; our favorite words for things that are good (“awesome” “wonderful” “epic” “spectacular”) and things that are bad (“crappy” “shitty” “sucky” “horrid” “barbaric”), our favorite sayings and exclamations (“dollars to donuts” or “hand to god…” or “you know what I’m saying?”) How every character should have their own default language and how this contributes to voice because it becomes like a musical chorus or a consistent through-line in the work, providing a kind of rhythm consistency that readers find pleasing (and which can even build trust in a narrator, as well).

I also added that using words like “slacks” and “blouse” when you’re a 16-year-old girl is jarring. Would a boy know what a “camisol” or “tap pants” are? Do kids refer to things covering windows as “window treatments” or “valences” or do they just know them as “curtains” since they’ve never had to really buy them and understand the differences?

We read excerpts from Paul Griffin’s Stay With Me and Moira Young’s Blood Red Road to highlight voice, using the latter as a writing exercise to practice imitating voice.  Good grief, but the Blood Red Road thing was hard for me! We talked about doing a “find/replace” for all the words she was intentionally misspelling and what not.

Books Referenced:

Chime by Franny Billingsley
The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff
Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff
Guy In Real Life by Steve Brezenoff
The Bear and The Fawn by Steve Brezenoff (2015)
A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
How To Save A Live by Sara Zarr
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Stay With Me by Paul Griffin
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Look! It’s Sam Heughan! Not wearing a kilt! Isn’t he HANDSOME! I couldn’t help myself, sorry, Steve…


cleans up nice






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