Master Monday, Week Eight: The YA Novel Class Recap

Master Monday, Week Eight: The YA Novel Class Recap

Figure 1. I can't wait to read your book, Brandon. I especially like the kissing parts!

Figure 1. “I can’t wait to read your book, Brandon. I especially like the kissing parts!”



Several students were unable to attend due to weather (including the student whose manuscript we were reviewing) so Carrie had the class read an early cringe-worthy draft of Sex & Violence and make editorial commentary and then we read sex excerpts and wrote about kissing/romance.


The Cringe-Worthy Scene from Sex & Violence

UGH. This scene, which is an early draft of a conversation between Tom and Evan, is AWFUL. I thought this would be instructive but it was pretty painful for me. I explained how I evaluate the functions of a chapter when editing (you can also evaluate the functions of a particular scene, if you like). Here are a couple of “functions” a chapter/scene can have that justifies its existence in the narrative:

– introduces a character
– contains plot points/important event or action (duh)
– establishes backstory
– shows character growth or conflict
– provides pacing, as a kind of reader courtesy (a calmer, slower chapter following a high-stakes, tense chapter)

Here are some of the problems of the Cringe-Worthy Scene:

– Tom barges in and takes over the chapter
– Evan is inconsistent in his behavior when its clear he feels one way about Tom’s intrusion
– They both act more like grown men than teenagers who just met (handing out beer, watching ESPN)
– Tom is chattier than a woman at a book club whose had too much wine or like a woman who is named Carrie Mesrobian and who discloses lots of personal things to strangers constantly, what a coincidence
– The book of erotic poetry is out of place and over-analyzed (and the word ‘erotic’ is awful and would never be used by Evan; also Evan isn’t into poetry so wtf)
– Tom is WAY too open about his sex life and relationship
– Too many additional sentences used to clarify statements that stand on their own just fine
– Language that would never be used by a 17-year-old: “MFA Language”


There are valuable things about this scene, which I discovered while writing it. Like:

– I learned a bit about Tom’s character and backstory
– I got to the heart of Evan’s issues with friendship: he doesn’t know what to do with all the “information” that comes with being close with people
– Tom’s B-Plot (“Will he and Krista ever have sex?”) is a kind of comic relief as well as another layer to the narrative
– Tom’s “function” is revealed; he serves as a foil to make Evan explore his own problemtic sexual history, as well as being a friend that Evan sorely needs

The Half-Known World & Setting

In a previous class, we discussed an article by David Jauss that references Robert Boswell’s view of fiction being “a half-known world.” Jauss contends in this article that characters must be ‘half-known’ because even people we know in reality aren’t fully known to us and too much information kills a story in many ways. I posed the question: Does the idea of the “half-known world” apply to setting? And what does the reader need to know about setting? And how is establishing setting different for teenaged narrators than it is for adults characters?


– there are many details about setting that would be ignored by teenagers (kids who can’t drive, kids who don’t have awareness of certain places in their town because they’d never care about)
– pay attention to interstitial microsettings: “the woods behind the school” or “the bathroom of the pizza place”
– teenagers are constantly searching for privacy and autonomy, so the key locations for them are often overlooked by adults
– setting reveals plot AND character
– understanding your location well (the ‘wolves’ in Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver; the ‘pagoda’ speaking as a character in A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz)

 Sex/Romance Scenes

We read sex scenes from Adam Rapp’s Under The Wolf, Under The Dog and Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, which are very different but pleasing all the same.


– Kids can see sex via porn anytime, anywhere. On their phones, online, for free. This is not terrible in itself, because it’s good to understand the basic mechanics of things and it’s good for kids struggling with sexual identity to be able to see adults with the same physical desires as they might have.

– What’s lacking in porn the purpose and context behind the sex; we see none of the negotiation and decision-making, because porn doesn’t require it (the people are paid performers, the sex is a foregone conclusion, the choreography of the act belies the complexity of the situation).

– Even kissing is fraught with peril and negotiation, so if you don’t write sex, you still have opportunities to show how this aspect of adolescence is so critical and beautiful.

– If you have some moral agenda about sex in YA, let it be that kids need to see how complicated and fraught and delicious sex and romance is; fading to black, assuming eternal love is A Thing, and sugar-coating these things as if they are seamless and easy does kids a disservice.

Here are the romance writing prompts we did in class, after the break:

– Write a romance story about two people who live in apartments on the same floor, but one is on one side of the street and the other is on the other. They are madly in love with each other but have never met in person.
– Write a romance story that takes place in a sketchy amusement park or traveling carnival.
– Write a romance story that doesn’t use gendered pronouns.
– Write a romance story that has one person who is a secret agent.
– Write a romantic scene that takes place entirely in a fast food restaurant.
– Write a romance story that has one person who is a celebrity.
– Write a scene where the two people meet in car wash.
– Write a first kiss scene.
– Write a romance story that features one of the people owning a pet that the other person cannot stand.
– Write a scene where one of the people says “I love you” but the other doesn’t say it back.
– Write a scene where one of the people gets really drunk and says something very insulting to other person.
– Write a story that features two people who work at the same place and must keep it secret.
– Write a scene that involves one person getting very ill suddenly in front of the other person who they are romantically involved with or interested in.
– Write a story that begins with a couple fighting over one person’s browser history on the internet.
– Write a romantic scene that is entirely dialogue.
– Write a story that has two people who fall in love, while one of them is married or dating someone else.
– Write a story that involves one person suddenly winning a large amount of money just as they begin dating a new person.
– Write a romantic scene that takes place in a grocery store.
– Write a romantic scene that takes place in a library.
– Write a romantic scene that takes place behind a Dumpster in the back of a Dairy Queen.




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