Done and overdone

Back in August, YA writer Joëlle Anthony compiled a pretty comprehensive, interesting list of things that are overused in young adult/children’s literature. I’d seen it before, but I came across it again today after it was linked from another blog, and I, of course, did what anybody with an unpublished YA manuscript would do: I counted up how many of these YA clichés my story contained.

I am guilty of:

  • #12: A dead mother (not a focus of the narrative, but a fact in the life of a character)
  • # 8: The diary, either as the entire format, or the occasional entry (only a few entries, very brief, necessary to the mystery plot)
  • # 5: Raising one eyebrow (I probably did this. It’s a fave of mine because I wish I could do it but woefully cannot. I couldn’t tell you where I used it in the MS, but it’s probably in there.)

That’s it! No oppressed vegetarians, no wannabe artist or writer characters, no saying “‘rents”, no fuddy-duddy names (though I guess that’s debatable),  no genius younger siblings,  no She’s All That rip-off plots, and most of all no red hair. Most of my characters have brown hair, with the exception of one protagonist whose hair is blonde. Large scale avoidance of these clichés, of course, is no guarantee that an editor will be interested in my manuscript, but at least I won’t be falling into traps that might mean auto-reject. That I know of.

Oh, and a quick progress report: My revised MS is back with my agent, who downloaded it onto a Sony Reader and is taking it, digitally, to the London Book Fair with her. Even though I sort of want a Kindle for the tech geek in me, I actually don’t think I’d use it ever, but these digital readers must be such a relief to agents and editors who used to have to carry around tons of pages wherever they went.

4 Responses

  1. Hi Anna,
    First, good luck with the ms. Is you agent going to be marketing it to publishers?

    Very interesting observations about cliches in the YA market, since I don’t write in that genre I wasn’t aware of it. It makes sense though, when I think of the cliches that exist in other genres such as romance or sci fi. And that must be a great challenge to writers, to come up with something fresh, while staying true to your story.

    It sounds like you have a distinct advantage over most first time writers… you seem to have a very broad and deep knowledge of the publishing ‘game’ and how it works. This must be terrifically useful as you go through the various steps.

    I’m also impressed with your knowledge of the writing process (and yes, I’m still looking forward to your thoughts about that 50% improvement).

    This is definitely one of my favorite writing blogs.

    Can’t wait to hear the results of from the London book fair.


  2. Hi, Anna,
    Thanks so much for linking to my piece. Ironically, I just sold it to The Writer today for their September issue. They’re doing a section on cliches! Anyway, your blog looks great and I’ll add it to my list of dailies. Also, good luck with your book! I wish it was me going to the London Book Fair!

  3. Suz- Thanks so much for your kind words! I finished the 50% improvement post, finally. I hope it helps. I think you’re right, that all genres have their own cliches (including literary fiction–man, would I love to see that list!), but what you hear over and over again from editors and agents is that of course there’s nothing new under the sun–you just have to do what’s been done before in an interesting way. A lot of those cliches aren’t really plots, they’re just incidentals–the red hair and what-not–that can be easily removed. That’s comforting, at least.

    Since I’ve worked in publishing for a few years and reading about the industry is sort of a dorky hobby of mine, I do tend to know a lot about it, but there’s so much to know, so I always feel like I’m lagging behind! Some of the people I work with know everything and everybody in publishing and I’m always like, where do you fit all that information in your brain? It’s nice for me that my chosen career (publishing) dovetails with my writing, but sometimes it feels like all publishing all the time. I might need a vacation.

    Although I don’t think my agent will be selling anything of mine at London (the fair is mostly for foreign rights sales of books already placed with US publishers, although selling foreign rights first is not unheard of), I’m excited to hear about it when she gets back…she should have some really awesome stories. Really I’m interested in seeing what she says about my MS revisions when she gets back, if she thinks I need to revise again or if she thinks it’s ready to go out. If she does, then we’ll start sending it to publishers, which should be a whole different kind of anxiety, but also excitement. Funny how those two so often coincide…

    Thanks for all your positive thoughts and compliments! I’m glad somebody’s enjoying the blog. Good luck with your own stuff, and keep stopping by!


  4. Joelle,

    No probs! I love your blog, and I think the piece is really great, I’m glad it’s going to be in The Writer–everyone should see it, I think it’s sort of amazing once you see it in black and white, how often all those things are overused. Thanks for reading the blog and the well wishes…Man, I wish I was going to London, too.


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