Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Monday, January 10, 2011

That's Soooo Been Done Before!

**Editors' Note: Well, Anonymous tooooold us :) Yes, I mistakingly left out the author's name. It was written by Joelle Anthony and it was a GREAT article. Again, as stated in the post, this was from the SCBWI Nov/Dec 2010 issue...and there is an actual link for the article in the post.**

Writing Song of the Day: "Heard it All Before" by Sunshine Anderson

There are so many perks to being a member of SCBWI if you are a children's writer (Young Adult, Middle Grade, Picture Books etc.). You get to go to conferences--both the regional and awesomeriffic national conferences-- you get insider information, a group of peers who understand exactly what you are trying to write, and a really cool bi-monthly bulletin that helps you stay sharp with your writing.

Because we love our readers so much we wanted to go deeper into a topic that was brought up in the November/December 2010 issue of the SCBWI Bulletin. This one page article briefly discussed the fifteen most overused things in YA writing. We are sure that just like us, as you read this list, a great YA book will pop up in your head...but since we REFUSE to talk about books b/c we love them all so much, we won't list examples...but I'm sure we'll all be thinking of the same ones. ;)

So, take out your pen and paper and write a check mark for each of the following that you have done in your WIP or manuscript...If you find that you have checks next to five or more, then you might want to go and fix it, STAT!

15-Stories with irresponsible parents (leaving the kid to do the cleaning/cooking)
14-The MC likes retro music (usually b/c it's the music YOU liked in high school)
13-Hot, young moms who are the MC's best friend
12-Female MC who is obsessed with Jane Eyre
11-Lab partners where one person is the dork that does all the work...then they are the love interest later
10-A MC with only one best friend...then they get in a fight and the MC is all alone for awhile
9-A poor scholarship student in a private school
8-First POV and the MC describes themselves by looking in the mirror
7-MC that is a tomboy who doesn't know how to do anything "girly"
6-Younger sis. that is the popular, gorgeous one
5-Big vocab. words put in by the author and then passed off as an SAT word
4-MC who happens to be the only one in their group of friends without a cell phone
3-Clumsy characters who couldn't dance or play sports if someone had a gun pressed into their backs
2-Guys with striking, beautiful, gorgeous green eyes- this is used so much that green eyes are becoming as common as blue eyes. They no longer pack the same punch, so to speak.

Annnd the # 1 most overused thing done in YA novels is.....

Having your MC hate math

BTW- In Limbo had little traces of two of these cliches and has another one big time, so if you found a few, don't be ashamed!

Now that you have this list handy, there are two things we'd like you to do for us (and for yourself):

1.) Do a quick writing exercise (this will be graded tomorrow--sorry, that's the educators creeping out of us). Write for ten minutes straight using this beginning sentence: Mandy/Marc always hated his/her first day at a new school. Just write freely, then go back and see if you included any of the above cliches. If so, change them around and see how your free writing sounds now!

2.) Can you think of anything else that has been overused in YA that should be added to this list?

Really...you can come back and tell us later how the free writing went :)


Kaitlin Ward said...

Thanks for sharing this list! I'm pleased to notice that I seem to avoid most of those pretty well. I do think my MCs hate math more often than they should (I think they always do in my head--I don't know how often it comes up in the actual writing. Maybe I should be more aware!) And I'm 99% sure that this is because math was the subject I found hardest in school. I suspect I am far from the only one ;)
Green eyes are kind of hard. There are lots of shades, but really you've only got so many colors to work with when you're doing eyes. I'm not surprised green's starting to show up more, but definitely something to keep in mind.

Abby Stevens said...

There are 2ish of these in PRODIGAL MAGGIE. I say this because her parents are irresponsible, but not in the way listed above.

Erinn said...

This is the best list-- and you know why because my novel doesn't have ANY of these cliches. WOOT!

But wow there are SOOO many books with those cliches.

Although I did write a book where no one dies and therefore totally screwed myself out publication. *sad face*

Holly Dodson said...

EPIC HOLLY WIN! Heh. Zero of these in my WIP. (We shall not mention the fact that my WIP is not set in a school at all, and therefore eliminates many of them.) lol

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Yay, neither the novel I'm querying nor my wip do any of these. :D

Meredith said...

Yes! I saw this in the last SCBWI bulletin too. Great article! My mss doesn't have any of these problems, but then again it's historical, so it's kinda hard to have my characters jamming out to 90s era grunge. ;)

KO said...

very funny list! Math rulz! Why is everybody hatin' on math?

Ricki Schultz said...

I agree with commenter Kaitlin about the eyes. I kind of feel like people started overusing green because blue became too overdone? Interesting! I feel like I've seen a lot of "golden" eyes, after TWILIGHT.

In terms of the math thing, I'm not allowed to say my characters hate math -- my hubs is a prof of math education, and it's a *huge* pet peeve of his when he tells people what he does and their response is "UGH!" :)

Thanks for this post!

Alicia Gregoire said...

None of these are in my current WIP, but I'm sure they peek out in Falling to Normal. Blergh. Must. Correct.

On a totally different note, I'm SOOOO behind in reading my SCBWI stuff.

Marquita Hockaday said...

So glad to read that most of you aren't exeperiencing the cliche monster in your writing :) And I admit, my comment about math sucking from my MC does come from me- I LOATHED math in school. And Meredith, I escaped the music part with my historical, too :)

Anna Staniszewski said...

Oh no, I totally have one of these in my new WIP! And here I thought I was being all original...Thanks for the list!

Racquel Henry said...

Interesting...especially the one about green eyes becoming as common as blue eyes. Great post, I think some of these can even apply to adult fiction.

LilySea said...

Hey Meredith--mine's historical too. I think we need a list of historical cliches, all our own. It can't be this easy!

Laura Marcella said...

Love triangles. Since the "Twilight" series it's been way overdone. Now it's kind of a joke and not at all romantic.

Seleste said...

I agree about love triangles, but that's been done since way before Twilight, and really, it's a trope of romance in general, so I doubt it's going anywhere.

In my upcoming release (Pretty Souls), the MC does have a younger, very popular sister. But the MC doesn't want her popularity, it's more a statement of fact. Younger sister is a cheerleader. MC is a track star/marching band member--still popular in her own way, but it's different than the teeny, tiny, pyramid top cheerleader. :P

Anonymous said...

I was pretty confused to see this article rewritten from the original and reposted without the author's name. I know you're not claiming it's your own article - I just wish you'd quote the original text and attribute it to the original author. (It's Joelle Anthony, by the way.)

Feliza said...

Oh, gawd. I saw this in the SCBWI bulletin, too, and it gave me hives. Probably didn't help that I was editing something at the time.

But it's one of those articles that entertains while giving plenty of food for thought. But you'll have to pry my green-eyed male lead from my cold, dead hard drive :)

callie Forester said...

haha...Feliza, I'm with you there! I found TWO of these in my WIP--and the green eyes is one of them. But I agree. He's got green eyes and that's all there is to it! Besides, like a previous person said, we only have so many colors to work with here!

My other one was the tomboyish girl. I realized that was cliche, even as I wrote it--but it's less an issue of being a tomboy and more a self-esteem/trying to blend into the shadows sort of thing. Does that make it okay?

Joelle said...

Just dropped by because someone sent me the link. Love that you're discussing this (and that you added my name to it). Smiling at the comments...of course, the idea behind this is just to be aware of them all and if you use any of the things, have a reason, don't just do it because it's the first thing you think of! Besides, I'm just another writer...I'm not telling anyone what to do. They're just observations.

The whole article (which is on my site http://www.joelleanthony.com/nonfiction/) explains how it came about and what's behind my thoughts. Also, this is the second part...a follow up to a list I did a few years ago.

Anyway, sounds like you're all having fun. Happy writing!

Claire Dawn said...

I only had one off this list! YAY!

But I did have the dead parent one, which isn't mentioned here.

Surprisingly even though I was a tomboy and still can't do girl stuff, I've never written an MC like that.

Derkseniddy said...

None of these are in my current WIP, but I'm sure they peek out in Falling to Normal. Blergh. Must. Correct. On a totally different note, I'm SOOOO behind in reading my SCBWI stuff.