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In early October, Nikki Grimes wrote about the current state of YA literature on her blog, Nikki Sounds Off. In her post, she lamented the lack of originality in books being published for the young adult audience today. What she sees as a lack of originality, I see as the opportunity to ca$h in. So, for those of you that have it in mind to write the “it” novel, here is a DIY guide to getting it published. Think of it as a paint by numbers for writers. Good luck!


The plucky heroine (insert full name of protagonist, preferably a name that isn’t really a name but is more descriptive or just plain obscure) leaves the only home she’s ever known. Her parents were (killed in an accident or on an archaeological expedition), leaving her on her own, which has toughened her but left her vulnerable at the same time. (first name of protagonist) begins attending St. (name of a person who may or may not be an actual saint), a school with dark and Gothic architecture whose pedagogy and curriculum is (a synonym for mysterious that suggests that the true purpose of the school is perhaps sinister or fighting against things that are sinister or affiliated with people who are sometime impolite when they’ve had a hard day, or…).

While attending this school (first name of protagonist) learns that she can (insert a supernatural ability–nothing silly like the ability to bake cupcakes with her mind, but something more practical that preferably reveals the character to be super-fierce). This supernatural gift was unknown to (name of protagonist) until it was revealed during (A. a high-pressure situation where she is being bullied by a tough-as-nails teacher who has always had it out for her, or B. she intervenes when a meek student is being bullied, or C. she herself is bullied, or D. she is flossing her teeth).

(first name of protagonist) begins hanging around a group of students who seem aloof from the rest of the student body. That’s because they are hiding a dark secret. The secret which (first name of protagonist) learns through following them is that they are all (shape-shifters, faeries, vampires, werewolves–really, just take your pick of some kind of super-awesome supernatural type thing). The more she learns about the (name of the group of supernatural kids), the more intrigued she is.

She begins hanging around with them a lot and falls deeply in love with two in the group. One that she falls for flies into frequent rages and seems very (dangerous, unstable, mean to housepets). The other is sweet and caring, but has a secret that he is keeping about his (identity, sexuality, chemical dependencies, wardrobe choices).

The school is attacked by an evil (wizard, alchemist, accountant, etc.) who wants to harness the power of the (name of the group of supernatural kids). Only (first name of protagonist) can save them from their certain doom at the hands of the evil (wizard, alchemist accountant, etc.).


I didn’t mention what should be self-evident: that this story takes place in a dystopian future where (name something you love like chocolate, crossword puzzles, or thinking about the future) has been outlawed, and the world is ruled by (cyborgs, steampunk machines, adults, etc.).

P.S. I double-dog dare you to send your results to an actual publisher.

— Joel Bruns is currently reading Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy and listening to Swamplandia by Karen Russell


  1. Haha!!! I love the fill-in-the blanks! I would name my character Echo and of course she would learn of her parents tragic demise while attending boarding school in Europe, St. Vincent the First….

  2. Oh, I am SO making my entire writing group do this.
    Also: sadly, I can take the plot of the last four or five novels I’ve read and fit them into this… eek.

    visiting via Bookshelves of Doom

  3. Dawn Dawn

    I’ve been forcing myself to finish The Iron Thorn because it was nominated for our Mock Printz, and it SO fits this, except with steampunk.

  4. Michael M. Jones Michael M. Jones

    I’ve already read this book, numerous times. This is why, when I go to Barnes and Noble, and see the YA Paranormal Romance section, I weep and die a little more inside.

    This is why I’m so freaking thrilled when I find something that really stands out from the rest.

  5. It’s very easy and amusing to tear things down, isn’t it? What’s wrong with YA is snark like this.

    • Juniper, I agree that it’s easy to tear things down and point out what’s wrong, but this post was meant to have a little fun with something we love rather than to be something negative. The Hub exists to celebrate teen literature with others who love it.

    • Peter Spenser Peter Spenser

      No, what’s wrong with Y.A. is publishers who steer writers to write ONLY to maximize the money and not to maximize really good writing, and if a writer balks, she walks.

  6. Joel, I think this is a hoot and not too snarky at all! It’s funny exactly because it is true.

  7. I kind of want to bash my head into a wall, but while laughing. My currently-in-the-editing-process story just got summed up here… except for the paragraph about the group of aloof students.

    Sad day– but wait! That means I can probably make big bucks off this story! Hm…

    (And @Juniper, I appreciate the fact that this pattern was pointed out to me. That means I know what parts to de-emphasize to make my story stand out. It’s very useful.)

  8. Joel, when I watched the Simpsons this week I thought, “ha! it’s like they read his post!”

  9. this had me laughing like an idiot!

    when the formula is spelled out like this…it does seem quite silly and obvious.

    well done!

  10. Sharon Rawlins Sharon Rawlins

    LOL. Joel, this was hilarious! Thanks for making my day. I’ve been reading a lot of paranormal books lately, and, unfortunately, you’re right on target! In defense, these aren’t the only types of books that follow a formula & the teens are reading them & reading’s a good thing (to borrow from Martha Stewart).

  11. […] magic, and the protagonist always discovers that he is supernatural). I immediately thought of Joel’s post the other day with a fill-in-the-blank YA story synopsis, which I thought was very funny because it […]

  12. Now that was fun. It reminds me of those old adventure books. If you want them to enter the dark tunnel turn to page (45) if you think they should not enter the tunnel and go home turn to page (109) does anyone remember those?

  13. Eventually, I had to stop laughing to groan. Hilarious. And so true.

  14. […] With LotR serving as a sort of template for these early fantasy works, they held many common themes and plot elements: the quasi-medieval world populated by dwarves, elves, and trolls; the small, meek, overlooked hero on an epic quest; the powerful villain who is set on world domination; the strange, magical artifact that can save everyone. Publishers like Tor and Del Rey established themselves in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s with these types of pieces and are still strong today. This idea of a genre trope reminds me of the current trend in YA–and Joel Brun’s “DIY YA.” […]

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