Masterplots Theater: J is for Journal

J Masterplots Theater-2Welcome to Masterplots Theater! Today we’re examining Juvenile Journal, which admittedly is a term I just made up so that I have something to write for the letter J. But still, there are many books out there written in a diary format. Perhaps your own teenage scribblings would make a great story…

Journal Plot Notes: 

Journals are written in the 1st person past tense simply because diaries contain details of what’s already taken place, and generally people don’t journal in 3rd person or 2nd person, but if you know of someone (or some story) that does, please share!

There is an event that sparks the writing of the diary. Even if the narrator always kept a journal, the story will start with something they feel compelled to write down because “this changes everything.”

Most Journals deal with heavy issues, like abuse, bullying, poverty, war and addiction. And even the ones that are lighter still deal with life-changing moments that feel super heavy to a teen encountering them, like a best friend moving away (SLOPPY FIRSTS), and puberty (ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET).

Because teenagers express themselves with more than words, these journals may include drawings and notes in the margins, like THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN and GABI, GIRL IN PIECES.

Finally, most Journals have a healthy dose of humor with their angst. Because laughing is often our way of accepting harsh truths and dealing with pain.

Example to Study:

Part-Time Indian sketch
Junior’s self portrait of himself.


· EVENT: As the book jacket accurately states, “Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighbouring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot.”

· ISSUE: Life between the reservation and the white kid school, which encompasses heavy topics like poverty, abuse, racism, and addiction.

· EXTRAS: The protagonist, Junior, is also a cartoonist, and the book is filled with his sketches.

· HUMOR: Despite the many heartaches in this story, the narrator knows how to laugh at himself and describes everything with self-deprecating yet wise wit.

Future Research:

UNSLUT: A DIARY AND A MEMOIR by Emily Lindin, THE DIARY OF A GIRL by Anne Frank, ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume (though technically not a diary but a one-way conversations with God, I feel this is just a creative way of presenting a diary), SLOPPY FIRSTS by Megan McCafferty, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky (not admittedly a diary, but the MC writes diary-like letters to an anonymous friend that we never meet, so it feels like a diary and may very well be one if you believe – like I do – that there is no pen pal), and GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES by Isabel Quintero.

Thank you for joining us today. Other episodes in this series include:
A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After
I is for Institutionalized

We hope you enjoyed J is for Journal and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, K is for Kinsmen.

Please share your own favorite journaled stories in the comments below.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

19 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: J is for Journal”

  1. I can’t stop thinking about this. These are everywhere. There are ones for kids, MG, YA… My brain is buzzing with possibilities. If I write one of these, I’ll blame you.

      1. I’m a bit confused. I don’t understand the difference between a journal/diary and first person. (Only in some novels, obviously.) I peeked at Sloppy Firsts and don’t see how it is considered a diary. There are scenes and descriptions and dialogue between numerous characters. It reads like a first person book unlike some of the others mentioned here. How do you tell the difference (without the publisher listing it as a diary)?

        1. Sorry for the confusion! I just went back to look at Sloppy Firsts and realized that no where in the beginning does it explicitly state it is a journal, but because the sections are divided into months and each chapter is a day (i.e. Chapter 1 is January “the second”, Chapter 2 is January “the fifth”), and it’s written in first person past tense (NOT present), and in each chapter the heroine is reflecting on her day, it reads like a diary. Mind you, a very well-written diary with significantly less swearing than the average teen’s reflections, but journal-esque nonetheless.

          Oh wait, just found some evidence on page 122:

          So all I can do is vent here.

          Who is this for, anyway? Who are you? Who actually found this notebook and cares enough to read it? You must have little to do.

          Ah-ha! It is a journal! My teenage memory didn’t fail me. So to answer your question, some journal novels are quite subtle and might not seem any different than a 1st person past tense narrative, save for the reflective nature of the chapters and the odd mention that someone might one day read these words…

          1. No, it was strictly my confusion after reading an excerpt from that book. I’ll have to look more into these. I’ve already started a diary book (it’s pouring out!) but it’s not in past tense so we’ll see how that goes. ?

  2. I like journal type stories. They’re intimate and the main character is often so flawed, you wonder who they see when they look in the mirror, making them very interesting as they discover themselves.

  3. I wish I had journaled diligently in my youth. One of the journals that I did actually keep for a while was stolen–what a frustrating circumstance that was! I’d love to have that journal back as there was some great information in it and it had been written in great detail.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    1. A stolen journal! How awful! I think I would have just died on the spot if any of my teen diaries were stolen. Yep, tapped into some old drama there; I’m sure I wouldn’t have died, but I would have cried. A lot. 😉

    1. My teenage journals are all angst! At that age, I only wrote when I was unhappy. So in my journals there will be a three month gap of no writing when everything was going great with the latest guy I was dating, and then when we broke up I’d write 80 pages of misery in one weekend. I still have the journals, but they’re embarrassing, so I have a if-anything-happens-to-me-don’t-read-these-please-burn-them message on them all. Eek.

  4. I have never kept a journal in mu life. No, not even when I was a kid. I tried. I tried very hard, because everyone did. I had one of those journal that you could lock with a key… remember those? But it remained mostly empty. I preferred writing stories 😉

    Great choise for the example. Sherman Alexie is my favourite author. The True Diary is waitng for me on my shelf.

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    1. I had one of the lock-and-key diaries too. It had teeny, tiny spaces to write for each day. I wrote in the smallest printing I could to fit everything in there. But where I grew up, keeping a diary wasn’t a big thing. I was the only one of my friends who kept journals from childhood to high school. So I was the weirdo. 😉

      Enjoy the book! It’s absolutely fantastic. And thanks for the comment!

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