Sunday, 28 August 2011

'A good novel tells us the truth about it's hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.' Gilbert K. Chesterton

Maybe I’m a spiteful, bitter, hard to impress person, but it seems to me that lots of YA (young adult) fantasy books just seem to encounter the same problems again and again and again. I say *problems* but in all seriousness these are things that other people probably love or don’t care about. I’m most likely the stereotypical old man, whining about the music that young kids listen to these days and calling it noise. Maybe I just need to get with the program. Yep. I’ve never used that expression before in my life.

But unfortunately/fortunately I am stuck in my own head, and I like the things I like and dislike the things I don’t like. So, I thought I’d write a list, (you can probably already tell I heart lists) of the top six staples of YA fantasy fiction that I Just Don’t Like. I’m also really curious to know if other people feel the same way, or if it’s just me and I should go sit in a corner.

1. My number 1 pet peeve goes to…Love Triangles. It seems you can’t open a YA book without he loves her but she loves him but he loves her…blah, blah, blah, you get my drift. My issue here is simple: apart from being an easy plot device to create tension in an otherwise harmonious relationship, no one in the triangle can come off looking the better for it. The person caught between the two, looks selfish and irresponsible at best, whilst the two fighting over the girl or boy become jealous and angry and territorial. These aren’t qualities I need or look for in my heroes/heroines. People get hurt, things get messy, and as readers are uncontrollable elements, they often end up rooting for the wrong person and get aggrieved when their favourite is left broken hearted. Oops. Another issue is when a person is supposedly never noticed until they develop a relationship with someone, and then of course, a contender has to come out of nowhere. Realism, people! Attention all authors and wannabe authors- stop making things look like obvious plot devices.     

2. Alpha males. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a strong male character, but when he’s obsessive, controlling, jealous, has man rage and treats the girl like tissue paper half the time, like his property the rest, then I find myself rolling my eyes, and shouting “next!” It's not sexy or hot. It's frustrating and worrying. In these crazy, modern times, a girl can do anything a boy can do. Sometimes, she can even do it better.

3. Lack of interesting female characters. So you pick up a book and it’s written in first person and of course the narrator is the usual ‘I’m not pretty, no boys ever notice me’ type of girl, but wait! She moves somewhere new and a hundred boys are instantly interested in her, and the girls are, for the most part, petty and jealous. In my opinion, female-female relationships are beautiful, complex and necessary, but they are often either neglected or cheapened by stories like this. Where is the best friend that the protagonist tells everything to? Where is the girl who forces the protagonist out of her comfort zone again and again, thus leading to interesting exploits for the reader? I’m aware that some girls never have those sorts of friendships in real life, and that’s fine, but in these types of books I think it’s needed. As a girl, I’m meant to insert myself into the narrator’s shoes and pretend I'm her. It's not enjoyable to do that when it feels like she’s judging every other girl in the vicinity, whilst pretending that it’s they who judge her. If I met this character in real life, she wouldn’t want to be friends with me, so why should I now bother getting to know her? How can you write something by a girl, about a girl, and for girls, and have the narrator not like other girls? This Doesn’t Make Sense.
4. The love interest is ridiculously beautiful. It goes back to childhood rivalry; on the playground- my toy is better than yours. If the protagonist has the most insanely beautiful boyfriend or girlfriend, then they obviously win at EVERYTHING and no one can ever beat them again. I don’t want this in the books I read: I find it unrealistic, unimaginative and boring. I want people who look like those I see walking down the street. I want freckles and dodgy hair dye and misspelled tattoos and love handles. And isn't it so much more real and special when an average looking person becomes beautiful to someone else simply because they fall in love with them? A habit of mine when reading a book is trying to cast the lead roles. When someone is described as ridiculously perfect, I can’t even think of A-List stars good looking enough to play them. Think about it- even mega-huge, Hollywood celebs have quirks. Julia Roberts has a huge mouth, Robert Pattinson has those bushy eyebrows, and no one would ever describe Brad Pitt as having a neat, straight nose. No wonder people complain when books are turned into films and they think the chosen actors aren’t good looking enough to play their beloved heroes/heroines. There are probably only five people in the world good looking enough to play those parts, and who knows if they act or even speak the right language?!

5. Everyone is straight and everyone is white. We live in a diverse world, and I like to see it reflected in the books I choose to pick up. Something I think is especially common with YA and children’s fiction is that readers look for themselves in the books they read. Being a teenager is a turbulent time, one where people usually question everything about themselves and feel like no one in the world could possibly ever understand them. They should be able to not only take pleasure in escaping with a book, but also find some relief by relating to someone on those pages. The fact is, a gay teen or an ethnic minority usually has to scour the Internet for specialist areas if they want to find a piece of themselves in their fiction.     
6. Once the love story has developed, it becomes the ONLY thing that matters. All friends are forgotten, all family is irrelevant and school is an annoying irritancy that keeps the protag from their loved one. I don’t think that LOVE justifies total selfishness where a character is willing to run out on their family/dump all their friends/put everyone in danger, just because their special someone is extra cute and extra perfect. I have nothing against love stories in my YA fantasy - I enjoy them - but I don’t agree that they permit the protagonist to act like a myopic, selfish dick. It’s ok because he/she is in lurrvve. No. *Shakes head.* No it’s not. 

For all the clever, perceptive followers out there, you may have noticed that Twilight has all six of these issues. Congratulations, you win a prize, and no, it wasn’t deliberate. *Ducks as Twihards across the internet throw dictionaries at me.* Why dictionaries? Because they’re big and heavy.

Agree/disagree with the six points? Have any opinion on anything at all or just want to complain about how apathetic you are? Sound off in the comments!


prerna pickett said...

yes yes and yes to all! Great insights...I hope we start seeing some changes to the formula. Then again, maybe we should start the new trend;-)

Selina said...

You grumpy old woman :P

Cindy said...

Often times, less than great writing and ideas sells just because that's what certain readers are craving right now. It all comes down to being a business. I'm not good at catering to

prerna pickett said...

I also wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a couple of blog awards! Stop by my blog when you get a chance to pick them up :)

Rachel Pudelek said...

It's funny because I agree on all of them, but loved Twilight. I think these points irritate me not because they themselves stink, but because they have been overdone. Yes, Twilight was a huge success in terms of money and popularity, so other writers decided to created stories out of love triangles etc.

I really like different types of writing and different types of twists and ways of looking at stories, but when the same type is done time and time again and shoved into different stories, it gets old. :)