Why Some YA Books are Bad for Teens

I’m back to writing YA again, and as a general rule, when I write YA, I read YA. Young adult novels seem to hog the shelves when you browse a bookstore. They’re great sellers with a wide audience. Not only teenagers read YA. I’m a big fan of the genre, but there are certain messages in YA I can’t promote.

I often considered myself a mature teenager growing up (didn’t we all?) but when books like Twilight came out, I failed to see the problems within. A few years later, upon closer inspection, I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked what I now consider a serious issue with YA novels.

Some young adult books teach girls that it’s okay to lose yourself when a boy leaves you. They teach you it’s healthy to be destructive and suicidal. They say it’s all right to let the world slip away, because apparently you were only a real person when you were with someone else.

Wrong.

This is a terrible message to send to teenagers, and I hate how many authors defend their characters for promoting such a message. How would they react if their children or friends behaved this way after a breakup? Would they shrug it off and say it’s natural? I seriously doubt it.

In the Twilight series, the protagonist puts herself through life-threatening situations in order to view a glimpse of the guy who left her. If you need the translucent image of a ex-boyfriend telling you, “stop, this is dangerous” whenever you decide to jump off a cliff, then you really need to get yourself some help. And you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship in the first place. Telling girls it’s okay to act like this is actually not okay.

It’s one thing for a character to act bravely, to seize the day and save someone they love; it’s an entirely different thing when they purposely put themselves in harm’s way because they feel they can’t live if the other person dies or leaves them.

I feel like writers know this, but still the trend continues. It’s being romanticized (for some reason I just don’t understand) and considered the ultimate proof of a couple’s love. You don’t need to promote self-harm to prove your characters’ love. Here, let me help. Have a list of things you can do to prove their love (without the whole break-up-and-torture-them ritual):

  • Say “I love you”
  • Do something nice
  • Cook an amazing dinner
  • Find them that perfect spell book they’ve been dying to get their hands on
  • Win a duel in their honour
  • Slay that dragon (it was probably minding its own business, but love)
  • Conquer a country and give it to them on their birthday (for all those villainous couples)

See? Isn’t that easy?

Characters are free to breakup and go their separate ways, and even meet again later because they’re tru wuv, but can we please stop with the unnecessary self-destruction? They’re hurting, I get it, but let’s not pretend it’s okay to behave like that. Let’s not condone the message that people aren’t whole unless they are in a relationship. Teenagers had lives before getting a boy/girlfriend; let’s not steal those lives away. Develop your characters; don’t reduce them to nothing.

That’s my discussion for today.

Happy writing,

Sandra

* On a side note, there are probably equally bad messages towards teenage boys in the YA genre, though I haven’t come across any yet. I can’t remember the last YA book I’ve read with a male protagonist.

Animals in Stories

A common way to use pets in stories is to get us all emotionally attached to them… and then kill them off. And then we all hate you for it because WHY? How dare you kill off Fido! Pets have been introduced and killed off in nearly every book I’ve read or movie I’ve watched, and it’s always sad. Obviously this is a great way to evoke emotion from readers, but what if–what if–I told you that you could let the pet live? No really, you can do that.

Pets can be more than just your twisted idea of a sad chapter to bum out the protagonist (and the rest of us). They can do so much more for the plot line and your MC.

In the high fantasy I’m working on, one of my characters has a wolf who she often leans on for support in difficult times. He is her comfort and safety net. Without him she feels alone. Having an animal who is important to the protagonist in such a way can really give them the courage to face all the conflict ahead of them in the story–especially when separated from the pet at times when they need the pet to be brave.

Animal senses can also be implemented into the story to provide little hints, such as a dog growling or barking at a character who is revealed to belong to the dark side later, or a horse who gets skittish in certain parts of a forest rumoured to be cursed.

Pets can warn characters of danger or stop them from doing something dangerous. Instead of the MC risking their life fighting the minor thugs of the story, the pet can protect them instead. This shouldn’t be used as a crutch, but it can be used at the start of the story–before development–to establish the trust between human and pet. (Later, the MC must be able to stand on their own to show how far they’ve come.)

Not all animals can be on the protagonist’s side, of course. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, humans clash against the apes in battle, and in The Hunger Games, animal-like creatures try to take a bite out of the heroes.

Just be careful what you write where animals are concerned (or violence in general). No one wants to read about animal cruelty. It isn’t cool and it certainly isn’t entertaining, and you’ll find your story being thrown aside pretty rapidly. But, of course, I shouldn’t need to point this out… unless you’re the kind of monster who grins the whole way through Marley and Me.

Happy writing,

Sandra

Writing an Intro For YA

I’ve decided to do one more post about this topic, but this time with a YA novel as the example. While I have many, many young adult books lying around, I chose one that I remember had an introduction that stood out to me: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.

TheNightCircus

I will admit that I didn’t like the plot line (or some of the characters) towards the end of the book, but I always found the writing really intriguing. The idea of a circus that could appear one day and leave the next without notice sparked my curiosity.

Let’s have a look.

~

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

~

I love that mysterious feeling you get while reading this. It only gets better.

~

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet.

~

Can I just say that this was exceedingly hard to type out when I had to use American spelling? Whew.

I love the idea of a circus only in black and white, and the descriptions really give life to the world. In all honestly, I loved the little page of text before each new part begins more than anything else; it breathed life into the circus, and the circus really did feel magical.

~

Opens at Nightfall.

Closes at Dawn.

~

I can’t imagine that’s terribly good for business, but it does give it a more mysterious feel.

~

“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.

You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand there in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.

~

This a great way to immerse you in the world, by showing you the circus through your own eyes. I love the way Morgenstern did this.

~

The circus looks abandoned and empty. [..] The people around you are growing restless from waiting […] You yourself are debating departing when it happens.

First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light.

All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. […] When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.

Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more firefly-like lights flicker to life. […] you can see that it reads:

Le Cirque des Reves

[…] Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.

Now you may enter.

~

I skipped a lot of text (there is a lot of text) but the personal viewpoint remains all the way to the end of the introduction, and I thought it a new and original way to introduce the story. The intro is filled with mystery and intrigue, and although no characters are revealed, the setting is described in such an interesting way that you feel you must learn more about it.

Many YA novels start out with a line about how the protagonist is going to die, or there’s a time limit to do something that could potentially save the world. This one starts with a mysterious circus that pretty much every person who reads the opening page wishes to visit (that includes me, because I’m a sucker for circuses and fairs).

As a bonus, here’s an opening line from one of my favourite YA novels, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones:

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

What’s your favourite YA opening lines?

Happy reading,

Sandra