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.

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

The Journey of Writing Sky Knight

Hey guys! It’s #ThrowbackThursday, and I’ve never contributed to this particular hashtag before, so today I’m going all out with the story of how I wrote Sky Knight, my steampunk/sci-fi novel.

SKY KNIGHT

I released Sky Knight last year in April, but I originally wrote it in the November of the previous year during National Novel Writing Month. From the 1st to the 30th of November, I sat down every day at my desk and worked on my novel. In my experience, NaNoWriMo provides great motivation to get any writing projects done, and towards the end of the month I had 100k written.

Following the advice of other writers, I took a step away from my story and didn’t look at it again until February. During the months in-between, I researched all I could on the steampunk genre. While I had gathered some knowledge on steampunk already, there were large gaps in my story where I didn’t know how to write certain scenes or how to explain how certain machines worked. By the time February rolled around, I had dozens of bookmarks and written notes all explaining the world of steampunk. I used this knowledge to fill in the gaps and complete the story.

Airship

Then came the hardest part: editing.

This took about three months of constant revisions. Every time I read through Sky Knight, I focused upon a different aspect of editing. For example, on one revision I focused upon spelling errors and missing words; on another I focused upon sentence structure and the flow of things. I checked for plot holes and buried them. I scoured the pages for anything that didn’t make sense. Even after announcing the book I was still looking. At the end, I had several thousand words cut from the manuscript.

Eventually I set aside my fears and published Sky Knight in April, 2015. Releasing a book in a new genre is really unnerving, and marketing towards such a specific genre is even more so. Steampunk is a great genre, though, and something I’ll no doubt return to in the future.

So, what did I learn?

  1. Editing is hard at times. Sometimes it’s fun, but most of the time it’s really tedious. It’s always worthwhile when reading back over the content, though. Editing is also time consuming and the part of the journey to focus most upon.
  2. Researching was a blast! I learned a lot about the Victorian Era while browsing through information. Steampunk is a genre which requires knowledge concerning a great many subjects, especially if you involve airships or other types of machinery. People want to know how these things work, and it’s the writer’s job to tell them.
  3. The first draft can be written quickly. I didn’t pause much while writing the first draft. I sort of breezed through it like a car without brakes flying down a mountainside. The final draft read nothing like the first, and it’s pretty amazing when you look at both documents side-by-side and compare them. So, don’t worry about what you write in the first draft, because it will be butchered later to create something much better.
  4. Market your book while you’re writing it. If you release a book and no one has heard of it before, then no one is going to buy it or talk about it to others. It’s always good to create a good reader base beforehand.

I probably learned more from this experience, but hey, that was last year and my memory isn’t that fantastic. Maybe I’ll make another post later about how awesome steampunk is and why you should read the genre. Trust me: it’s seriously fun, and there are many books out there in the genre to enjoy.

Sky Knight originally wasn’t steampunk, however. It started off as a fantasy novel set in medieval times, where the government was the royal family and airships were regular old ships that sailed the ocean. I might return to that world later with new characters and a new plot line. Who knows? 🙂

For now I’m reaching the end of the writing process for Sky Knight‘s sequel, and I have a YA series I’m rewriting and want to release towards the summer.

Happy writing,

Sandra