Monthly Archives: June 2012

My problems with YA literature

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See, I don’t exactly dislike YA books. In fact, I read them frequently – Twilight, The Hunger Games, Guardians of Time, and most recently the first part of the Delirium trilogy, to name a few (just started the last one, so no spoilers, please). Some of them are great, some are outstanding examples of badly crafted modern literature, but what they have in common is that I genuinely enjoyed reading them.

What they also have in common is their teenage protagonists. And this is where the problems start.

I’m not gonna rant about how dangerous Bella’s and Edward’s relationship model is, or how Katniss is a tiny bit too passive to be a real ‘hero’, even in terms of literature. I have issues with something else entirely: the characters themselves. Let’s make a list to keep it simple. They all

-are teenagers

-are ‘rebels’ or ‘fighters’ in some way or another

-act way too mature for their age to convince even me

Let’s face it. I’m twenty-three. Of all the books I pick up at the bookstore or put on my wish list on Amazon, ninety percent either combine all three of the above listed ‘problems’ or are written for an educated audience between about thirty and sixty. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with either. What I miss is an in-between.

Most of the time I choose the YA books, because it’s still easier for me to step into their protagonists’ shoes and identify with them. I’m not that old yet, neither physically nor mentally. And most of the time, the books are saved by a story that would work for either a teen or a twentysomething or whateverthehellyouare. So, where in the name of all the dead trees on my bookshelf are the stories with protagonists who already reached legal drinking age? Very few protagonists (especially the girls) ever reach their eighteenth birthday in the book itself, and even fewer turn twenty at some point. Actually, in Breaking Dawn, Bella is thrilled that she was turned into a vampire just before her nineteenth birthday and could be “eighteen forever”. Seriously; in the stages of human development, “young adult” is roughly defined as “people between twenty and forty”. If we are generous here, it could be from twenty to thirty as well. But when was the last time you read something with a thirty-two year old protagonist who didn’t suffocate from a truckload of issues? I mean, the teens have enough problems as it is, but many writers make it seem like it only gets worse after you turn twenty, ending with your life falling apart around the age of fifty, prompting you to either kill yourself or set off on a journey to find you new self. Yeah, right.

Which brings me to the next problem: Each and every one of these teenagers is portrayed as insanely mature and “wise beyond their years”. This is actually spelled out in Twilight, and more or less directly shown in The Hunger Games (somewhat justified, but still) and Delirium. As I said, I only just started the latter, but a few chapters in I already have the distinct feeling that Lena will be exactly that: mature enough to make life-changing decisions, intelligent enough to question everything she ever learned just because she met a boy (that would be like me turning into a devout Muslima within a month because I fell for some crazy fundamentalist; just sayin’, these huge changes in character happen in so little time it’s ridiculous). What I’m trying to say is that, in this case, Lena, the protagonist, learned that The Government Knows Best for almost eighteen years. She apparently believes in the system and is willing to follow the rules because she thinks they are there for a reason. Still, for reasons yet to be revealed, she already has doubts about this system.

Where the fuck did those come from? It’s not like she’s part of some resistance group or anything; some family member seems to be (or have been), but she has no contact with him. Basically, it’s like she was struck by inspiration that prompted her to start questioning everything around her just because. I think we are supposed to believe this is because she is actually way more mature than she initially lets on, and is politically and socially educated enough to express doubts based on genuine reasons.

I feel like I was just whacked over the head by the author.

We grow up in certain societies. We learn certain things and believe in a certain system. For me, this would be a democratic government making choices based on what the populace demands. I know there are other systems, other ways of living your life, but I am unashamed to say that I think this democratic way is one of the best, if not the best. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt this until someone proves me wrong. So why does Lena?

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this would be way more believable if she was at least five years older, better ten. When did she have the time to develop a political conscience like this? During lunch break? Hell, I just started to develop some interest in politics a few years ago, and so did quite a few of my friends. Lena’s thoughts and doubts just don’t seem justified to me.

Same goes for the ‘rebel’/’fighter’ thing I mentioned above. They fight for something, a worthy cause – fine by me. They are seventeen and risk their lives for something they just learned about a few months ago – screw you, author! That’s just not believable. How many people actually do that, or would, hypothetically? If I am supposed to fight for something, risking my health, my life or those of people I love in the process, I need to genuinely believe in the cause. But how does spending a couple of weeks with a handsome guy or in a hidden rebel base make me believe in something I’ve never even heard of before?

Right. It probably doesn’t. So please, for your sanity and your readers’, give me a reason to believe this rebel-with-a-cause crap. Show me how the hero’s life was negatively affected by the system. Show me how the heroine’s dream was brutally crushed by arbitrary actions of the government. Show me something that might cause the protagonist to join the rebellion. I believed Katniss could become a rebel because of her experiences in District 12 and the arena. I did not believe Bella fighting for the love and the life of a dude she met mere months before; seriously, look it up, it’s just a few weeks between Edward’s Sparkling Confession of Love in Twilight and the point when Bella freely admits that her life is worth nothing without Edward (paraphrased, but that’s the gist of it).

These are just a few examples of something that occurs quite frequently. Thus my question to the authors: If you want a mature protagonist who acts like a grown-up – why the fuck don’t you write one? I’m pretty sure that teenagers won’t mind if the hero or heroine is a couple years older than they are. Many older readers don’t mind if they are younger. “Young adult” doesn’t mean everyone has to be young while acting like an adult. If you need the former, write a teen, but if you want the latter, write a fucking adult. It’s that simple. Now go on and try it. You can do it. I believe in you.

 

 

-Ricarda

Critics United and random Campyness

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So, as I mentioned before, there has been a lot of tension between authors on Fanfiction.net and a group calling themselves Critics United. Basically, CU has kind of vowed to review only in constructive ways, stick to approved orthography and grammar and keep an eye on stories that might or might not break the rules of FF.net. Doesn’t sound so bad.

But now a lot of authors complained about how suddenly their stories disappeared  “without warning”, and blamed it all on CU. Cue the forming of Authors United [against Critics United *sticks out tongue*]. Not an actual, single group, but this is essentially what they represent, and it’s easier to write :P

Just to clarify, I’m not taking sides here. I think Critics United have a right to form a group, and they have a right to warn authors who break the site rules – and to report the relevant stories if they are not changed accordingly. Equally, the authors can ask them to stop doing so if they feel they are treated unfairly (is that even a word? oO).

What I don’t like is this attitude of superiority some of the Critics display. I’ve browsed their forums, and although they claim not to be arrogant and smug about their cause at all, some of them are. Very smug, actually. I’m not pissed off by people notifying authors that their stories are breaking rules – I’m pissed off by people who a) tell people via review, publicly, instead of sending them a PM, and b) act like they are scolding a child that did wrong and needs to be corrected by a mature adult. Again, not all of them do that, but I’ve seen some do it. Not to me, but that’s not the point – I’m merely ranting about something I don’t like here, so don’t call me out on “not being affected personally blabla”.

On the other hand, we have AU (here standing for Authors United; we are talking about fanfiction after all, so I thought I needed to make that clear^^). AU are authors who have been informed about their rule-breaking and/or reported by members of CU. Some of them had their stories removed or their accounts banned; I understand that their are irritated, to say the least. But as far as I understand, that never happened without warning, at least not if a member of CU did the reporting. Yet AU started a protest against Cu and demand CU be disbanded and future groups of their kind be forbidden.

Now, while I think both groups have some valid points (CU: Stop breaking the rules!; AU: Stop being so arrogant about your ’cause’!), I also think that there has been bullshit coming from both sides. The whole thing is getting a little ridiculous, to be honest. So, the whole point of this post is to say that BOTH sides should calm down a little, take a deep breath and try to understand each other a little better. Rule-breaking is bad, but being self-righteous about deciding who actually breaks the rules and who doesn’t is NOT better. Guys, can’t we all just, like, talk to each other in a civil manner and stop the whole “You’re mean! – You’re meaner!” thing before it gets out of hand?

Also: Please, CU, could you just stop scolding people for bad spelling and grammar? Yes, I know it’s annoying to read, but you don’t have to – that’s the wonderful meaning of “freedom of choice”.  If the story complies to the rules, it’s fine. Bad grammar never hurt anyone. You’re free to ask the author if they could try to improve their writing if you feel the need to do so, but please, don’t bully them into anything. That’s just low.

*phew* Okay, I think I’m done here. Just had to get this out of my system. I like FF.net, and I’d rather it doesn’t turn into a big, virtual kindergarten.

 

~ ~ ~

 

On a rather unrelated note: It’s June 16, and that means the first Camp NaNoWriMo of this year is officially half over!

Unfortunately, my novel is not. I’m at 25k, but only about 30% of the plot is done. Well, damn. I’m gonna need to do some sprinting if I want to start part two of three in August. If you’re interested to read some excerpts, head over to the wonderful Campfire Chat in the NaNo forums. I try to post an excerpt every evening (German evening, that is) – sometimes translated by me, sometimes Google will have to do the job. Also, several other awesome people post their great writing there. It’s cool, you should check it out ;)

That said: Have a nice day, and happy writing! :)

 

 

-Ricarda

Camp rant – consider yourself warned…

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Okay, it’s been obvious for, like, forever, but now I’d like to make it official: I suck at writing dialogue. I just can’t. Whatever I try – modifying movie dialogues, talking to myself, just going for it, eyes closed, and not thinking at all – it doesn’t work. Writing ten pages of descriptions and plot is SO FUCKING MUCH EASIER than writing half a page of porn.

Why did I just type “porn”? I’m pretty sure Freud would have something to say about that… I MEANT DIALOGUE! Honestly. I swear.

Because writing porn is still easier than writing dialogue scenes. Mostly because there is no need for anyone to talk. Dirty talk doesn’t count.

In the ten years I’ve been writing (I started counting from the first time I showed something to anyone), I never figured out how to write decent dialogue. Is there some big secret that is hidden in the Cave of the Unspeakable Monologue and guarded by the Fierce Dragons of Noble Speech and that can only be recovered by Ye Who Doth Master the Path of Rhetoric? Do I… have to get brain surgery to understand how good dialogue works? Or am I just not made for writing good blahblah in any of my stories? Should I go post-modern on my stuff? Become a poet? :O Well, that might work, except I have no grasp of rhythm and rhyme whatsoever…

Maybe modern poetry? Or I could become a nude model. I’m almost certain this doesn’t require written dialogue of any kind…

*le sigh* Anyone have  some good advice on this? Or a book recommendation, maybe?

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous.

Whatever. Back to writing, there’s a wordcount to be reached :)

 

-Ricarda

Camping season has begun…

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Well, not camping season, but Camping season… not with tents, but with words, and…

Okay,  maybe I should explain.

June and August mark the time frame for Camp NaNoWriMo. In short, every participant aims to write 50,000 words of a single, lengthy piece of fiction between the first and the last day of the respective Camp month. Unless you are a rebel, then you just write 50,000 words of something.

I take it one step further and try to write a whole novel in a month. Well, actually, that is the general motto of the event, but this is only valid if your novel is indeed approximately 50,000 words long. Mine tend to be longer, so I’ll be aiming for roughly  75,000 words. Call me nuts, but I’ve discovered a brand new publisher (imprint of a big German publishing house), and those guys seem to be trying to establish a new tendency in the book market. My novel follows this exact tendency, and I figure the sooner I submit my novel, the better.

Anyway,  publisher or not, I’m still totally excited about the whole event :D I’m a generally lazy person, and events like NaNoWriMo are damn successful at keeping me motivated. It’s fun to talk with other writers about your plot, rant about your characters and procrastinate together with a variety of silly forum games.

All that makes it easy to forget how exhausting, painful and generally frustrating writing can be^^

Now, if any of you is participating as well: Good luck, keep on writing and don’t forget to have some Camp fun sometime. If you are not familiar with the NaNoWriMo concept, but love to write, be it original work, fanfic or whatever: Go to the websites (found in the Link section on this blog), check out their FAQ and the forums and consider giving it a shot. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

I gotta go, technically I should be listening to the dude on stage talking about cars (T(h)in Lizzy, anyone?^^); but if you are into fanfiction, stay tuned for a post on the recent purge on FFnet and the… phenomenon that is Critics United.

 

 

-Ricarda