In Which I Get Disgruntled With YA (Or, I Begin to Hate This "In Which" Title Stuff)

Like many, there are times where I get disgruntled over my genre - YA, or more specifically, YA Fantasy. Who wouldn't where septuplet-plots are popping up with crisp "'Ellos!", with shells for protagonists and with blurbs that include: "enmeshed in a forbidden romance", "they fear she will not be strong enough to save anyone - especially herself", "he looks like an angel and acts like a jerk" or "she has to find out what he's so desperate to keep secret...even if it kills her", or even "when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life". Le sigh. Surely, I must be missing something.

One of my friends, when she found out about my writing, asked: "So, it's like Twilight?" Every fibre of my body was screaming "NO" and restraining myself from pulling a Barney Stinson "Friendship over!" But looking back, I'm realising that of late, the pull in the market toward YA has given it a certain reputation - that it's just "on my period stories" and "Twilight copies". Even if trends seem to shift this way, it's not what YA is. Or what it should be. There are diamonds in the rough, there just might be a little too much rough.

"Peeta crouches down on the other side of her and strokes her hair. When he begins to speak in a soft voice, it seems almost nonsensical, but the words aren't for me. 'With my paint box at home, I can make every colour imaginable. Pink. As pale as a baby's skin. Or as deep as rhubarb. Green like spring grass. Blue that shimmers like ice on water.' The morphling stares into Peeta's eyes, hanging on to his words. 'One time, I spent three days mixing paint until I found the right shade for sunlight on white fur. You see, I kept thinking it was yellow, but it was much more than that. Layers of all sorts of colour. One by one," says Peeta. The morphling's breathing is slowing into shallow catch-breaths. Her free hand dabbles in the blood on her chest, making the tiny swirling motions she so loved to paint with."

I'm not saying Suzanne Collins made a diamond - far from it, I believe - but YA fantasy can be made up of so many great moments. The outlandish scenarios that characters are catapulted into can withdraw flickers of raw human emotion, moments when a lump of coal hits the light just right and fools you, catching you in a moment where it's a diamond.

I'd wager that I could ask any YA fantasy author, or aspiring author, and they could describe a scene which they personally believed contained this enchantment I describe. Beauty, variety, depth and imagination - With such potential in such an affluent market, I just don't understand why an author would want to waste their time, scribbling away for six months in order to latch onto the tailcoat of a trend, writing a story they mightn't believe in, that they know parallels several others and they know have 2D populations.

A lot of these stories are slotted into the YA fantasy book list, but are primarily romance novels, with a paranormal/fantastical element thrown in to make it different. But lamentably, they're becoming a little too similar. Maybe they're in love with the concept of mermaids, but the ones they want to write about, the story they want to tell, is different from the current market trends. Maybe they're afraid that no one will want their mermaids. So they write their mermaids into someone else's formula.

From some author interviews I've read, the romance has become fundamental. What happened to the character-driven works where you felt as though the protagonist could've been sitting across from you at Gloria Jeans, describing this outlandish adventure they had over the summer break? Debut author Sarah J. Maas said on her protagonist, Celaena: "She's the reason I never gave up on QUEEN OF GLASS, and the reason the plot kept on growing and growing. Writing about such a strong heroine is awesome - and inspiring...She's made me a lot bolder - and made me unafraid to stand up for myself...I guess I find strength in her strength". Of all the next-big-thing YA authors, who's expressed such passion for their protagonist? Not the new romance plot they've got planned, not the possible movie portrayal or the Top Hottest list the character made - who has said that they love their character?

A fantasy author, I think Robin Hobb, said the Tolkien set a bar for her by writing THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Maybe these YA fantasy writers have a bar set for them - maybe their own Tolkien is Rowling, SMeyer, Westerfeld, Clare, or Collins. Maybe following the path of Pants her He-Man (cookies for reference-guessers) is easier, safer. One of my brother's friends pulled out of a representative soccer team because it was easier to say yes, rather than no, to his old team, to settle for an easier grade than to leap and risk falling, failing.

Maybe somewhat off-track, but I'll include it anyway. Some think that the fantasy world is meant to be morally clearer, generally sharper and easier to comprehend than reality - that's why attractive = boyfriend, endearing fault = protagonist, opposition/ugly = evil and quirky = unimportant friend. There are times where I want to shake editors, tell them that YA fantasy isn't an easy road, it doesn't deserve negligence when it comes to revisions. Contemporary YA can be questioning, probing, intelligent. Why can't fantasy? I believe that YA fantasy should embrace the questioning of human emotion, exploring the complexities of individuals, of their morals and motivations. It shouldn't be an MTV show, My Supernatural Boyfriend. Romance should take a lower road to character, to the nuances that individual traits bring to a real relationship.

"Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can." Terry Pratchett

The YA fantasy that I'm talking about, predominately, is urban fantasy, where the element is brought into our own world. Our surroundings. There are, of course, similar issues with the ageless fantasy of far-off worlds and times, but I read few of those (Not sure why). Anyway, the fact that this genre has a crutch, that there is an aspect that doesn't need world-building, may have sparked laziness in other areas. Borrowing ideas from fandoms, borrowing dialogue from notorious movies, implanting a carbon-copy of a love interest with different hair, or giving your defined antagonist an "attention: villain because author says so" t-shirt.

What am I saying? I'm saying that I'd like a stop in laziness and for authors to just sit down, brainstorm and make up their own material.



Trisha at: December 20, 2010 at 11:59 PM said...

I found it ironic getting critiqued for a 10 year old story of mine at AW and being told "that's too much like Twilight"...yes, ten year old story, too much like a Twilight copy. SAD! LOL. Guess i'm PSYCHIC. oh, and my story is not about vampires.

Still, I saw their point. and i see yours! YA has a reputation right now. an automatic one, I think.

sjmaas at: December 22, 2010 at 8:03 AM said...

:) Thank you so much for mentioning me in this post!! This just made my day!

Donna at: December 27, 2010 at 9:34 AM said...

I have to agree that I'm a little disenchanted with all of the YA fantasy going on out there, which is why I'm getting back into my standard horror (either going back to old YA horror or not even YA at all) or branching into the more contemporary categories where nothing fantastical happens at all. There's just so much of the same thing in YA fantasy that it's rather boring.

I do have to say, though, Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms novels are fantastic. If all YA fantasy lived up to those standards, it'd be golden. Hopefully publishers will stop riding the wave soon because I know I've seen other YA book reviewers getting a little "le sigh" with the current trend. Oh gee, ANOTHER paranormal love triangle? I'm in shock.

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