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Have we seen the end of action-oriented YA?

Well, have we?

A lot of writers struggle with balancing action and suspense with realistic development and emotion. I've received a couple emails about concerns that in writing physical struggles at the forefront, internal conflict plays second fiddle. 

In many ways, characters vs. plot or even the conflict in pleasing your readers vs. pleasing yourself.

We get caught up in all the little opinions - agents condemn certain features and talk about the importance of "emotion" and issues relevant to the YA audience, and critics on sites like Goodreads can be absolutely brutal about their preferences. We as authors have a tendency to reconsider our choices and our work in their desire to be relevant and pleasing and, well, good.

But it's all about balance.

And I do mean action-oriented and not action-packed

All plots have a sense of urgency to them, and that pacing is absolutely vital. It's important not to forgo that in the mistaken belief that it's action-action. With action-oriented YA, growth doesn't become irrelevant, the character arc is a bonus, not the point. I don't know about you, but I crave pure action. As much as internalised dialogue and reflection has its place, I very much prefer to witness a character's arc through their finding out a way to deal the madness that is thrown at them.

This is where I tell you that Bella should've figured a way to overcome her situation and thus discover her ability to function and flourish independent of a significant other. Much as Katniss probably should have transcended her selfish struggle between martyrdom as the mockingjay and her desires.

But above all, you need to write the book you want to write.

Kiersten White recently did a post on the most sought-after information in our industry, the so-called Secret to Getting Published. And her advice was "Write the best book you can. Write it as best as you can". And you know what? You can't do that if you're trying to please everyone but the person who is in an extended relationship with the story. If you're going to eat, breathe and sleep with this thing, you have to not only like it, you have to love it. And if you're sacrificing everything you want and love in a story to do that, it's not going to go anywhere.

And again, I'll stress that it's all about balance.

Just like emotional and descriptive scenes, action scenes tend to get repetitive. And I think this is where the adventure and thriller novels have lost readers' faith. You can't constantly rehash the same conversation without rubbing people up the wrong way, just like you can't apply cinematic storytelling to all of your action sequences. 
Films are not the same as novels. As someone who makes both, I can honestly tell you that if you try to translate one into the other, you're going to lose a certain je nais sais quoi. And you'll bore your reader. Can you imagine reading Rosie Huntington-Whitely screaming "SAAAAAAM" every ten pages, separated by the same enormous robots jeering at one another and destroying the city a la Godzilla? No? Well, neither can your reader. And that's why those cinematic adrenaline rushes don't satisfy your reader - it just makes them want to hurl your book across the room with significant force.

Action and suspense and thrill will only incite actual adrenaline if your reader feels the stakes are relevant, if they care about the stakes. And in YA, it's all about how your audience is struggling for their identity. Your novel has to be an outlet for them. They need the thrill of watching people hunt demons and fall in love, or figure out conspiracy in the middle of a space opera, or fend off spiders and neo-Nazis while climbing to the centre of the Earth.

We haven't seen the end of action-oriented stories in YA. Not at all. But it's important that we see how inexorably it's entwined with how our characters discover their sense of worth.

How about you? Please yourself or please your future readers? How do you find the balance between character growth and action-oriented storytelling?


  1. People will probably tell me I'm nuts, but I honestly don't think about who is going to be reading my work while I'm writing it. (Wait, correct that - I sometimes think of my wife and what she's going to think. I cringe and write it anyway. We're still married.) As for the balance, I lean more toward character development/growth than action.

    1. I think that's a great place to be! You're lucky to be beyond that thought in many ways, and you're free to just write the story you want to.

      With balance, it's impossible to be directly between the two, just like readers can never be directly between them. It's good that you are aware of where you stand. :)

  2. Great post! I'm opposite to Jeff because I'm kind of caught up in the readers on Goodreads etc - like you said. But it gets really confusing or I guess frustrating because even if you want to please a lot of people, I guess you need to be in the position to have your novel even read before you can make a dent in things like love triangles, character growth etc.

    1. I know it's hard to distance yourself from that, but I honestly believe that you have to just write the book that you believe in and that you love and make it the best that you can before you let yourself get caught up in prejudices and preferences of the vast array of readers you may eventually have.

  3. I don't really worry about who'll be reading it least until I get to the critique part of things. Before that I just worry about whether I like what I'm writing or not, and whether all my typos are fixed.


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