What's the Deal With Teen Fiction? 7 Common Mistakes in the YA Genre

5:47 AM Gemma Fitz 4 Comments

Recently, I've been on the hunt for YA novels, since I'm writing one myself and always find reading in the same genre I'm writing in inspiring. This is really the first time I've looked into the genre. I hadn't read Hunger Games or Twilight or The Fault In Our Stars or any of the other famous (or infamous) books out there for kids my age today, so it's really a whole new world for me. And I can't say I'm impressed.
I was going to make this post into a book review, but I'm awful at book reviews, and it was just turning into a rant about how bad the book was. Instead, I'll be discussing some of the glaring problems I found in the YA genre in general, and I'll use some of the books I read as examples.

So what are the most common problems I found?

Annoying Main Character

I think Celaena (Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas) wins the prize for the most Mary-Sue-ish character I have ever come across (and believe me, I've read a lot of Mary-Sues). Of course she's unbelievably gorgeous and unbelievably macho at the same time and has a weird name, but worse still is her point of view, which is what made me put down the book just a few chapters in.

For one thing, she never stops thinking about guys, or how pretty she is. In some of the first chapters she's talking to a guy whom she supposedly hates (at least the narrator keeps saying she does), and yet her thoughts the entire conversation are bent on how handsome (and evil) he is and whether he thinks she's pretty. I was just sitting there and thinking, "Why do you care? You ought to care more about getting out of your enslavement than whether or not he's disgusted by how dirty you are."

And let's not forget her bratty attitude and the fact that she acts like a victim when it's her criminal acts (assassination, people) that got her stuck as a slave in the first place.I quickly decided that I did not want to spend an entire book stuck in this girl's head and moved on to a different book.

Make your characters likeable--and by likeable, I don't mean pretty and macho. That's cliche, not likeable. Make them people we can relate to and care about. Don't make them murderers, for a start, unless you're really certain you can pull it off. Don't say they're "strong" and then make them do nothing but whine.

Unpleasant Content

They were...rather horrible, lingering lovingly over sights and smells which everyone is aware of, but most people contrive to forget. -Huntingtower, by John Buchan
I quit a few paragraphs into the first chapter of Red Rising by Pierce Brown, simply because the narrator seemed to have an unexplained obsession with rather nasty things. He started out with sweat, which, while I don't object to, I derive no pleasure from reading about (I don't enjoy sweating--it's inconvenient and nasty feeling--so when a book reminds me what sweat feels like, I don't enjoy that either), and then he moved on to even more unpleasant things, which I had no desire to hear about. I've heard a lot of great things about that book, but I didn't feel like hanging around until the good parts, because the first couple paragraphs completely killed it.

We all know about how our bodies work. You have to be really immature to think that it's funny. You have to be really desperate to think it'll interest us. My advice: just leave it out.

Plotholes

Of all the YA novels I've read so far, the one I probably liked most was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. But even it wasn't without its issues. Like all the unexplained coincidences which just happened to make things easier/harder for the characters.

For instance, why did the Grievers play dead near the beginning? If the Grievers could climb the walls, why couldn't they get into the farm? How did Gally know that the Grievers would only take one boy a night?

Admittedly, I've only read the first book so far, and some of these questions may be answered later in the series (but a friend of mine who's read the next two books says that the first two questions, at least, weren't answered).

Have you thought your plot points through? Make sure everything works together and makes sense or you'll have some very frustrated readers.

Bad Romance

Reading Divergent by Veronica Roth was probably the worst decision of my life. If I could erase one book from my memory, that would be the one. It was trash on a multitude of levels, but the one that stuck out the most was the romance.

Several times throughout the story I found myself thinking "Wait...why does she like him?". Tris mentioned that Four was handsome several times. He touched her once and she was all like "Oooooh, he touched me, I'm in luuuuuuv!!". But there was no actual foundation for a relationship. She didn't even find out what his personality was like until after she "fell in love". If their relationship was portrayed as a crush, this would make sense, but instead it was treated like a real, lasting relationship (at least before I quit, eight chapters to the end of the first book). You can't base a lifelong relationship on physical attraction alone. Especially when you're sixteen and have never had a handsome guy look in your direction before (cause guess what, you're gonna meet a lot more handsome guys in your lifetime, and--le gaspe--some of them might even touch you!!).
Plus, the whole thing was just gross. I'm an anti-hopeless-romantic, so I'm biased, but I felt like it was sappy and overdone. If you've read it, maybe you know what I mean. If you haven't, I honestly don't even know how to describe it.

Pare down the sap, and please make sure you've got a good basis for the attraction.

Mature Material

I desperately wanted to like Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. The premise captivated me, it was about a guy, and, reading the first chapter, I even fell in love with one of the characters. I wanted to like that book so much that I pushed through all the way to the second chapter, but after that, I couldn't keep going. What killed it? Um, guys, can we please not swear so much??

Some authors (and readers...and people in general) seem to think that swearing and other mature material is "cool" or maybe "realistic", and since it's for teens, supposedly they can get away with it. But when I read a book, I want to be edified, not have my mind pumped full of garbage.

There are plenty of people who won't mind if you put mature material in your book. Just keep in mind that you will be losing some portion of your potential audience if you put too much of that sort of thing in. (You may be losing part of your audience if you don't put it in, too--I wouldn't know. Personally, I don't care if that type of person doesn't read my books anyway.)

Overly Original

By "overly original", what I really mean is "obviously someone was trying to be original, but either he failed or it just ended up being cheesy", like, for example, in Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson.

First, we have a main character named Maximum Ride. Oh yeah, you don't get much more obviously-trying-to-be-original than that. But what really got to me were the *scary music* Erasers. Erasers.

Okay, so first off, that just gives me a weird mental image of someone being chased by giant jumping rubber erasers. But when you add to that the fact that the reported "Erasers" are pretty much exactly the same thing as werewolves (part man, part wolf, evil, um...where's the difference?), you've got me floored. They're werewolves, dude. Call it what it is. (Or at very least make them part man, part skunk, so that you've made up something new which deserves a new name.)

Originality is great. Please be original. But please don't insult my intelligence or make yourself a laughing stock. You can over do this, people.

Cliffhangers

My most recent adventure was Variant by Robison Wells. While it was far from perfect, I actually enjoyed this one, just so that's out there. But the ending was a disappointment. Lots of threads left hanging, and a rather dramatic cliffhanger.

Hear me out on this: I'm not saying all cliffhangers are bad. Some cliffhangers can be really cool. But if your cliffhanger's main purpose is to drag the reader into the next book in the series, that's just cheap. It feels like you're manipulating me into buying your next book, and I don't like being manipulated.

There are many better ways to get people to read your next book. Great characters, setting, and writing will do it. Some hinting at future possibilities is fine. But don't drag me kicking and screaming from one book to another.
This is often a problem, too.
The thing with cliffhangers is that they don't make you work hard enough. Anyone can write a cliffhanger, but you have to work hard to create lovable characters, an intriguing setting, a beautiful writing style, and mind blowing foreshadowing. Your readers deserve your hard work. Don't be cheap.

I gave a single example for each of these points, but don't think that there's only one book with these mistakes. Divergent could have been placed under 'Annoying Main Character', Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment could have gone with 'Cliffhangers', The Maze Runner could have gone with 'Overly Original', and so on. Lots of teen books have lots of these problems.

But I'm convinced they don't have to. I'm convinced you can write a good teen book. In fact, I'm convinced that there are some great teen books out there, which I just haven't read yet (because Maze Runner and Variant, while enjoyable, weren't exactly what I'd call great). These are my seven pet peeves of the genre, but I'm convinced someone could write a book without a single one of them (okay, maybe except for the plot holes).

Could you?

So, do you agree with my observations? Did I bash all your favourite books? Do you like cliffhangers? Sappy romance? Celaena? What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to YA books? Are you going to accept my challenge and write some great teen fiction? Based on my rants, do you have any suggestions on great books to read (I really need some book recommendations)? What really is the deal with teen fiction? Tell me in the comments!

4 comments:

  1. It's about time someone threw down the gauntlet to the YA fiction world. I know SOMEONE out there must be able to write good books for teens. Maybe it will be you. ;)

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  2. I know, right? Maybe...I'm certainly trying. :P You should give it a go...I already know you write great stories. :)

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  3. Oh my goodness. I agree with this SO MUCH. And I've never read Divergent, but my boyfriend and I suffered through the movie(s). *gagsputterlaugh* Talk about a cheap, overly-original, unrealistically sappy (wait--it wasn't even romantic. It was weird), story. We only watched Insurgent for kicks.

    I seriously love all of your points and I'll be referring back to them.

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    1. I'm sure watching the movies must be very humorous, if you can manage to come at it from the right perspective. :P I think for me, though, Divergent would be too much... *envisions self staggering out of theatre half dead 5 minutes into movie* You're right, it wasn't really even romantic...for the first half of the book I was kind of like "Is this or is this not supposed to be romance?' It was so weird.
      Thanks for stopping by! :)

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