Being a Cybils judge taught me a few things about writing for YA – many good things and also many things we could be doing better. While I hate writing about the negatives, I think the good things will be easy for us to get our heads around and accept while the negatives are going to taste funny and make some people annoyed with me.
I’ve picked three traits to share with you that quickly drove me bananas and the first one is the most painful for me personally. I read a lot of books back to back very fast and too many of them to count had one (or more) of these three qualities. I think these three qualities make our writing weaker and our readers’ experiences less fantastic. Take it for what it’s worth. I’m not picking on any particular books or authors and many of the books I loved have exhibited at least one of these three traits. I just think we can do better. These are not trends I want to see made into the norm.
Bananas Trend #3: The Trojan Genre
Everybody raise your hand if this has happened to you.
So you start reading a book – probably dystopian, supernatural, paranormal, or post-apocalyptic. These are popular genres right now. In this metaphor, these are your giant, pretty horses.
You’re reading along and the story is pretty good – some of the setting is a little wobbly as far as facts and science go, but all in all, good story. Great set up. The heroine has accepted her role as Saver of the Known Universe, or whatever, and then – she meets The Boy.
The Boy comes in a variety of forms, from cocky anti-hero to hot eyelash batting hottie of hotnessville. You know right away because she usually points out how hot he is (romance subplots tend to have the subtly of a rattle snake) and suddenly the heroine has forgotten all about the Impending Destruction of the Known Universe. The story becomes one scene after another of them being thrown together, possibly with a Jealous Other hiding in the curtains, to the point where there are more events surrounding their blooming passion and less and less events having anything to do with the Impending Doom.
This is what I call The Trojan Genre. And it drives me bananas.
The army hiding inside the horse is almost always that of Romance. The story is far more concerned with how the two characters feel about each other and how often they can save each other from the bad guy than it is about the rest of the world. It uses this awesome setting to more or less set up hot make-outs.
Romance is FINE. It’s AWESOME. I love me some hot make-outs, but romance does not need to pretend to be something else in order to get my attention. I’d love to read a sci-fi romance or a supernatural romance. I don’t need any underlying Impending Doom to get me to show up to the party.
But I’m tired of the fake-out. I’m tired of believing I’m getting one story when I’m really getting the romance subplot as main plot. The old switcheroo. I like a great romance subplot to stay subplotty. When I’m promised explosions I want them to get explody.