Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The 7 Worst Characteristics About YA Books

I consider myself a Young Adult author in the sense that I'm most interested and most comfortable in this genre. Because I write YA fiction, I also read a ton of it. Or maybe that's the other way around? Maybe I'm so interested in it because I've read so much of it. Regardless, YA is my jam. That's why I need to do this post. There are some incredible YA books that I feel everyone needs to read with complex characters, smart plots, and narrative voices that say "Reader, I trust you to keep up." There are also YA books that do the exact opposite of these things and I've compiled a list of the 7 worst characteristics of many YA books so you and I can be cognizant of them in our own writing.

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Annoyingly Hip
We've all read books that make us cringe with their slang, technology, and Mean-Girls-on-steroids type interactions. To me this is a little bit hard to overcome in writing because you want modern narrative and you convince yourself this is the way to do it. But there can be too much of a good thing here, we need to make sure we use this modern-speak in moderation. You can only mention Twitter, iPads, Apps, and popular websites so many times before readers say "Okay, we get it. The characters are teens in the 21st century..."

The One Size Fits All Character
Yes, you want your main characters to be relatable since readers spend so much time with them, but they don't need to suit every single person. The girl who is shy but somehow super popular, who is self-conscious but also incredibly beautiful, who is smart in an endearing way, and who has just enough family problems to cover every teen but not enough to alienate anyone.

Sound familiar?

It should, this character is a classic one-size-fits-all. This is tempting to write because it's like giving readers a blank canvas to project their own personalities onto, but it gets old. Instead, give characters big personalities like real people. Readers don't necessarily need to see themselves in the character to relate, they want complex traits and realistic faults.

Over Explaining/Not Challenging Readers
I love mysteries, but I don't love mysteries that are way too obvious or spend too much time explaining what should have been subtle hints. Readers are smart and they want the chance to prove it to themselves. If they caught the slip-up spoken by your characters best frenemy then great, they'll feel like they're Sherlock always one step ahead of you. If not, it's a fun twist you get to unveil later. Reading something that's too obvious or dumbed-down makes readers feel like you don't have faith in them to keep up with you.

Simple Plot and Vocabulary
This kind of goes along with the last point but I wanted to give it its due diligence. Don't be afraid to use big words and complex sentence structure. Fluffy dialogue and simple vocabulary are like cotton candy: they melt in readers' mouths but leave them still feeling empty. Smart writing that challenges readers is like a hefty main course: it may take a little while to get through but leaves readers feeling full and satisfied.

The I-Never-Do-This-Except-For-This-Book Character
This is so not me I never cry, but suddenly every other page is a tear-fest. I've never had a boyfriend, but suddenly I have all this love drama (complete with the requisite love triangle). I never break the rules but the whole book is filled with nothing but morally-questionable shenanigans.

This does not make for a trustworthy narrator/main character.

Everything is a Series
I get it. Agents love series. Once a reader gets hooked it's like a cash cow. But...some things aren't meant to be series. I don't want to feel like you're dragging me along on an eight book ride just to see the story fall apart and almost become painfully awkward to read. Figure out what you're going to write and then stick with it. None of this surprise-additional-book business.

**Side note: I devour series so I totally get the draw, but there have been very few series that I finish feeling happy and sated with the entire journey and outcome.**

Too Many Real Issues
We all want a little grit in our story, but some books take it a bit too far. Yes, some teens lead very complicated lives but your novel does not need to be a Degrassi episode. STDs, eating disorders, school shootings, racism, bullying, homosexuality, identity crises, and sex scandals are all legitimate issues but don't cram them into your story like a packed clown car.

What are your biggest pet-peeves in YA books?

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