I can’t say that I did any actual writing today, but there had been something weighing on my mind for the last little bit: words. It sounds like a simple enough thing, so I’ll elaborate.
I had a lengthy discussion with a fellow English literature student, who is currently teaching English in Sweden, the other day. She had recently picked up a Y/A novel that had been recommended to her over the last year. She had even taught a similar Y/A novel with her class the previous year. Both book series are doing very well and have become major movies (well one of them will be released later this year anyways).
Anyway, we started talking about the books. We first discussed the plot and themes that are evident through out both series. We both agreed that they had very interesting ideas, and the stories provide entertainment, but they both ultimately lack something from other series. We started comparing these series to ones we had actually grown up on, and were just as popular if not more so than these books. One of the major things we noticed is how simply the novels are written. It’s the language that’s used in it that doesn’t deviate from the very basics of the English language.
Now why would this be a problem? Well these books aren’t aimed at children who are just learning the English language now are they? The books are aimed at teenagers who are developing and expanding their vocabulary through reading and school. It’s true that ones vocabulary used in regular conversation is probably very basic, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of incorporating less common words, or that these words aren’t in their arsenal. As we discussed this more and more, we realized that books that challenged us by using words that are above the basic English language created more of a story and were more interesting to us; they even painted a better and more descriptive picture (for surroundings, characters, and personalities) than those that didn’t. In the end, it allowed us to think more, whereas books that used very basic English, we could literally just skim through it and know everything that’s going on. It doesn’t require the same amount of focus because it’s words that we’ve been using since we first started learning English.
Through further discussion, we also found that some of the more popular books that are appealing to Y/A nowadays are not only oversimplified, but they also don’t allow for true character progression. Regardless of how traumatic an event is in which any one of the characters experience, they don’t tend to really change. Eventually they find themselves in similar situations and instead of showing how the previous one effected them, they act as if it’d never happened. So as the character prattles on about how traumatized they are and how they can’t do this or that again, within the next fifty pages they’re doing the exact thing they said they wouldn’t be able to do. Is this merely a sign of their strength as a character or is it that the authors don’t want their characters to appear weak or incapable of dealing with difficult situations? If anything, I find it stereotypes the character and limits their progression because there is none. It’s as though the character is placed in a specific framework and no matter what happens to them, they don’t deviate from it. They stay rooted to their initial characteristics and are incapable of feeling the repercussions of events. Or so what happens within the story seems to tells us. Perhaps there were missing sections which delve more fully into the effects of the events, but it doesn’t seem to be apparent in the novels we were discussing.
I’m not saying that this is true of all Y/A literature, or just novels that are out there now in general. I have done a fair bit of reading and I’ve been relatively diverse in it too. What I worry though, is that the most popular stories may have some great things about them, but there isn’t anything in them that attaches you to the characters and gives you something to really take away from it. What you get in the end, is a book that you don’t have to think about as you read and don’t have to focus on either. It’s a book that creates characters who eventually become predictable because there is no change or character development through the story.
These are things that I’m constantly thinking about as I write my manuscript. I am always concerned that my characters will fall into a framework and I can’t get them out of it. As I re-wrote the outline, I found that one of the things that was lacking was character development. Initially, my main character changed but it was so gradually that unless you were paying close attention, you may not have noticed it. As a result, I felt as though I was repeating myself over and over again. It was one of many reasons why my initial outline and manuscript didn’t work. Another thing I noticed is that there were several instances in which my main character was afraid and experienced relatively traumatic events that would easily give her PTSD if not something worse. I made slight references that certain experiences still bothered her, but other than that, there was no real progression in how it effected her. So as I re-wrote the outline and as I write now, I make sure these things are evident. My main character is going through a drastic change and when she learns the truth about everything that’s happened to her, she realizes just how much everything has effected her and that she wants to change parts about herself. Of course there’s a lot more to it than just that, but I don’t want to go into too much detail.
Another thing I am constantly conscious of as I’m writing is how I’m phrasing things. There are instances in which I write some few hundreds words and realize how simple it is. I am always trying to challenge myself and become a better writer, and as I continue to write the rough draft of my manuscript I intend to be a better writer, using a better variety of words. I also plan to fix sections that are too basic when I edit it. These are things that I want to make sure turn out well, are properly written, and utilizes the myriad of words that exist in the English language. The last thing I’d ever want is for my brother to refer to my manuscript as a “trash novel” (a very interesting story with good ideas but is so simply written and easy to read that it doesn’t provide any further insight, curiosity, character development or requires real focus).
Anyway I think I’ve rambled on enough about this. It’s just a few opinions as a writer and an avid reader. I’d also like to remind all of you that we were comparing three very specific novel series, and that I am not voicing this of all written works out there at this time.