Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Vampires, Zombies and Coincidences

I’m not exactly a teenager - although I do seem to have a few lodged in my brain - but I do spend a lot of time reading teenage fiction. Some of it is brilliant, up there with the best books I’ve ever read. Some of it is crappy but compelling. And some just doesn’t do it for me - even though these are books which have won prizes and have a devoted readership.

When I came across this list of things that make the author groan and stop reading in YA fiction, then I found myself nodding wildly in agreement with virtually every point (especially the one about everyone being rich) while also thinking ‘Yes but…there was this book…and what about…’
What she’s generally saying though is that she hates shallowness in YA fiction, characters or plotlines that are there just because, with no depth or proper exposition. Anything - even sparkly vampires - can be done well, it’s just irritating beyond belief when it isn’t.
Anyway, of course I have my own current list of things that irritate me in YA fiction. And of course it is completely unfair and as soon as I post it I will think of exceptions in every single case.

- Dead people as main characters. I really don’t want to read about the love lives of zombies, ghosts or annoying girls stuck in heaven and watching their family and friends from afar (No, I will not be seeing the movie of The Lovely Bones)  I’m not that keen on people in comas either. I want living, breathing main characters please. (I specifically exclude Neil Gaiman’s superb The Graveyard Book from this, although would point out that the main character is alive.) What I hate is the idea that even though you're dead you still have a life. You don't.

- Books where only one character has a problem and that problem is the ‘issue’ and everyone else is ‘normal’ and the eventual solution to the problem is that you talk to a counsellor who will somehow magically make you ‘normal’ as well. I honestly think you’d be better off reading the agony page of Mizz magazine, where at least you’d get the idea that lots of people have problems and ‘issues’ are just life.

- Books where everyone is white and middle class.

- Books where the main character loves music and films that someone in their thirties or forties would love…oh, could that be the age of the author? How strange…I especially hate this when it’s presented as a plot device  Do they think we’re completely stupid?

- Books where people waffle on for pages and pages analysing themselves and their feelings and their families.

- Books where the action never stops for long enough for anyone to react to anything, and the author obviously hasn’t thought about any emotion deeper than the blindingly obvious.

- Books where coincidence follows coincidence, and then someone says something lame about what a coincidence something else was, and you’re screaming at the page: ‘Yes! You are a lazy, lazy author!’

- Books where all the teachers are horrible except one (Sudden worry that maybe I’ve already committed this crime against literature. Hmmmm…)

- Completely obvious rip offs of other successful novels. Which means no more vampires, and no more angels pretending to be vampires, and no more schools for wizards and no more bloody brooding lab partners and meetings in clearings. Unless done for the sake of irony (you’ll see what I mean when you read Almost True, which I hope you will do in August).

At this point I think I’d better stop because I’m already worrying that I’ve broken several of my own rules - oh, whoops, there is a lab partnery science lesson scene in Joe - although absolutely not the one about coincidences, I promise faithfully that I will never ever knowingly allow a coincidence to seep into a plot. Unless I think it's absolutely neccessary. Ahem...

PS..when looking for an image to illustrate this post I typed coincidence into Google images and came up with this. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for..but how could I not share it?


  1. I'm usually scared of reading these list. You don't want to be the boob who ends up committing these literature crimes!

    But, I also found myself nodding, and agreeing, to a lot of everything you said :)

  2. And it's possible to transcend each and every one of them Amna, if done with enough genius - so you'll be in the clear!

  3. Cor, the points you made are all great, but that picture is the cherry on the cake. Am I the only one who chuckled and said 'aww' in the same breath and now has hiccups?

  4. I kept on going back to it and trying to outstare them

  5. Yeah, that kitten is defo sporting a "Thousand yard stare".
    Vietnam vet?
    Anyway, the list is speaking my language, though I have never in my life screamed at a book, "Yes! You are a lazy, lazy author!"; though the pic in my mind did make me laugh.
    In fact I'm still laughing as I type.
    Reg :-)

  6. Poor kitten...completely traumatised stare.
    Yes, I'm a sad person who shouts at books. Particularly at Breaking Dawn when Stephenie Meyer faded to black on Edward and Bella's wedding night. Grrrr...

  7. Why don't the dead characters ever smell like death?

  8. I personally LOVE dead girl novels. For example, THE EVERAFTER and BEFORE I FALL are high concept, excellent reads.

  9. I'll have to read those - the ones I object to are the ones with blurbs which start 'All the coolest kids at school are dead..'