I think it was shortly after I had read my second YA title and my fortieth YA book blurb that I complained on Twitter how many writers dumbed down their stories for YA. The stories have potential to be GREAT, if the writers would ever get out of their own way.
I WAS basing this off of limited reading of the books, and I was told I just wasn’t reading the right books. Now having sampled more YA I find…pretty much what I said was wrong.
Writers of YA can take a great plot with awesome main characters, and they can blow the whole deal by pushing the characters aside for lectures. Nothing is worse than a writer ignoring their characters and their story for the sake of making “a point.”
People don’t like this in any fiction. They hate being talked down to in the writing. But YA is the one field of writing where it’s a guaranteed occurrence in every single book.
I’ve only got one theory about why this is consistently true, and I may be wrong on this. But I think no sane YA writer puts in messages to quit smoking, or to wait until marriage for sex, or to really think hard about the dangers of peer pressure. But then they send the story off to a “helpful” agent who suggests a rewrite to make sure the book “sends a message.” Then it goes on to the publisher, where the editor with five daughters and a serious hate boner for pre-marital sex decides to drop a lecture right in the middle of the make out scene.
Of course the writer just wants to publish their story, so they make the changes. And as a result even great stories lose their impact, all because adults can’t help but talk down to teens.
This is my one theory because I don’t want to imagine that the writers of these fantastic stories thought being condescending in the middle of their plot was a great idea. Because if the lectures are intentional, the problem is much uglier than if an outsider had forced their view on the story.
I maintain my main complaint about YA and have yet to read a story that didn’t dumb itself down. That blows, and I can only hope that one day the YA market can grow beyond the limitations currently hampering a LOT of potentially great fiction.
But, this DOES NOT explain the lousy efforts in character development. YA characters often have a great main character surrounded by cardboard cutouts for every other character. There’s “loving” parents who are nevertheless guilty of neglect bordering on abuse. There’s the cops who are ALWAYS dumber than the dumbest teenager in the story, or the friends with character stereotypes and not an ounce of real personality, or the antagonists, who have so little thought put into them that even their dialogue reads like a rough draft.
Writers cannot blame weak dumbed down characters on the “requirements” of the market. Because I’m relatively sure no publisher is requesting stale unoriginal side characters cobbled together from negative gender and racial stereotypes.
Really writers , if your all-white cast only has one token black who says “sho ’nuff” and one “safe gay,” then you aren’t writing people. You’re writing stereotypes. And lazy, negative stereotypes at that. Why not just whip out Wong the Asian martial arts expert, or Willie the dumb redhead drunk Irish teen, or Juanita the poorly-speaking illegal immigrant whose parents don’t have green cards?
I’m still reading, and if you think I’m missing out on a great YA story that isn’t dumbed down, by all means, post a title and author in the comments so I can look it up and check it out. But so far, not a single YA story I’ve read didn’t stumble for being held down by the writing. If that trend is so consistent, then this is a problem that needs to be addressed and dealt with, before future YA titles are tainted with Teh Dumb.