Heroines in YA fiction


It is disturbing that in YA, often the female hero’s main redeeming characteristic is that she is “selfless.” Yes, there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends, but women need to be valued above what they have to give to others. What about solving a problem without violence? And why is life the “go to” sacrifice? Why is death even on the table?

There is a better way.

Bella asks the Volturi to kill her. 
Katniss volunteers to become a Tribute. 
Tris gives herself over to the Erudite. Alone, these actions seem noble, but these heroes are still playing by the establishment’s rules.

Why don’t we break ‘em?

Show me the anarchist, pacifist, peacemaker. Give me the daisy, lovingly placed in the mouth of an AR-15 instead of an arrow piercing the attacker’s heart. Write a dark hero that will not abide by death on either side of the war.


Rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This post really should be called “Gleaning Lessons from Rowling’s Work” because I wanted to share my critical observations from this novel, but c’est la vie…

Summer reminds me of reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and eating Otter Pops in my college house at night. I’m currently rereading the fifth book in the Harry Potter series (ice pops included) and since EMPIRE (my second work) is almost done, I’m recognizing the things about the narrative that made it so successful. Firstly, Rowling can pull a scene together with helpful and exquisite detailing without overwhelming the reader. For example, she uses specific street names (Magnolia Crescent, Magnolia Lane) but then only describes the homes of Little Whinging to be “square.” Her specificity is a hook in itself. As an audience, we have the ability to imagine the houses. We get to dictate the colors, the dimensions, without being weighed down with excess.
Also, she reminds us of the Harry that we’re used to: misunderstood, undervalued, and above all, magical. What’s more is that she presents us with a new, more adult (and as such, more flawed) Harry: the bully who can use magic as a weapon; here, it’s simply a distraction, a dalliance to keep his mind of things that really matter. He uses his cousin as a verbal punching bag, siphoning his stresses into Dudley (who surely deserves it); this is our first view into Harry fighting dirty, which he taps into later in the novel. Eventually, Harry returns to himself and saves Dudley from the Dementors.

In a series, the main character is already fully developed in the first chapter. We know him. We have expectations. But that also sets us up for surprise…

In the novel’s introduction (particularly YA), authors must present an expectation and irony in the first few lines to make the character’s true self shine. Contradictions are interesting but don’t make it unbelievable (you need to settle in that if you’re working in a fantasy genre). The fickle audience needs to latch on, but in a series, well, that’s like a sales clerk trying to tell a customer how great they look after they’ve already bought several outfits. The work is done. The goal now is to get the consumer through to enjoy the book over and over until the next one comes out (as many Hunger Games fans can tell you, the only way to stem the need to read the next book is to read the book you have…again).
Introductions are important because they are the first things your audience sees (and the second thing that an agent sees).

So if you’re having difficulty with your intro, spend time reading your favorite books to get a good sense of the characterization it provides (though characterization often bleeds into setting as well). I recommend Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, anything by Christopher Moore, and Rowling’s later books…

How to fall in love

Great love stories are not about a couple’s compatibility. Moving epics are not concerned with pleasant conversation and shared life goals that lead to amicable marriages. Awesome love stories are about struggle, jealousy, need, and the barriers that keep our hero and heroine from being content (and contentment is usually what ends a love story). I’ve read so many books, but in my historical fiction novel Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me? there are two sides to the story, hoping that the audience will become enthralled with both main characters.

So in the novel, as writers, how do we help characters fall in love? When do they fall in love? At (the cliche) first sight? Or are some loves so overarching that they have no definable beginning? In The Hunger Games, and much of contemporary literature, the male falls in love first, proclaims it first, and must convince the object of his affection of his good intentions ***SPOILER ALERT***: don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t read the Hunger Games series! (hell, Peeta is in love with Katniss for the better part of three books before she tells him that her love is real).

Sometimes, it’s the forbidden nature or social constraints that makes a relationship enticing. Often, there is a dramatic event where the audience solidifies the relationship with the hero because he saves the heroine. I won’t even get in to Twilight because I feel like Edward loves Bella because Meyer tells him to, and for no other reason. I fell for Peeta’s selflessness and Edward’s devotion, but I’m kind of lukewarm to most girls in both cases…but that’s more about character development…

Can you tell that I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately? Research…I swear…

In most of Austen’s novels (she is the authority when it comes to books ending in marriage!) love is a journey filled with magnetism and obstacles and we may fall in love even before our heroine does.

So my question to you is what are the most engaging techniques that ensure that the audience falls for BOTH characters? What kind of character traits do we fall for? And who do we fall for too early? (Willoughby, perhaps?)

I feel your heart

Starting to get back into writing (after my little Hunger Games segue to refresh me) and I’m really getting excited about my next book, EMPIRE. I’m at page 145, so that would only be about 100 pages in print, and I need the book to be around 300 since it’s YA fantasy and I need time to create this fantasy world that takes up the second half of the novel (plus, I’ve already structured the rest of the novel to be about 360 pages). I’m listening to Angels & Airwaves “Call to Arms” and it’s amazing how I can jump right back into this awesome world that I’ve been given.

I believe that this idea was given to me while I was recovering from my second shoulder reconstruction, but I’ll get to that later…

Here’s the video for “Call to Arms” but please, close your eyes during the chorus. Maybe you’ll get a peek into what I am creating.