I was thinking about it lately (as I am one of those musing readers who just can’t help but say, “Why would an author DO that?” even as I think “I’m going to be one of those authors, aren’t I?”), and I decided that there has been a certain trend these days of the things authors like to do. Most of that is genre (oh, the Hunger Games was huge? Now everyone writes Dystopias. Oh, did Twilight capture everyone’s hearts? Guess we’ll all be on a Vampire kick), but I’ve seen other trends, too.
I’m not really going to mention the genres – everyone knows that new authors especially go for the stuff that tends to be popular – nor am I going to talk about things like character cliches, romantic triangles, the main girl with NO romantic / emotional experience, the Chosen One, or the Absentee Parents. These are all trends that have cropped up in YA especially for various reasons, but they aren’t necessarily mistakes (though some of them are getting pretty old) and if you talk to authors or read interviews with them, there’s usually a pretty valid answer for why they did it. (Okay, sometimes there’s a sort of valid answer for some of the things they do.) Regardless, you can find plenty of articles and lists out there on these things if you snoop around.
Instead, I wanted to focus on some trends today that are a little unsettling. Things that I keep seeing that just are not working. So. Here we go.
- Shorter Is Better.
Recently, self-publishing has taken off. I don’t disagree with the why’s or the how’s, but I’m starting to think that people don’t understand that some of the “rules” for novel writing are in place for a reason. Not that you have to follow them, but you might want to know why they’re there and why you might break them.
For instance, there is a minimum of 50,000 words to a book to be considered a “novel.” Anything less, and you’ve really got what’s called a “novella” or a short book. Now, the exception might be in the younger age groups like for middle school and under (think Goosebumps and Animorphs). These are going to be inherently shorter as your audience’s attention span is likely shorter. If you notice, the books also tend to be part of a much longer series. (I think Animorphs had somewhere around 50 or so books.)
So, why is this important?
It’s important because when you write a shorter book, you run into a problem. You’re left with a) a very short story that has little development and a lot of either unfinished business, or a lot of info dumping, b) a story that doesn’t have a lot of explanation or development, making the world less complex and sort of boring, or c) a story fragment. (And sometimes, you have all of the above, which is the worst.)
It’s hard to tell a complete, fully developed story with only 25,000 words in it. Your characters aren’t going to have a lot of time to develop. Your story is going to be little more than skeletal. And in order to explain what is going on in the shortest amount of time possible (because you don’t have a lot of time in a book that short), you’re going to give explanations for what’s happening in info dumping soundbites that just grate on a readers nerves.
There’s no time for mystery or passion or a slow building to a crazy climax.
In fact, you’ll probably fall short of a climax. You’ll leave off on a cliff hanger so that you can continue the below average story in Book 2, the exciting conclusion! Except it’s not exciting any more than the first one was, because it, too, is a 25,000 word novella!
I understand that it makes a lot of sense because of how Amazon and other self-publishing sites have set it up, but you need to know what you’re writing, what your audience will put up with, and just what it is you’re giving up with you write a complicated story in a very short space.
2. The Girl in the Dress.
This one is pretty straight forward.
If your story does not have a girl who wears pretty ballgown type dresses, then there should not be a girl in a ballgown type dress on the cover.
The Selection? Makes perfect sense. She’s basically a princess in training. Poison Study? Um, I’m not quite finished with it, but when does she ever wear a dress in that?
Point is, it seems like there are just dozens of girls in ballgowns running around for no apparent reason. Seriously, where are they even getting these dresses? And why are they wearing them all the time? What happened to jeans? To tennis shoes? To less friggin’ bling?
I don’t know, but I know I’m not the only one sick of seeing them.
3. Get to the Good Stuff.
A lot of authors today have long, sweeping stories (or very short, straight to the point stories) that can go all over the place. Which is fine, if you set them up correctly. Which is where we run into our problem.
It seems like today that a lot of authors are so anxious to get through the first chapter or two that they blast through them, not caring if the chapters are rushed, boring, or quite frankly, don’t make sense. They just want to get to the good stuff, the action or the romance or the mystery.
But what people don’t seem to realize is that building up to the mystery (or romance, action, whatever) is all in those first steps. I’m not saying you shouldn’t start with something exciting. You should. Start with Emily sneaking out to meet her super hot, bad boy (lol) boyfriend. But when she gets there, she finds him, le gasp! dead. So now the mystery starts – who killed her boyfriend? Do the police think it’s her? – etc. etc. But don’t just jump to all of that. Have her go to the funeral. Have her apologize to a suddenly frosty mother of the bad boy. Have the police show up at her school. Have her have strange dreams and begin to question her sanity. Whatever. Just don’t skip over the important world building just so that you can get to the final part where there’s a killer stalking Emily. Let us slowly build to that, because it’ll make for a better story and a more thrilling ending.
Put in the legwork people.
4. Love Conquers All.
I am not, strictly speaking, dead set against romance. I get a little tired of the insta-love and I get a little tired of the love triangle. And I get a little tired of every girl NOT choosing the guy *I* would have chosen, but I am not just one hundred percent anti-romance. I think it has it’s place and since it is something most people will encounter in their own lives, I think it can add a pretty straightforward realistic quality to it.
That being said, a lot of times there’s this lingering theme where Love Will Save Us From Everything. Which is a little ridiculous.
If that’s your theme, go for it. I expect, then, to have a romance novel about two people who learn to love because it is the thing that will save them. Or a novel about how love is frowned on and two people break through this misconception to learn how important and precious it is.
Okay, fine. Totally good with that.
What I *don’t* want to see is a novel that is about, say, race car driver who has a need for speed and races around the track, but then suddenly gets into an accident. We see his recovery – and his terror at getting back behind the wheel. But then, lo and behold, a beautiful young woman, so innocent, so sweet comes up to him and says, “All you have to do is accept that you love me and you can do anything!” and suddenly, bam! he’s back behind the wheel.
Honestly, what did her love have to do with him overcoming his fear of racing and getting hurt again? Not a darn thing. And yet, that’s what novels all seem to be doing. There’s all this *other stuff* going on, but in the end it’s all about the romance between the characters which really has nothing to do with anything else going on in the story.
So if you’re writing a romance, great. I’m game. But if you’re writing a novel that is about something else and *has* romance in it, don’t make it a novel that ends up being one of those “love conquers all” type things, because you have so much else going on and I think that stuff will be more interesting in the end.
5. Tie a Bow at the End.
Okay, this may be a little strange, and you may think, “Why is this a bad thing?” but I’ll try my best to explain why it irks me.
There is this trend where authors feel compelled to tie everything up neatly at the end of their story. Put a bow on it. Leave no thread untethered. And on the surface, this seems pretty sound. You want your readers to understand what you as the author understand. You want them to walk away going, “Yep, that all made perfect sense.”
Except it takes away something valuable when you do that.
My writing professor always used to tell me, “Trust your reader.” And I thought, “I’ve met some of my peers… you want me to trust them?” But ultimately, she is most definitely right. (Thus, her being the teacher and me being the student.) When you write a story, you want it to make sense so there comes this urge to spell it all out to make sure that no reader is left behind and everyone understands what’s going on. Except that when you do that, you lose all the mystery. Life doesn’t always come with pretty little bows. There are unexplained mysteries all over and sometimes, you just never get the answer.
EX. Sarah wandered through the halls, searching for her lost sister. What happened to her? Where did she go. Sarah didn’t know, but she would never stop looking.
So, the mystery is what happened to Sarah’s sister, so you probably want to explain that in the end, right? Except that’s the opening line of the novel and it’s not about Sarah’s sister at all. Instead, it’s about this spiraling adventure featuring a shapeshifting lion and a boy who sees faeries and a madman who’s been kidnapping young girls. So Sarah goes after this madman thinking that he’s the one who stole her sister – but she gets caught up in the other stuff and in the end, her sister wasn’t taken by this madman. She never finds her sister, though she saves other people, finds love in the crazy faerie boy, keeps the lion as a pet, and while she’ll never forget her sister and will always wonder what happens, she learns that sometimes you just don’t know in the end.
Now, is that in some ways unsatisfying? Yes, it is. But, it also gives a hint of realism to an otherwise fantastical world, because people go missing all the time and sometimes you never find them.
(That may be a really bad example, but you get the idea. Sometimes, you just don’t need to explain everything that happens. Explain the big stuff, the stuff that directly centers on the plot, but it’s okay if you don’t directly state anything. And if you *do* need to explain something, do it in a vague way that makes the reader draw their own conclusions. Believe it or not, your readers aren’t stupid. Give them a chance to work it out themselves.)
6. Landfill of the Info Dump.
If you haven’t heard of Info Dump by now, please don’t start writing. First, read this:
a very large amount of information supplied all at once, especially as background information in a narrative.
“the movie begins with a lengthy expository info dump”
(taken directly from Google when searching for “define info dump”)
There you go. Info dump. The dumping of information on a reader (or viewer). Which means you’ve got your main character asking a question, “Hey, what does it mean that I want to eat raw meat?” And then you’ve got another character saying, “Why, you know, I’m so pleased you asked! It actually means that you’re turning into a werewolf, because you remember that bite that happened three weeks ago? Well, that was no dog! It was a wolf, which was actually a werewolf. And on full moons – which is in just a day! – you’ll turn into a wolf, too, which is why you’re eating meat. Because werewolves need the extra protein to transform, which is uber hard and painful. You’ll eat a lot more of it now and you’ll change into a wolf every month and you’ll be part of a pack – why, my pack as a matter of fact! – and we’ll fall madly in love, because I’m also your mate! But don’t worry, because it means that I’ll love you forever, protect you with my life, and you’ll be so glad you became a wolf because of the wolfy magic that makes us mates!”
Seriously, that is not an exaggeration of an info dump. All of that info we could have gotten in other ways. She could have freaked about eating the meat, not told anyone, and then when her bones began cracking and she had a crazy dream about being a wolf, she could start to think she was losing her mind. But then she feels strangely drawn to a new guy, who keeps looking at her. She resists, because she’s scared, but ultimately can’t stay away. And then she keeps hearing howling wolves and realizes that wolves aren’t native to the area and –
Well, you get the point. You should *show* us what’s going on, not tell us everything in one fell swoop. Not only is that annoying, because it’s a lot to process at once, but it also takes away from the mystery and unraveling of a story naturally.
So remember: Show don’t Tell.
7. Reformation of the Bad Boy.
Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about character stereotypes, but I have to mention this one.
I’m tired of the bad boy that the main girl goes for. I’m tired of Archer from Hex Hall when Cal is so much sexier. I’m tired of Noah (okay, not actually because I *adore* him) from The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, because he had such a bad reputation and she was still all crazy about him.
And mostly, I’m tired of it because it sends this message: Go for the bad boy, because once he meets *you* he will reform. And generally speaking, that just doesn’t happen. Go for the good guy, because he’s *already* a good guy. It doesn’t apply always, but it does apply most of the time.
8. The Self-Published Nightmare: For What Do We Edit?
I will be blunt on this one: EDIT YOUR DAMN MANUSCRIPT.
Seriously. I’m so tired of seeing the typos and coming across plot holes the size of Texas. I’m tired of them, because a decent editor (heck, just a second pair of eyes) will go a long way towards picking them out. Even people who’ve gotten editors will still run into a typo here and there – which says that if you *don’t* get an editor, yours will have dozens and dozens of typos.
Please, just edit. We’re all tired of coming to your novel with a red pen in hand after it’s already been published.
And while I’m on it, beta read it, too. Get a reader’s honest opinion on your story and TAKE THEIR ADVICE when they say something isn’t working. There’s probably a reason it’s not.
9. All I Need is a Miracle… And a Plot.
With the swooping trend of Self Publishing (which I do not necessarily disagree with, though I’m going to mention it a couple of times here in a fairly negative light; I’ll make a post on this later that explains my feelings in depth) comes the idea that if an author can get something out there, regardless of quality or anything else, then they’re doing good. It isn’t exactly right, but the thing is, it’s not entirely wrong either. Today’s reader will consume almost anything, especially, it seems, in the younger age ranges.
Which makes no sense to me. I don’t think younger readers are stupid. I don’t think they’re clueless. In fact, I think they have cravings for deeper motives, deeper feelings, deeper everything than some of the average adult readers. Yet, they’ll also read complete bunk and think it’s brilliant.
I honestly couldn’t tell you. It really does baffle me. I often write a somewhat scathing review (because I think honesty is important) and when I glance through other reviews, I can’t help but wonder how they have so many four and five star reviews, when I can barely toss a two star bone the author’s way.
Maybe it has to do with a strong desire to just read something. Maybe it’s about wanting to read something in the genre or with the character or in the setting you want. Maybe we’ve all just been reading too much bad fanfiction so we’re used to it, I don’t know.
What I do know is that thanks to self-publishing, this trend is more prevalent. Why? Because you don’t need the permission of your publishing house, your editor, or anyone else to manage to get your book out there. So long as you haven’t plagiarized or just completely trampled the guidelines of wherever you’re publishing, you can do whatever you’d like. And on some level, I appreciate that. After all, what does a stuffy publisher know anyway? Well, they know what’s popular in the moment and they know what’s been selling and they know quality (though sometimes this is questionable given that they have published things like House of Night without any qualms, I’m just saying).
What I’m getting at is that today’s stories are often missing some valuable things. Like plot. They’ve got this sweeping crazy stuff going on, but they forget that “Oh, hey, I did this earlier right? And then later, I’m going to do this and these directly contradict themselves! Oh, well!” The plot holes I’ve started to encounter have been pretty crazy and over the top. And if the author had just taken the time to outline it, then beta read it, then edit it, then beta it again, then erase about half of it, rewrite the other half and then –
Well, you get the idea. A novel takes work. And authors these days don’t seem interested in putting in that work before throwing theirs out into the world.
10. If I Tell You, It Must Be So.
Recently, I read a book (it was titled Howl if you must know, though I forget the author) that was about werewolves and some complicated bloodline, pack, teenager stuff. All of which was fine, none of which was convincing, and in the end I was really just ready for the novel to be over. That being said, one of my main issues with the story (beyond the obvious plot holes and the total lack of involvement of the parents which was incredibly unrealistic given the circumstances) was that the two main characters were supposed to have all this chemistry. Like, insta-love with some cherries sprinkled on top.
Except they didn’t.
I didn’t dislike either of the characters, at least, not really. But they both seemed a little… blaise. Like, where was the passion? Why wasn’t she lost in his eyes? Why didn’t he seem to be struggling to stay away from her? Why wasn’t there this sense that the world just wasn’t turning right without them? (I say it like that, because they’re supposed to be mates with this intense connection, yet they were barely convincing as two teens who were dating.)
Instead of showing us any of this, the author simply told us that they had chemistry. Literally, she used the word chemistry. I mean, it was bad enough that I didn’t see any of it, but the fact that she told me straight out that that was what was going on? Well, that just didn’t sit well with me. It made me not trust the narrator or the author.
I think this is the sort of thing that comes out in the wash when you spend some time raking over your book, tearing it apart and even letting others tear it apart. You should be going through and rewriting about seventy-five percent of your first draft most of the time and it should take you at least a year (though up to fifteen, if it’s a long winding book) to finish your book. If it doesn’t take you even that, then you’re probably not giving the audience a very good product.
In conclusion to my (very long winded) list, I just want to say that you need to think your writing through, even if you don’t have a publisher and editor telling you what to do. Because it’ll make your story better and your writing better and honestly, we’re all really tired of seeing it.