YA Tropes – The Virginal Heroine?

WARNING: Before continuing, please be advised that this post shall contain content which some may fine inappropriate. There will be some discussion of sex, though not explicit, which you may find uncomfortable. It is provided purely in the context of defining terms and explaining social constructs. Please do not read further should you think this discussion might be offensive to you. At this time I do not offer a “sanitized” version, but would be happy to explain briefly what my main points were if you are interested. Please message me/comment on a post to request this information. Thank you.

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Continue reading “YA Tropes – The Virginal Heroine?”

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Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Apocalyptic, and Dystopian – What’s the difference?

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The other day I was talking to my significant other about books and genres. We were talking about The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Long Walk by Stephen King (he’s a big King fan and is always trying to get me to read his work; I, who has been told that I should write more like King, tend to grumble and say he’s not that great, but I suppose I’m only biased) which somehow digressed into a discussion about genre. Specifically, what’s the difference between Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian? My SI was under the impression that these two genres are one in the same.

I’m here to tell you they are not.

I decided I’d go ahead and break it down here, though I’m sure most of you can hazard a guess at the difference. I also decided to lump Apocalyptic in there, too, because it seemed to be the theme for the day.

Starting at the beginning: Apocalyptic genre.

a·poc·a·lypse
əˈpäkəˌlips/
noun

 

1. the complete final destruction of the world, especially as described in the biblical book of Revelation.
2. an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.
  • “a stock market apocalypse”

*Taken directly from Google

So the apocalypse is more or less the end of the world. Which would suggest that there can be no after the end of the world, right? Since it’s the end and all… Which is why “apocalypse” is more like “the end of life as we know it”. So things get bad, societies crumble, the world goes back to the stone age, and we’re all struggling to survive amidst a complete social collapse of world order.

More or less.

People are still alive, they just don’t live like they used to.

Now, in terms of genre, Apocalypse generally means “the ending of the world”. If someone tells you that they’ve found this really awesome apocalyptic book, they are probably talking about books that are in the midst of a world-ending calamity.

EX:

the-stand

The Stand by Stephen King

left-behind

Left Behind by Tim LeHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

Both of these start off where the world is normal. It’s like a contemporary novel in the beginning – but it quickly unravels into the end of the world. The stand, being that it’s friggin’ long, goes farther and ultimately becomes both Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian (to an extent), but it’s more the exception than the rule. A book that focuses on how the end comes about falls into the Apocalypse genre. Anything after is going to fall into one of the other two. (Probably.)

Left Behind is similar, though I believe it’s a series that goes farther than simply the apocalypse.

Both of these have religious undertones, but that isn’t strictly necessary for this genre. The fall of society can be caused by a stock market crash, aliens blowing up the white house, or a revolution. All it needs is the destruction of our society as we know it.

What happens after: Post-Apocalyptic.

Post-Apocalyptic is basically what it sounds like – “post” meaning after and “apocalyptic” meaning the end of the world. So, “after the end of the world.” Simple, right?

This genre focuses on the aftermath of the end. In the Apocalypse genre we endured the alien invasion that destroyed the white house and killed the ruling government. Now we’re left to deal with what happens next. Society is left in shambles and those few survivors are left to try and scrounge through the wreckage to find useful things for this new way of life.

Generally, this is years after the end. Maybe only a few; maybe several hundred. It depends. The main point of this, however, is that society hasn’t managed to rebuild yet. Whether that’s because of war against the aliens that attacked has prevented another society from emerging, or because the survivors are two busy trying to survive to figure out how to band together and rebuild, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they haven’t managed it yet.

EX:

the-road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

world-war-z

World War Z by Max Brooks

dust-lands

Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Might fall into this category, but I haven’t read it so I’m basing this mostly on synopsis)

mortality

Mortality by Kellie Sheridan

the-host

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

These stories focus on how people survive afterwards. If you notice, there are two zombie books listed here. That’s because zombie novels tend to be post-apocalyptic. Why? Because the end has happened (or is in the midst of happening). People can’t really rebuild thanks to the constant threat of zombies. Instead, they are left to survive in the wreckage of the world that was.

Perfect example of Post-Apocalyptic genre.

A not so perfect whole new world: Dystopian.

Finally, we arrive at the final category in our “it’s the end of the world and we know it” genre list. Dystopian. This is the one that’s thrown around so much, it’s probably what brought you to this post in the first place. It’s the one that everyone’s searching for on Goodreads and Amazon. It’s what authors tried to tap into when it became the Next Big Thing in YA literature.

But what does it mean?

First, you’ve probably noticed that “dystopia” sounds a lot like “utopia”. Coincidence? I think not.

Utopia is a perfect society – and it doesn’t exist. It’s more of a philosophical concept of “what if”. What if there was no more war? Bam, utopia. What if all countries got along? Utopia. What if there was no crime, no rape, no stealing or cheating or any of those other awful things that plague our otherwise decent human societies? Utopia.

If we could fix all of the problems in our world, we would be left with a society that had no issues. A thing in which everyone was happy and no one died for reasons beyond natural old age.

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. A utopia is impossible to actually achieve. There are any number of arguments as to why, but my favorite is this:

We are human. We must eternally strive for goodness. For freedom. For peace. For equality. But we are incapable of ever truly attaining these things. Because we, unlike animals, unlike machines, are individuals. We think independently. We disagree on everything from favorite colors to what equality truly means. The only way to truly achieve utopia would be to have every human on earth be exactly the same.

Sort of a terrible concept, but there’s hope lingering in it. It’s in the striving towards being better that humanity really shines through. It’s the only thing out there that makes us truly awesome, so never stop trying to be better.

Ahem, off of my soapbox now.

Now, just because we can’t achieve utopia, doesn’t mean we don’t try, right? And in the trying, we end up with works of fiction that are “dystopias”.

A dystopian society is a society that seems like utopia. On the surface, it seems perfect. Usually, this perfection manifests in one area specifically. “Everyone is equal.” That sounds great! Except the only way to make people equal is to take away their free will. Not so great. And that’s the point of a dystopia. It’s important that the society looks perfect on the outside, but from the inside we see that everything is really, really wrong.

EX:

divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

anthem2

Anthem by Ayn Rand

uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

1984

1984 by George Orwell

And a whole slew of others. These novels showcase a society that has tried to make itself – and often deems it to be – perfect. But as readers, we sense that society to be oppressive. The characters within it have given up something precious in order to function within this society – and often rebel against it in order to tear down said society and restart.

Note that all of these, more or less, have focused on something important – in Divergent, each faction focuses on values and in committing to just one, they ensure peace; in Anthem, no one is allowed to invent or discover for fear that we will become better than one another, the focus being equality – that has become so warped it no longer creates the good society everyone was trying for.

Ultimately, Dystopian novels are about seemingly perfect, but really warped societies that are oppressive. Another important point is that they are set in the future. They have already gone through the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stages to arrive at this rebuilt, dysfunctional society. Maybe we only get little pieces of this history, but it’s there, lurking in the background.

What about the Hunger Games?

MockingjayCover.jpg

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a HUGE Hunger Games fan. (I even have a mockingjay tattoo.) But you might have noticed that I didn’t include it in any of the lists above. I have Divergent, but no HG. What gives?

Well, in short, I’m not quite sure it fits.

If you ask anyone who’s read the series, they’ll probably tell you it’s a dystopian novel. Me included. That being said, I’m not really convinced that it is.

If you noticed my definition, you’ll see that an important part of dystopia is that the society seems perfect. And for anyone who’s read the Hunger Games, you know that it is *not* perfect. Nor does it seem anywhere close to perfect.

If anything, we know right off the bat that this society is awful. Destructive. Unequally balanced in power and wealth. We know this because Katniss comes from the poorest of the poor. She’s disillusioned to the point where there is no question about the awfulness of this world. So if we know this from the get-go, can we really call this a dystopia?

We might, if we were in Effie’s head. Or even Cinna’s, maybe. We might if we were from District 13 where the rules are suffocating, yet in place for a very valid reason, and is the other side of the Capitol coin. These perspectives would show us a world that on the surface looks like it really could be the perfect society. Effie’s life revolves around fashion and wealth. From her perspective, everyone is happy, healthy, and indulgent. To her, rebellion – initially, at least – would be one of the worst things. But as we get farther into how the society works, we’d see how terrible it really is.

But from the perspective of District 12, there is no questioning what a terrible world we live in. So I’m inclined to say that you *can* call this a dystopia for brevity’s sake – because can you imagine having this conversation with a die hard fan? – but it’s not really.

(You could probably make a similar argument for 1984, I’ll admit, so that one maybe it’s a great example of dystopia either.)

So what do you guys think? Are you sold on my distinction? Do you agree with my examples? Do you have some of your own? Share them below!

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

Love Triangles – Good? Bad? Ugly?

Dear Reader

Before I move on to the next part of my How To series (the one about Outlines which I think is actually the most helpful thing in the world!), I wanted to pause and mention something about characters, namely love triangles. The reason I’m bringing this up is that they are incredibly prevalent in YA romances (or basically anything these days) and a lot of the time they are really, really, really annoying. But I’m here to tell you, they aren’t all bad. Just most of them.

Earlier this month, I was buddy reading a book series (I only BR the first two books, because I don’t have time to update like that and half the time don’t have the time to read, so I bailed for the next three). During the conversation portion of the buddy read (this is all online) one of the girls posted how she HATED love triangles. To which I say, “Okay, I’m mostly with you. They get old. They get annoying. They never pick the guy I would have picked.” But then she went on to say that she just didn’t see how someone could be in love with two people at once.

‘Cause, like, that’s impossible.

Whoa. Slam the breaks there. Since we’re talking about possibilities and realism here (even though this is set in a supernatural camp for kids with crazy powers), we’d better take a closer look at the probability of that whole “love triangle” thing.

First, let me say, before anything else, yes. It’s totally possible. People love more than one person all the time. I’m not kidding you. The difference is, most of us don’t have to deal with the “love triangle” in the sense that we mostly choose one person and stick with them. (Or the one part of that three part triangle makes a decision that the rest of us have to live with.) Does a decision mean we cease to love this other person? No. That’s no how love works. It isn’t a switch that we just flip on and off whenever the heck we feel like it. If that were the case, there’d be a lot less heartache in the world.

This is part of the reason that LTs are so common. It’s actually pretty natural in the world of human beings. Maybe not as obviously as the books portray it and maybe not with two devilishly sexy boys that are so sweet and caring and would die for us, but still. It happens.

But it’s not the only reason that it’s so common. A lot of the time, LTs show up because an author needs drama and lots of it. This is one of the quickest way to add some to the story. And it makes girls obsessive and gooey to boot, so even if you have sort of an “okay” story, you can still get a lot of readers, because we all want to know who the main girl ends up with. (I’m not naming any names, but I’m sure you all have something in mind…) Is this kind of a cop out? Kind of. It depends on your sort of story. If you’re writing romance (even if it’s paranormal/historical/thriller/whatever), then it’s really not that weird to have an LT. After all, the most effective part of a romance novel is keeping the characters apart, not throwing them together. If they get together too soon, then we don’t really care what happens. But if we add in another love interest… well, that makes things interesting. And in that respect, an LT is perfectly acceptable.

You know where it’s not acceptable? The Hunger Games.

Okay, not *specifically* (or, maybe a little specifically), but in a story that has so much going for it without the introduction of an LT, it actually seems sort of… gimmicky to add in an LT. The Hunger Games has so much to stand on without romance. It has dictatorship. Poverty. Revolution. Death matches. Sibling relationship, camaraderie, a need to do the right thing – but still to survive. It’s got all of this social commentary in there AND it’s a great story – so why the hell are we all obsessing over whether Katniss picks Gale or Peeta? Seriously? I don’t even care if there’s a love interest. That’s perfectly fine. My concern is that the *focus* is on the love story. The *focus* is about these two boys in her life. And really, it should be on the sacrifices she’s willing to make and the ones she makes even though she *isn’t* willing to make them.

That’s where LTs start to get in trouble. There are places where they belong – and places they don’t. But I understand that sometimes it’s difficult to know the do’s and don’t’s of LTs, so I’m going to do a quick breakdown here about them. (And, yes, this is mostly my opinion. Feel free to do what feels right for *you* but be aware that it can be a real turn off for some readers, so better to use them sparingly.)

Also, these don’t mean that you should *always* use LTs in these situations. Only that if you feel so inclined, it’s okay to throw them in here and you’re probably not going to turn people off.

When to use LTs.

  • When your main genre is Romance (regardless of what your minor genre is).

That pretty much means you can do what you’d like when it comes to love interests. Because like I said before, it’s all about the drama. It’s important to spend time keeping the main pairing apart, but we also need to feel like there’s a chance that they’ll make it in the end – but maybe only a slim one. And it’s okay if we’re not all rooting for the same guy. That’s part of it, too. You don’t need an LT here, but it’s less frowned upon when you walk into the novel knowing that it’s romance.

  • When your story is more about characters and relationships as opposed to an intricate plot.

Maybe you’re story is contemporary. Maybe it follows the lives of three BFF teenage girls as they promise to make their senior year of high school the best one ever before they dive off the deep end into the adult world. Maybe they each make a pact to get a boyfriend – no matter what it takes. And maybe each of them go about it in entirely different directions. This leaves a lot of possibilities open – and not all of them romantic. Maybe one of your characters is a lesbian who is only doing this because she isn’t sure how to tell her friends the truth. Or maybe two girls go for the same guy. Or maybe they all end up boyfriendless and realize that the best relationship they have is with each other. The point is, it’s about the relationships between people – even if they aren’t romantic. Here, it’s acceptable to make these relationships more complicated by adding an LT. You don’t have to, but you can.

  • When your story benefits from having two important leads which offer equal contributions to the story but those contributions wouldn’t fit as a single character.

This one’s a little weird. What I’m saying is that maybe you’re story is about a girl who has to make a very big choice. One choice represents what she truly wants; the other what other people want for her. Sometimes, a good way to characterize these choices is to actually make them characters. Make her love interests symbolic of her choices – and who she picks in the end is determined by the ultimate choice she makes in her life. This isn’t always something that works, so think very hard about it before you just throw this in there. But when done effectively, it can be a really good story. Jill Example:

Jill is left with a choice: Stay here with the kind-hearted, sweet Merrick who is all the things she loves about being human – the late night popcorn binges, the horror movie marathons, the screaming at baseball games, the simplicity of life in the slow lane – or risk the unknown for the enigmatic, darkly handsome Kane the man she’s destined to wed should she follow her destiny and overthrow her terrible and heartless human counterpart.

When NOT to use LTs.

  • Social commentary (unless it’s about sex/relationships in our modern world).

Seriously. If you’re talking about poverty, probably people aren’t also talking about true love. Why? Because you need water. Then you need food. Then you need security. Then you move on to things like love and ownership of *things*. It’s not to say that as a poor person you don’t crave love. Of course you do, you’re human. But rather it’s that there are more important things in your life than “OMG, do you think he likes me?” Because when you’re starving, that’s all you think about. Trust me. So unless you’re talking about how some countries encourage having multiple children simply because having more means one of them may end up making enough money to save the whole family and until then each additional child is a workhand, then you should probably just nix the LT, because it will be annoying.

  • Action/adventure.

You can have an LT, but we’d all prefer it if you didn’t. An LT is an involved thing and if you’ve got a lot of action and adventure going on in your story, then we really don’t need the added subplot (that mutates and crawls into our brains to become a main plot) taking up space. Stick to the awesome story you’ve got going on and leave the romance to someone else.

  • *Sometimes* Fantasy.

In certain instances, Fantasy LTs can be okay. But mostly that’s going to be a “She didn’t want to be queen. She wanted to run away with the boy pushing the applecart!” This is because Fantasy novels tend to be *very* involved. Meaning they’ve got a lot of their own stuff going on, so we don’t need all that additional LT stuff taking up room. Fantasy novels are already really long; don’t bog them down with an unnecessary love interest that would have been so much more awesome as the silent, platonic protector anyway.

  • Dystopian genres that focus on how the world has changed.

Just like Fantasy, this is going to be more involved – and I want to see that. I want to know the world and see how people suffer in it. I want to see how everything’s messed up – and how the protagonists is going to fix it. What I don’t want to see is Katniss struggling to choose between Peeta and Gale (hello, did you *see* Gale in the movies? So much hotter…). She can love someone, that’s fine, but there had better be other stuff going on! (The exception here might be something like The Selection. That’s all about going through girls on a rapid round robin thirty second dating game until you find the girl you want, so probably LTs are okay. But even that one felt a little forced. Seriously? Who even cared about Aspen? We didn’t even know him!)

  • Basically whenever you have a really strong plot that *doesn’t* benefit from the romance being front and center – or having multiple love interests is distracting.

Honestly, if you have a really good plot that is intricate, involved, and captivating, don’t worry about the LT. It’s not necessary. You’ve already got us. So go ahead and keep us there without bogging your awesome story with a stupid additional love interest. I’d rather stick to your plot.

I’m sure you can think of more instances where you shouldn’t use an LT and I’m sure you can find exceptions to the rules above. But they are some hard and fast guidelines to help you through the plotting portion of your novel. And remember: If something doesn’t feel right in your novel, it probably isn’t. Take it out. Follow your instincts.

So what do you guys think? Love LTs? Hate ’em? Let me know in the comments below!

Sincerely

E.C. Orr