Thursday, June 17, 2010

A good story vs. a good book: DEBATE ON!

I was grumbling last night about revisions making me feel like my WIP is very lackluster when the P-i-C said something that surprised me.

P-i-C: It's a good story.
JEM: Well, I hope so, but I just feel like the writing isn't there yet.
P-i-C: Who cares about the writing? You're not trying to write a great literary work or anything.
JEM: Well, no, I'm not trying to be Tolstoy, but that doesn't mean it can't be well-written.
P-i-C: (shrugs) It's YA. What does it matter?

Ouch, my friends. Ouch. But it occurs to me that many other casual readers have this same opinion of YA. Some of that reputation is deserved and some of it is not. To be honest, when I search my brain for YA books that could stand as adult books, only a few names come to mind - Suzanne Collins, Madeleine L'Engle, Sharon Creech (who is closer to middle grade, but I'm throwing her in there). There are a lot of YA books out there right now that have a high energy plot with clean writing, but no one's going to put those books up for the Pulitzer. Whatever the genre may have been before, it now seems to be about paranormal activities and romance (my own included, ahem). And I suppose it's hard to wax philosophical when you're fighting werewolves/vampires/ghosts/a zombie homecoming queen.

So my question to you, gentle readers, is this: do you think the YA genre has sacrificed good writing for a good storyline? Has it gotten so commercial that a good plot can cover up poor word choice? Or has it ushered in a new way of looking at writing, as a vehicle for the story?


Laurel said...

Oooh man... awesome topic. So much published YA is NOT well written. It's simplistic and formulaic and does not have layers of meaning. The first person narration reads the third person with the pronouns changed (shallow POV). But because this is what sells, we YA literary writers get the "why bother" line. Or if one does try to write something complex that doesn't adhere to a formula plot and the character shows rather than tells what she's feeling, we're told it's "too sophisticated for teens." Um, no it's not. Kids get too little credit. Why aren't we publishing adult-quality writing with kid protags? What's with the perpetual dumbing-down?

Have you read any of Francesca Lia Block? Her style is literary experimental. I think her stuff could definitely be considered crossover.

JEM said...

I haven't read her stuff, I want to check it out now! I know there are several YA authors out there who are writing really good stuff (WITH good story lines), but they aren't writing the popular books. It's a hard line for authors to walk right now: write a really good book or write a commercially successful book. Every once in a while someone does both, but it's not easy.

Lola Sharp said...

Most of what I've read of YA is not well written.

There's a TON of best selling fiction (for adults) that is also not well written.

Write the best book you can...something you're proud of.


Amalia T. said...

I might be a spaz, but I saw your comment about mead on Frankie's post and I wanted to reassure you-- MEAD is NOT beer! it is WINE. Honey wine!

This comment has nothing to do with your post, for which I apologize. But I just wanted to share that piece of info! Do not fear the mead :)

Cruella Collett said...

Nooooooooooooo! Oh, that makes me so SAD! YA books are for the kids that still like reading after those painful years of parents and teachers and well-meaning aunts forcing them to read children's books. (I know I am generalizing, but I see a LOT of this in the bookshop I work in.) If their fondness for reading survives that, they can be actual readers. Which is such a great gift. So the idea that YA books, the ones they encounter once they overcome the awkward "reading because I have to" stage, are not well written, it makes me think that society is teaching kids to appreciate poorly written books.

Sadly I think you have a point. I'd like to say that I know a ton of YA books where the writing is good, but I can't think of that many at all. Libba Bray comes to mind. So does JK Rowling, of course, but even these two oversteps some of the "literary rules" for good writing.

Please don't let anybody tell you that good writing doesn't matter with YA fiction. It should. You might be our last hope, actually!

JEM said...

Lola: Well said! Although easier said than done...

Amalia: Honey. WINE?! So there. SO there.

Cruella: Believe me, if anything it set my determination to improve my writing!