YA Stuff to Avoid From Now On

Some time ago I made a list of things not to do in YA anymore. I've done some of them before myself. No more..

1. No more girls who listen to The Smiths. No references to The Smiths at all. Even if the book takes place in the 1980s.

2. No more references to Salinger (this has not been as common a thing in YA since Twilight took over, really - may be time to change this one to "references to Jane Austen or Romeo and Juliet").

3. No more geeks who dream of hanging out with the "popular kids." Nobody likes popular kids. I have no idea why people call them "popular." They're not.

4. No more main characters who want to be writers.

5. No more evil cheerleaders, even if it IS true to life. May still work if they're zombies or something, though. I HAVE always wanted to do a book called "Pushing Cheerleaders Down the Stairs."

6. No more using "psycho girlfriends" as a comedic device. Psychotic girlfriends are no more "funny" than douchebag would-be rapists are "romantic."

7. No more listening to people who say you should never mention pop culture in a book. The REAL rule is "never use pop culture to show readers how hip you are." Every classic book I can think of mentions pop culture of the day, and when I pick up a book from the 1960s, I expect them to talk about the Beatles or something. Sure, there ARE readers who want every book to seem like it might have taken place in the previous couple of weeks, but do we really need to aim every book at THOSE people?

8. No more trying to set books in the 1990s, even though building a plot is a LOT easier if no one has a cell phone. Seriously - go back and read some books from the 1970s-90s and see how many of them have a plot that would have been resolved by page 10 if someone had a cell phone.  Even now, I have to have characters lose theirs occasionally or something, or there's no reason to go out on the road and have an adventure. Let it be a challenge to you.

9. No more dystopias without flying motorcycles. Because flying motorcycles are awesome and I don't want there to be a future that doesn't have them. Really, any dystopia set in a world that doesn't look like a Meat Loaf video is just not okay with me.

10.  No more male leads who are that one character that Michael Cera always plays. You know what I mean. Good natured guys who read a lot of comic books and dream of dating a girl who listens to the Smiths. I want more male leads who AREN'T just killing time until they go to college and become a software engineer. More guys with poor grammar and a dim future, please. A while ago I re-read a 1986 book called Dear Bruce Springsteen. The down-on-his-luck D-minus student who narrates it reminds me of LOTS of people I've known in real life, but I can't think of a single other narrator like him. This is the kind of book that makes me want to start a blog on 70s-90s books that we'd call YA today.


I WOULD have a thing about "no romantic interests who act like rapists," but this is really a list for ME, and I wouldn't do that, anyway. It's implied in #6.  I did have a book where the BAD guy was a vampire who tried to convert (basically rape and kill) the narrator against her will; it stunned and disgusted me how many bloggers said that they didn't understand why she didn't like that guy, or said that if they could date any character in the book, it would be him. Maybe the publisher should have let me be more explicit about the conversion process worked, though saying it's "similar to sex, but not exactly the same" and having it kill you and turn you into a member of the walking undead ought to be enough, really.


21 comments:

Writerwomyn said...

LOVE this and am posting on Sucker's website...that being said, I believe in violating all rules if the rule breaking is done in a clever and unique fashion.

Adam Selzer said...

Oh, yeah, anyone can break any rule if they know what they're doing. And there's no good reason anyone ought to listen to ME. I don't know why people are so apt to take advice from people who've never had a hit book in the first place.

Ms. Yingling said...

Very nice. No f-bombs, if you would, please. Things my actual students ask for-- more skateboarding, more everyday romances between normal people, more funny books about people who make choices that turn out not to be good ideas. I could go on. But you are absolutely correct on your lists of don'ts. Soul searching successful!

Melanie Stanford said...

Great list, the only one I'm an offender of is #2. Not Salinger, but bot Austen and Romeo and Juliet. Oops.

Gracie said...

YES to #3 and #5... I'm done with popularity in books!!

Mason T. Matchak said...

Excellent list all around, though it's #9 that really gets me. As a fan of Meat Loaf, I will now consider it my duty to make any dystopia I write look like it's from one of his videos. Thank you. ^_^

Sommer Leigh said...

I absolutely love this post. I'm linking to it on Monday and adding a few of my own. We are tired of a lot of the same things. Thanks for this!

Daisy Carter said...

Really, any dystopia set in a world that doesn't look like a Meat Loaf video is just not okay with me.

Best line of the week. And so right on!

Sarah Laurence said...

This is hilarious! I'm here via YA Highway. I might add: no more dead parents. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a parent of teens. I know teens don't want to read about parents, but they can still be lurking in the background, scarier than zombies. A zombie will only eat your brain but a parent could confiscate your cell phone.

Adam Selzer said...

I've actually heard people say that "have the parents be dead" is a "rule." 99% of those "rules for writing" sites should really ignored (along with most of the advice you get on Twitter and message boards). Except for the fact that some people WILL grade you on goodreads based on how well you follow them.

Michelle Krys said...

Well darn, my book has evil cheerleaders galore. Random House didn't seem to mind :D

Great/hilarious post!

vic caswell (aspiring-x) said...

ooooh! very thought-provoking! :)

Alyssa said...

I think you could also add Neutral Milk Hotel to the "no reference" rule for bands.

As for books, I think I will cry if I see another reference to The Scarlet Letter. Also The Inferno seems to be making its rounds in YA books. I've no idea why. We read stuff like Whitman and Things Fall Apart at my high school.

The characters who want to be writers thing is almost masterbatory. I think I've seen more of the characters who carry notebooks/journals around and scrawl into them moodily than characters who actually have ambitions to become writers.

Also: can we just cut out all cheerleaders?

Stephsco said...

I've come by your blog via Sommerleigh, to give her the credit. While I totally agreed with her list, yours has caused me some pause.

Thank you for at least pointing out The Smiths have been overdone as a reference. I'd like to think I've read a lot of YA, and if The Smith's have been mentioned it's not a reference I've found tiring. BUT, not to say it's not overdone. In one of my drafts, I have a Smiths reference. I will reconsider. Is it kind of like how Loreli Gilmore always talked about Echo and the Bunnymen? Or have I lost you with a Gilmore Girls reference...

The thing about popular kids, is I believe kids DO want to hang out with the popular kids BUT the idea of what that is has evolved. It's not all jocks. I like to see creative use of the popular kids in books and not the same stereotypes.

Having said that, in my WIP is a girl who's a cheerleader, and there ARE evil cheerleaders, although there are plenty of nice ones too. Personally,I think nuance and avoiding cliches are necessary. But it still means there are cheerleaders. I was a cheerleader in 9th grade, and I can attest, we weren't cool. We were labeled "ghetto."

Stephsco said...

Also, I like your point about not having guys be all Michael Cera like. I think Simone Elkeles' books (Perfect Chemistry) hit that nerve with refreshingly bad boys who are bratty, swear in Spanglish and have a ton of attitude. Even when they learn their lesson over the course of the book, they're still full of attitude. I like that.

Danielle Mathieson Pederson said...

Great list. With the no dead parents thing, I really think it depends on the family dynamics. Shannon Hale wrote a great post about that on her blog here: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2012/05/where-are-all-the-moms.html That being said the parents in my main series of books are dead, however the main female protag still has an aunt and uncle very much in the picture. Buy yes there has gotten to be a lot of stagnant material that you see repeated over and over again.

Rebecca Burke said...

Hilarious list. Wish I'd had it when I taught Writing YA Fiction--a course Iowa State U. used to offer in those dreaded 90s.

I've also heard that agents turn a bilious green when they have to read yet another version of the blow-up at the dinner table when parents forget or learn that their kids are vegetarians. I'd already broken that "rule" after hearing about it, naturally. Will defend it to the death, however; it can be very funny if handled right.

Love the Michael Cera reference (...just waiting to become "software engineers"--I know people like that!).

Outstanding list. Will keep my out for your work, Adam.

Adam Selzer said...

I should point out that this is NOT a list of things that will keep you from getting published. Over the course of several books, I don't think I've ever had an editor tell me not to do something because it had been done before. Honestly, I think that if I call certain of my editors and said "I have an idea for a book about a shy, quiet girl who defies her mother and takes dance lessons, and then her crush convinces her to come to the recital at the last minute, and then she saves the prom and loves the guy forever and ever," they'd think "WOW! That's GREAT! We can TOTALLY sell that!"

Wendy Toliver said...

Great list. Esp. the part about girls who listen to the Smiths. I was that girl. Even sat next to Morrissey's aunt at one of his concerts in Denver. I'm not a good YA character. :)

Shannon said...

Looks like I'm in the clear except for Romeo and Juliet. Though, I write queer historical YA and Shakespeare WAS pop culture in the U.S. in 1875.

Matthew MacNish said...

Excellent list, and most of these are great, but you can pry the 90s from my cold dead fingers.

Adam's New Book: Sept 2013