I had been decidedly against the Kindle on principle– I wanted to be a writer, damnit, I wanted to write books that people could hold in their hands, could write in the margins of, that would, with any luck, become dog eared and tucked on a shelf. It doesn’t sound quite as good when instead of snuggling up with something you made, someone clicks “download” and snuggles up with some a little screen that uses some bizarre ink technology to reproduce your words. It was not exactly what I’d dreamed about as a little girl writing stories on yellow lined notebook paper, to say the least. But when my friend Natalie and I started throwing around the idea of spending some time traveling and teaching in South America next year, suddenly the idea of a portable library became more and more appealing. Having carried a backpack full of twelve books to Chile this summer and nearly dislocating both my shoulders in the process, I realized that owning a Kindle might actually be pretty handy. And so, one merry Christmas later, and I am now the somewhat sheepish owner of that silver little bundle of joy.
The reason I bring all this up is that I got the Kindle with a bunch of books I’d been meaning to read loaded on it. I got through Into The Wild, Born To Run and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close over break, and have just recently begun the Hunger Games trilogy– had to see what all the fuss was about. And while I found myself, like most other who have read the first book, unable to put it down, I found myself constantly being pulled out of the narrative by the mediocre-at-best writing. What was it about these fantasy young adult novels that had people addicted? Had Stephanie Meyer laced her disgustingly melodramatic dialogue and pathetically flat characters with crack? Did Suzanne Collins skip the high school English class on showing not telling to practice techniques of hypnosis? It’s unclear, but there must be something going on in both of these series that is providing the authors with widespread success, movie deals, and c-a-s-h.
Having read books from both series (I begrudgingly admit), there seem to be several similarities:
1. Elements of fantasy (vampires and werewolves in Twilight, imagined future technologies in The Hunger Games)
2. Love triangles to appeal to female audiences (Edward, Jacob and Bella in Twilight, Gale, Peeta, and Katniss in Hunger Games)
3. Violence/fighting to appeal to male audiences (werewolf vs. vampire battles in Twilight, children fighting to the death in Hunger Games)
4. Boring, forced, unoriginal, cringe-inducing prose. (“About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him– and I didn’t know how potent that part might be– that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionaly and irrevocably in love with him” –Twilight, “The sun persists in rising, so I make myself stand. All my joints complain and my left leg has been asleep for so long that it takes several minutes of pacing to bring the feeling back into it. I’ve been in the woods three hours, but as I’ve made no real attempt at hunting, I have nothing to show for it.” –Hunger Games)
The first three elements seem to be enough to catapult these series into world-renowned success, and the authors are somehow allowed to get by writing sentences that wouldn’t have been acceptable in my high school English classes, let alone college ones. Stephanie Meyer appears to be too busy pushing a not-so-subtle Mormon agenda to think about things like logical timescale, believable relationships and clear character motives. Suzanne Collins, I think, realizes that she can distract readers from boring prose with a high-stakes, high-drama plot and unusual character names. (I would like to note that I leave J.K. Rowling out of this– she is a witty, inventive, complex, and talented writer who deserves every bit of succes she has received)
I discussed this phenomenon with my brother Matt the other day, who as a self-proclaimed “connoisseur” of the genre (leaving Twilight out of it, of course. I can feel him scoffing from here) reaffirmed my suspicion that “it is not about how well you write, it’s about how compelling your plot is.” This is upsetting to me– do the two have to be mutually exclusive? Yes, a large portion of Collins’ and Meyer’s readership are middle and high school aged kids who may not be seeking high brow literature, but that doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent, and it doesn’t mean they can’t be exposed to quality writing. It is actually possible to create a book with a compelling plot that is well written and geared toward young adults.
Which is when I subsequently realized my path to fame and financial security is clear– write a fantasy young adult trilogy that might actually stimulate kids’ brains through varied sentence structure and rich diction, and provide them with substantial, believable characters.
So if you see books on the shelves in the next ten years about a spunky mermaid caught in a cross-species love triangle attempting to save her ocean home from pollution by any (violent) means possible, do me a favor and pick up some copies for your kids.