A quick and dirty guide to the YA novel

My friend Angela sent me this link some time back and it cracked me up. A young, enterprising writer named Randall Knox broke down the YA novel. His post, How to Write a Shitty YA Novel, is a classic.

Katniss_EverdeenNow don’t get me wrong. I love YA. The Hunger Games was great (even though book 3 faltered, with Katniss continually running to the closet to hide) and Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy is one of my favorites. Ness created a vivid, unique world.

But Knox’s list takes sharp aim at the tropes that plague YA novels. For example, of the protagonist, he says:

“Your main character needs to be flat and uninteresting. Save your really good and compelling quirks and nuances for your side characters, because you’ll need those in order to justify their existence in the story.”

As for plot, he writes:

“Along the way, show your protagonist going from childish to slightly less childish. That’s what we call character growth. It’s not actually, because the protagonist isn’t taking stock of his or her life, looking at the world through any lens but his or her own, or really showing any semblance of self-awareness, but the act of becoming slightly less annoying will stand in for that reasonably well.”

And he touches on the beauty of emotional manipulation:

“The world must be on the brink of destruction, every love must be the greatest love of all, and every character must be willing to pay the greatest sacrifice–except for the protagonist, because he or she is a boring, selfish asshole, remember?”

Check it out. It’s a fun read. Now I have to get back to rewriting my YA book.

Read this book: Unwind

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If you survey the landscape of young adult publishing, it would be easy to assume that the future will be bleak. Take a look at Suzanne Collins’ phenomenal Hunger Games series, or Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy. Well, add another one to the list.

Unwind, by Neal Shusterman, is set in a future America where the abortion battles led to a war, and the negotiated peace is as follows: abortion is illegal, but children can be unwound between the ages of 13 and 18, if their parents or guardians decide. What is unwinding? The body is taken apart, with each part being donated to someone in need (except for a few unusable bits). So, basically, they’re killed but in the name of charity.

With sci-fi/paranormal/supernatural stories, you often cannot look too closely at the logic behind the premise, lest is falls apart. And with Unwind, you have to ignore the fact that a law where abortion is illegal but adolescent children can be “aborted” would only piss off both sides.

So put that aside.

Once you do, what you get is a compelling and emotionally devastating book. It follows Connor, a bit of a wild kid, who discovers that his parents are going to have him unwound. He runs, and in the course of his travels hooks up with an unlikely pair: Risa, an orphan scheduled for unwinding, and Lev, the tenth child of a religious family who has been designated as a tithe (in other words, he will be unwound as well).

Grisly stuff.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot, which is a cracking story that keeps the pages turning. But this book is more than that. Shusterman hits an emotional core with two key scenes that resonated with me long after I put the book down (yes, it was paperback). Connor and company meet CyFy, a teen who’s had part of his brain replaced. The brain matter came from an unwound child, and now CyFy is accessing the “donor’s” memories and emotions. Only the donor has no idea he’s been unwound. Cyfy heads back to the donor’s home, and the scene between CyFy and the parents is gripping and grueling.

Later in the book, Shusterman describes an unwinding through the eyes of a character undergoing the process. Yep, this character is awake during the procedure. All I can say is that I wish I could write like that.

As with much of YA these days, Unwind may be about teens and labeled for teens, but it’s one for all ages.