I recently concluded that reading Young Adult dystopian isn’t for me.
Admittedly, having just celebrated my 35th birthday, it’s hardly a revelation that I’m the genre’s target audience.
However, my conclusion came even less recently than that; it happened about a month ago when I finished my sixth YA dystopian title this year after Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, Beth Revis’s Across the Universe trilogy, and Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season:
The uber-popular Divergent, by Veronica Roth (soon to be a movie in 2014).
In this book, all 16-year-olds – the main character, Tris, included – undergo often violent and competitive initiations in order to be inducted into one of four societal factions that go on the govern the rest of their lives (full plot summary here).
Every story, by definition, contains suspense in one form or another.
The most common form is the Predictable-Yet-Still-Desirable (from pt. 1), wherein the reader/viewer already has a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen before it happens, but wants to see it anyway.
This may be either to feel the satisfaction of having been correct in his/her predictions, to see exactly how it happens, or to be already emotionally prepared to vicariously undergo a universal human experience.
Somewhat less common is a second form of suspense, which, ironically, is probably the form that more readily comes to mind when one hears the word “suspense”: the unpredictable-and-thus-unputdownable, which keeps the reader glued to the book, and still reading long after s/he should have gone to bed.
All stories by their very nature contain the precursors of this type of suspense. How could they not? Stories come to us described by blurbs designed to hint at the plot and its major turning points, but ultimately give nothing away.
They’re the very definition of suspense, for who knows what might happen between the lines of that enticing paragraph on the back of the book or DVD case?
Suspense, as a concept, is something I’m pretty sure all writers comprehend.
“A state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen.” (Source: Google.)
After all, most writers begin their journey as a reader, and most readers love the thrill of a story unfolding – of experiencing every reversal and triumph that befall the characters as the plot moves along its way toward an as-yet unforeseen conclusion.
True, some readers do read the very last page of the book first – perhaps to ensure the story will have a happy ending. However a last page really doesn’t convey much when taken out of context of all that comes before it, so even such a reader will be forced to weather the ebbs and flows of a storyline in the sequence in which they occur.
As a reader myself, however, it occurred to me recently that there are actually two types of suspense in storytelling. Taken in turn, each type produces the following reaction in my head:
And unlike stories told in present tense, which I also don’t like but am willing to tolerate, I’ve definitely been known to pass over books written from multiple points of view, particularly those with the proverbial “cast of thousands” in which every character has their say
Case in point: everything after A Game of Thrones in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.
(Changing viewpoint characters isn’t the only reason I bailed on the series: Martin also has the unfortunate habit of killing off main characters with homicidal regularity. Which, it could be argued, is a further manifestation of the books’ revolving door of POVs.)
It may well be that the reason I’m not reading so many books with multiple viewpoint characters anymore is because I’ve largely given up on the genre where it’s a near-ubiquitous storytelling element: epic fantasy.
Multiple viewpoints are found in other genres as well: pretty much every genre I’ve ever read in my life (which is to say, every genre) has its contenders. Indeed, multiple POVs is probably the more common way the tell a story as compared to a single viewpoint character.
But that single, narrating character is my preference both in reading and in writing, for two main reasons:
This isn’t to say I won’t read a book if it’s narrated in present tense. Indeed, I’ve never purposely avoided reading one for that reason, and two of my favourite YA series – Libba Bray’sGemma Doyle trilogy and Beth Revis’s Across the Universe trilogy – are written in present tense.
But it’s definitely not my favourite style or writing. I definitely need to brace myself before diving into a story told in this way. I certainly have no plans to write my own present tense story anytime soon.
This isn’t an attempt to be non-committal in my answer. Rather, I find there are certain circumstances where I love it and all the intimacy and insight it offers into the narrator’s character, and other times where it leaves me cold.
It goes without saying that stories in first-person are told by I – from the point of view of the narrator (who is typically also the protagonist), and likewise told in the narrator’s voice. As a style of telling a story, it can be found in any genre, but is particularly common in YA, chick lit, memoir, and occasionally historical and romance.
It’s popularity among those who like it seems to be due to the extreme closeness it allows to develop between narrator and reader.
Such ready access to the narrator’s thoughts and observations can be incredibly instructive to the reader in understanding what this person is all about. So instructive, in fact, that the reader may come to feel like s/he is the narrator, vicariously living every joy and pain that befalls the narrator as his/her their own. The constant appearance of the word “I” – of the reader hearing it echo over and over within his/her thoughts – can further contribute to this.
What I described above is not the case for me, though.
So, my attempt to maintain my writing schedule while on vacation didn’t go so well.
This isn’t to say I did absolute NO writing. For I did; I wrote five times. In three weeks.
But two of those times were while on airplanes – that’s a huge step outside of my normal creative environment and my comfort zone. I even wrote a sex scene while on a plane. While sitting in the aisle seat no less. That’s got to count for something!
It’s not the end of the world that I barely wrote while away. It’s not like a wagered money on it or anything.
(Maybe I should have wagered money on it; maybe that would have been just the motivator I needed, for I despise spending money needlessly.)
I even learned a few useful tips to follow the next time I go away for an extended period of time.
And so, for those who were duped by my original Writing While On Vacation post, searching in vain for advice from someone who hadn’t a sweet clue how to do so herself, I now offer you the benefit of my newly-acquired wisdom:
We writers – when we discuss our work and our process at all – tend to restrict said discussion to other writers.
After all, who else could possibly understand our unique brand of crazy? How can anyone genuinely comprehend, for example, the compulsion to sit up in the dead of the night and scribble down a story idea unless s/he too has endured the utter frustration of greeting the morning with forgotten inspiration?
Artists of other disciplines (e.g. painters, musicians, actors, etc.), while themselves not fully cognizant of what it means to be a narrative writer, might come pretty darn close to understanding us.
Due to a combination of me hoarding my vacation days throughout the year, overtime rolled over from last year, and the fact that my vacation both began and will end with a long weekend, I’ve been able to take off most of the month of August.
I had good intentions to try to maintain my writing schedule over the course of my travels, but – well, we all know what they say about good intentions.
I’ll discuss what I was busy doing while I should have been writing in a future post. In the meantime, with eight days remaining until I return to work, I’m thinking ahead to three days from now – to the last five days of my vacation, when I leave Ontario and go back home to Vancouver.