I read an incredibly awful book earlier this week. I had a blog post all lined up in my mind about it (don’t worry, it’s the second part of this post). But then I read a really good book, and now I have more things to say.
Judging by the title and cover of the second book I read, I expected it to be mediocre – another junk fantasy novel. It wasn’t. The description on Amazon doesn’t do the book justice and, like I said, the cover and title aren’t great. I mean they aren’t BAD, but they blend in with all the other YA fantasy novels I’ve been reading lately. (Check out my post What Reading can Teach you about Writing to learn more)
The way Dragon Bound by Chelsea M. Campbell is written though, really impressed me. Chapter one, entitled “Putting the ‘Virgin’ in Virginia” begins with, “I want to punch everyone at this party in the face.” To reiterate, the very first line of the BOOK is: “I want to punch everyone at this party in the face.” It’s perfect!
I didn’t expect such a casual and modern narrative style in a book about dragons and paladins. The chapter titles are all taken from lines within the chapters too which makes it that much more fascinating to read. Amazon’s Look Inside feature will let you read a good chunk of chapter one if you’re interested in getting a better feel for the dynamic narrative style for yourself, so I’m not going to go into it more here. I do want to show you the list of chapter titles though so you know how hilarious this book is:
Obviously, “I’ve always had a soft spot for virgins” is an eyebrow raiser, but I also really enjoyed “the mood-enhancing quality of spit” as a chapter title. I don’t recommend this book to everyone, but I really appreciated its creativity and unique voice. It’s got me thinking about how to be more creative in general and about creating better characterization in my stories. Plus, the two main characters have amazing back story/personal tragedy/feelings of insecurity that goes way beyond most YA fantasy reads. Very inspiring.
Okay, now onto the bad book and a neat parallel I made between books and movies. The bad book mostly drove me crazy because it kept summarizing things I already knew. Everyone knows how annoying it is when the author doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of his or her readers and spoon-feeds them everything. This book was very repetitive and full of unnecessary info dumps.
Since it was a YA book, I couldn’t help but wonder if the intended audience was the reason behind the cringe-worthy summaries. The book was written for a younger crowd. Maybe teenagers are dumb. I mean, I was looking for ANY reason behind the terrible writing, but as soon as I had that thought, I knew it was wrong. Teenagers aren’t dumb.
I read Little Women and Dracula in the 6th grade. I avoided YA and teen series like the plague all through middle school and high school (except for R.L. Stine, I did read a few of those). And yes, some of the adult concepts in my reading went straight over my head, but I also understood what I was reading. It was that thought–that recollection of things going over my head–that led me to a connection between books and movies. Think about watching a movie you loved as a kid for the first time as an adult–you were surprised, weren’t you, at all the things you didn’t understand about it when you were little, even though you KNEW that movie.
What’s the difference between a kids movie and a family movie? I had never really thought about it before watching an interview with Ben Kingsley about The Boxtrolls. He said the film was a ‘family film’ because parents could get something out of it too. There was deeper meaning in it plus something darker. It has nothing to do with adult humor, because that seems to be in every kids movie.
Think: The Lion King, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings, and anything by Pixar (especially Up, omg if you didn’t bawl your eyes out at the beginning of Up, you aren’t human). Those are all family movies to me. You might disagree with me, but I think Minions is an excellent example of a KIDS movie. Fun, full of good music, but also stupid and lacking in depth.
Okay, now, for the connection. Just like movies, not all YA books are equal. Duh, you know this, right? I’m not talking about strictly quality here though. Yes, there are bad movies and books, both with crappy writing. There is also a difference in mind-set/focus though when it comes to creating a narrative suited for one’s intended audience.
Some books and movies don’t expect anything from their audience, like thinking. Others, push their audience to their limits, moving them beyond their comfort zone, making them question their beliefs, making them ponder deeper thoughts about humanity or the universe as a whole, making them empathize for the first time in their lives with the “other”–someone completely unlike themselves. These movies and books are the ones that win awards, the ones that become instant classics, the ones that everyone is talking about.
So the question is, what kind of book are you–am I–writing?