Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wanted: Experienced, Proven Author Willing to Write Clichés for Cash

I’m a murder mystery fan. Have been for decades. I love them. And I love a good detective character. So like a moth to a flame, I’m pulled toward mysteries in TV shows and movies, too. Combine that with my love for YA literature, and I’ve ended up with quite a few of the cross-over mystery writers on my shelves.

What do I mean by cross-over? I mean writers who have made their name (and quite a comfy living, I suspect) writing mysteries and thrillers for the adult audience…only to have recently turned to churning out mysteries for a younger audience.

I don’t blame them. Heck…I’m jealous, really. I’ll admit it. Not just sort of successful…these writers are already uber-successful in their own chosen genre, and now are taking a crack at the YA market. But are they good at writing for young adults? Or is there another reason for these sudden departures from their normal readership?

This weekend I read a novel by one of these cross-over writers. (Here I’m restraining myself from going all acronym-y on you and calling them … something… for short from here on out. I work in the software industry, after all. I’m trained to use acronyms… even when the results are perhaps offputting. But I digress…)

Here some thoughts on my weekend read – a novel which shall remain nameless (but is one written by someone who usually writes for a more adult audience). It looks like the first in perhaps a series, although I haven’t seen a second on bookstore shelves yet

This writer seems to have gone down a cliché covered path with this one, even though her more adult fare isn’t usually quite so formulaic. Frustratingly…I’ve been told time and again to avoid clichés in my own writing, with the implied (or firmly stated) threat that no editor will ever publish anything ridden with cliché’s in any form.

Apparently, publishing – like the rest of life – isn’t fair.

The following details popped into focus as I read because they seemed a bit too familiar, or were examples of how NOT to write for teens according to many sources I’ve encountered in my journey as a writer.

Why must the main character, if a girl, have long, curly red hair? That’s often a mess? And why must she be too smart for her school and too smart for a “normal” group of friends? Brilliant, too mature for her own peers, carrying a chip on her shoulder, thrown into a new town and a new school. Yep. I’ve heard this one before.

Why must one of her friends be the “strong, silent type” boy – who is good looking, in love with the main character, but too quiet for his own good? One of her other friends is the only black character in the story and his one remarkable skill is…get this…picking locks. Really? (Didn’t know whether to laugh or roll my eyes at that one.)

And Superpowers. I mean really? They have to end up modified DNA that enables them to have a unique set of “powers” – and turns them into a “pack.” Cuz I’ve never read a teen novel where a group of kids could morph into dogs and could read each other’s minds to communicate. Nope.
There are also:

·         mean girls….rich, mean girls
·         absentee parents (One dead, the other oblivious and keeps saying things like, “We’ll talk about THIS later!” before disappearing for a few dozen chapters.)
·         cute puppies (Part wolf! After all, wolves haven’t had their share of the teen reading market lately, have they?)
·         technology that isn’t quite realistic all the time
·         an environmental message that plops into the plot rather coinkidinkly in time to provide a motive for the crime at hand
·         an evil stepmother
·         modified versions of the “f-word” – (Frackin’ worked for Starbuck and the pilots on the Galactica…but throwing in “frick” as a curse word used by a geeky teenager just doesn’t sound cool to me. Does anyone say “frick” instead of the real thing??)

Am I a little grouchy about this particular book? You betcha. Why? Well – it is simple really.
Why can an already self-made, wealthy, successful, world-famous author get away with these things, yet a new writer trying to break into the biz would be laughed out of any self-respecting editor’s office for the same sins?

I have this picture in my head of this writer getting a set of instructions from their editor, requesting that they “please write a story for teenagers with the following items included…{insert above bullet list here}. Be sure the characters are mostly two-dimensional. Write it fast. We’ll sell a ton of them.”

This writer and others following the same path will sell a gazillion copies of their YA books and keep turning out even more successful novels for adults at the same time. Why write suddenly for the YA market? My guess is because it is a hot market in an industry that, as a whole, is struggling right now. It is a ticket to more cash, both for the writer and for the publishing house. Put a well-known name on the spine of a book in the teen section of the bookstore, and it will sell. Even if it is formulaic and riddled with clichéd characters and language.

It just has me a bit ruffled this weekend.


  1. wow the one Black friend whose power is picking locks! Uh, that's NOT good!!!

  2. I know, right?! Made me very grouchy.