Monday, January 21, 2008

Make 'Em Persistent And Give Me Hope

Hello. I’m writing this post at a point when I should be doing homework, but because this post is for my own mental health, I have a feeling it’s more important.

This is Haphazard again. I’m a teenager who doesn’t like YA, and that’s about all you need to know about me for now. Well, except that I also don’t like realism, which is something I’ve noticed is getting a lot of praise as we discuss edgy YA. So, I figure it’s about time to bear my soul to everybody, because I need to get a point across.

Underneath this writerly persona, I’m still in many ways a typical teenager. Because of this, it’s not so surprising that there are a lot of people I don’t like, and that many of these people are close to me, whether they be peers or loved ones. The reason why I don’t like these people is because they give up so easily; myself included. Characters that give up, or have given up already, is often a part of trying to put the gritty into gritty realism, because so many people do this in real life. So many people just scrape by, because living is hard enough as it is without reaching for improvement.

And this is one thing that I really, really hate reading about; giving up. I hate the hopelessness evident in so much edgy fiction. Instead, I want to see somebody try their absolute hardest at whatever they try when I read. Now, there can be doubt, and I do admire somebody who knows when to fold their hand, but I want to see them move on from there and throw themselves at something else. Persistence is something that really grabs me in a story, and it makes me cry that much harder when the main character fails, or cheer that much harder when they win.

I know life is hard on people, but I don’t need to be reminded of this whenever I read. Instead, I want to be reminded that, against all odds, people will try their damnedest at whatever they believe must be done. I may be in an existential quandary, full of loathing and self-doubt, and wracked with the pain and isolation of my pitiful, meaningless existence, but I want to be able to take a small bit of comfort in knowing that the characters I read about aren’t stuck there, too.







And yes, that was a “Weird Al” Yankovic reference.

38 comments:

Vanessa Concannon said...

Good post, Haph! I too like persistent characters, who haven't given up. Because when you've given up...well, where's the struggle, really?

SuzanneYoung said...

I have to say, I don't read much YA where the MC has given up. I'm not sure if there is a lot of that out there because like Vanessa said, where's the struggle.

I do think a lot of folks make assumptions about what Edgy YA is and then assume that it's all like that.

Personally, I don't like to be depressed, so I don't read the dark stuff, nor do I want to write it. But, my stuff is still considered edgy.

Not reading YA is fine, but just know, it's not all a bunch of drugged out sex addicts. Sometimes life is fun. And sometimes it includes drugs and sex ;)

Haphazard said...

I have read edgy YA and I've found it all extremely depressing or just plain unlikable.

I also think I need to say that I don't deal with the 'modern teenage experience.' This may have something to do with it... No sex, no drugs, no rock and roll, just a lot of frustrating people. Like Office Space, only for teenagers and a lot less funny.

Andrew Carmichael said...

I've personally never read any YA about giving up...but I can see how that would be very annoying. I like persistant characters, too.

courtney said...

I think edgy--real, true, edgy YA--is a lot more varied than suggested and often unfairly pigeonholed as not only excessive and shockingly gratuitous, but hopeless and depressing as hell as well. It's sort of like the--also unfair and untrue--generalization that all chick-lit can't be clever or make any worthwhile literary contributions.

There are plenty of edgy YAs about people who court hopelessness, persevere and come out of it more determined than ever to reshape their lives for the better. Tension and stakes are important in all novels and often these elements provide that.

I'd also like to point out that there are many cross-genre YAs that aren't realism and are celebrated for their grit, like Holly Black's books.

I understand having a personal preference, and I certainly respect yours (I love books that explore hopelessness, whether or not the character perseveres in the end, personally), but there's some generalization going on here I can't agree with. Edgy YA is a varied and nuanced genre and hopelessness is a theme in it that's no more or less prominent than those that feature themes of love, religion, hate, illness, social injustice, class, popularity, etc.

SuzanneYoung said...

I heart Courtney's brain :D

bethany said...

I can't actually think of any YA books, edgy or not, that're about hopeless protagonists. Now, I've certainly read about slackers, but that's a different sort of thing. I don't know, maybe if we were discussing specific titles, I'd have a better idea of what we're talking about exactly.

I understand about wanting to read something that isn't your reality, but even in speculative literature you still need a certain amount of realism so that you can empathise (spelled correctly this time) with the characters, right?

courtney said...

Bethany: "I understand about wanting to read something that isn't your reality, but even in speculative literature you still need a certain amount of realism so that you can empathise (spelled correctly this time) with the characters, right?"

Exactly--I think without that element there's a potential for negative distance between the reader and the work. Universal emotions etc (can that be classified as realism?) are often what bridge that distance in novels that have fantastical setting etc. I couldn't relate to Harry Potter because he was a wizard, but I could certainly relate to his feelings, the desire to fit in and be normal and so on.

(Suz: Courtney's brain hearts you! Hee! :))

hannah said...

Courtney, you're totally on the ball, and I hope you don't think we're trying to judge any type of genre or the writers who produce it. Our way of representing the different nuances is often to bring our different, un-nuanced ideas to the table, rather than represent varied ideas within a single post...I make sense?

Haphazard said...

When I spoke of 'realism', I wasn't talking about 'realistic fiction', which is an entirely different animal. I'm talking about 'realism' versus 'hyperrealism,' which is the way most things are written. Hyperrealism is well and good, but not realistic at all. It's a cleaned up, spiffy version of reality that people want to read.

It's the difference between a movie conversation and an actual one.

courtney said...

Hannah, you make sense! I don't think anyone here is unfairly judging a genre at all. :) I understand that each post is going to have a singular focus and understood what Hap was saying & know that a dislike of hopeless YA is more of a personal preference thing (again, one of which I respect). I just disagree that it overwhelms the shelves/is over-evident in edgy YA & wanted to point out there are plenty of other options for her & someone else who might feel the same way (I love edgy YA and hate to think of someone missing out on the best book of their lives because they've written it off or something). David Levithan, for example, is both edgy & optimistic.

bethany said...

But wouldn't realistic dialogue be the boring crap that you don't like? Mumbling and talking about what itches and what hurts and what's on tv, and what you had for lunch. Isn't that the part of reality that we don't really need to replay?

hannah said...

David Levithan is such a genius.

I worry, constantly, about my stuff being to heavy, and David Levithan is one of my favorite lighten-up influences.

courtney said...

"It's the difference between a movie conversation and an actual one."

True, but in some ways there are sometimes very little differences between a movie conversation and an actual one. It depends on the movie.

The problem with 'realism' is it doesn't often make good fiction. It lacks structure and cohesiveness. That's what's lovely about fiction. It threads together the important parts and puts the puzzle together and if it does it well, it rings true.

Hannah, DL is definitely good at making sharp social commentary from a happier place. :)

Andrew Carmichael said...

DAVID LEVITHAN IS AMAZING.

Sorry...that's all I have to say...

Haphazard said...

Realism often doesn't make good fiction, but for some reason hopelessness is one of those things inserted to make it more 'realistic.' Which, if looking at the context of hyperrealism versus realism. A lot of times, if we look at a situation in a story, whatever genre, and the characters reacted in a realistic fashion, there would be no story.

People whine a lot in real life, but most people hate it in books. It's an example of realism versus hyperrealism. We're more likely to tolerate whining in real life situations, and do it ourselves, even, but in a hyperrealistic situation, it's best left off.

courtney said...

"Realism often doesn't make good fiction, but for some reason hopelessness is one of those things inserted to make it more 'realistic.'"

I don't really agree with this. That makes it sound like hopelessness is more of a ploy than a plot element. I think most edgy YA fiction writers are more careful than that.

I've always tended to think of hyper-realistic fiction to be more along the lines of Gossip Girls et al (which isn't edgy, btw).

Sage said...

Wow, this has a lot of comments all of a sudden.

I, too, don't see a lot of novels in *any* genre where the protag goes through the novel by giving up. Maybe sections where they have to get over that phase (Hey, even I've written a small section like that). But most protags are active. That's how they drive the story.

I don't mind the dark stuff, but even there, I expect active protags. I've read depressing books. But those I've read are depressing because the MC fought and lost (or partially lost in some cases), not because they weren't persistent enough.

And as a reader and writer of spec fic, I agree about needing some realism in that genre too. So that in the same novel with angels and demons and gods and immortals, we might have themes of addiction, identity, faith, death and, you know, dating ;)

YA, edgy or not, is the same. Varying degrees of realism in different novels with different themes.

And who says realism = hopelessness? Sounds a little bit like giving up on the world....

Jordan said...

I really like stories that flirt with hopelessness. Maybe because I totally identify with those feelings myself. Life happens, you deal with it.

Most of my characters deal with hopelessness in one form or another, and most of my themes explore the need to persevere, to fight, to soldier on in the face of death. And the consequences of giving up.

Hope is a beautiful thing. To really appreciate it, sometimes you have to travel to the very ends of the earth, where hope has all but fled. Because my characters struggle so hard with their feelings of hopelessness, it's so much sweeter when they pull through and make something of themselves and their situation. It lends contrast to the story, it lets everyone know what the stakes are.

Now, I also love the stories where everything ends the worst way it possibly can. Maybe I'm some kind of horrible sado-masochist, but one of my favorite books is Robert Cormier's Tenderness. Not to ruin it for anyone, but let me just say: don't expect everyone to live happily ever after.

To each his own.

Lera said...

Sometimes people DO give up. Sometimes people DON'T try their hardest. Asking there not to be incredible amounts of despair, or hopelessness, or apathy in some stories strikes me as being unrealistic. I like the word anti-reality more. I mean, we all look for something in fiction that we don't have or that we admire outside fiction. But for me, if the character ALWAYS was able to fight back, leap up again, kick back and had this impenetrable air of invincibility, I would put the book down. Personally, I don't search for a character who is stronger than I am.

Lera said...

Also, inaction IS action. I learned that from Elie Wiesel ;) So, though you have to have plot I suppose (haha), a character's lack of action, or inability to fight back, is an action. I think people underestimate the amount of writing, depth and realism that can be discovered by hitting the bottom.

courtney said...

Jordan, I LOVE Tenderness!

Sorry, just had to say. :)

Haphazard said...

An example of hyperrealism at its finest would be the Pendragon series. Most of it is through the writings of a 15-year-old. Most 15-year-olds aren't that coherent in their writing, and if they were, they wouldn't be that precise in journal entries.

But, as the reader, you forgive and forget and try to enjoy the story.

Hyperrealism most definitely isn't limited to things like Gossip Girl. Things in real life don't have social commentary, nor are they dramatic and nor are they coherent. I'd wager that everybody here writes hyperrealism, at least to some extent.

courtney said...

Oh, I know hyper-realism isn't only limited to the Gossip Girls, it was just one example. :)

Anyway, fun & provoking post!

bethany said...

Yes, Hap you are always provoking, and that's not passive, is it? Look how much discussion your post stirred up.

I disagree with what you see as a trend in edgy YA, I agree that giving up can be dull and not really productive, and I'm not sure about the whole hyper-reality thing.

Haphazard said...

Hyperreality is pretty much acceptable breaks from reality. You know, things that, if in real life happened, you'd find it a little eerie, at least, and highly improbable, but in fiction it just flows naturally. It's the difference between something scripted and unscripted. People accept the thing that's scripted, but at the same time, it's nothing like real life.

Jordan said...

"Also, inaction IS action. I learned that from Elie Wiesel ;) So, though you have to have plot I suppose (haha), a character's lack of action, or inability to fight back, is an action. I think people underestimate the amount of writing, depth and realism that can be discovered by hitting the bottom."

Lera...that is beautiful. Julian thanks you for it :)

I shall now stop relaying messages from my characters...

Jordan said...

"Hyperreality is pretty much acceptable breaks from reality. You know, things that, if in real life happened, you'd find it a little eerie, at least, and highly improbable, but in fiction it just flows naturally. It's the difference between something scripted and unscripted. People accept the thing that's scripted, but at the same time, it's nothing like real life."

Hap, that is all of fiction. It's life distilled, concentrated, all the meaningless crap given meaning. Otherwise...it's pointless. No one likes pointless fiction.

courtney said...

"People accept the thing that's scripted, but at the same time, it's nothing like real life."

I think there's less distance, though, personally. Certain fiction will resonate because it is like real life, almost exactly, regardless of the fact that it's been constructed.

Haphazard said...

Exactly. It's all of fiction.

But sometimes people like to step back into reality, and a lot of the times they take things that just plain don't work -- like awkward conversations -- or take things that can work but some people really don't want, like what I tried to describe in my post.

Sage said...

I'm confused on the point about hyperrealism, because it seems to be the opposite of the point of the post

Catherine said...

See, this is where everyone is different.

Not saying that I like hopeless characters, but I like the odds stacked pretty firmly against my protagonist, so that sometimes they wonder if it's really worth carrying on (obviously they do, or there would be no story).

I like dark things, I like surreal things. Neil Gaiman's a good example.

I also like Pratchett, but he's dark and surreal in a completely different way. (And don't argue with me about this - Pratchett is flipping dark, he just hides it under a veneer of comic timing and turns of phrase. He's fooled you all! AHAHAHAHA)

Sorry, where was I?

Hap, is the "modern teenage experience" really all that diverse? Maybe the surface trapping are, but at heart, stories are about people, and when you scratch away surface things like what you wear, what you're addicted to (music, tv, drugs, sex, really bad stand-up) and who you want to be, there are universal themes that speak to a great many people. Love, self-acceptance, whatever.

So, sorry for this long rambly comment. I hope at least some of it made sense.

Haphazard said...

Catherine, why did you name all of my favorite authors?

WTF. Now really.

I wouldn't say Pratchett is dark. Underneath the humor is satire, and underneath the satire is hope for improvement. And you can't say that's dark.

Catherine said...

Hap- 'cause I have extremely good taste and I'm made of awesome? :D

Yeah I'll agree there's hope in Pratchett's work (to a point)

But he's incredibly cynical of people, and that's a part of what makes his characters strong - Vimes is my fave, and he's hardly a figure of light and japes.

So what you're really railing against is hopelessness? Things can be very dark and seem hopeless, but the character perseveres despite the odds. What books are you reading where they don't, they just give in?

Not a bitchy questions - just genuine curiosity.

Haphazard said...

I think I'm reading too much amateur fiction.

Also, all of last year I've read nothing but satire, and a lot of that was... very depressing.

Yep, I'm rallying against hopelessness. Characters can have their ups and downs, but I can't stand it when hopelessness is the overall story.

hannah said...

You know who writes the best satire?



Chuck
Palahniuk




--Shady Lane, bringing the conversation back to her comfort zone.

courtney said...

Hannah, you would probably REALLY enjoy these interviews with Chuck Palahniuk on The Hour. I haven't read his books but they're fantastic (probably helps that George, the interviewer is terrif at what he does):

http://www.cbc.ca/thehour/video.php?id=1570
http://www.cbc.ca/thehour/video.php?id=654

And I don't know if this is the right place for this but

Dear YaYas,

Thanks for the link!

Courtney

hannah said...

oh my God, he sits the same way I do.

FANTASTIC interviews, Courtney. Thank you so, so, so much.