Thursday, February 16, 2012

Uh-Oh... Advice Gone Bad

One of the things writers are often told is "write what you know." It's right up there with using active verbs and BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard).  But... is it always good advice? What if you know doesn't resonate with your readers. One of the hardest things about writing YA is staying true to the characters while also staying true to the readers... all while often being (*cough* several *cough*) years out of high school. Sure some things are fairly consistent, but a lot changes over time.

And what about those things that were unique to your high school experience? What the hell do you do with those? (Personal example first...) I went to a high school that wasn't stereotypically clique-y. The cheerleaders hung out with the band people who hung out with the sports teams who hung out with the nerds who hung out with the choir people--and any combination you can think in there. (For example, I earned letters in band, choir, sports, and academics--and it was a pretty big high school, graduating class of 600+.) Now, I know a lot of schools aren't like that, but in some ways (in others it totally wasn't), I saw it as kind of an ideal situation, so I do use it in my work because I think a lot of people want that, especially if they don't have it. Sure, in the PRT stories, there are still jerks, but they aren't cliques of jerks--they're individuals.

(Now for a not-me example.)

One of my crit partners recently read a YA novel that gave her absolute fits. Mind you, she's in her early 20s, so not all that far removed from her high school years, and she loved the author's previous book. So what was the problem with this book? It dealt with sex... pretty much the book is about sex. Now, my crit partner doesn't have any problems with sex or sex in YA. But the way the female characters in the book acted and talked about sex was the complete opposite of her high school years, and I have to say...mine too.

(Details. I have not read the book, so I'm getting all of this from my crit partner...)

  1. The plot of the book pushes these girls to actually talking to each other about sex. Okay, I don't know about you, but at my school, I knew by the next day when my friends had lost their virginity. It wasn't some closely guarded secret. We talked about sex, a lot, and not in worried whispers in the locker room. It was normal conversation fodder (which is not so different from the way my friends and I act now.)
  2. Said girls are disturbed by the idea that they like sex. They think liking sex makes them sluts. First off... I have never in my life heard this as even a partial definition for slut. Certainly not when I was in high school. You know who got the "slut" label most often? Virgins with boyfriends. And the only people other girls called sluts were the ones who were known to sleep with anyone... and we knew this because of point #1. They were mainly labeled in a "keep your boyfriend away from ______, she's a slut." This wasn't even slut-shaming, because we didn't care that she had a lot of sex, we only cared that she didn't have it with our boyfriends while we were dating them.
  3. Does doing various sex acts (or liking it) make them weird? Again, see point #1. Unless all your friends were virgins (and therefore you were the only one talking about sex in more than theory), this stuff comes out. Sometimes girls would be all "Really?" when someone said they liked something, but it was never honestly thought of as weird. 

Society didn't rule our conversations at school, so what society thought never entered our conversations. What we though mattered. Now maybe the author when to a different kind of school. Hell, it may be the way things are at most high schools, but when there's a decade and a half (along with half a country) separating my crit partner and I, one would think the situations in the book would have resonated with one of us at least a little. I'm not saying the author should have written the book differently, but as a reader, I would wonder if she forced the school and the characters into that box just to suit the plot. And that would bother me.

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