Tips for Young Authors #1: Cookies?


Kahlin Lindholm

The first of many 'Tips for Young Authors'!

DivergentHunger Games. Twilight. I’m certain many of you have heard the names of these novels, maybe even read them or seen their movies. Each of them have made a ridiculous amount of money and have millions of fans across the world.

And I, a high school student with absolutely no credit to my name, am going to tell you that they suck.

Now, this isn’t to say that these stories aren’t successful. Each of them have amassed a huge following, and likely for good reason. A lot of these stories are made for a specific audience — more often than not, young teenage girls.

But that’s exactly the problem: these stories being successful, especially with such an easily influenced demographic, corrupts their perception of creativity and quality writing and will lead to continued support of similarly uninspired writing.

All of that being said, what is the problem with these books?

Plain and simple: they’re all the exact same.

Allow me to demonstrate: a teenage girl with special skills/powers finds herself in the middle of a huge war, in which she is the only one capable of ending the bloodshed. Alongside this, a slightly abusive relationship will form between her and two boys, each on either side of the conflict. In the end, the girl’s sheer angst and melancholic attitude will lead to a dark, gritty ending that has you reconsidering your own morals.

Here’s the question: was I just talking about Hunger Games, Divergent, or Twilight?

The issue with these stories is that they follow a formula — not a guideline or a general concept, but an exact formula. This is incredibly prevalent in young adult fiction as of late, and the simple reason for why is because it sells. All it seems to take to make it in the young adult world is to take your semi-unique idea, slap it through a cookie cutter, then roll it out to sell like hotcakes.

Firstly, they all have a female protagonist, and before a mob comes to lynch me, allow me to clarify: having a female protagonist is NOT a bad thing. The gender of your protagonist does not decide whether or not your story is worthwhile, so having a female protagonist does not inherently harm the story.

But, having a female protagonist purely for the sake of an ‘inclusive’ or ’empowering’ narrative is just pandering schlock designed to appeal to a young audience who doesn’t know any better. And aside from that, the protagonists of the aforementioned stories do something worse than being mindlessly pandering.

They’re flat out boring.

There is nothing to like or relate to with Katniss, Tris, or Bella, outside of the intended audience: they’re social outcasts, with a moody personality and wishy-washy morals designed to reflect the hormonal, mid-pubescent audience they’re intended to reflect. The only ones who could relate to them are seeing a reflection of what they think they are, rather than what they could become, and everybody else is just flat out annoyed.

This is further accentuated by point two: they have no character arcs. By the end of the story, you have a more worn out and depressed protagonist, but it feels as though very little of what has happened in the story has actually affected them.

Forced to fight to the death against other kids your age? Eh, better go back to fighting more people.

Corrupt government stealing your family in the night and separating you into factions? Further divide yourself, and make the following battles much more difficult!

Drawn into a centuries old conflict between two supernatural factions? Fall in love with two of them, and continue to motivate the bloodshed!

But the characters aren’t the only problems. Generic protagonists can be issues, but some of the greatest stories ever told have had some incredibly basic characters. What makes these characters interesting, then, is their interactions with the people and world around them.

How do most young adult books use the infinite possibilities of character interactions, then?

Simple: make a love triangle!

As everyone knows, the only way to convey romance in a story is to have your confused protagonist, already torn between two worlds she doesn’t understand, fall in love with men (or women, that can vary too) on either side of the conflict, thereby making the conflict personal to her. After all, what is a character without a poorly written romance to motivate them?

And, finally, the biggest insult of all: the concept of the cookie cutter as a whole. For thousands of years, mankind has improved the art of telling a really good story. Some authors, like Tolkien, spent their entire lives shaping entire worlds in their minds, patiently penning them down on a page until they were ready to be seen. Others had simpler, shorter ideas, but they were rich with morals and lessons to be learned and conveyed so much that otherwise would be lost.

Telling stories is the way we pass on our history, how we retain our humanity, and become greater than what we could ever be alone, and the idea that someone could take a story practically word for word, shake up a few names and concepts, and make millions from it is, frankly, an insult to the craft.

So, to conclude this first rendition of Tips for Young Authors, I leave you this lesson: don’t write what everyone else is writing. If you’re going to dedicate your life to the art of storytelling, you need to be able to create your own ideas, your own concepts.

They don’t need to be entirely original — nothing is ever truly original — but write what you want to write.

Remember that, and you will go far.