Odds and Ends: Breaking the Rules, Twilight and Dark Pasts

This week we’re trying something a little different. Instead of doing a full-length post I thought we might do a whole bunch of mini-topics that I’ve been contemplating but haven’t been able to get enough material for a full post for. You down with that? Good.

Welcome to my junk drawer.

Do boys and girls read different things?

For those who don’t know, I work in a bookstore and it’s not an uncommon thing for me to be asked to recommend a book or a series for a harried parent/auntie/adult figure who needs to know what the kids are into these days. Or, more specifically, what their kid would be into.

Which is fine and thankfully there’s a great range of, frankly brilliant, kids authors out there. But there are always some books that I simply don’t recommend for certain kids and often it’s for incredibly arbitrary reasons.

As opposed to the legitimate reasons I don’t often recommend my favourite books

For example, I generally won’t recommend a book that has a female protagonist if the kid’s a boy. And I don’t know why that is. When I was a girl I never had any problems with reading books that had boys as the protagonists, so why doesn’t it work the same way for boys? Because of this strange mental block I’ll bypass the shelf of Tamora Pierce (Books which still make me flail with joy) and instead head straight for the Percy Jackson or the Artemis Fowl books (Which, admittedly, still make me flail but not quite as much).

I was talking with one of my co-workers and she tends to do the same thing. Girls get the pick of the bunch while boys are restricted to boyish books. And that doesn’t make sense at all. Is this just an us thing? Or do we all collectively need to start buying boys books with strong female protagonists?

First Person

Every book I pick up these days is in first person. When did this start happening? And Why?

For the Rule breakers

Breaking rules is fun, isn’t it? To boldly split an infinitive, to write a story with as many car park violations as you possibly can, to sprinkle exclamation points around like… well… sprinkles, to continue sentences going long after they’ve overstayed their welcome. And, because writing is essentially a creative sport, if anyone call you out on it you can always give them your most disdainful look and tell them that they obviously don’t ‘get’ it and that they’re heathens for not appreciating your art.

If you can manage a snooty French or English accent here you've won.

The beauty of writing is that you really can do that. Like all creative pursuits, often it’s the rule breakers who are the ones who change and revolutionise the field with their crazy ideas. It’s the rule breakers who saw how confined everyone else was by those petty rules and decided that they weren’t part of that crowd of people who were considered ‘good’ writers, they wanted to be great.

And sometimes that works. Sometimes the rule breakers discover that the rules were only hindering their creative voice and that, really, they’re better off without them.

More often, however, they crash and burn in a fiery, but amusing, explosion of bloated prose and grammar fails.

But rules are meant to be broken, right? And, in fact, it is better for the rules to be broken because that’s edgy and cool, man, and that gives the work value because we don’t conform to your system.

But being edgy and cool doesn’t mean breaking rules. It means breaking the rules for a reason. If your prose is full of dense description because you want your story to have a trapped-in-honey kind of feel to it, more power to you. If you’re twisting grammar to the point where it screams because that’s how your character understands the world and it wouldn’t make sense otherwise, I applaud you. If your story is filled with useless dead ends that send home the Nihilistic philosophy of your book I take my hat off to you. But if you’re breaking rules for no reason other than to be cool or because you are unaware that rules exist, I am perfectly within my rights to peg your book at the nearest solid object.

Should we study Twilight?

It’s back to school time over here and we’ve got a brand spanking new national curriculum. Previously the curriculum was set by each of our individual states and it was a shemozzle of different systems whenever you crossed state lines.

This national curriculum has the interesting effect that now all students will be reading roughly the same books as they go through the schooling system. And the selection is pretty much what you’d expect, some classics (With themes and messages that you can easily squeeze an essay out of) combined with some modern classics (with the above-mentioned essay readiness).

And before you all expire with horror, no, Twilight is not on the list.

But should it be?

As much as the comparison pains me, Twilight did what Harry Potter did before and what Hunger Games is doing now, it encouraged kids (mostly teens) who’d given up on reading to pick up a book and see what this whole craze was about.

And so they picked up Twilight without really having any reference point for what is a good book and what is cheap entertainment.

The result is clear   (Source)

Now, perhaps this is making a target of myself, but I don’t mind the Twilight books (Though I count them as the trilogy and mentioning that abomination of a fourth book is likely to send me foaming at the mouth). They’re engaging for what they are and I have no problem with their existence. But, objectively, they are not good books.

And that’s okay. Not every book in the world needs to be good. But when they are the book that has gotten teens back into reading, there needs to be some kind of discussion talking about why Twilight is what it is and why it’s not the be all an end all of literature.

Think about it. If you’re between the ages of say 12 to 25, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve read these books. And you’ve formed your own opinions about them. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to be able to discuss these books in an environment where you’re encouraged to go beyond the ‘Edward is sooo hot!’ and ‘Vampires don’t SPARKLE!’ extremes and instead discuss the allegations about Edward and Bella’s relationship being abusive? Or the way Meyer’s Mormon upbringing has influenced the text? Or just why millions of girls fell in love with these guys and what that says about us as a society?

Personally, that’s a discussion I’d love to have in a classroom setting. Much more than talking about the painfully thin allegory of Animal Farm, anyway.

The Dark Past

Unless you do something with it, I don’t care. Your character does not become more interesting if you casually mention that they were abused as a child and then never speak of it again.

The End

That was fun, wasn’t it? I’ll have to do that again next time I’m fresh out of anything but mini-ideas. I’d love to know your thoughts and opinions about any of the issues I’ve talked about so please comment and tell me what you think.

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About Meg Laverick

I can never be found without a cup of tea in my hand or a notebook in my bag. In between university and generally being awesome I read, write and nerd (that's a verb, right?). I also like analysing things that are probably best left alone.
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3 Responses to Odds and Ends: Breaking the Rules, Twilight and Dark Pasts

  1. Lainy says:

    I know Jake pretty much reads anything. I’m pretty sure i push all the books i read on him that have a female lead and he takes them. Then again, he does give me a funny look first and asks me if it is gay porn. -_-;

    First Person: I know right? Having said that the last book i read was third person…. but it was nothing to write home about.

    I’m pretty sure i missed a whole segment or two of school when moving between states since it was all taught at a different time everywhere. Can’t say i feel like i missed out on anything. Ha ha.

    Also, that whole ‘how did meyer’s mormon upbringing influence twilight thing’ totally the same as the first option of that stupid existentialism essay. except that was how did the guy from Metallica’s upbringing influence his lyrics. If the teacher happens on this, someone in the future may have to the meyer version and then relate that to their life and career in accounting. that could be amusing.

  2. Ben says:

    As someone who once was a young teen and preteen reading fiction, I did find myself reading a fair number of books with male protagonists, although this may have been less about my actively choosing male protags (as I also enjoyed Sabriel, Discworld–which has a number of great female protags, and several others) and more about my method of selection, which was to randomly pick books out of the fantasy/sci-fi section at the library.
    Interestingly, of the writing projects I’ve done of am currently finishing, I have 1 novel with a male protag, 1 novella with 2 female protags, 1 novel with a 17-year old girl as a protag, and a serialized story with 1 male and 1 female. Planned projects reflect a similarly even (or roughly even) split. Whether or not I write believable female characters remains to be seen, but the whole “men writing as women” thing is a whole different subject.

  3. phoenixandtiger says:

    I don’t know how to ramble about this… so I’ll do it by section:
    Boys and girls reading different things: Sadly, it’s very true. And it really sucks that there’s a double standard about that, but then again it’s probably better (imho) that boys don’t read girl stuff (coughTwilightcough). I used to love those teenaged romances where they meet in high school and marry once graduation’s over – with all of the cliches and happy endings and I just wanted to vomit. So I jumped ship and started reading things girls wouldn’t be caught dead with (at least where I grew up). Suffice it to say, I was much happier after that.
    First Person: because of Twilight. That’s it. It’s just a freaking fad and I can’t wait for it to stop – I’ll even wish for everything to be written in the SECOND person, and that is just… really out of it for me.
    For the Rule Breakers: Please tell me you’ll be doing a post on how to break the rules. This was an awesome section!
    Should we study Twilight: Definitely not. But I guess you could squeeze an essay out of how many synonyms Meyer uses for yellow. And pale. Maybe just a list of how many times she uses each word? And an essay about how Bella is the biggest MarySue there is.
    The Dark Past: Usually I just find the Dark Past annoying. To me, unless part of your story actually takes place during the Dark Past, then it doesn’t really matter unless it’s still an ongoing thing (like an abusive spouse [coughEdwardcough] about your MC is trying to get away from it). Because whenever you try and show how they’ve evolved from that stage, I’m not really getting the big change unless I see how they were before.
    The End: I drew flying pigs when I actually wrote ‘The End’ in the notebook where I wrote my NaNo novel.

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