Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Post: Tips from A Teen - What Bugs Me In MG/YA

Today's guest post comes from Angela A, teen blogger and aspiring writer. Did I mention how cool I think it is when teens blog? And WRITE?? Very cool. Even better when they share their unique perspective with writers who are a few years (*cough*) past their teens.

Tips From A Teen: What Bugs Me In MG/YA
By Angela A.

Well, hi there! I'm Angela, if you haven't already met me out there in the bloggerverse, and you can find me at

There are so many Young Adult books out there that it's pretty much inevitable: you get the good, the bad, the really, REALLY good, the really, REALLY bad, and...well, you get the point. A lot of things can go wrong in a book. Writing, plot, setting, etc. Don't even get me started. This guest post will focus on elements that I have seen repeatedly in Middle Grade/Young Adult books that I simply cannot stand.

*Disclaimer: I'm not trying to be negative. I'm trying to let writers into the brain of their target audience, so that they know the things we really, REALLY can't stand, and can ultimately improve their writing.

**Another disclaimer: This is just my opinion. I'm sure there are other teenagers that feel differently. These are just the pet peeves that I have developed, that I have discussed with other teenage readers, and that I find all too common in MG/YA writing.

1. Stereotypes

You know what I mean. The Jock. The Nerd. The Cheerleader. The Rebel. If there's one thing teenagers hate, it's being boxed in. Don't get me wrong: stereotype or two can be a good way to add comic relief, or to show that you can't judge a book by its cover. But when every! single! character! is a've got a problem. Football players aren't always dumb. Nerds aren't always awkward. Cheerleaders don't always want to claw people's eyes out with manicured nails.

Let your characters be who they are, not what they appear to be.

2. Whiners

Yes, teenagers can be extremely whiny, myself included. But that doesn't mean your MC has to constantly complain about their parents/friends/boyfriend/life. From the perspective of a lot of teens, they're lucky to HAVE parents/friends/boyfriend/life.

We don't want spend our time reading about how much the MC's life sucks, we want to see them DO something about it, we want to see them take action!

3. Possessive/Overly-Heroic Love Interests

You know what I'm talking about. The boyfriend who is unnecessarily concerned, ALL THE TIME. Or who swoops in to save the MC every time she's in trouble, NEVER even thinking about letting her save herself.

A certain book Saga has a boyfriend like that, and has made a great deal of money. So I guess you can still be successful with this kind of character. But this was pulled off very, very carefully. Any of the other times I've seen these kinds of boyfriends in novels, they've come off as creepy, or stalkerish, or stiff.

Let's be honest:if you're writing MG or YA, the love interest is going to be young, probably somewhere from the ages 12-18. How many twelve-to-eighteen-year-olds do you know that would risk EVERYTHING for a girl? Probably not that many. And when a boy gets possessive in a relationship, the girl usually has a freak-out, instead of running back into his arms and thinking how wonderful and protective and strong he is.

4. Boys Who Don't Act Like Boys

Come on now. No matter how sensitive/poetic/wonderful a boy is, he still has guy friends, and still acts a certain way around his guy friends. Cocky and confident and laid-back and lazy. He can't ALWAYS be paying attention to his girlfriend, or ALWAYS acting like he's above their childish antics. What fun is a guy who doesn't know how to have a good time with his buddies? A guy can be a good boyfriend while still acting regular around his friends.

For the sake of positivity, I'll include three things that I, as a teenager, LOVE in MG/YA books:

1. Shy Guys

They're just so cute and quiet and amazingly awesome!!! Enough said.

2. Love Triangles

Especially the irreconcilable kind. It lets us, as the reader, decide what WE would do if we were in that situation

The Edward-Bella-Jacob. The Peeta-Katniss-Gale. People form TEAMS about these relationships. Need I say more?

3.Realistic Siblings

Because not everything is always chummy-chummy between sibs, but they aren't constantly fighting, either. It's usually a mix of the two, a strong companionship that is hard to perfect in writing but is totally touching when you do it right

Do you agree? Disagree? What elements do you love/hate in MG/YA? Leave a comment, let me know!

Thanks, Susan, for letting me do a guest post on this awesome blog! :)

Thank YOU, Angela, for some fabulous advice for MG/YA writers, direct from our target audience! I am off the grid today, so Angela will be fielding your questions/comments.

Also: here is an excellent post about stereotyping boys in YA lit!


  1. Great post, Susan and Angela. You've hit some of the points that drive me nuts with YA. Hopefully I'm not inadvertantly making some of them myself. ;)

  2. I'm far from the YA audience, yet these are the same things that have turned me off from the genre. I tried going to Angela's blog and follow but Google wouldn't load. Will try again later. Best to you Angela in your writing career! This was a wonderful post!

  3. Great post! Like Stina said, you've nailed a number of my pet peeves too--especially about the possessive boyfriend types. In real life, guys like this are annoying to downright scary.

    Shy guys are good, and so are ones with real flaws and problems that they struggle with and work to overcome. Love interests deserve a story arc too!

  4. Yes! You are absolutely right, Angela. Great post!! :-)

  5. @KarenG I checked the link, and it seems to work for me. When you get a chance, try it again.

    Thanks everyone for the comments!

    [returns to silent running]

  6. Nice post. Reading it made me realize that my kids (13 and 10)rarely read books about every day life. The books they read might have siblings, romance, "types," etc in them, but that doesn't tend to be what the books are about. Guess that can be one way to avoid your pet peeves. haha My son and I do love the Hunger Games books though(and Suzanne Collins in general). On our recent camping trip we even took the handles of Rue and Haymitch for our walkie talkie conversations. That's not weird is it? Is it??

  7. Thanks for sharing such great thoughts, Angela.

    I teach 4th grade and one of my favorite activities is to talk with the kids about what they like and don't like in the books we read.


  8. Another great post, Angela! And thanks to Susan for hosting her and her fabulous tips! :D

  9. Very cool advice Angela!

    Can I add to the stereotypes? Truly evil teachers. I gotta admit, I'm a teacher, but I've read several new books lately where the teacher is an incredible bully to the point of calling kids horrible names. Do these authors really think there are teachers like that today? I certainly understand that kids have a different view of teachers but today's kids would truly protest the teacher behavior I've read lately.

    and do the authors realize that teachers and librarians are the ones they want to promote their books to kids? Yuck.

  10. @Jan I'm reading a book right now (King Dork) that has that very stereotype! It's a YA book, and I agree that it's pretty unsettling to see bullying from a teacher, even if it's only in fiction!

    And I second your comment that teachers and librarians are an author's best friend. I certainly hold to that here on Ink Spells.

  11. You touched on some of my biggest pet peeves--particularly stereotypes and bad boys. I recently read PARANORMALCY, and one of the things that really struck me was how the author didn't really have any stereotypes at all, and that it wasn't the bad boy that was the hero of the love triangle.

  12. Angela and Susan...That was super! It really made me think about my YA. Thanks!

  13. AMEN to #3. I'm not sure it was pulled off in the blockbuster saga you reference. It creeped me out how over protective and kinda bossy he was....ohhh, don't get me started.

  14. I totally agree about numbers 1, 2, and 3! I'm getting soooo tired of the stereotypes in YA lit. They seem to be everywhere. And the hero on his white stallion riding in to save the day? Puh-leeze! I want to see a heroine kick butt! It's cool if he saves her once or twice, but she needs to be the heroine sometimes too! Idk about love triangles's getting a little cliche. What about a love square? Too much? Lol! Great post! I really enjoyed hearing another YA fan's perspective!

  15. What a great post! I too hate stereotypes and whiny characters so I'm glad to hear a teen who agrees :)

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  18. I'm so glad that I agree with your teen guest about her likes and dislikes.

    Super post, Angela and Susan.

  19. Thank you to everyone who weighed in, and to Angela for the thought provoking post! :)

  20. Hey there!
    Great thoughts here. I think I agree with everything!

  21. Great post!! I came over from Stina Lindenblatt, and I love your blog!



Erudite comments from thoughtful readers