I know I haven’t posted here in over a month, and that’s because I’m feverishly working on revising my next book so I can get it into my beta readers’ hands very, very soon. But I decided to take a break from that to bust out a quick post about writing. A post about writing! How about that? I was thinking today about popular conventions in teen fiction and how my YA urban fantasy series, The Rhapp’s Barren Triptych, pretty much breaks many of those conventions. What can I say, I’m a rule breaker.
A lot of teen fiction is written in first person. Maybe almost all of it. Of the YA books I’ve read in the last six months, only one of them was not written that way: Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (really good book, btw). So, why did I decide to do something so foolhardy as write my YA book in 3rd person? I guess the better question is why did I write my YA book in 3rd person using multiple perspectives, only one of which is an actual teenager? Actually, that would be a very good question.
I don’t have an answer.
Well, okay, maybe I don’t have a very good answer, but I do have an answer: I didn’t know any better. That, and I just really, really wanted to do it. It was the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it. There were details in the plot that I wanted the reader to be aware of as the story was unfolding. I wanted the reader to know what different characters were feeling, even the victims, even the villains. Damn the conventions. Damn the rules. To quote Sonmi 451, “All boundaries are conventions waiting to be transcended.” To me, that’s kind of what art is all about, stretching past the man-made boundaries.
A cynic (a cynic other than me, I mean) might say that teenagers are too narcissistic to read anything that doesn’t put them in the driver’s seat by way of a first person perspective. Not true, says I. In fact, the actual teenagers (the audience I’m writing for) who’ve read The Heart Thief and given feedback aren’t the ones who’ve balked at the multiple perspectives. Only adults have done that. By the way, is there such a thing as too many perspectives? The answer probably is yes, and if so, I walk the line for sure. But maybe we should ask George R. R. Martin about that. Whatever.
Writers and readers like to believe there are a lot of rules that govern how things should be. And there are. And generally I believe it’s a good idea to follow those rules. But it’s also a good idea to question them. Teens can be smart enough to follow a story that unfolds in more than one person’s brain. I’m not saying it’s for everybody, and I’m definitely not saying books written in first person are weak or incapable of taking risks.
My message is thus: do your thing, tell your story the way you want to tell it. Write in first person or third. Shoot, write in second person, if you think that’ll somehow work. Have one narrator or ten, if that’s what it takes. And if someone tells you that’s not how it’s done, feel free to offer them the following piece of advice:
Just kidding; don’t do that. But seriously, I’d like to know what you think? I know some readers actually prefer to have things a certain way. And that’s okay. If you don’t like stories told from multiple perspectives, then my book probably isn’t for you. And that’s totally cool. But to you writers out there, don’t be afraid to buck conventional wisdom. It’s the story that matters. And if it’s a good one, it’s going to find its audience. At least, that’s what I’m hoping will happen.
P.S. I mentioned Holly Black earlier. For another cool YA book written in 3rd person from multiple perspectives (though not nearly as many as mine), check out C.N. Crawford’s The Witching Elm. It’s dope. It’s an indie, which kind of makes it even cooler. Heck, while I’m pushing indie YA fiction, also check out Sisters of Sorrow by Axel Blackwell and Sacrificed: The Last Oracle by Emily Wibberley (I’m actually almost done with this one, and it’s really cool so far).