I read a lot of free books on Kindle. (You can, too, if you want: type “free Kindle books” into the search bar in the Kindle store and you will be rewarded with thousands of free works to download.) Some of them are great, but most range from mediocre to bad. I read one in the latter category (somewhere along the mediocre-to-bad continuum) last weekend. When I finished it, I knew I definitely wasn’t going to read the next two in the series, even though I had downloaded a free box set of the first three novels in the series.
Then I realized what a great learning opportunity this was. I firmly believe that reading bad writing can be just as instructive as reading good writing. Good writing shows us what to do; bad writing shows us what notto do. So, without further ado, here is a list of points to consider when writing a young adult novel:
- Likability of the main character: there’s got to be at least something redeeming about your main character. In the Bad Novel I read, the main character started off alright, but quickly took a turn for the worse. She turned into a bratty, rude, disrespectful, and overall unpleasant person. Look, I know she’s young (seventeen) and in a strange situation throughout the book, but her behavior was so annoying and a bit unrealistic. In the start of the book, she develops awesome superpowers and is being hunted by a psychopathic killer. An agency offers to take her in and help her. Naturally, since she’s never heard of them, she is distrustful of their motives and wonders if they really want to help her or just want to use her. She spends the entire book suspicious of all the people who work for this agency. But instead of being guarded and showing suspicion, she belittles them and is rude to them. By the end, I was rooting for the poor beleaguered agency employees to toss her out to deal with the psychopathic killer herself. Yes, she was so annoying, I literally was rooting for her to die so she couldn’t be in another book. It was that bad.
- Characters should be realistic: one of the people working for the agency verbally sparred with our annoying main character on a frequent basis and sounded like a teenage girl every time he did so. The problem? He wasn’t a teenage girl—he was an adult man, about forty or so. Note to authors: please don’t make an adult man living in the northern US sound like a spoiled Valley girl.
- Villains that are actually frightening: by definition, a villain should be scary. Yet the villain in this Bad Novel was not. The main thing that made him not terribly frightening was the way he spoke. He spoke about himself in the third person and he always sounded like an elementary school teacher talking to a bunch of little kids. Speaking about oneself in the third person is fine—if one is speaking to a group of five-year-olds. Seriously, drop the third person speech if you want your villain to be scary.
I’m sure there are more problems I could talk about, but I can’t think of any more off the top of my head (and as you’ve probably gathered, I’m not about to go reread the book!).
Bottom line: it’s okay if your main character sometimes does and says stupid things. That makes the book realistic, which is great! Just don’t make the character so annoying that by the end, the poor reader is rooting for this character to get bumped off.