I have been roaming around the blogosphere for the last three months, and there are two things that have stood out for me when encountering other blogging writers.
Firstly, the vast majority of these writers are female. There’s no one particular kind of woman, it goes from school age through to young mothers, to frazzled soccer moms, to silver haired retirees. But it is very, very definitely not a man's world (we’re outnumbered Little Big Horn style).
The other striking thing is the genre most women choose to write in: Fantasy. I found this quite odd, I don’t recall girls reading much of this sort of thing when I was a kid. Not many D&D girls crossed my path (oh, if only...). But from princes and faeries, to werewolves and witches, it is very much the genre of the moment. And with a strong tendency towards the Young Adult end of the market.
This is my impression. I don’t have any stats to corroborate it with. Am I way off? Allow me to dig myself a little deeper.
There is some stuff aimed at younger kids, and some traditional romance fiction/chick lit out there, but by and large, it’s about a female protagonist, somewhere in her late teens to early twenties, facing some kind of supernatural/magical problem. And with a love interest or two.
While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this subject matter or the demographic they’re aimed at, I do wonder why so many women are writing about such similar themes and subject matter. Any ideas?
I don’t have any evidence to back me up and not much experience with the genres I’m talking about. With that said here are some completely baseless observations.
The Fantasy YA genre is a very broad church, encompassing a lot of sub-genres. Overall, though, what unifies them, in my opinion, is a structural resemblance to Romance Fiction. Very much aimed at women, female protagonist, feisty but vulnerable, not looking for trouble/love but trouble/love finding her.
Romance fiction occupies a position in literature similar to that of pornography in cinema (figuritively speaking). It is not taken very seriously and often mocked, but hugely popular and services a need. It certainly isn’t cool to be seen reading, especially for younger women.
The new breed of YA fantasy books put the emphasis on various supernatural, adventure, dramatic elements of the story, but the general pattern is very similar. Girl who is dealt terrible blow through no fault of her own is treated unfairly (unfairness seems a big deal) but she does the best she can, even though it’s soooo unfair. Boys she likes pay attention to her, formenting jealousy (jealousy also a big deal). Passions ignite and the girl who was on the outside is the centre of attention (being the ‘chosen one’ also a big deal).
It’s a basic wish fulfilment fantasy, as most romance novels are. There are plenty of older books with young people as the leads or that are read by teens, that are more sophisticated than this, although usually they aren’t specifically written for the teen market. But modern YA books aren’t likely to be read by general readers, certainly not boys. They are more likely to be read by young women looking for romance.
I have no idea if any of this is true. I’m speculating. Any thoughts on this would be welcome.
An attractive feature of YA books may be that the narrative is expected to be fairly simplistic. The desire for true love is beyond question as a worthwhile goal. Passion is perfect motivation, requiring no explanation. Male characters suddenly becoming obsessed with the central female character for no apparent reason is seen as part of the natural order of things. It’s these sorts of assumed behaviour traits that have led to Romance Novels getting the bad rap they get, which is now being transferred to these fantasy YA books.
The characters end up being one dimensional and unrealistic. A bad boy who turns against his own kind/clan/crew because he ‘loves’ the girl is not a sophisticated representation of character. In fact it’s almost a caricature. The representation of men is ludicrously idealised and shows a lack of understanding of male behaviour (often, it feels, intentionally). It’s basic wish fulfilment. And that is where YA urban fantasy type books rub shoulders with straight up romance fiction.
Again, drawing wild conclusions from little to no evidence. Feel free to correct/admonish/berate me.
This still doesn’t explain why so many aspiring female writers are drawn to this subject matter. If you want to write, you write. But why write about this specifically? The more recent books don’t really seem to be aimed at the younger market, almost using the YA status to get away with writing at a lower standard for an older market.
First you had the romance novel. Belittled but hugely successful. Then chick lit, a more independent female character, but still, all about getting the guy. Now paranormal fantasy, strong women, but the guys got super powers, so what’s a girl to do?
Genealogically, the kinds of books these stories are based on aren’t things like Catcher in the Rye or The Outsiders, they are more like Wuthering Heights. Women caught in the maelstrom of fate and passion, struggling with powers beyond their control.
I realise most of what I’ve said is probably rubbish, I’m more posing questions than providing answers. If you write YA fantasy maybe you can put me straight.
Why did you choose to write for this age group?
Is the romance aspect as key as I’ve made it out to be?
Can you imagine writing, or have you read, a YA fantasy without a central love plot?
Do you consider the popularity and heavy competition within the genre at the moment a good thing for aspiring writers? Is now a good time to get into writing for this genre?
My approach to this post has been a little facetious, but I'm genuinely interested to know what fans and writers of this genre think it's strong points are and why it's taking the publishing world by storm.