Plot Out of Character

I’ve been reading quite a few YA novels lately and I’m reminded of why I stopped reading them in favor of “adult” novels.

The characters aren’t developed well. (Of course, there are always exceptions; I’m talking about the majority.) After awhile, all the voices of the main characters in YA novels tend to blend together into one voice. The main character of one could be the main character of them all.

The majority of YA books are told in the first person, and many are in the present tense. Reading a first person POV doesn’t irritate me as much as it used to, but even though I am technically “in the character’s head” while reading the novel, I still feel as if the character just isn’t developed.

It might be because I tend to enjoy character-driven novels over plot-driven novels; the vast majority of YA novels, if not all, are plot-driven. Maybe that’s why I don’t get much satisfaction when I’m reading them. I want to see the character really change and transform throughout the story.

I understand that most readers don’t want character-driven fiction. Plot drives the book and a good plot is mostly what hooks the reader and brings in the money. Yes, characters are important – but a lot of times, I think character development is often neglected for the sake of the plot.

I read What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates, which was character-driven. Although I sometimes wanted to punch the main character in the face a few times, I enjoyed the book because the main character drove the entire story. The plot was an underlying element; I felt that the character created the plot, not the author.

That’s what I want out of YA books. A plot that doesn’t have so much author influence. I think that if the characters are strong enough, they will create the plot and drive it forward. But I will keep reading YA in hopes that I find a book that is more character-driven.

9 thoughts on “Plot Out of Character

  1. I love writing in the first person perspective, because I feel like I can really get into the character’s depth of emotion better. But at the same time I worry that I don’t do it well enough, that I’ll screw up somewhere.

    I never write in the present tense. I tried to when I started working on StS, but it just didn’t flow well. Especially for a novel. Maybe a short story could handle being done in present tense, but I’m not sure. My own short will be past tense, I know that.

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    1. I don’t like writing in first person, but I’m trying to learn how to do it better. I wrote one novel in present tense, then read it back and realized I hated the way it sounded; it seemed unnatural to me. Third person, past tense is typically my style, but I do want to branch out.

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      1. Yeah, third person-past tense is my usual style too. I have so many half finished works that are that way. But I think first person will always be my preferred, so I’m very glad that I seem to be doing well with StS.

        Good luck on branching out! Writing in first person isn’t always easy, in my opinion, but I feel that if done well it’s worth it in the end. Hope you learn to like it!

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  2. I think you’ve nailed it as far as character development in YA novels. I agree, there are a few–I do like the genre, I guess I’ve never grown up–but by and large you’re right. The characters do seem to blend in… with notable exceptions.

    As for first person, I’ve done some. It can add a certain immediacy and intimacy to the character, but I do not like present tense. For one thing it is extremely difficult to do well. I think unpracticed writers find themselves slipping back to third person narration without noticing it. Errors like that are obivous and unfortunate. First person AND present tense pushes the envelope and robs narration of convenient omnicient veiw. IMHO. ))

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    1. That’s basically the reason I don’t like first person or present tense that much. I can’t even recall why I wrote that one novel in present tense – I do remember that it was a struggle for me, though. Present tense is really hard to write, but I’ve heard that it’s good for “making the story seem more immediate.” I forget where I heard that, but…

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  3. Garth Nix’s “Old Kingdom” trilogy (the first book, “Sabriel” can stand alone, so it’s not a big commitment), Jonathan Stroud “Heroes of the Valley” for great character and a great theme (and it’s very very funny). Carole Wilkinson’s “Dragonkeeper” and sequels. Richard Harland’s “Worldshaker” (all these are fantasy).

    I like YA, in part because the plots move faster (usually), and in part because it doesn’t take so darn long to read (which is particularly handy when a book doesn’t grab me, but I still want to know the ending). Of course, I write YA, so naturally I prefer it.

    Louise Curtis

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    1. I tried Sabriel once and I didn’t really like it. I’ll give the others a shot, though – thanks for the recommendations! Your reason for liking YA because of faster-moving plots is the same as mine. 🙂

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