Monday, March 12, 2012

It's spring, so grow already

I got tagged by the fabulous Carrie for a number of things, but one of them was a set of questions. Among the questions was one that I’ve been thinking about making a whole post about, so I took it as a sign from the universe to write that post (be warned, this is long).

The question: What would the soundtrack be to your WIP?

The reason I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this is that there is something that bugs me: characters who reset. You see it all the time in sitcoms, there is a status quo and all the stories make sure that characters get back to that. That’s why the theme song to shows like Seinfeld and Friends stay the same. They don’t need to change.

I don’t write like that.

There are some cases where it’s just fine to reset, but I’m seeing an increasing trend of the reset in YA fiction, and that kind of bothers me. I guess I’m sort of an old fuddy duddy, but when it comes to characters, I’m a big fan of consequences (no, no: BIG FAN). I sort of believe that if you chase down the ultimate evil and barely survive fighting off the horrible wizard of darkness, you’re gonna be a little messed up in the head. You will have seen and done things that have left you scarred. If your faith in the world has been shattered, that’s going to affect the way you handle things in the future. Just look at any person who says something along the lines of “I had a really bad break up.” They just aren’t the same. My concern is that there aren’t nearly as many consequences for many of our hero’s actions leading me to question if we are beginning to dumb YA down. (Yeah, I know what y’all are thinking: “Rena, some people never *stopped* dumbing down YA.” A problem for another post, I’m sure.)

There are many who would say (Awesome Agent Kristen among them) that the difference between YA and MG is the reset. If you can bring your characters back to being a kid at the end of the novel, then it resets and you are in a MG novel. If your characters get to the end and they are scarred and see the world as adults, even though they are still teenagers, that’s YA.

The reason I’m a fuddy duddy is because I believe in consequences. If you decide to face the evil, you will not come back the same. If you win at any cost, you will be paying off that cost for a long time. This is what I refer to as the Frodo effect. Frodo carried the ring, but it screwed him up. It left him damaged and warped, and by the end of it all, he couldn’t handle living in the real world anymore, hence his trip into the West.

Tolkien was a veteran of WWI. He knew all about the scars of fighting the good fight, and finding out that even if it was the right thing, it may not have been a good thing. Actions have consequences. It’s as truthful as the fact that mass bends reality, causing such incredible phenomena as gravity (yeah, I totally went nerdy on you there).

Wait, Rena, you said this was about soundtracks!

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. See I wrote a story, and the soundtrack to that story was a fantastical, whimsical piece that I’ve linked to in my blog in the past.

This song is lighthearted. Yeah, it’s intense, but when the S#!7 goes down, it’s awesome and in the same tone (note, I prefer the full orchestra version, but it’s not easy to link to.), light, whimsical, mischievous. It’s absolutely perfect for the First Book of an old WIP that’s back in the queue to become a WIP again in the future.

But when my poor MC got to the end of that experience, Piano Fantasy couldn’t be her soundtrack anymore. She was hurt and upset. When I sent out chapters of the second book, my Mom commented that she was worried about my MC, that she might not have enough friends, that she was isolating herself. “I just want to give her a hug.” And Piano Fantasy isn’t the song for someone who just needs a hug. In short, the tone had changed, a lot. My MC had changed.

The soundtrack for book two of that series would definitely go to Through the Gates by Celldweller (I have some eclectic tastes, just bare with me).

She was isolated, and having a hard time relating to the people who used to be her friends. How could she talk about things like dating boys and painting nails when she had basically committed murder? She was having a hard time coping, and then things got worse. The world kept pounding on her door, and she barely managed to scrape by. We had a “happy” ending, or at least that particular problem was solved. For the second book, my MC was in what I refer to as survival mode. Yes, she took initiative, she didn’t just take it as it came. She fought, but she wasn’t entirely pleased to do so. She wasn’t reactive, but she was still fighting against the reality of the situation. It’s sort of like falling down and fighting against the effects of gravity rather than tucking into a roll. You’re already falling and nothing can change it. That was book two.

For book three, things got worse.

See, I’ve noticed something in my life. Life just keeps throwing stuff at you. When you think things are gonna get better, sometimes they get worse. A lot worse. Pretty much the choices are roll over and take it, or do something about it (this is why writing fantasy is awesome; in the real world, the shit you might get handed can be stuff like cancer, and there’s only so much fighting that can be done. In fantasy, our shit is orcs trying to overrun a castle—metaphorical cancer, sure, but less complicated and no chemo).

The thing is, it took me a long time to realize that fighting back was an option. Laying down and taking it is easy, just roll over and let the waves of life crash over you. I would always tell myself that I would stand up after this wave was done with me. But there was always another wave, a bigger wave. At some point, I just stood up. That’s what the third book was all about, standing up in the face of adversity. The soundtrack for the third book is Just Like You Imagined by Nine Inch Nails. It is hard, unrelenting, and driving (many of you may recognize it as the trailer music to 300).

My point? (other than thanks for reading this far?) The choices of our characters should have a long lasting effect on them. They shouldn’t be able to just shake off things like saving the world, or killing the bad guy. They will carry these deeds in their heads and on their bodies for years to come. In short, as much as people hate to let it happen, characters change. They need to. The wayward farm boy in Star Wars is not the same person as the Jedi Knight. He just isn’t (though John Williams did give them very similar soundtracks). It is their growth that is interesting.


  1. I LOVE this post!! It's so true. I had a hard time "liking" Katniss in the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy but how else would she be?? I've had a few people comment about the way my MC shuts herself off from the world after something really bad happens. They aren't connecting with her. I did change some things up and internalize more but I also didn't make her more likeable or more willing to take on the world. And I know that going into book 2 that she can't be all happy-go-lucky and want to smooch her boyfriend all the time. She went through HELL.

    I think I just rambled or ranted on your blog. LOL. Sorry. ;0)

    1. Uuuuh, you bring up a great issue. How do we make our damaged MC's likeable. I completely agree with you about Katniss, but she never once side stepped, so her behavior is appropriate if hard to relate to.

      For me, the thing that makes people connect better is when they can see where the MC is coming from. Sometimes just knowing what they're thinking helps. I tend to be a little shy on details, so that's definitely somewhere I can improve.

      And don't worry, I followed what you said, so that means it wasn't a ramble, and it didn't sound very rant-ish.

  2. Everything - even very small things - change us in real life, so I agree that fighting demons you never even realised existed would change you too. Not that I have ever followed the rules, but there is a rule that charcters should change by the end of a novel, because that's the nature of telling a story.

    1. That is very true. The hard part about growing up is that the media is saturated with people and characters who don't change, they don't grow. It sets a poor example for people trying to live in the real world. And I agree that characters must change by the end of the book.

  3. Hi Rena, I have never thought about this issue in the terms you used, but I really get the idea of the "reset". While I am the kind of sucker that falls for likeable protags, I always have an issue with alleged teenaged characters who are too level throughout the progression of a novel. Not that I am a fan of the 180 personality change, because I don't think that is realistic either (or fun to read, frankly), but every incident, every interaction changes you in some way, and I think that is most true when you are a teenager- whether that character gets more outgoing or withdrawn or confident or sad or acts out or becomes more responsible. Anything. But something.

    1. I'll be frank, I didn't know to use the term reset until I watched a segment of The Write Environment where they interviewed Joss Whedon. It made so much sense to call it reset, and it explained why every episode of the Love Boat doesn't rely on any more prior knowledge than the opening credits to understand the whole episode.
      I think the reason that most people avoid this part of it is because it can make the characters seem withdrawn. The most common change I see is the determination change, but I see it drop way off for sequel books. They try to do the same change in the second novel, and that just doesn't work. (I've totally done this, and struggle with not doing it again).

  4. This is perfect timing. I'm revising a story where my MC shoots someone in self-defence. Ive been looking at it, trying to figure out why it's not working. This is it. It didn't change her - a woman who's never had anything to do with guns - and it should.

    1. Hi Sarah. Yes, exactly. And what's more is that it's really hard to figure out how these events might change a person. I think that's the hardest part is figuring out what that change is. I've made some serious blunders, particularly where I make my MC too withdrawn or moody, but some change is way better than no change.

      Good luck.

  5. This is an excellent post, and I think you've hit the nail on the head (geez, for a writer, I'm full of cliches).

    Saw where you commented on Carrie Bastyr's blog (the carrot/stick scenario), and I had to hop over. New follower! Keep 'em coming!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Daisy. I've been having a lot of carrot/stick moments, hence the comment.

  6. I totally agree with this. And, it's always the journey that's the most interesting, not the beginning or final result. And I'm with Daisy Carter: this post is awesome.

    Btw I tagged you on my blog:

    Love your reference to Star Wars <3 <3 lol :)

  7. I immediately thought of Frodo when you started talking about hating character reset. It's beautiful and horrible and powerful and tragic what he goes through. God I love Tolkien.

    I wanted to say thanks for the pep talk in my comments yesterday. I was having a hard time managing my emotions... and I really really do want this (or else I would not be doing it)... so thanks :)


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