Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sound-Off Sunday (1): The (Dreaded) Love Triangle

"Sound-off Sunday" is a new weekly blogging event hosted by Zabet of Reading Between Classes to incite discussion about various topics relating to books, the YA genre, popular trends, and the like. This week's topic: love triangles.

You just groaned a bit, didn't you? Yes, love triangles. Mention them to anyone who's familiar with young adult literature, and you're certain to elicit either heated debate or a few choice comments about how love triangles ruin books. As for me, I'm somewhat torn: I don't like to read or write love triangles (I actually have a fairly strict "no love triangle rule" with my novel drafts), but I've thought on the subject so much over the past few years that, in a twisted way, I can sometimes understand why writers inject love triangles into stories.

If you think of any popular YA property in the past five years, it's hard to think of one that didn't have a love triangle somewhere within the story. But why are they so popular? Even if I, as a reader and writer, don't see the appeal, surely there must be a reason why these pesky scenarios have become so prevalent in YA.

The obvious answer is that these love triangles appeal to the typical teenage girl's psyche. How thrilling it must be to have two hot guys who have eyes only for you! How much more exciting might life be if you yourself could have two boys pining for you, wishing the best for you, and thinking of being only with you? There's definitely allure, perhaps even a sense of power, for the teen girls who read these books. And that's all the more power for the writer to potentially ensnare the readers' imaginations.

Of course, certain YA authors have addressed the issue more deeply and claimed that the love triangle is, in fact, very much a metaphorical way for a heroine to decide who she is and what she wants out of her life. (Carrie Ryan, author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and its sequels, probably wrote the most mentioned blog post about this view on love triangles.) I understand this perspective, I do, but my problem is that, as deep as that idea is, many YA authors don't write about it quite as deeply as I (and likely other readers) would prefer. No one wants the heroine's life to be "determined" by the boy she chooses, but still there needs to be that torn dilemma where the heroine really struggles with deciding not because of how hot the guys are and how good they are to her...but how her decision will affect not only her life but theirs as well. Lately, I haven't seen that "torn" love triangle (as angst-ridden as it can sometimes be), but I miss it compared to the typical "Girl and Boy1 are in love, Boy2 loves Girl, Girl never seriously considers Boy2" love triangle.

The other obvious reason for a love triangle in a story? Conflict. So many writers choose the way of the love triangle simply because it adds conflict to a plot that, on its own, may not be all that compelling. Honestly, I've seen a few novels pop up where, by the time readers get around to discussing them, all the talk *is* about the love triangle (or related to the romantic elements). I can't say those kinds of novels don't annoy me because, let's face it, unless you're writing for the romance genre you really should have more draw to your story than the conflict of a love triangle and the angst associated with it.

One of the sad things, I think, is that -- out of every love triangle I've read in YA thus far -- I have yet to see a love triangle end with the girl simply walking away from both of her suitors. Truth be told, I think it would be a powerful move, one of independence and choice, for any heroine. Then again, writers would risk the backlash of "Team Boy1/Boy2" fans, and I'm certain some wouldn't want to risk that even if such a development might lead to a deeper story overall.

To be honest, my frustration with a lot of love triangles is that very rarely do we see a change-up to the "one girl and two boys" formula. Where is the boy caught between two girls, the boy caught between two boys, or the girl caught between two girls? The far former is rare enough in today's YA market, and I have yet to see the latter two done in any YA novel. (We could also get into the fact that also very rarely do you see non-white characters in love triangles...) Still, as awesome as "diverse" love triangles sound, it remains up in the air whether or not YA writers could actually do these ideas justice (and, of course, there is that pesky matter of whether or not publishers would welcome such love triangles).

Despite my conflict, I know one thing for certain: love triangles won't be going away any time soon, so I guess we'd better learn to bear them or hope that writers learn new ways for their stories' romantic dilemmas to enrapture us as readers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Critical Thinking (and Viewing): Why We Need It

This morning I came across a post by Laini Taylor about the recently released movie John Carter and critics in conjunction with that. After I read the post, I sat there with a frown on my face because I honestly couldn't agree with everything I had read. Don't get me wrong: I love Laini Taylor and her books, but there's just something that irks me when an artist of some kind says something akin to "Why must everyone be a critic?" To me, I can't help but think it synonymous with "If you like it, gush about it; if you hate it, shut up."

I can understand that art-bashing is bad, but why the critic-bashing? Critical readers and viewers are getting a bad rap these days.

My view: critics and their views help ensure that we don't just receive low-quality books and movies. If not for them, we'd probably be on the receiving end of too much fluff and not enough substance. One of the functions of critics is that they push artists to do better work than otherwise might have been done. (We won't get into the critics who gleefully rip apart anything that comes their ways because, in many ways, those people's continual criticisms become empty. To be a true critic, I believe you need to be able to see both the good and the bad within a work and be able to comment on both.)

Sure, artists have their grand ideas and visions on their own, but sometimes I think some artists would "settle" if not for the reminder that an audience (and a mish-mash of praise and criticism) were waiting for them beyond the door of their creative landscape. Some artists will buckle under that kind of pressure, but many will flourish even in spite of it and soar beyond even their own expectations.

As a reader and viewer myself, I like the power of being able to think critically of anything I read or see, to deconstruct and pick apart the things that I like and the things that bother me. Art may be able to be admired by just seeing, but that seems empty to me. Where's the depth if you just take something at its face value and accept it for what it is? You can't do that with people -- expect a lot of a heartache if you do -- so why should you do that with art, the product of people?

Of course there's a place for popcorn flicks and fluff reads -- but can they seek to enrich and enlighten you in some way? Or will they just be consumed and forgotten?

I've been a regular visitor on the book site Goodreads since 2009, and I have to say that many of the critical reviews there have helped me to think more in-depth about my own writing endeavors. Not everyone likes the "quick fix" read or a "dime-a-dozen" story. Some people want more than that, something they can savor and think about later, something that's memorable instead of forgettable. Rather than write a mass appeal story that'll be forgotten almost as soon as it's released, I want to write the kinds of stories that stay with those people, and I want them to be able to deconstruct and pick apart my stories to their hearts' content.

Let them be critics: I welcome it. I'd rather they pick apart what I write and hate it than eat it up, plaster a smile on their faces, and tell me it was perfect the way it was. The kind lie may be less painful, but the cruel truth is what will lead to growth and betterment. And that's what all we artists should strive for: to better our crafts and, through those mediums, better ourselves as well.