Creative writing is hard – a lot harder than people think. There are dozens of elements to consider when typing out a new story. Characters, world building, syntax, flow, and even vocabulary become a balancing act. Get too wordy and your flow is lost. Too much world building? Your plot becomes an afterthought. Focusing too much or too little on your characters’ backstories can lead to dis-attachment and disaster. It’s easy to get lost and, as readers, it’s easy to spot when it’s happening to other people.
One of the things so few people realize about creative writing is how personal it can be. Certain scenes can be ripped from our very lives. Villains are old bullies, and heroes are terrific friends. When we criticize using harsh words, we may unintentionally criticize someone’s life. So, when an author shares their work with someone, its a very brave act. Bravery and personal feelings, however, cannot serve as an excuse for careless writing in the YA genre.
Stephanie Meyer’s infamous Twilight series is a common target when it comes to accusations of harm in the world of YA literature. It’s no secret that Meyers modeled Bella after herself. A great deal of the story parallels with her own life. While some call this un-creative, and others accuse her book of being a “Mary Sue,” I say it’s no different than what most writers do. We put a bit of ourselves into every character and setting we create. If an author says they’ve never done it, they’re lying.
Where Twilight falls short isn’t even in the abusive romance of the book. The relationship between Edward and Bella is, by all accounts, unhealthy. Meyers wrote at least a dozen arguments in the first book alone that prove as much. By no accounts is this a bad thing, either. Abuse is something people experience, teenagers especially. Meyers fell short when she failed to acknowledge the relationship for what it was and glorified it instead.
Being a teenager introduces you to all sorts of firsts, one of which is usually dating. Sometimes, teens look to pop culture for guidance when trying to navigate these new relationships. Many young men and women can find themselves in abusive relationships. How can they know anything is wrong when the books they read and the songs they hear tell them this is the way it should be?
If Meyers had addressed the story in a different way, I feel it would have been received in a positive light. After all, it was nice to see a different twist on the tired vampire tale. But if Bella had called Edward out on his abuse, if she had gotten out of the relationship, or even if Edward had realized where he was wrong and worked to change his hundred year-old ways, then the book would have gone from a status of ignorant to socially aware.
If you make YA your genre of choice, it should be, in part, because you care about your audience. Those amazing and terrible firsts were like a roller coaster when we were younger. We lived through extreme highs and lows. Sometimes we loved those years. Some of us hated them. Writing for the YA audience means going back and creating the kind of adventure or tale you wanted.
And sometimes, it means writing the one you needed.