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Too much Angst?

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Divia
Bibliomaniac
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Too much Angst?

Postby Divia » Mon August 30th, 2010, 9:39 pm

I'm writing a YA novel that takes place in the 1880s. Teens love angst but I think I might be overdoing it.

I want to make the girls' boyfriend become a drunk because he's stuck being a farmer and can't escape the small community. I then wan him to die in a farming accident because this will force the girl to do something drastic. But is this going overboard.

But is that too much angst in a novel that only is 50,000 words?

Edit:
I took out other incidents I had.
Last edited by Divia on Wed September 1st, 2010, 3:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon August 30th, 2010, 10:56 pm

Is there enough upbeat to give the reader hope? I do write-ups for websites that deal with human trafficking, and used to do fundraising letters for a homeless shelter, so I can tell you that while people like drama, they won't keep reading if the picture you paint is all dark. (When was the last time you read a two-page article about a horrific event where the ending was worse than the beginning?)

So I always pick an incident where there is hope -- where the child was bought out of the brothel and is now attending school, not about the two companions who were beaten to death by clients. Or where the family purchased from the brickyard they sold themselves to in order to pay for the daughter's wedding got free and got a new job, not the family that was re-enslaved as soon as the media turned away the spotlight.

Fiction isn't reality -- it is a stylized version. I believe the point of story is to rearrange the world so that the world turns out the way it should, at least in some aspects, while retaining enough of the bitter to make it feel like reality.

That's why, when a fundraiser or even a reporter picks through the muddle of actual incidents to choose a nippet to tell, they instinctively go for something with a definite beginning, middle, and end -- and if it's a bad end, then it tends to be something with a moral.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue August 31st, 2010, 12:49 am

I would say it's too much angst, but then, consider the recent book-turned-movie "Precious". I haven't read it and don't intend to, but from what I've heard about it it was waaaaaaay full of angst. And people apparently liked it. So, there's no accounting for taste....

I would suggest having a teenager -- whose opinion you respect and trust -- read it and give their honest feedback. Do you have a niece or nephew who could read it?

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Divia
Bibliomaniac
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Postby Divia » Tue August 31st, 2010, 2:07 am

My family has no children in it.

However I am a YA librarian, so I can pick a student or two.

Precious aka Push(as the novel is called) was amazing. Angsty yes, but real life, sad and makes you realize how hard others have it and how good you got it.

Interesting thought on not making it too bleak.
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michellemoran
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Postby michellemoran » Wed September 1st, 2010, 2:36 am

I purposefully try to choose the stories in history with a positive ending. Yes, death happens along the way, but there's always a glimmer of hope (and usually much more than a glimmer) for my protagonists. This was one of the reasons (I believe) that Target chose to carry all three of my books, and this has altered my career (leading to Costco, etc). Not to say that Target doesn't carry dark stories, or that dark stories won't have an audience - but I can say with certainty that having upbeat endings worked for me.
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boswellbaxter
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Location: North Carolina
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Postby boswellbaxter » Wed September 1st, 2010, 2:47 am

I don't read many YA books, but I think for a story involving purely fictional characters, there's a little too much angst there, though of course I don't know how the story ends. There comes a point where an author pours so much misery into a story, it begins to sound unbelievable. Which isn't to say that some people do indeed have very miserable lives, but most people do have a mixture of bad times and good times.
Susan Higginbotham
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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed September 1st, 2010, 2:59 am

I agree completely. If I'm reading something that's based on a true story, then I have more tolerance for unpleasantness, unhappiness, angst, whatever, because it is after all based on real events. But if I'm reading something that is completely fictional, I have less tolerance for the above; if the author dumps too much in, then it feels like just that -- a pointless dump of misery -- and I will reject it as implausible.

Of course, not everyone feels this way; the book-turned-movie that I previously mentioned ("Push/Precious") is a perfect example.

I do think, though, that if you're writing for YAs it's especially important to not dump too much misery on your characters; you want a ray of hope in there somewhere, a glimmer of something positive.

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michellemoran
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Postby michellemoran » Wed September 1st, 2010, 2:59 am

I agree with Susan. Most people - even those I know who live what seem like jinxed lives - have still experienced times of great happiness. I think readers understand that life was nasty, brutish and short in many cases. Too much of the brutish and short might turn readers off.

Then again, has anyone read SLAMMERKIN?!
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michellemoran
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Postby michellemoran » Wed September 1st, 2010, 3:01 am

Michy, I think your point about purely fictional characters versus historical characters is a good one. I never really thought about it, but I feel the same way.
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User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed September 1st, 2010, 5:54 am

Actually, my experience writing stories to raise awareness is that people's tolerance for angst and misery in real, live people is even shorter than for fictional characters. Comfortable readers just don't want to think about things that are so horrific that they might actually demand a response. Push it too far and they stop reading the article, fundraising letter or click away from the website.

So you have to kind of ease them into it, trying all along to guess what the 'average' information level of your target audience really is. And always start with the premise that there is a possible solution which they can participate in.

I would say that the average information level of a YA reader is a mix of naivety and imagined scenarios from media exposure. So aim for that mental state and ask yourself what the reader wants / needs / expects from your story, along with whatever surprise gift you want to give her.


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