Welcome back everyone! Last week, I broke down my opinions on recent Young Adult or YA literature and why the standard it is held to is somewhat flawed. If you haven’t read part one of this piece, then check out the links down below. Once again, a quick disclaimer: a lot of this article is highly subjective and based off of my own opinion, bias, and experience. I do not mean to attack or in any way harm the differing opinions of others.
So, in case you missed last week’s piece, let’s start by recapping exactly what YA means and what it entails. YA, or young adult, is the category – sometimes, an entire genre – geared towards readers anywhere between the ages of say, 12 to 18, and it typically consists of fiction – fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary, and more. Basically, the literature that bridges children’s and middle-grade books, to adult literature.
Today, I wanted to talk about an important aspect of any good story or novel that comes up second or equal to the plot. And that is *drumroll please*:
The plot of a story has no purpose, if it isn’t guided by the characters – we get to see the events of a plot unfold through the characters, and in turn, their actions aide and/or abet the plot and whatever needs to happen for the story to progress.
Good characters and bad characters can, for me, make or break a book or story. And by good and bad, I don’t exactly mean the moral “hero” character and the immoral “villain character”- not yet anyway. There is, as I recently learned, a difference in a protagonist and a hero, as well as between an antagonist and a villain.
A protagonist is essentially the main character – often, we are told the story from the perspective of this character, and readers typically most closely relate to this main person. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the protagonist is good or moral. You may be reading the story from the villain’s perspective – though, I have yet to see a good execution of a story through the “villain’s” eyes.
I’ve mentioned this before, in my review of The Mortal Instruments Book 5: City of Lost Souls. “In my opinion, a good villain is someone who has a heart: it’s just at the wrong place, wrong time, and in the wrong direction. Well, wrong according to the protagonists, really. I am yet to read a good book from the villain’s perspective, so if you have any good recommendations then drop them in the comments below!”
The antagonist is essentially, someone who inhibits the actions or hinders the progress of the protagonist. This means, that if you’re reading from the perspective of a villain, the hero is the antagonist. If you’re reading from the perspective of the “hero”, then the “villain” is the antagonist.
Now here’s where the whole problem starts. What exactly defines and distinguishes the “hero” and the “villain”? And why do I keep putting the words “hero” and “villain” in quotation marks?
Well, that is highly subjective.
Typically, the hero and villain are defined by what the existing society considers “good” and “bad’. By existing society, I mean the time and setting that the author is writing in – both in the story as well as around them.
Consider this example: we have a fake author named Lord Blackberry Bush. Lord Blackberry Bush lived, wrote, and released books in a time where women’s rights were not considered, and gender inequality was considered the norm. Let’s pretend Lord Blackberry Bush wrote about a character who was a shepherd, who worked his way up to becoming a rich and wealthy lord, was generous and kind to all, and donated money to those in poverty, but went home after a day’s work and treated the women of the household like servants.
In the time of writing, suppose that the society in the book mirrored the one that the author was surrounded by. People who read this story, where our shepherd-turned-lord was generous but unkind and rude to the women in his home and life, would consider this normal, acceptable behaviour – given that at the time of writing, such differences in gender were deemed acceptable. The protagonist, in this case, is the hero. However, a person reading this same story today, would probably not consider our story’s protagonist a hero, and maybe even more of a villain depending on their perception of our protagonist’s behaviour.
I hope that through my vague yet oddly specific example, that you, dear reader, have understood what I’m trying to say.
Moving on from Lord Blackberry Bush, let’s talk about why and how these characters affect the Young Adult category of literature. Essentially, a good character is a character that is well-developed, well-rounded, and seems like a plausible, possible, human being or humanoid character.
Unless they’re not at all human or remotely humanoid. Then it’s a whole other matter.
If you recall from last week’s piece, I mentioned that protagonists and good or supposed-to-be-good characters are often poorly executed. In another review for The Mortal Instruments: Book Two, I mentioned, “Perhaps that is why so often, readers say that protagonists often don’t have a well-defined personality, with no distinct personality traits. It is hard to come by books with memorable main characters, rather than side ones meant to enhance and improve. Sometimes, I see that authors have extremely creative worldbuilding, and a nice, well-thought-out plot with plenty of twists and turns to keep the readers on their toes- but in the process of doing so, they lose the qualities of characters.”
I feel like there’s a pattern here: reading The Mortal Instruments series really fuelled up this whole “problems with YA” agenda I have now.
I suppose that’s all I have for this week! Honestly speaking, writing out what I like and don’t like about the young adult category has been somewhat cathartic for me.
Again, it could just be six weeks of nothing but Cassandra Clare.
That’s all I have for this week, folks! Signing off!
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