1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Are stories with kid/teen protagonists believable?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Nov 13, 2015.

    I just realizes something: even though my target audience is Young Adult, and my protagonists in them are in their early/mid/late-teens...is any of that believable? Especially in my YA mysteries where I'm basically asking the readers to buy into the fact that, yes, a kid who is 14-years-old can solve crimes and stop the bad guys. Absolutely they could. The bad guys are going to have a very difficult time trying to kill someone half their size and not as strong as they are.

    The worst offender is my historical mystery, my Colonial mystery with Amos: The kid's blind, yet none of the bad guys ever seem to think, “Hey, why don't I just shoot/stab him? Not like he can fight back.” No, instead they just...inconvenience him in a lot of ways. I'm sitting here thinking, “Christ, you're the villain! Why are you exercising restraint against Amos, especially when he's clearly trying to stop you? Just shoot him!” This same issue is found with the rest of the characters. They all seem to be ok with this. The idea that a teen kid (much less a blind one in the Colonial mystery one) is running around town doing the job that fully-grown detectives ought to do, putting himself in immense danger in the process.

    This could just be another case of me overthinking this way too much, but I'm just curious: when you pick up a YA novel with a teen protagonist, what are the things you can put aside as sheer fiction versus the things you know absolutely doesn't make sense at all?

    My problem with YA stories are two-fold:
    • The villain seems weak. For some reason, plot or otherwise, they are unable to just strangle the teenaged mutt of a kid trying to stop them. Even if a villain has a strict moral code, a line if you will, that they won't cross and hurting children is one of them; it'd be flat out silly if a villain who has no qualms about hurting the weak can't just seem to kill teen protagonist. (I'm looking at you, Lord Voldemort.)

    • Everyone else seems to be OK with this. Granted there are those who try to stop the protagonist for their own safety, but everyone else including other adults seem to have no problem with the fact that there's a kid putting him/herself in immense, mortal danger.

    What do you think? Am I just overthinking this? Is there a way to make YA novels believable without making the villain(s) look weak, or the other characters clueless/careless that a teen is doing something that might result in his/her death?
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2015
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Link. My problems with YA are distopian futures and vampires. Your first paragraph was unreadably large; I mean I gave up. Yes Ya is always a bit too simplistic for the MC, and they almost always fall in love (yawn). Love is dull, it is this weird ideal we hold dear as kids but release as adults. I dunno.
     
  3. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're writing YA fiction, then pretty much by definition your target audience is teenagers. That means they're going to be far more willing to buy into the fact that a random teenager can save the world, because they want to be that teenager.

    It's not inherently a problem. I don't question the fact that the vampires try to kill Buffy using kung-fu rather than, say, an AR-15. It's just how the story works. You just need to write villains that make sense in the context of the story - if they're perfect psychopaths in every regard apart from how they treat Amos, it's a problem. If they're consistent and they fit your setting, you're fine.
     
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    For YA, though I don't throw believability out as an important factor, more important I think is relatability.

    Tedious list of caveats follows:

    Relatability is always important. This is why aliens in Sci-Fi stories are never really aliens; they are us. There has to be something for us to relate to, else the thing presented encounters a moment where it should link up with something in our head, something that allows us to wrap our minds around it, and it finds nothing, thus failing to impart any meaning. All characters must be relatable to one degree or another, even when we don't like them, even when they disgust us, even when they bore us. We like them, they disgust us, or they bore us for reasons of having met similar situations in the real world and the subsequent corresponding subroutines kick into gear when we meet them in written form. In YA, though, it seems that characters are often there not just to relate to, but to bolster or hearten the young reader that there are others like him/her out there, in the world, facing all the angsty trials and tribulations that color this time of life. It's why Harry, nerdiest of all nerds, pwns the baddest baddie ever to live and why Bella Swan, the most invisible girl ever there was, has men of epic beauty fighting mythical battles of valor all to win her heart. Whether we talk about the goodies or the baddies, it's less about their believability and more about how well they serve as stand-ins for the things we deal with at that time of our lives, things which seem so huge and daunting through the distorted lens of youth.
     
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  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That does make sense. The way they treat the other characters should be consistent with the way they treat the teen hero. If a psychopath has no qualms about hurting the weak, it would look really stupid if he/she starts to exercise restraint when the teen hero is tied up in their basement.

    I suppose if a scene is going to make the villain act wholly out of character, don't include it. Simple. If the villain is known to be a brutal killer, yet is sitting down enjoying a nice cup of tea/a cigar while holding polite discourse with Amos as the latter is tied to a chair in his basement, that might raise some eyebrows.

    The other thing I had issue with was how the rest of the characters had no problem with what the teen was doing. But as @Wreybies said, maybe that's the point. They're all meant to be stand-ins: something for the teens to insert themselves in. A world where things seemingly goes their way (ie, adults who allow the teen hero to do whatever despite all rational logic to the contrary) might be enticing.

    I guess with this genre, you have to think like a teenager. Look at it from the perspective of a teenager. I'm looking at this from the lens of an adult, so of course none of this makes sense. But to a teen, it does. It's fiction, what do they care if a teen can save the world and curbstomp bad guys who would otherwise obliterate them in seconds?

    Huh. Interesting.
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In YA, your target audience will forgive a little dumbness from your villains' part. I remember being totally cool with Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter going on all kinds adventures, kicking everyone's ass, and saving the day. But there's a reason why I don't write that kind of stories myself, not anymore anyway. It grinds me that the vampires don't just AR-15 Buffy's ass. Sure, I will enjoy the show, but I'm not interested in writing something like that myself. What you do or don't do with your story depends on your vision and what you can stand behind; if you don't mind amping up the protags' abilities and toning down the villains' intellect (or resources) to tell the story you have envisioned, then it's all good, and your readers who are willing to suspend their disbelief are going to love it, provided the characters are engaging and relatable, the plot is well-crafted etc.
     
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  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    You've a good point. I guess I was just thinking too hard about this. :p I'll have to be careful to not make Amos too overly-powerful when I amp up what he's capable of or coming up with reasons why the villain doesn't just shank him when he has the chance. It's all a balance game.
     
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