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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I knew the explosion of fandom would hit the publishing world...

...I just didn't expect the response to be so vitriolic.

I'm not a romance writer per se, but from an authorial standpoint, this negative reaction to one of the most basic (and largely unavoidable) cliches [why doesn't LJ let me use accents? Argh] in fantasy, especially YA fantasy, makes me twinge.

Yes, I am sure if I were an agent and had 7000 queries in my inbox, I would also reject all queries with the most common thread to save time. I think Kristin made a sound decision. People who can't even write well using someone else's world and plots aren't going to fare better when they have to invent their own. I'm sure that thousands upon thousands of fans of Tolkien, Rowling and Lewis think they can write well enough for publication when it simply isn't the case.

That being said, transporting teenagers into an alternate world through some kind of portal/device is one of the few ways authors can tie our reality with another. It's the reason why The Chronicles Of Narnia are so successful--the concept of escapism, the possibility of the unknown existing in sync with our world represents that cluster of grapes that hang just above our fingertips, tantalizingly out of reach. It encompasses much of science fiction as well.

One ubiquitous similarity between various plots with portals is the problem of the two incongruous worlds merging in the future. The underlying threat that transcends the Harry Potter books isn't merely the evil ambitions of a singular power; it's the foreseeable calamity that would arise from the 'normal' world were it to become cognizant of the hidden one. What would it take to convince an outsider to believe? What might happen if the common inhabitants of one world decided to finally throw caution to the wind and wreak havoc on the other world? How would the control of politics work if each side publicly ignores and/or conceals the existence of an alternate life?

Another addition that alternate realities make to YA fantasies is the inclusion of the familiar struggles of adolescence. I think this is perhaps the most vital aspect of YA fantasy (and YA lit in general): how teens struggle with everyday concerns on top of the mess in which they've landed themselves. I know some might say that I' missing the point of Ya literature, because all of certainly doesn't need to be about teenagers, but I know that if I'm going to choose between a YA version of historical fiction and an adult version, the YA version had damn well better have characters near my age in it. Mary Sues, especially Mary Sues in fan fiction, survive and thrive because there is a market for 'ordinary teen falls through portal into vast, dangerous, unknown land and now has incredible obligations.' As for how many writers can flesh out this idea and do it well, I doubt the number is large, but I certainly don't believe it is zero, either.

Thus we come round to the central foundation of storytelling, a fact that both assists and inhibits the creative process -- that cliches are cliches not because no good writer ever uses them, but because they work.

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