Finding the Balance

If there's one thing that defines YA lit, it's angst. Heaps upon precious heaps of teenage blues simply make it what it is today. Everyone loves a little complaining about the horrid state of the world, the country, and high school.

Don't get me wrong: angst sells. You need to have a fair bit of it to make your YA novel, well... young adult. But there's a fine line between angst and whining, and one wrong step sends you into unpublishable oblivion.

Now, I'm going to be really honest with you guys – this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I don't want any of you guys to repeat my mistakes, so I'm going to carefully dissect the story of how I went from a Mary Sue- writing terror to the affectionately-titled Queen of Angst.

My first major character was a Transformers Animated OC called Jasmyn Ravennmaine.

The name was just the first place I went wrong.

See, that name almost literally screams “BROODING!” I mean, Ravennmaine? Did I even have an imagination? Overly angsty names = please do not do this thing.

She was five-ten. Indian, from Delhi. Gorgeous, shiny black hair and ice blue eyes. Best ninja in the world.
Shadow Princess, or something like that. (Don't judge me. I was twelve.)

Essentially, she was perfect. But in order to make her have a reason to complain in almost every breath, I gave her the most convoluted of horrific backstories to make her symbathetic.

Points two and three: do not make your character the best at more than one thing. Really, don't make them instantly the best at anything. Everything takes work. Next, do not give them terrible backstories for the sake of terrible backstories. Sometimes they're necessary, but please, give them meaning.

Point four. NEVER NAME ANYONE THE SHADOW PRINCESS oh my lord almighty I do not know what in God's creation I was thinking.

Anyway. As you can see, that is pretty much the definition of a painfully-sue character. I didn't know. I thought angst discounted her. (Apparently I'd never read My Immortal. Jasmyn could really hold her own against Enoby – I mean, Ebony.)

My rude awakening came in threefold form. First, my siblings all complained about how annoyingly perfect she was. Second, my mother said she was a bad influence on me. Third, and possibly most painful, a roleplay partner rolled her eyes and said “isn't that a little much?”

Really, she was very kind.

Once I came to terms with what I had done, I had to put Jasmyn on the shelf for a while. I guess that's the point of this story: no angst-machine is irredeemable. When I began planning my current WIP, I took her down again, dusted her off, and started clipping. She got shorter. Changed ethnicities (she's now Central
African). Turned her ebony waves into tight dreadlocks, and nixed the backstory. Instead of being tortured by scientists and then running away to join a team of assassins at eleven (please. Don't. Judge me.), she rose quickly in the ranks of a UN military organization but lost her husband and daughter to an ongoing feud. However, the biggest change is she doesn't complain about it all the time. It affects her, for sure. Her face is written with the pain of losing a loved one like that. But ultimately, she's got a job and she's going to do it.

Angst is still a part of her. It just doesn't define her.

So learn from me. When you define a character by their pain instead of their personality, you're stepping over the line.

Until next time,

Black Widow

1 comment:

  1. I hope my MC isn't too angsty. She doesn't really have a tragic backstory, and she's definitely not the best at ANYTHING, so I guess those are positives... I hope she isn't unreasonably "woe is me" at any point. Something to work on for future rewrites. :)