Thursday, July 28, 2011

Honor, Honesty and Integrity

These are the virtues I have always admired and aspired to. I have searched for these virtues in selecting my friends and my associates. I was not surprised to glimpse them only fleetingly as a child and teenager, but for some reason I expected to see them more often in the adult world. Instead, as an adult I see more dishonorable people, more perjurers, more individuals who seem not only to not care about integrity, but not to even know what the word means, and those who do not seem to recognize it as a virtue worth possessing.

Too many people I run into these days are calculating and out for as much as they can get, not caring who
they run over in their mad dash for success, or even for mere creature comforts. In other words, most of them would be sorted into Slytherin. There are times they do not even seem to profit, just to damage or defame someone else, and count it as some perverse victory.

I know - that sounds more like the angst-ridden plot of a young adult novel. And such jealousy, such competitive undercutting would ring true for that age group. But as adults we tell teens that bullying, cheating, lying about each other behind their backs - it will all get better when they grow up. But the truth is, it won't. We can only arm ourselves better to deal with it.

The handful of honorable men and women will attempt to surround themselves with others who possess the honor, honesty and integrity that they admire, and will remain shocked by the actions of the dishonorable people they encounter. The best attempt to change this that a writer can make is to honestly write about the dishonesty that young people can expect to find in the world they grow into, and to show them that the only possible way to change it is to hold the people with whom they associate to the same high standards they admire, and to shine the light on dishonor whenever they encounter it. Otherwise they (and we) will all remain the confused and frustrated teens we once were, who were shaken to the core when first we encountered injustice.

I am currently on a writing retreat with my writers group. I have been looking forward to this retreat since last year's retreat. I have eagerly been anticipating this time away from ordinary, day-to-day life to concentrate on revising my new young adult novel. And I'm making good progress. But at the same time, eating away at my concentration is outrageous injustice that my family is facing - due to the dishonor and malicious perjury of business associates. It infuriates me and it erodes the very idea that there is any sense of honor in the world we live in.

Every encounter with dishonor diminishes all that it touches - and makes it increasingly difficult to proceed with work and maintain one's own integrity. It is not fair to my family to put what they're going through out of my head in order to concentrate solely on my writing at this retreat, yet it's not fair to my book to let the injustice of the real world intrude into the world of my story. I'm trying to find a way to balance the two of them. I suppose I'll find out tomorrow, after our retreat ends, how well I've succeeded.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fiction Series Rant

Am I the only reader who detests fiction series? All right - not all series. Not completed series that astound me by how well thought-out the books are, and how perfectly they fit together and progress (think the Harry Potter series, for instance). But in-progress series books drive me mad. I start reading a book that doesn't advertise something frustrating on the cover or title page, such as "the first book in the X series," only to reach the end and realize by the lack of complete resolution that it's going to lead to a series, and I groan aloud.

When I was a kid, I liked series
books like Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown - a series that was really a collection of books or stories bound together by a central character. There were already a lot of completed books waiting to be read, and it didn't really matter what order I read them in. But today it frustrates me no end to stumble onto a series in progress. You have to wait at least a year for the next book, and with a lengthy series you have to struggle to find the patience to wait for the next and the next for years to come. Really - how many kids can hold on that long? At least the Harry Potter series grows with its readers. A ten-year-old who discovered Sorcerer's Stone and grew up with the series found herself only a little older than Harry by the time Rowling completed the series.

I was fortunate to come upon the Harry Potter books partway through the series' publication process. Although it was agony to wait (relatively) patiently for the final books, I was able to read the first several straight through, one after the other without pause. And each book was complete in terms of plot, building to a satisfying resolution, even though the complete series built to one overarching plot beyond the individual books. What a delight to discover that minor details in Sorcerer's Stone had their payoff in Deathly Hallows!

But few series are that satisfying. The plotting and writing are rarely of the same quality in each book. Even when individual books are excellent (such as the first two books in The Hunger Games series), the whole series fails on its payoff when the final book ends up relying on twists such as character inconsistencies that diminish the whole. And even though teen readers might have grown up with Bella in The Twilight series, they were betrayed by the breaking-down of the resolution pattern in Breaking Dawn which hurt the series as a whole.

Chapter book series and some middle grade series are satisfying, both because they are shorter and written (and therefore published) faster, and because most of them rely on the Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown series rules: the same or similar characters in each book, with plots that can be enjoyed in any order, not leaving readers desperate to find out what happens next.

YA authors, please consider writing more stand-along books. A sixteen-year-old reader who falls in love with the first book in your series will be in college and possibly graduated and married before the series is over! Her reading interests will have matured and, unless your writing skills are on par with Rowling's, she may never make it to the end of your series. However, if you write a single perfect book, she will read it and may never forget it. Isn't that what you really want?