Saturday, January 21, 2012

One Word Labels in YA and Life

So one of my biggest pet peeves in YA has become a focus on popularity. Which turns out to be really annoying, because TONS of books are about popularity, and I guess understandably because a lot of the lives of teens are focused around popularity (although not mine, which is why it bugs me). It's not just popularity, though, that bugs me in YA. It's also the labels, of maybe one word that can define a person or character in a YA book. "Jock", "nerd", whatever.

The thing is, characters aren't just one word. They CAN'T be just one word. Why? Well, because people aren't just one word. Humans are complex and crazy and twisted and amazing and their ideas change and morph and their personalities change depending on the situation or their age or a whole bunch of other things. They are so, so complex. And yeah, I know how hard it is to capture that complexity in writing. But it's definitely not impossible. I've seen it done.


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Another issue with labeling is that once you label someone with a word, let's say, I don't know, Mean or something, then that becomes all of what you think of them. You only use that one word for that person, and in your mind, that person becomes that word. She or he IS the word you've given them.  This then hinders you from seeing other sides of their personality and makeup that break through your one word label.
I know I definitely do this with characters, too. I have this image of a character in my head. "Okay, so this character, he's going to be... Quirky Guy." And then everything he does has to fit into that label I've given him. Which, yes, does help to keep you on track sometimes. But at other times, why not let a character break out of the one word mold you've formed for them?

This doesn't apply solely to people and characters, either. I think I also tend to label books with one word sometimes. I'll finish a book and based on that closing impression, I'll go, "okay, that book was good" or "that was awful". And then forever after that, I think of that book as good or bad. Even if I know there was good parts where I really did get into the characters, or bad parts where I really just wanted to leave the book and never come back. Like people, books are complex and they can't really be summed up in one word.

People, characters, books - all are complex, much too complex, to be stuck with one word to describe them.

So, basically... yay for me, because I like to use lots of words! Haha. :)

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And... with all that being said... actually this has nothing to do with this post, but methinks I am going to take a blogging break for a month or so. I don't know, I might post if I have an idea or something but for now I'll be gone for a month. Basically the only reason I wanted to let you know is because that means I won't do a Teen Scene Link Roundup for February.

Have a great weekend!

2 comments:

  1. I agree with your view! I've personally been surprised by how common these labels are in books. I've never been surrounded by them so much. Even in my school, we didn't have labels.

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  2. I think you're absolutely right! Labels kind of restrict character development. The author labels someone as "the Mean Girl" and then, when Mean Girl does something unexpected like offer Dorky Boy an extra dollar for lunch money, you get readers who complain that it "doesn't fit her character" or "is out of place with what we know about her." The use of a label limits how we're willing to see characters develop, change, and act.

    Also, studies have shown that people's personalities actually differ significantly based on their situations, where they are, and who they are with. I think our whole idea of what makes up personality might be skewed, and that's why we resort to labels -- b/c they're easier and simpler to understand.

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