Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taking it Back, Waaaay Back

In my YA PET PEEVES post, I mentioned two of the things that bother me are an MC having a classic novel as their favourite book and an MC with a 60's/70's or 80's band/singer as their favourite artist.

The way I figure it, there are at least two reasons authors do this:

a. They want to pay homage to a book/musician that they love.

b. They don't want to date themselves.

I'll deal with dating yourself next week on Write Away Wednesday, but today, I'd like to look at how to insert your favourite stories and music into your novel without making me (and possibly other readers) want to gag from the unlikelihood/genericness of it.


I mentioned in the same pet peeves post that there is a type of teen who takes pride in loving a (semi-)obscure 60's or 70's rock band. If your character is that type (usually emo) then it's fine to have them love THE RAMONES.

My first year in Japan, I had a co-worker who was a - well, none of the nouns are publishable on this blog- so I'll just desribe him. He was the type of guy who was smart and was happy to shove it in every one's face. The guy who used words that noone else understood, and then made you feel dumb by saying, "Everyone knows that 16-letter SAT word!" and not bothering to explain. The type of guy who would say a Japanese word in a room full of English-speakers and not translate. (You have no idea how tempted I was to speak to him in French, Spanish and Italian all year.) WOOSAH!

Anyhow, that type of guy often also loves a band/book that is decently acclaimed but not popular with their contemporaries. They will also categorically explain to you why their favourites are "objectively" the best and why you're an idiot for not seeing it. (I don't reccommend this character, unless you mean for people to hate them.)


Really, really, love the soundtrack from FLASHDANCE? Don't just make your MC a fan. Make it a subplot. Have the MC starring in a remake of FLASHDANCE by the failed ballerina-cum-high-school-drama-teacher. Or entering an anniversary contest where they have to make a video to SHE'S A MANIAC.

One caveat is that simply having the MC do a book for Lit. doesn't mean she quotes Dickens all day.


Did you love music from 50 years ago when you were a teen? I'd think not. So why should your MC? Maybe there's an emotional attachment. Maybe her Mom died in a fire when she was 7 and one of the few possessions that she left behind was THE BEATLES' GREATEST HITS, which was in her car's CD folder. So now the MC listens to The Beatles every morning as she gets ready for school and every night as she does her homework.


One of my favourite musical references in a book is found in Lisa Descrochers' PERSONAL DEMONS, when something happens on the corner of First and Amistad. If you love THE FRAY's HOW TO SAVE A LIFE as much as I do, you'd catch the reference and squeal like a little girl. If you don't like The Fray or don't know who they are then the reference sails uneventfully over your head.

Please use this sensibly and don't tell me that the MC's life was like "a hard day's night on a yellow submarine," because I will laugh until I turn blue- and that's pretty hard considering my race.


There's absolutely no reason an adult can't be a fan of a 60's band. So have the parents or the teacher or club supervisor or someone else in the teen's life constantly shrieking THE SUPREME's biggest hits.

There you have it: 5 ways to pay homage to your favourite music and books. Can you think of any others? Are you guilty of the "I only love the classics" MC? What do you do to put a different spin on it?


Chelsey said...

The one comment I always have about this, as someone who's pretty close in age to YA readers (22), is that today media is so easy to access and discover random things that a teen could love, out of context, a Clash video they found on Youtube, the Engelbert Humperdink tapes in her grandmother's car, the show tunes her friends sing and have an obsession with an actress on tv today that leads them to watching awful 90s tv shows on Netflix.

You get my drift. Not that this shouldn't be in the plot, or important to the book, but media is much easier to consume these days.

Pam Harris said...

Wow, great tips! I have several students in middle school who really like older music, like Journey and bands that were even too old for my generation. Because of that, I usually assume that it's okay for my characters to like these things--but I learned the hard way that this isn't always true.

Unknown said...

I actually just added a bit about my characters stumbling across books that had been passed down from generation to generation (since no books are left in existance [all books and literature are banned unless published by the government]) and put GONE WITH THE WIND and TWILIGHT as two of the books they came across.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Oddly enough, I'm amazed how many teens love Led Zeppelin. Really! Band hasn't even been around for almost thirty years.

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