As a writer of fantasy, I read different fantasy novels. In doing so, I can experience the methods published writers use to build a world, breathe life into characters and weave a mesmerizing plot.
Or I can read the books and criticize the lack of plot, weakness of character arc and believability of the fantastical setting. Sometimes, it’s a little of both.
Perhaps it is my experience with disengaged and unmotivated readers, but I don’t believe epic fantasy, written in the frame and scope of George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire, draws young adult readers.
Several things about these novels discourage me:
- The multiple point of view characters
- The dispassionate discarding of major characters
- The woven webs that take too long to entrap their victims
However, I’m not sure these same things would bother young adult readers (the audience I write for). I do believe they will be hindered by:
- The sheer number of characters – even adults who read this series admit they have to flip to the back and check the listing of characters. Most young adult readers don’t want to invest this time. They want to enter the fantasy world and stay there until the story ends. If they have to wonder “who is this person” then the writer fails to maintain their suspended disbelief.
- The scope of time from the foreshadowing until the culminating event – most young readers will forget about the earlier hint and then wonder “where is this coming from?”
- Too many story lines – if it is 200 pages between the initial storyline of a character and the second appearance, many youthful readers will have forgotten where they left this person. Again, they won’t want to go back. In fact, many might choose to skip the entire story from some character’s viewpoint.
I recently completed the third book in Martin’s series. As with the other two, I felt compelled to scan some character’s chapters. I find myself withholding my attachment to any character because I’m sure Martin will decapitate them once I love them.
What author hopes to hear the readers admit to scanning? Don’t authors desire readers to empathize with and embrace their characters?
A Storm of Swords held my interest better than the second book. I also scanned fewer pages. Still, I find myself withholding affection from the remaining Starks because their family seems condemned by the author.
I also am fostering more affection for people I despised earlier in the series. Is this because I’m sure they will survive? I don’t know. I believe Martin’s skill for creating sympathetic characters plays a huge role.
I used to like Tyrion Stark, but by the end of this third installment, I see his personality turning to the dark side. Meanwhile, his king-slaying older brother found a conscience somewhere and I’m irritated by my admiration of him. I still hope their sister meets a horrifying and painful end, so all is not lost.
At the end of this book, a small incident from the second book that I knew was foreshadowing came into play. Martin did a great job of keeping this information in the forefront for the reader by having Arya repeat the “magical” phrase with her nightly prayers. Still, the fulfillment is long in coming. How many readers wrote it off as unimportant?
I will read the rest of this series. Of course, I doubt I will read every word on every page. I’m invested in the outcome. After reading nearly 3,000 pages, I’m expecting an incredible payoff.
Don’t disappoint me, Mr. Martin.
Okay, since I’m an unpublished newbie, I am less than an authority on what sells than the best-selling author who I’m ranting about in this post. However, as a reader and an experienced reading teacher of middle-school-aged students, I believe I do know somewhat of what I speak of from a reader’s point of view.
If you want to write epic fantasy for young adults, I don’t think you can use Martin’s format. In fact, a book containing Jon Snow’s story and another containing Bran Stark’s story and another for Arya and Sansa would be more embraceable for younger readers. Perhaps in the final book, all the characters would be reunited to face the ultimate bad guy.
I would have preferred to read the books in this way, as well. I know Martin is trying to show us the timeline and what’s happening everywhere in the world simultaneously, which is difficult for many adults to follow. It’s impossible for younger readers. They will become frustrated and lay the book aside.
Books for younger readers need to have simpler plot lines. The story (as far as I’ve read it) in Martin’s books is a convoluted mess of betrayal, duplicity and speculation.
Killing off too many major characters can be disheartening. Okay, I know J.K. Rowling did it and her series stole the Hollywood box office along with best-selling book charts. I almost refused to continue after Sirius Black died, and several young adult readers I know felt the same. We continued because she had left the mirror they used to communicate behind in Harry’s possession and what lay behind the gate shrouded in mystery. We hoped Harry might find a way to bring Sirius back.
So much for our misguided hopes.
What recommendations do you have for epic fantasy for young adult readers? Is this even something writers should pursue or are young readers dispossessed of the attention span required?