Guest Blogger: Marie Lu
Now, before I say anything, I have to say this: LEGEND benefitted enormously from the power of trends. When I first began writing the book, I had absolutely no idea that LEGEND would eventually fit perfectly into the tidal wave of science fiction and dystopia that has formed in The HUNGER GAMES’ wake. It’s amazing! I am extremely grateful for the advantage, and forever in Suzanne Collins’ debt. To watch a trend in action is kind of phenomenal; it’s pure power, no doubt about it.
However, frequently I get asked how I feel about trends in YA. And to be honest, I think it’s a double-edged sword. I mean, yeah–part of the issue is that you do get lumped into a certain ‘category’ and when you describe your book, people will automatically think, “Oh, it’s another dystopian novel.” It can be difficult to stand out in such a crowded field. But it’s not just that.
For me, the issue is that once I’m told about a trend, I can’t ever go back to “unknowing” that it is a trend. And that can be frustrating. Why?
When I’m writing before I know about All The Trends, the reasons why I choose to do certain things is completely organic and instinctive. I can guarantee that to myself. I wrote LEGEND as a YA before I knew I was writing it as YA. I wrote LEGEND as a dystopia before I knew that dystopias were The Thing. I wrote LEGEND with a male 1st person POV before I was told that a 1st person POV is a trend in YA and a male POV is not a trend in YA. So when I’m told that dystopia is a trend, I feel like I’ve sold out. When I’m told that male POV is NOT a trend, I feel good because I think I’m going against the grain. And then I feel frustrated.
Every time I find out about a trend, I feel something taken away from me.
Because AFTER I know of a trend, I feel like any future writing decisions I make are forever influenced by that trend, regardless of which side of the trend I fall on. For example, if I now choose to write something purely from a female’s POV, I will always think to myself: am I writing female because it is a trend? Or am I choosing it because that’s what I want to write? Am I adding romance between my characters because it is a trend, or because I genuinely see the romance between those characters? Am I writing YA now because it is a trend? My brain becomes this feverish list of trends, no matter how hard I try to “unknow” them.
Male POV = not trend
Female POV = trend
Romance = trend
Ethnic main characters = not trend
1st person POV = trend
3rd person POV = not trend
Present tense = trend
Past tense = not trend
Dystopia = trend
Historical fiction = not trend
Paranormal = trend
I dunno–maybe this is just alone in my head. At any rate, this is a bad, bad way for me to think. I want to write an ethnic main character without thinking that I’m choosing it because I want to buck a trend. Once, I could be sure that I chose these things strictly because I wanted to write that way; now I can never be sure. Am I subconsciously influenced forever by knowing of these trends? I’m not sure. Nevertheless, I know that trends take away my Organic Instinct.
And all writers should be able to write organically, without these influences.
I want to be able to write a paranormal story from the 1st person point of view of a gay Chinese girl without hearing all these whispers in my head that say, “You’re following a trend! You’re breaking a trend! You’re following a trend! You’re breaking a trend!”. I strive to pick what to write without feeling guilt (following trend) or pride (not following trend). I want to pick what to write simply because I want to write it.
So if there’s a new trend going around, please don’t tell me! I don’t want to know that it exists.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Marie Lu was the art director at a video game company. She also owns the children’s brand Fuzz Academy. She was first inspired to write LEGEND while watching Les Miserables one afternoon, and wondered how the relationship between a famous criminal vs. a prodigious detective might translate into a more modern story. She graduated from the University of Southern California in 2006 and lives in Los Angeles, California. LEGEND is her first novel.