There’s a great line of Tweets going on right now started by agent Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) with this Tweet:
“She had everything; beauty, wealth…” I see this phrase often in YA submissions and don’t think it captures the complexity of teen life.
— Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) May 29, 2013
In response, people are submitting better ‘she had everything’s, some of which are hilarious, but all of which are more interesting and, I think, relevant.
I was actually surprised to see that there are apparently tons of people submitting queries for books that begin with that premise. Unless you’re trying to sell the next Disney princess novel (and even those gals typically start out with nothing in at least the wealth department), I can’t understand why you think the average teenage girl wants to read about a beautiful rich girl’s problems.
Okay, say I start reading about this lovely, rolling-around-in-her-dollar-bills-rich-Uncle-Scrooge-McDuck-style broad. I don’t relate to her to start with because
What, then, shall draw me into this story?
I’m guessing it’s that she’s searching for true love. I’m guessing that I’m supposed to relate to her because, even though she can pull off jeggings and I can’t, and even though she doesn’t have to plan ahead to afford a trip to see an out-of-state Dave Matthews Band concert, she’s moping around in coffeeshops listening to the Cure and hoping to meet a really cute, thoughtful, artsy boy (who may or may not be a vampire/shapeshifter/warlock/etc.)
Because hey, okay, I’ve been there. (Pro-tip: it is pretty unlikely that the cute, thoughtful, artsy boy is also a vampire. Just sayin’.)
But maybe it’s just me (and it’s possible that it is), but if you set your story up by telling me that your heroine is hot and never had to spend a summer working in an office for a weird old man named Marvin, I’m going to kind of resent her. I’m going to shout things at the pages like, “LISTEN HERE, DON’T YOU TELL ME HOW HARD YOUR SEARCH FOR LOVE IS UNTIL YOU’VE TRIED BALANCING IT WITH WORKING RETAIL DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON YOU WUSS.” (I will not go into the long rant that I have stored inside of me reserved for girls whose main problem in finding love is that ‘everyone loves me and I just can’t choose one!’)
I don’t know about the average reader, but I want my heroines to be messy. I want someone who comes from hard knocks, someone who just flat out sucks at pairing accessories, someone who knows just what it’s like when a customer throws something at you (it’s really, really shitty, just in case you were wondering). I know I talk about Carrie Bradshaw all the damn time, but she’s an excellent example: she starts out broke and awkward, and she does things that make you yell at your TV (don’t do it Carrie!), but also all the while make you say, “Oh no, that’s SO me!” Like most of us have probably never thrown chicken wings off of our boyfriend’s rich parents’ balcony, but most of us can say, “If I was in that position, that very well may have embarrassingly happened to me.”
So I’m surprised that there are so many people out there trying to market the ‘she had everything’ lead-in as ‘she was gorgeous and rich.’ To me, it’s not giving your heroine the fighting chance for fullness of character that a girl who comes from struggle has (Katniss Everdeen and Puck Connolly, I’m looking at you, you fabulous broads!).
This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this rule: I recently read the book Mystic City, which starred a rich, hot gal with seemingly everything going for her, and I loved the book. More on that one later (I’m planning to do a full review), but it was a good example of someone whose wealth and place in a corrupt wealthy society are the things that limit her and have to be overcome. It also had a good mystery going on that kept things interesting, too, but it was one of those times when I felt actual sympathy for the poor little rich girl and not annoyance.
But I think those books are the rarity for me. Give me a Carrie Bradshaw who drinks too much sometimes and drops a hymnal off a balcony while spying on her boyfriend at church. Give me a Katniss Everdeen who shines as the underdog and actually gets more awkward when money falls her way. Give me the girl who has everything: a barely-running pickup truck, the entire Cure discography on vinyl, and a kind-of-deadly family curse.
(Oh. By the way. I’m back! Long time no see, readers!)