So, my blog pals, the other day I was in the bookstore with the beloved beta. We did our usual thing, we had lunch, I gave her my new ms, we slayed a dragon, rode on a pirate ship, talked about books we liked, she gave me books to read, and we saved Starbucks from a terrorist plot. All in a day's work. But she handed me Silence by Becca Fitzpatrick. Now, I'll admit I read Hush Hush. It was a guilty pleasure for a while. But I grew out of it. I bought Crescendo, but haven't been able to read it.
Why did the beta hand me this book? Because of the back blurb. It's a bit of text from inside the novel, not uncommon. What stopped me dead is that I saw the dreaded phrase, used in the context that makes me cringe:
"I was just trying to protect you."
Just typing out those words makes me cringe. Really, there's nothing wrong with that phrase, and many successful and excellent books use it. But I use it because it's an excellent example of how writers are justifying bad behavior.
I blogged on abuse in YA here, but I really wanted a chance to explain what about this phrase really grinds my gears.
I'm going to pick on the fantasy writers today, because I see it here most often.
When we write urban fantasy, straight fantasy, or any of its sub genres, we immediately have to adjust ourselves to the idea that, though we may be painting an image of our world, it's distorted somehow. If we create a world in which magic exists, we have to let go of the logic that says "that's not possible" and make it believable as well as interesting. This detachment from reality is fantasy's greatest strength, and it's greatest flaw.
If we write fantasy, we have to continually draw back to reality. We have to make the magic seem real. The beasts seem believable. The world building flawless. Because we detach that logical part of our brain, it's easy to drift off into cliches and stereotypes, because that's what's easy.
And this is what I believe is the problem with most UF/F relationships in young adult. Say we have a girl and a boy. The boy is a creature of some sort and the girl is being hunted by other creatures. The boy needs to protect her. There's nothing wrong with this, and this is the basic story line of many successful books. But somewhere along the line, I think many let the extravagance take them too far, and they drift too much into cliches. The action and danger of the plot bleeds into the romance to keep the tension up. Soon we have a situation where our creature boy is protecting our main character a little too much, and suddenly we're bordering on abusive behavior.
The main reason I hate this phrase so much, is as soon as one person NEEDS to protect another, you've created an unbalanced relationship, which is unhealthy. You have set a precedent and you have to work backwards to get out of that. Just because you're writing in a world that's distorted from out own, and your MC doesn't have all these SUPER SPECIAL AWESOME POWERS doesn't mean you NEED an unbalanced relationship.
Many writers use the excuse of the circumstances of the plot, the details of the fantasy realm, or the repercussions from whatever creature-problem the love interest has to justify their abusive situations. We tolerate a vampire physically abusing his girlfriend because he "needs to feed" or the werewolf boy being super jealous because werewolves by nature are "protective of their loved ones." The use of fantasy has detached the logical part of our brain, until suddenly we're tolerating something in fiction that we would normally be horrified at.
But as fantasy writers, we NEED to bring that bit of reality back in, especially within relationships. There's nothing wrong with having a twisted or abusive relationship, but be honest about it. Don't hide behind phrases like "I wanted to protect you." Just think about your main characters for a minute. If you were in their situation, would you tolerate what the love interest did to you?
Just because your MC is a human in a field of creatures doesn't mean she should be roped into an abusive relationship any normal girl would run from. If you want to create a twisted relationship-- great! Go do it! But if you want to create a relationship readers will sigh at, will tell their friends about, will dream about, then put effort in. Make it real. Make the characters want to be together, and connect on another level other than "OMG, we're gunna die." Just because he has fangs and hides a pair of wings under his jacket doesn't mean they can't have a normal, functioning relationship.