Well, one of my objectives for Goal 2 Work on YA Thriller is Read YA Thrillers. Sounds great, doesn't it? Recently I started what I thought was a YA thriller as well as a YA thriller-ish piece of science fiction. I didn't finish either one of them. I was always having to stop to read material that didn't seem to have anything to do with the story I believed I was reading. I just couldn't maintain interest.
What, Exactly, Do You Mean, Gail?
For a story to work, everything in it must support it in some way. At the very least, if something appears in a story, it needs to support character, theme, or plot. If it doesn't, it stops the forward momentum of the story. Readers have to pause to take in this new material that doesn't relate to anything they've read before and, they may find, won't relate to much they're going to read.
For instance, eight or ten years ago, the YA blogosphere got hopped up because an agent, whose name I really don't know, went on record as saying that YA needed romance. Indeed, there is a lot of romance, or at least romantic entanglements, in YA across the board. But if the romance doesn't support the story, the writer has to stop the story to talk about young love.
Okay, the first book I quit reading involved a murder and potential victims getting weird murder-connected communications a year later. I thought that sounded thrilling. I thought that was the basic story, these young women getting messages and perhaps being targeted. I may have been wrong, though. The story may have been about something else, something deep and not thrilling. Especially since there was a lot of love interest going on in the first more than third of the book. There was a torn-between-two-lovers situation and another couple. I read quite a bit, wasn't clear on what these romances had to do with the story I thought I was going to read, and if the story was something else, I never figured out what it was. I may have got almost to the mid-way point on this one.
The second book I quit reading involved four young people fighting a terrorist group plotting attacks in the future. Thrilling! And sci-fi, which is good for me to read because I have an adult sci-fi project to shop around at some point. But the action kept stopping so characters could talk about how one of them was bi-sexual, one was gay, and one was transgender. We also had to pause for the hints that some of these characters were attracted to one another. It wasn't clear to me how this supported the terrorist story or how it was going to. So I gave up on that one, too.
All the romantic and quasi-romantic diversions in these books kept slowing the story down because they didn't seem to be about the story. Especially with the science fiction book, I felt as if I was sometimes reading filler.
An Example Of Romance Serving Story
I happen to have just finished the adult novel My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. In this book the narrator and her sister are both attracted to the same man who is only attracted to one of them. A twist on the torn-between-two-lovers scenario that is so popular in YA. In this case, this romantic entanglement absolutely supports the plot, which is all about how the narrator will deal with her murderous sister. It creates tension. It definitely makes readers want to move on. It made this reader, anyway.
It's not just romance that can stop a story. Humor writers have to be careful to note use random jokes. If material doesn't support character, theme, or plot, it doesn't matter how funny it is, it will distract readers and discourage them from continuing reading.
This explains why a couple of days ago I edited out a lengthy HGTV joke in Chapter 17 of a new project. It didn't do anything and would have left readers wondering what it was doing there and if they needed to remember it going forth.