Plot Should Not Trump Logic in MG And YA Novels (Discussion)

Plot Should Not Trump Logic Discussion

Although I continue to be a huge fan of both middle grade and young adult novels, I have been increasingly frustrated recently with the number of books I’ve read that seem to disregard logic and facts in favor of a fun plot.  A friend of mine has remarked that it seems as though the current market frequently rewards books that come across as unique, high concept reads in a pithy two-sentence pitch or a brief query letter–which is not always the same as books with strong writing–and I have to agree to some extent.  I simply keep reading books that sound as though they have a cool premise, only to realize that the execution of that premise doesn’t really make sense.  I think children’s books (by which I mean both MG and YA) can do a lot better for their readers.

It seems as though the argument often comes down to “Readers, particularly young readers, won’t notice or care,” and perhaps that’s true to some degree.  A lot of books that I find completely illogical and unbelievable do quite well in the sales department.  However, I believe it’s important to keep in mind that readers learn things from books–even things that aren’t “the point” of the book.  I’m far from being a proponent of the idea that books must be or should be primarily educational or didactic, but when readers pick up tidbits from books anyway, shouldn’t we be careful about what we’re teaching them?

Not all factual learning comes from nonfiction.  I can still remember reading Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart and learning  that feeding cheese to a dog will dull its sense of smell.  (Actually, that’s not true, but it’s what Funke taught me, and I kept it in mind for many years before discovering it’s a myth.)  I remember learning things about combat and training from Tamora Pierce books.  I remember learning it’s dangerous to shut yourself in a wardrobe from C. S. Lewis (not that I’ve ever had the opportunity.)  Basically, I remember learning a lot of things from fantasy that could apply to real life.

So it drives me a bit nuts to read books that blithely ignore facts because the author thinks it will make a more exciting story.  My eyes may have twitched a bit while reading Krysta’s review of Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race, in which the mayor of a town decides to ban Mr. Lemoncello from his own privately funded library and install new directors after Mr. Lemoncello is accused of a decades-old crime of intellectual property theft. I admit it; this is all very dramatic.  But the book misses the mark by teaching young readers, completely incorrectly, that a city mayor has the authority to ban someone from his own private property.  It misses the opportunity to teach young readers the difference between a private library and a public, government-funded one because, apparently, the truth isn’t interesting enough.  This does a disservice to readers who may finish the book with some very warped ideas about how these things work (and this in a book that extols the virtues of research and fact-checking!).

So, no, I don’t think children’s books need to be a catalog of “fun facts” written for the education of the young, but I do wish authors would invest in writing plots that are both exciting and factually accurate.  Readers can pick up on even small details, so making sure your book isn’t tossing logic out the window in favor of genre can be pretty important.

What do you think?  What have you learned from books? Are there any books you wish weren’t so…inaccurate?

Briana

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26 thoughts on “Plot Should Not Trump Logic in MG And YA Novels (Discussion)

  1. Lisa @abookcalls says:

    I completely agree. It seems like the entertainment aspects overshadow any kind of learning aspect in books lately. And even when you don’t learn anything…the decisions or reactions that characters have are completely illogical. I’d like to see one person who completely freezes for minutes when they see a terrifying monster…unrealistic, but pretty much every character in Middle Grade and YA does that…But back to the learning part! It feels like authorities in general if they even exist, are always portrayed as evil. And if executed well, it can criticise social hierarchies or problems, but a lot of times it is just “the system is evil, they all want to oppress free will” but books rarely address the way some authorities might help (or even single authority figures). It is too simple and I can understand the simplicity in Middle Grade, but a lot of people seem to take the ‘Adult’ from Young Adult as nothing more than a joke or an indulgence to the readers, dumbing the stories down, even though it’s not necessary…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      Yes, I have so many problems recently with the decisions characters make! They have no motivation, or a flimsy excuse for motivation, or they just do something that’s a lot of effort and has zero payoff for them. The list goes on. This particularly annoys me in books that focus on things like court intrigue where I expect people who are engaging in intricate political games to be clever and they…often are not.

      I was talking to someone recently about the weird issues YA and even middle grade books have with authority. He pointed out that, strangely, while there are a lot of “the government is bad and oppressing you” books, there’s basically an equal number of books extolling the virtues of monarchies and things like the royal family’s divine right to rule. :p

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa @abookcalls says:

        Yes, you are absolutely right! The things characters do in order for the plot to work are just disappointingly lazy. Right now YA just seems like some mass production of books…and we all now that quantity usually equals less quality. A lot of the stories or characters are the same and of you know one, you know all the others as well. It is very disappointing and one of the reasons why I rarely pick up Middle Grade or YA Fantasy novels anymore. 😐

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  2. readinginthewings says:

    I love an exciting plot as much as the next person, but what I especially love is an exciting plot that is well thought out and researched!! It makes the plot even more exciting when it is super developed and every aspect has a specific purpose, and a grounding in reality. Some books, especially in YA, have such obvious plot holes that kill me too. I feel like sometimes authors and editors over look those things because of the Blockbuster quality that seems to be so important right now, when half the time there is a super easy fix that would make the book so much better.

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  3. Rosie Amber says:

    I agree with ‘Readinginthewings’ the blockbuster selling aspect and following the money trail may well be much of the blame for these points.
    A hard subject. I like a book to entertain and offer escapism at times, which opens the door to fantasy where more rules of logic can be bent. Any well written book that can draw the reader in will have them believing in what has been written on the pages.
    A part of me wants to ask, is any fiction book ‘real’? So is it down to a reader’s perception of ‘realistic’? Another part of me, reminds myself that every reader reads a book differently, and takes away something different from it.
    I babbling on, you’ve posed some good questions, which have made me think hard about your discussion.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think that a book can have fantastic elements and still be logical. Dragons, to me, do not make a book illogical as long as they continue to follow the rules of dragons as set out in the story. A fantasy where the court politics are laughably inaccurate, however, would make me find a book ill-researched and illogical.

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    • Briana says:

      I agree. Especially with YA fantasy/sci-fi there’s a huge call for “high concept books,” which seems to boil down to “This sounds really wild and unique and can be pitched excitingly in two sentences!” But the execution of the exciting premise is sometimes lacking, and I’m just sitting there reading like “None of this makes sense. This would never happen. The characters have no motivation to do this….”

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  4. Sierra @ Quest Reviews says:

    Yes! This is something that bothered me when I was reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins out loud to my brother. It’s been a couple of years so I’m rusty on the details but the entire time, all I could think of was that IT IS NOT OKAY TO HAVE WILD PENGUINS IN YOUR HOME. At the very least, offer a disclaimer!
    I think the aspect of realism is most important when a book is being marketed as a contemporary.

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s funny! It reminds me of how Lewis was ASKED to put in the disclaimer that one should never shut one’s self in a wardrobe. People were worried about child safety! But perhaps it was assumed the average child would not have the ability to adopt a penguin. 😂

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  5. Remnants of Wit says:

    I definitely agree! I am a reader who is more than willing to suspend disbelief, but if a novel going for some degree of verisimilitude perpetuates facts that are blatantly wrong because the author couldn’t be bothered to do research–that gets under my skin. Great post!

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    • Krysta says:

      Same. I have no problem with fantasy. Often we have comments critiquing magic and dragons and such as unrealistic. But fantasy is realistic, as long as it continues to follow the internal logic of the story. It is when books Ignore common sense that I get annoyed. Like Three Dark Crowns. It makes zero sense for three women to try to kill each other in the name of a goddess no one really seems to believe in. Or for neighboring princes to compete to wed a queen who has no political power and retires as soon as she gives birth. It is not the magic that is unrealistic. It is the politics!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Brian Wyzlic says:

    Totally agree! I’m willing to suspend disbelief for larger plot pieces (I was okay with the Three Dark Crowns pieces Krysta mentioned, for example, because I could imagine there was a larger thing at play that will be explored in the sequels). But it’s the little things that really get me. When things are just falsehoods, and ESPECIALLY since they are being read by children whose awareness of how the world works is still developing, there should be much more care taken. And I think it can be done. Could the mayor of the town have simply cited the town’s charter that gives him the power to ban someone from their own private library? Might that have spurred readers to do their own civic investigation? The plot stays as is, but without the problems you present. I think the industry should be paying attention to your words here and acting accordingly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Briana says:

      Yes! I think sometimes there’s this thought that “Well, kids won’t notice,” or “It doesn’t matter,” but I remember some very random things from books I read as a child. And it’s frustrating to learn years later that some of the things I thought I had learned from books weren’t even true!

      I think you’re right that some books do have a fairly simple solution to some of the problems they raise. Even a statement from Mr. Lemoncello like “Well, you can’t ban me from my own private library, but I will voluntarily step down until this is resolved” can solve the problem. People don’t always have to rewrite the whole book to make things work.

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  7. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Brilliant topic! I will admit, that I’m pretty open minded when it comes to suspending my disbelief for fantasy, buuut I have noticed things being stretched too far in books aimed at a younger audience. I remember the discussion we had on here recently about the book Krysta read about a world with only 500 words. And at the same time, for all my willingness to abandon logic in fantasy, I *still* can’t wrap my head round how illogical Divergent is (it still bothers me, years after reading it 😉 )
    And yes, I do think that books for a younger audience can have interesting educational elements.

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    • Briana says:

      I think there’s a difference between “unrealistic” and “illogical.” I don’t have any problem with dragons or magic existing or whatever. My bigger problem is with things like court intrigue where people. say, form some convoluted plot to gain power that wouldn’t actually work, fantasy world or real world. And, yeah, the 500 word world! I still don’t understand that!

      Liked by 1 person

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Yeah that’s fair. But I also mean I’m not likely to worry too much about the internal logic of the magic system, for instance. But yes, there is a difference a lot of the time. And yes you’re a hundred percent right! I’ve seen that *a lot*. And also it’s often used to *insert dramatic plot twist* where somehow the evil guy doesn’t fall for the dumbest plan ever *big surprise* 😉 hehehe yes!! I still don’t get it either!!

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  8. Lila @ Hardcover Haven says:

    What a great discussion! I’ve definitely felt this way *a lot* lately. For example–when I read AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS by Margaret Rogerson, one of the biggest illogical inconsistencies I found was that, though the fairies in the book can’t make/perform art (or “Craft,” as they call it), they could dance. I nearly threw my book across the room at that. In what world is dance not considered a performing art??? Tell me, how can you have fairies who literally can’t cook or sew, because cooking and fashion are considered artforms, but *dancing*, of all things, isn’t??? And the reason they fairies could dance? It was just so Rogerson could add in an elaborate, dramatic masquerade ball scene!!! AND THE SCENE WASN’T EVEN NECESSARY (meaning the events could’ve taken place literally anywhere else and it wouldn’t have made a difference)!!!

    What I’ve found lately is that often everything–logic, plot, character develpment–is being pushed aside for a flashy premise. But the problem is, you can’t make a book that is memorable or that touches people’s hearts without those elements! And it makes me angry too, particularly with YA, because it’s like publishers think kids and teens are dumb–NEWSLASH: *they’re not*!

    The other part of it is that I’ve felt for a while now like publishers are pushing books out faster and faster and “forcing” authors to write faster as well–which tends to lead to more half-baked works being published. Even if you look at major, super popular authors like Sarah J. Maas and Cassandra Clare. Maas has been publishing *two books per year ~while~ working on future novels* for 2-3 years now–and, even though I’m a fan of hers, I must say that I feel like her work has gone downhill.

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    • Briana says:

      Agreed! I had similar issues with An Enchantment of Ravens. The definition of “craft” seemed so arbitrary. Honestly, it seems like creating things with magic should count as “craft” too….

      Yes, I’ve always thought one book per year was kind of fast, particularly when you take into account that many authors take years and dozens of drafts to get their debut published. Then, suddenly, they’re expected to churn out stuff that’s the same quality but five times faster. It’s kind of crazy. Brandon Sanderson is the only author I think writes multiple books per year and still manages to do it really really well.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Cam @ Camillea Reads says:

    Yes, finally! I’m so glad you wrote a discussion on this because I’ve been seeing it happen consistently in YA novels. I love learning the mechanisms of things in magical worlds and not having that makes the book..forgettable for me. It’s for this very reason that I feel myself moving away from YA fiction :/

    Like

    • Briana says:

      I’m glad someone else has been noticing it, as well! I’ve loved and have been defending YA for years, so it’s kind of disappointing to see some of it getting lazy.

      Like

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