What Message Are You Sending in Your Writing?

I have a three-year-old daughter, and that has made me very aware of the messages we send our girls in literature, movies, magazines, etc. Our culture sends messages that are at best annoying and at worst destructive, not just to girls but to boys as well.

So I read Karen Jensen’s blog post about messages we are sending our kids in YA with great interest. She noticed a trend in YA where 2 things happen: 1) a girl tells a boy firmly and repeatedly that she does NOT want a relationship (not sex, just a relationship) yet he does not take no for an answer and she ends up capitulating, and 2) in the final climax, it is the boy that saves the girl—the girl does not save herself.

I decided to look at my own YA work-in-progress (WIP) to see if I fell into those traps.

First, did any of my male protagonists ignore my female heroine’s “No” to a relationship (thus reinforcing the “no doesn’t mean no” culture)? To my relief, this was not the case. There is a boy who pursues a friendship with my heroine, even though Polly is hard to get to know, but she clearly WANTS to be friends with him and she communicates that.

Whew. One down.

Second, does my male companion end up saving the female heroine? That one’s a little harder. In the end, Polly does end up physically saving HIM, so at first it seems like another win for me, but… There is a moment, a key moment, in the climax where Polly needs to have an insight in order to save the situation. And the key insight is made by…the male companion. But is this a problem?

Every heroine has their sidekicks. Buffy had her Scooby Gang, and Harry had Hermione and Ron. All the sidekicks chimed in with important information—often key information—at times. In the end, though, in that climactic moment, it was always Buffy or Harry who stepped up and put it all together to save the day.

So is mine a case of a sidekick bringing valuable info that the heroine then acts on? It could be interpreted that way. And none of my beta readers have flagged that moment as not working.


I am going to change it anyway.

Why? Because I think it is important to Polly’s character that SHE be the one to have the insight. She needs to have the moment of understanding and then wrestle with the new knowledge herself. This revelation she has fundamentally changes her perception of herself and her relationship with the world. It will be much more powerful for HER to realize this than to have someone else tell her.

So I thank Karen for her article, because even though I got it about ¾ right in my WIP, this will enable me to get it right all the way. I try very hard to think outside the cultural messages we’re all immersed in all day, every day, but it seems even I fall back onto those messages unconsciously. That is why it is so important that as a writer of YA and middle grade I take a step back and objectively look at the subconscious messages my books are sending. Not that I want to moralize or lecture—far from it. I just want to show my readers what kids can be.

I want to show them that their greatest strength lies in being true to who they are.

What about you? Do you ever think consciously about what messages your writing sends? At what stage in the process do you think about it?

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