Thursday, June 16, 2011

For My Fifteen-Year-Old Self

This is the first post in a series about creating a vision of what I want to write, as mentioned in my novel-writing game plan.

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. My favorites as a teen were YA fantasies, and I still adore them now. I always dreamed of escaping to a magical world, having swashbuckling adventures, and living happily-ever-after with a swoon-worthy guy as the heroine of my own story. I figure the next best thing is penning (or typing, I guess) a YA fantasy novel myself, and write the story I've always wanted to read.

Thus when it comes to envisioning the kind of books I want to write, I already have my target audience in mind: my fifteen-year-old self. I was (and remain) a picky reader, and much of what I want to write is shaped by my reading preferences.

First, the protagonist. I idolized those strong, brilliant heroines I read about; I wished so much to be more like them, or to be part of their world. And yet a part of me felt it was impossible. As often as I fantasized about magically falling into their stories, I knew could never belong — I would be grossly out of place with my East Asian features.

I felt this even as a kid, when I played make-believe with my sister and childhood friend. We pretended to be magical princesses fighting to save our beloved kingdom from our wicked stepmother. Our alter-egos never looked like us, not even when we wanted a break from being princesses and pretended to be their maids (and best friends, of course). They were all blondes or brunettes or redheads with eyes the color of emerald, or sapphire, or steel. Because really, it would be ridiculous to have brown-eyed, black-haired Asian girls living in a medieval fantasy world... wouldn't it?

Almost all of the heroines I admired as a teen lived in worlds composed solely of people who looked nothing like me. I hated feeling I could never be a part of the worlds I loved so much, that I could only aspire to be like the characters in Asian historical fiction or Chinese mythology — who, at times, felt foreign and exotic to me, with values and worldviews that had but little in common with my Asian-American ones.

There were a lot of pseudo-European fantasylands; where were all the pseudo-Asian ones? Or, even better, where were the books where the protagonist happens to have Asian features, set in a fantasyland that's not based entirely on ancient China or Japan?

I know these books exist now, thanks to the increasing diversity of YA. And I am so, so grateful for the authors writing those novels. I admire them to pieces.

But to be completely honest, so far I haven't been able to find a book with an Asian protagonist that I can connect with deeply, despite how much I want to adore those books. It is completely unfair to the authors, because I think that, after so many years of longing, I've built up a specific ideal of the book I wish I could have read as a teen — and the books I read are the authors' visions, not mine. The only way to fix this is to start writing my own, so I can stop comparing the books I read to what I wish they were, and enjoy them for what they are.

That is why I'm going to write — for myself, because there are stories I want to tell; because, after all those years of reading, I want a story that belongs to me: a story that my fifteen-year-old self will embrace and adore, one that tells her that she, too, can be the heroine for once.

So I will write, and the protagonist will live in a world where she isn't out of place for looking Asian, and she will be capable and brave and clever and interesting and selfless (or try to be). She will fight for what she cares about and seek to do the right thing, and she will be the protagonist because of the strength of her character and not because of her birth — she will not be special due to a rare magical power or unique eye color or ancient prophecy, unless I am subverting those tropes (and I will). I will gift her with my own flaws, as well as with virtues I'm still striving to develop, and she will persevere despite all the difficult decisions and heartbreak I throw at her. And I will have succeeded with her when I know my teenaged self would read that book over and over just to watch her in action, laugh and cry and gush over her, and wish desperately to be half as amazing as she is.

It will be a challenge, to be sure; despite reading widely, there are few protagonists I can say I truly adore. Still, I am excited. After all, these are books I'm dying to read — ones that no one can write but me. :)

Thank you for reading! Next week I'll continue the series with my personal preferences for plot, setting, romance, and all that good stuff. Do you have protagonist pet-peeves? Are you also motivated to write by the need to read the book of your heart?


  1. That sounds great, Linda.  I look forward to reading your stuff!  :-)

  2. Thank you so much, Mallory! I'm touched by your kind words and
    encouragement. :)

    As for teenaged-me... well, she was kinda awkward. I like now-me a lot
    better, but I guess I do still have a soft spot for my younger self :P

  3. AHHHHHH. that sounds like such an amazing book... i knew your high standards would come in handy one day. i'm so proud that you have such clarity of vision and worthy goals and i have absolute faith that you are more than capable of carrying this out!

  4. Thanks! :)

    I think it's probably because I read the most as a teen, and my reading
    preferences haven't changed that much since then :P

    Haha I think we all notice more when we feel left out but not as much when
    other people are. I'm definitely guilty of that too. But yeah, I also love
    strong, talented female characters!

  5. Oh oh oh, you're so smart, Linda *worships*

    I so agree that it's hard to find a relatable Asian teen, I always relate better to the white characters. Oh, and hey -- I'll be your audience! I'll happily read stuff for you, especially since I fit (in terms of age) right in with your target audience. Yeah? :)

  6. Hahaha thanks! I'll keep that in mind if/when I get it written :D

  7. What a great post! I'm really on the same mission, and I think that's why my latest book is possibly the best thing I've ever written. (Or will be once I finish it, lol.)

  8. YAY! So glad to find other people who feel the same way. :D I'm sure your
    book will turn out amazing!

  9. This is a wonderful post, Linda. Good luck to you!

  10. I'm with Angela - can't wait to read it!

    I tend to write for the audience of current me. I find it hard to go back and capture what I used to like. I'm jealous you can!

    I don't remember paying much attention to a character's ethnicity, but that's probably because most of them looked like me. But, being a girl, I loved reading strong female characters and I loved it even more when it was just taken for granted that they were good at what they did simply because they were good at what they did.

  11. This is a fantastic post and absolutely the best reason I've ever heard for writing a novel.  I admire your goal so much.  And your fifteen-year-old self sounds pretty great.  ;)

  12. Thanks! Here's to hoping I can actually write it :P

  13. Wow, great post. Glad you linked to it now. I haven't seen anything with an Asian protag that fits either. Someone write this already! (Aka you)