I remember the time I was sitting on my back porch, thinking about Mark, the cute boy in my geometry class, and a time portal opened up—right beside my dad’s garden shed. A handsome boy (impossibly handsome, if you want to know the truth) stepped through the shaft of blinding blue light and he said just three words: “Come with me.”
When did I lose you? On time portal, probably. Maybe a select few were with me until the boy was impossibly handsome. And yet, he almost always is. When book boys have blue eyes, they are intensely blue. When they smile, angels weep, etc. Also, in a lot of books written for teens, these outlandishly gorgeous boys are part of a plot that’s even more outlandish.
Here, in no particular order, a sample list of plots I’ve read or read about in the past couple of years:
Alien pod people
Genie in the hallway at school!
Automaton-ized family members
Everyone dies at either 21 or 25
Love-removal operation (though I wish it were a love-removal machine, because that’s a great song by The Cult)
Boy turns into worm-creature
Fairies are real
...and so on. The best part about the thriving world of teen paranormal romance/fantasy/steampunk is the fact that the passionate following that many of these books and series have amassed is a testament to the fact that kids can still get lost in a story. Coleridge’s willing suspension of disbelief is alive and well.
But how far is too far? Can a premise be too outlandish, or can a writer “sell” any story if they are passionate enough about the world they create, if the characters who live in that world feel real, and if the rules of that world are consistent?
I think maybe writers can sell almost any idea, but I also think we have a lucky trick in our toolbox. A story about angels or demons or fairies or genies appeals to our collective unconscious (sometimes even the writer doesn’t plan it) and resonates on some level we may not even realize.
Maybe that’s why so many alterna-worlds are set in either the present or the sort-of-past. The future usually ends up being all about Science. And it’s hard to avoid at least a hint of cheese when dealing with anything robot-related. If you’ve ever watched Doctor Who, you know: as scary as the idea of being converted into one is, those Cybermen—just, ugh.
The thing is, the real world is usually sort of boring. Stories are a safe way (well, as long as you keep the book budget under control) of living in a different, non-boring world.
A world in which a majority of boys are heart-stoppingly handsome=bonus.