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Put Suspense and Stakes Back in Books!

Hey everyone! So just a warning up front this post is going to be a rant. A rant about books that I've been thinking about a lot lately. This post may just end up being me figuring out my train of thought about the whole thing so bare with me.

I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately. The last book I actually finished (and probably shouldn't have) was The Real Peter Pan about J.M. Barry. Totally messed up and crazy and disturbing and gave me anxiety for days after I finished reading it. So, if you can't handle child abuse or disturbing true stories in general don't read it.

Anyways, my mom, little brothers and I have gotten into the habit of going to the library every Sunday while my brothers are at ultimate Frisbee practice. I love this new "tradition" because I love the library so much. I could live there. Over the past few weeks I've found several new, popular books. I bought the Architect of Song by A. G. Howard (who I love!), I rented The Star Touched Queen and Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. I think my reader slump started with the Architect of Song. I read through it semi-slowly for me. It took me two weeks to finish and by the end of those two weeks I didn't even end up finishing it! I felt horrible about it because I love A. G. Howard so much! I couldn't figure out why I couldn't bring myself to finish the book. Why I didn't connect with the story or the characters. Maybe it was because it was a New Adult book though I doubt it since I've read New Adult and Adult genre and loved them.

I couldn't figure it out so to prove to myself that I could finish a book and enjoy a book I went to the library and picked up The Star Touched Queen. That book was awesome. The beginning anyways. I loved the description, I loved the characters and the romance and the mystery. And then the author threw away all the suspense she had been building for half the book and dropped the main character in a whole new plot and scenario. It jarred me from the story and I couldn't get back into it no matter how hard I tried.

By then I was into short stories so I went to go get Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. Her first short story was great. The second one wasn't my cup of tea and honestly I just don't think she's really my favorite genre. Her stories were great and well written but... not the kind of genre that can suck me in. I was okay with that though because I found The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine which is a Snow White retelling and I usually do pretty good with retellings. It's a great book and I love it and I am almost done.

But why did it take me so long to find another good book? There's so many out there and Architect of Song and The Star Touched Queen became super popular. I've heard of them everywhere and see them in several different places. They get great reviews. Maybe I'm just weird... Or maybe authors are taking the suspense and stakes out of their books. What happened to the high stakes plot? That one book where oh my gosh the main character actually might legitimately die at the end! Or the love interest or one of the character's brothers or closest friend actually des die? What happened to all the suspense? In the Architect of Song by the climax I could care less about what happened to the main character. There were no stakes in the plot. Nothing propelled the story forward. There was no antagonist or big bad villain. Even the romance was a little dull which contrasted sharply with her epic, heart thumping whirlwind love triangle between Alyssa, Morpheus and Jeb in her Splintered series. Nothing made me want to keep reading.

The Star Touched Queen stared out great. There was mystery and suspense and a slow, beautiful romance between Maya and her love interest. The stakes were growing, the suspense was getting up there. You start to question the loyalty and honesty of Amar (her love interest). You have no idea who to trust and who not to trust. And then there's the big middle scene and all that suspense, all the stakes are ripped away. You're left with what the heck just happened? Who the heck is this mysterious bad guy that I haven't heard of until now? Why did this just happen? It was a ridiculous turn of events and after that I couldn't get back into the story because all that suspense had built up to a ridiculously dramatic scene of confusion. I was so confused so I shut the book and didn't turn back.

It all comes back to stakes and suspense. Why are all these authors writing half finished stories? Sure the descriptions are gorgeous, the main characters are awesome but... I don't really care unless there's a clear opposition, clear motive and clear stakes. If the main character doesn't do this, this and this than this, this and this is going to happen. If Alyssa doesn't help save Wonderland and right the wrongs of Alice Lidell than she won't get home, she'll end up going crazy and she might possibly die. Not to mention Wonderland itself will fall apart. You're left wanting to know if Alyssa and Jeb will be alright. Which guy will Alyssa choose? The artist Jeb or the magical and wild Morpheus? You want to know more, read more to find out. But without those questions, those stakes there isn't anything worth reading.

I realized this in Weapon Icean as I was going through edits. The stakes weren't clear and neither was the motivation of the "bad guys" and the antagonist. Romance and character development can only take you so far. You need stakes and suspense to get your reader to the climax and therefore you need an opposition and obstacles. Real obstacles. Not just stupid things like oh no I kissed this guy how is the other guy in this weird triangle going to react? Or oh wow I was just whisked away by an all powerful, super good looking guy to a magical world, what am I going to do now? Those aren't real obstacles or stakes. Those are surface level.

I guess what it really comes down to is the villain. Villains are really important. You can't have a story without opposition. And you can't have stakes and suspense without at least an antagonist. I'm just so tired to picking up a book, getting half way through and realizing I could care less about what happens to the characters. I'm sick of picking up these books rattled with clich├ęs and stereotypical female heroines and I'm tired of reading have finished, surface level YA fantasy and sci-fi. At the moment I've gotten to the point where I'm just going to wait for my real authors. The good ones who know what their doing. Shannon Messenger, Marissa Meyer, those kinds of authors who makes you starving for more.

Sorry if this rant is long or forceful but I had to write this. To all you writers out there keep writing and don't forget to add stakes and suspense and a good opposition to your story or you will loose a lot of readers. I hope you all have a great week!

What books have you read that just didn't work for you? Do you have any recommendations for good suspense filled YA books?


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