Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's Talk: Issue Driven Books

Let's Talk is a weekly meme hosted by Melissa at i swim for oceans

Do you like issue-driven books? Why, or why not?

As is typical with me, this is not an easy Yes or No question. Though I guess my initial answer would be YES I do like issue-driven books. Most contemporary fiction includes a main character with an issue that s/he is dealing with. I read and like a lot of these books, so I guess that in itself answers the question pretty simply. Although, I do understand that there is a difference between a contemporary romance with a side of issue and a true issue-driven book (where the story is more about a character facing something than it is about her finding someone).

But even when I read a true issue-driven book, I want to get something good out of the struggle and pain that my character is facing (It's not worth the pain, unless I gain. Yes, I realize that's super cheesy.). Usually the gain comes in the form of a romance. I like when the MC meets someone while s/he works through her issues (let's face it, it's usually a "her" narrating the story) - and a love story develops in the process. I'm also going to admit here that I prefer positive endings. That means that I want my characters to face their issues and move beyond them by the end of the novel (and often fall in love in the process). Thankfully, this is what happens in most issue books. I will admit, though that there are always exceptions to the rule. Sometimes a love story or happy ending isn't necessary or appropriate.

Honestly, though what bugs me most about issue-driven books is the standard plot line that regularly accompanies them. Let me lay it out for you: 

When the story begins, we meet a girl. This girl has some issues that need to be dealt with before she can get on with her life. As she starts to face these issues, she meets a guy. Sometimes he has issues too. Through her interactions with said guy, she starts to deal with these issues of hers. But as soon as their relationship begins to click into place, something happens that tears them apart. Usually this Thing happens about 80% of the way (give or take a few percentages) into the story, and involves someone doing something stupid or a big misunderstanding. Although it breaks up the happy couple, this Thing is most often used as a catalyst for the heroine finally dealing with her issues. And after that happens, the couple gets back together again = happy ending. 

Guys, I can see this plot line coming from a mile away. I've gotten to where I get nervous half-way through a book, because I'm just waiting for the Thing to happen.  And I'm constantly looking for authors who create conflict or resolve their stories in different ways. But it's not easy to find that, especially since this plot is featured in a lot of other types of books as well - straight romance and some paranormals, too. 

In its defense, I will admit that this storyline works, which is why it is used so much. But I've become exhausted from it. I think the root of the problem for me, is that when I recognize this well used plot, I start seeing the book as a formula and less of a story. Does that make sense?

Is there anyone else who feels this way, or am I a crazy person? (Maybe don't answer the crazy part...)
I apologize for getting a bit off topic this week!


  1. Oh my goodness! You're so right about the formula!!

    I'm such a shallow reader sometimes - I don't always pay that much attention to what is going on...I'm trying so hard to 'escape' but I'm thinking on the issues books I've read lately, and YES. I still liked them, but you're so right!

    I suppose the differences between each story would be characterization and how we connect with each guy/girl? Or the particular issue at hand? But you're right. Kind of like lots of different cars are all built on the same frame but look different on the outside...

    1. Oh dear. I hope I don't ruin your reading experience now! I think it's probably GOOD that you haven't noticed it. I actually sometimes call it the Dessen plot line, because I first noticed it in her books. But then I saw that it is everywhere.

      I think it's where the break up happens because of someone's stupidity that bugs me the most. That's when it starts feeling contrived to me. I think, if you'd just talk about this, you wouldn't have this problem. BUT that said, there are some occurrences where the plot does actually feel necessary and right for the characters.

      That is one reason why I loved Slammed so much. Because the conflict comes early in the book, and it's a horrible situation that neither W or L can do anything about.

    2. Okay, that second paragraph of mine truly makes no sense. Sorry!

      Let me try that again:

      I think I'm most bothered by this plot because the "break-up" often happens because of someone's stupidity. And, that's the point where the story starts feeling contrived to me. I often want to yell at the characters: "if you'd just talk about this, you wouldn't have this problem." BUT that said, there are some occurrences where I'll admit that the plot does actually feel necessary and right for the story - and you're right, characterization and connecting to the story definitely makes a difference.

    3. You haven't ruined my reading experience at all! Actually, you typically challenge me to think beyond just reading the words, which is sort of cool. Even if I've already read the book (like with The Immortal Rules).

      Everyone reads a different way. I love it!

  2. Issue books are usually hit or miss for me. I use to stay away from them but I have been reading them more lately. I really struggle with angst in books.

    1. Angst does get a bit old, especially if it doesn't feel believable. The repetitive factor is what's hard for me in issue books. BUT there are some good ones out there. I find I can't read too many at the same time. I have to take long breaks between them.

  3. The "Dessen Plot Line", omg, you hit the nail on the head! I like S. Dessen books, but yeah, they all follow your formula. Sort of the same story, different characters and setting. The only one I read that deviates slightly, in that the MC is a "bad girl", is This Lullaby. Which is actually one of my fave books!

    This is a fun meme, I think I am going to have to join in one of these days:)

    1. You definitely should join! She hasn't posted any more topics, but Asheley seems to think she will.

      And I've read a few Dessen books and actually enjoyed them, despite my plot-line complaints. I haven't read This Lullaby, but have heard from several people that it's a favorite. So I'll definitely read it eventually.


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