Tag: book (page 1 of 2)

The YA-phenomenon: the love-triangle…

Young Adult books are a genre that is sometimes overlooked by bookstores, by readers, and by criticists. However, people seem to misunderstand the influcence they have on readers. And there is one phenomenon that appears in YA books more than any other: the love triangle.

Romeo and Juliet on the balcony

Romeo and Juliet on the balcony

Try to go back to your teenage years (even if you are trying to forget them) and maybe you remember how much books could influence you. Well, that influence has only increased with the invention of the love triangle, and the connected idea that having a relationship is extremely important.

Let’s start at the beginning, because I’m talking about love triangles as if they are something new. Guess what? They are not… Even the classic Wuthering Height has a love triangle in it. And probably the most well known triangle at the moment are those from Twilight and The Hunger Games.

So what exactly is a ‘love triangle’? A love triangle is a relationship, often romantic but not necessarily, involving three people. The concept implies some sort of relationship between all three people involved. However, in books it is more often like this:Naamloos

While I can’t imagine being part in such a complicated mess, I got a lot of hits when I googled the concept. Several of them were websites on how to deal with being stuck in a triangle yourself… Do people really get tangled in such things, or do they just think they do? Because a lot of young adults, especially girls, believe a love triangle is the best thing that can happen to you. And this can be traced back to popular YA-fiction, in which this actually happens.

Reality vs. fiction
While creating a love triangle in a story is easy, it is not very realistic. I mean, how often do you see guys really fighting over a girl, or girls really clawing each others eyes out for a guy? I’ve seen girls become total bitches towards each other, but that could have had many reasons. Some writers will argue that ‘it just happened’, an argument I could see as relevant if I did not write a lot myself and I know that you can always sort such messes out before they happen!

Realism vs. fiction on the concept of relationships is an issue when it comes to YA-fiction, according to professor Maria Nikolajeva. For example, there is the much debated Twilight saga. I admit that I loved the books, but in my defence: I was 14! However, when I reread them recently, I felt chills going down my spine (and not the good kind). The most important aspect of the book is the love triangle of Bella, Edward, and Jacob. When they are seperated, Bella loses all personality as if she is nobody without a man by her side. Nikolajeva states that Bella is a very dark personification of the independent and personal development of young women, and I must agree with her. According to the professor, this lack of a personal character could have bad influence on the young readers if they identify themselves with the characters in the book. If the character has to dedicate her life to having a relationship, so must the reader. It is a grim view but it might have some truth.

Till death do us apart. Photo credit: Hamed Saber via Foter.com / CC BY

Till death do us apart. Photo credit: Hamed Saber via Foter.com / CC BY

The whole ‘identifying yourself with a character of the book’ is not as strange as it sounds. Brainresearch done by Washington University shows that when reading about certain actions, parts of the brain are activated. And while your brain is registering, your mind does the rest. Ohio State University conducted a psychological study about copying-behaviour. The result? Psychologist discovered that people are prone to adopt the behaviour of characters they identify strongly with. This is mostly done subconsciously, meaning that you don’t even know that you are copying a fictional character!

That last thing can be dangerous, as this would mean that you are not even aware of the fact you change while reading.

Love triangles
So back to the concept of the love triangle. You read a book (I will not name names!), in which the main character has people swooning all over him/her. Suddenly, it seems very normal that that would happen to you to. And when it doesn’t, you become depressed? Don’t go all Romeo and Juliet on us!
While this whole concept is not normal at all, it does happen from time to time. Because of this, a lot of writers argue that a story should reflect parts of the real human experience, and that love triangles should not be taken so lightly in fiction.  Love stories should not be banned, as they can spice up a book, but they should be more realistic. They should also not be banned as they are, in basic, not dangerous at all. The tricky part is to not become too involved, to keep your own identity and just enjoy the story instead of building your own identity around it. Especially young readers are vulnerable to this idea.

So, are teenage-readers really that easily influenced by books? And are love triangles reason for concern? Love triangles in YA-fiction, are in basic completely harmless (although very, very annoying). However, there is a catch based on the involvement of yourself in the story. Of course you can be sad if something happened to your favorite character, but becoming entirely depressed about it is something COMPLETELY different! Keep in mind that it is just a book, and that fictional characters are rarely limited by the real world. If they want to grow wings and fly, they can. But last time I checked, such things do not happen in real life. So the concept of only being someone when you have a relationship, is also just nog part of daily life. Remember that!

Reading the stories, and living the travels

800px-El_viaxeru_d'Urculo[1]Right before I left to have a nice holiday, I was reading a book with travel stories in it. It was called Meer grenzeloos leedvermaak, which you could translate to: ‘More endless fun while reading about other peoples misery’. It sounds more fun in Dutch. While I was reading, and laughing, I wanted to leave more and more. As long as my holiday ended better than those in the book…

Reading travel stories can be kind of a trap. Suddenly you find yourself on websites looking up cheap destinations, or you are planning that trip around the world that you can’t afford at all. The books made you do it!

When someone reads the story written by a traveler, and the writer has been emotionally moved by the place he/she writes about, the reader will immediately notice. Their is emotion, experience and connection in the story, which works in a way to connect the reader to the place. I understand this. When I read those amazing travel stories in magazines and books, I want to go to those places described. They all sound beautiful and perfect. This happens when a writer puts his heart into a story, he connects the reader to it dragging them in. Travelwriter Don George has experienced this effect on himself and on others for many years. “Really great travel writing is ultimately about connection”, is what he has stated many times now. And it is true. When you feel connected, you keep reading. When you don’t, you flip through pages.

Walking along Table Mountain. Photo: Linda Leestemaker

Walking on the beaten path… of Table Mountain. Photo: Linda Leestemaker

Jan Morris, travelwriter for Smithsonian Magazine, agrees on the part that you need connection with the readers to write a great travel story. But even more importantly are the feelings you manage wake in peoples minds. “The best travel writers are not really writing about travel at all. They are recording the effects of places upon their own particular temperaments”, he stated in earlier interviews. Experience above the event. Is that not the same as novels do? Novels evoke feelings, make you sad, happy or even angry at certain moments in the story. Those feelings keep you connected to the protagonist, or in this case, to the journey ahead.


Need inspiration... Photo: Mardou Jacobs

Need inspiration… Photo: Mardou Jacobs

So being attracted to traveling because of stories in books and magazines isn’t strange, it is the effect their writing should have on you. As Morris stated, travel writing has this allure to be read, because you feel ‘enriched’ after reading it. And this effect only became bigger with the ‘invention’ of travelblogs. Now you don’t have to pay for a magazine or a book anymore. Just open your laptop, or start your computer and there are all the stories you could read! Just a button-click away. The only weak spot of travelblogs, according to George and Morris, is that you have to dig through a lot of rubbish before you find genuinely good travel writers. The ones that tug at your heartstrings and just do not let go, those little gems which easily get lost among all the other stories. It is true though, internet makes it a lot easier to just write anything where a magazine has editors that have at least some control on what people do and don’t read. But there are still awesome, and moving travel blogs and stories out there! So search, read, and be inspired!

Connection is easily created when it comes to ‘dark tourism‘. When you visit Cape Town, you will probably visit Robben Island. The former prison in which Nelson Mandela was kept. When you visit New York, you will see Ground Zero. The sight of the former Twin Towers. Such sites (as well as ‘war-sites’ like Auschwitz and Ieper, Belgium) attract tourism because it is easy to create a connection based on horror, grief or silent awe (good or bad). Lots of blogs write about sites like these, but also magazines and books have been reaching for the subject more and more. But here, travel writers have a small obstruction: where do you draw the line when the story becomes ‘too real’, and mostly too horrific, to still be a travel story? It is a tough new problem, but still books about these sites sell rather well and more and more tourists read about and then visit these important sites.

That travel writing has a huge impact, was shown when the U.S. government was forced to shutdown public places in 2013 for two weeks. National parks, musea, monuments, all the things people read about and want to visit were closed. Travelers were devastated that they could not visit the sites that they’ve seen a million times in their minds while planning a trip. So again, it proves the great impact of travel writing on making your decision when it comes to holidays.

Photo: Linda Leestemaker

Photo: Linda Leestemaker

So don’t feel ‘like a tourist’ because you brought a travel magazine on the plane, or because you have a travel guide in your backpack. Humans need inspiration, need something to fill their minds with the most wonderful ideas and pictures so they can fantasize about destinations ahead. Think about that, next time you’re in your local bookshop and you spot the travel magazines. They were written to connect with you, and to connect you to all those places, far and near.

The effect of music is something you can ‘touch’

When I was reading Berlin from Rory MacLean (in Dutch), the song Fire from Gavin Degraw started playing on the radio. Nothing wrong with that. But I was reading the story of Marlene Dietrich. When I was reading about Kennedy’s speach in the German capital, Chandelier was playing. It gave a whole new dimension to these already impressive stories. I felt pure fire take control!

IMG_3619But how can a song take such ‘control’ over you? Why do you get goosebumps when you hear a piece of music you absolutely love? It is shown in multiple studies that music is capable of affecting your mood and behavior. So, quite literally it will ‘take control’ over you. Or at least over your brain. Professor Patrick Groff wrote in one of his essays that music can create attitudes, moods and even self-concepts. That is quite an effective force. But how does this effect the way that you experience a piece of literature?

Professor Joanne Cantor wrote in Psychology Today about ‘background music’. She concludes at some point in her article that music can improve productivity on repetitive tasks. Reading a ‘simple’ book, is a repetitive task for the brain since most people start reading when they are around five or six years old. Music helps the brain to focus on this simple task. Upbeat music shows to be the most succesful in this study. It is also shown that it works best if the music is not played constantly, or (when you listen to a cd or the radio) when it changes from time to time. Cantor concludes this statement that music can even cause arousal and alertness. Which explains my excitement when I read a particular thrilling paragraph in a book, with thrilling music on the background (like Jackson’s Beat It during a fighting scene).

Music creates mood. During your childhood, you learn to associate certain sounds with certain emotion. Chirping birds? Happiness. Slow violins? Sadness. Soft tones and a piano or guitar? I am guessing on romance. So certain pieces of music do affect certain emotions. If you hear these sounds, while you are completely sucked into a book? Well, the music will affect you and the way you look back on to that part of the book. Hopefully in a good way.


This reminds me of a short film I had to make for an art-class in secondary school. It was quite a scary story, but when we put everything together in montage, it became hilarious. Everytime we watched it, to make sure it was edited correctly, we were rolling over the floor laughing our asses off. How could the story about a missing dog, and (the illussion of) a potential maniac be anything to laugh at? Well, it was not. But without any background music it was. When we put just simply spooky music under it, it became a completely different movie! It was scary as hell!

How does that work? Well, music can enhance the feelings you feel when reading. Filmcomposer Bernard Hermann stated that music can intensify inner thoughts and feelings. You can add terror, sadness, happinness or any other emotion to a scene (in music or books) with the right music. Simple dialogue can be easily uplifted into “the realm of poetry”, says Hermann.

In the 50s there was a movement among some directors that decided to withdraw music from films, since it was not realistic. In real life, music does not suddenly start playing at every moment (although my iPod thinks otherwise). The movement did not last very long. When a film is flat, it needs music to get the viewer through the scene. Music can eliven even a dead movie, which is why there is an Oscar for the best soundtrack. I always was a bit sceptic about this, until I made my own movie and it was a disaster without the background music. And besides, if you want realism? Don’t go to the movies. Walk around the park or something like that. Movies are supposed to be entertaining.

Filmmakers can use music to manipulate the audience. But you can do that to yourself as well. Music can change moods, can even create emotions you did not feel before. It is the reason why there is music therapy and why people change their music taste when they are incredibly sad or happy. So simply put, music is an essential part of life and arts that also happens to mess with your brain.

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