Maybe INTERN is just hungry, but more and more YA and MG query letters in The Pile are reading like those build-your-own pizza forms where you check off what kind of Cheese and Sauce and Crust you want—except instead of Cheese and Sauce and Crust, the checkboxes pertain to Tough Issues, Wackiness, and Diversity.
Example: "My 30,000 word middle-grade novel 'Across the Rainbow' is a multi-faith tale of intercultural understanding that spans generations. Hildegarde Ho, 12, must confront her second cousin's alcoholism while dealing with her own crack cocaine addiction, all while trying to attract the amorous attention of her hilarious, be-froed, penguin-catching next-door neighbor Mohammad Jones, whose Catholic mother tries to keep the pair apart until they triumph over adversidy [sic] with hilarious results. As the school talent show approaches, they must train the penguins to mambo—before it's too late."
Repeat, substituting "missing father," "wisecracking mailman," and "Hindu-Vampire Relations".
It all feels kind of...arbitrary. And fiction is antithetical to arbitrariness. Fiction's like a spider web—each thread belongs to the whole and has some essential function. Spiders don't go around pimping their webs with ghastly and unnecessary props that do nothing to help them catch the fly. Neither should fiction. Not saying fiction should be utilitarian or strictly weblike, but come on—is there a valid *reason* that spiderweb is full of penguins?
In particular, INTERN has noticed the following Arbitrary Things popping up again and again:
1. The Whack-a-Mole Effect
Zany, off-the-wall characters who pop up unannounced and disappear into the ether after delivering their one-liner. Ditto villains who just—keep—appearing with no logical or even illogical explanation as to what prompted them to be in that *convenient* place at that time. INTERN calls this the whack-a-mole effect, because it makes her want to whack these characters in the skull with a mallet whenever they show up.
2. The Issue Dump
The book's been rolling along just fine—the talent show is approaching, the inter-faith tension is mounting—then it's like the author thought, "oh sh%t, I forgot to have a Tough Issue!" and there's an awkward scene where one character suddenly feels the need to confess to having Terminal Cancer or Mean Parents. A tearful speech ensues. Then it's back to business.
3. Arbitrary Events
Q: "Wouldn't it be hilarious if there was a scene where the wise-cracking mailman showed up riding a cow? No, I mean, no, he doesn't have motivation, it would just be funny."
4. The Prop Dump
The book's been rolling along just fine—the penguins are onstage, the villain is writhing in his bounds—and then it's like the author thought, "oh sh%t, I forgot to have a message of Diversity!". And then suddenly the villain is wearing a yarmulke and a Hawaiian shirt, and the penguins are in wheelchairs, and the main character's grandfather takes off his cardigan to reveal a gay pride t-shirt. Cathartic speeches ensue, briefly. Then the props are mysteriously abandoned and it's back to business.
In other news: the pancake recipe INTERN was using last night called for "non-fact cooking spray". That is kind of awesome.