Lately INTERN has been reading a lot of quirky/funny YA manuscripts and noticed a phenomenon which she has been struggling to articulate to herself: a pattern of brand-new gags, information, and characters being teleported in at the last minute to solve the problems of the story. It was more than just deus ex machina—but what was it?
Then last night INTERN went to a potluck that turned into an informal jam session and saw the same phenomenon at work. The host of the party dumped a huge box of instruments on the floor and everybody grabbed whatever looked interesting. Everybody started playing.
And something interesting happened.
The less experienced and confident musicians quickly abandoned whatever instrument they'd grabbed first and started scrabbling around for another one. They kept on switching instruments frequently as they grew bored or frustrated with whatever they had in their hands.
The more experienced musicians tended to stick to whichever instrument had first caught their fancy, whether it was a zither or a set of bongo drums. They had the skills to exploit whatever instrument they had in their hands to its fullest potential. They weren't always rummaging through the box for a new one in the hopes that this is the one that would finally make music.
The inexperienced musicians kept trying out new instruments to solve their musical problems. The experienced musicians, like veteran cryptic crossword puzzle solvers, knew the answer was in the question.
So many YA manuscripts start out fun, crazy, and wonderful, then enter this weird spiral where the author doesn't know how to resolve all the zany hi-jinks and starts freaking out: "OKOKOKOK....moon people! That'll be hilarious! Aaaaaaand....I'll say that all this time, the antagonist was secretly a hummingbird! That'll solve everything!" Instead of using elements that already belong to the world of the story, they start looking for an extrinsic solution, which, even if it kinda works, is never as emotionally or intellectually satisfying as a solution that comes from deep within the story.
It's more satisfying, somehow, to see a magician pull a rabbit out of the hat he's been wearing all along than to see the magician call a herd of purple goats from the enchanted flute that just dropped out of the hatch that just now appeared in the ceiling.