Saturday, October 24, 2009

SNS (Stupid Narrator Syndrome)

Perhaps it's just the books I've been reading lately, but I've noticed a bit of an epidemic. "An epidemic of what?" you might ask. The condition is called SNS, or Stupid Narrator Syndrome, and it seems to be striking characters in young adult literature* at an alarming rate.

There are three common variations of this condition. I'll outline each of them briefly:

1. SNS with co-morbid cluelessness
Examples: Aislinn (Wicked Lovely), Abbey (The Hollow)

If these characters were in a movie, they'd be the ones innocently walking straight into the clutches of the villain while the whole theatre screams, "No! Don't turn that blood-smeared doorknob!" These are the characters who are always the last to know, who figure things out long after everyone else, who can have the answer staring them in the face for hundreds of pages without triggering the little lightbulb in their heads. And when they finally do get it, the reader's reaction is pretty much, "Well, duh."

2. SNS with co-morbid recklessness
Examples: Bella (Twilight), Nora (Hush, Hush)

These are the characters whose SNS is characterized by stupid behaviours which often seem like nothing more than a way to drive the plot forward. The way these characters behave is pretty contrived... unless it's common to jump off of cliffs to try to trigger auditory hallucinations or to give away your new winter coat in skid row in order to get directions. This variation of SNS also manifests as girls trying to be with guys of questionable safety. The reader usually knows the guy is bad news. Sometimes the girl does, too. But that won't stop her from trying to be with him if she has this form of SNS.

3. SNS with co-morbid denial
Examples: Ever (Evermore), Jessica (Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side)

This variation is similar to the first, in that the evidence is staring the character in the face. However, rather than being completely clueless, these characters are in denial. They see what they want to see. They're often written as skeptics, who drive readers crazy because they're in denial for so long that you just want to scream, "He's a vampire! Deal with it, already!" Some characters (e.g., Jessica) recover from this form of SNS quickly when presented with sufficient evidence, while others will stubbornly cling to their skepticism until the reader has become convinced the denial is nothing more than a poorly used literary device.

The problem with characters suffering from SNS is that they're often used (to frustrating effect) in order to drag out the narrative. They're also somewhat insulting; they're a sign that the author doesn't think very highly of his or her readers' intelligence. A mystery isn't much fun if the reader has already figured everything out; watching the slow narrator put together the pieces of the puzzle isn't usually entertaining (although there are exceptions).

What's your opinion of SNS? Is it a condition that does little harm? Or is it something that authors should strive to eradicate? What other characters can you think of who suffer from one of the three variants of SNS?
*My intention is not to mock any particular author. I'm just pointing out a pattern I've noticed in my recent YA reads. I actually enjoy some books with characters suffering from SNS!


  1. Lol, this is perfect! xD

    My opinion of SNS is that sometimes (while irritating) the author does put it to good use. Some characters aren't so annoying that you just want to scream at them "ARE YOU AN IDIOT???!??" But then there's a few that because they're so dense make me dislike them and whenever they're confronted with something that was so obvious to the reader, I don't feel sorry for them at all!

    It really just depends on how well the author uses this technique. I haven't read The Hollow yet so I can't comment on Abbey but as for Ever and Nora, I wasn't particularly bothered with their SNS. Bella however is another story....

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  3. Um, YEAH, your SNS list is totally accurate! I still like the books but these are recurring themes in YA novels. I've noticed them too -- this was a great post!

  4. Nora seemed like she had a death wish, hahaha. Bella acted like an emo. Ever was obnoxious -- she WAS in denial.

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  6. This was hilarious and scarily accurate.

    excellent post!

  7. I stay clear of these books because frankly I find them kind of annyoing. Sorry to all the fans of these books, but it just isn't my cup of tea. Personally I think it's a trend that needs to die ASAP.

  8. I've encountered many characters suffering from SNS in romance novels. I've heard of them called TSTL (too stupid to live) heroines by romance readers. It's true though, in the real world they'd already be six feet under.

    I don't think it does much harm unless the character is so dense that you want to smack her and not finish the book. I think it depends on how the author handles the character, because I've loved some books with an SNS character.

    thank you for saying with such precision, the words I could never begin to say.

  10. It's a dumb move. I think that not every heroine has to be smart and suspect everyone, but she should be a bit doubtful of someone's weird attitude. Sometimes a book is good enough to overshadow the annoying characters - who mostly happen to be either the male or female character or both - but most of the time it just ruins the book and the reader's enjoyment.