The Thursday’s Children blog hop is about what inspires us as writers. This week I’m turning it around a little bit and looking at trends in current YA literature that I don’t like. Trends that are helping me figure out what not to do in my own manuscript.
These aren’t new observations; I’ve heard/read some of them before. Now I’m looking at them in terms of how I want to do things differently in my own work. And not just do things differently, but do my very best to push against the tide of troubling trends I’m seeing. Alliteration got a little out of control there, but I stand by it.
I’ll preface this by saying that I read a lot of YA that has some sort of paranormal aspect to it, so many of these observations are in that context. But, these trends are prevalent in non-paranormal works as well. Also, quite a few of these trends are intertwined and feed off of each other.
I’m pretty sure we can all think of examples of these trends/characteristics, so I’m not going to point any out. Instead, after I get through the bad, I’m going to give some examples of characters that I feel go against these trends or are good examples of strong characters.
The whiny/selfish female: Everything that comes out of her mouth or runs through her head is negative in some way. I don’t like this, this wronged me, I didn’t get my way on this, and it’s just not fair. Life ain’t fair, suck it up and deal with it.
I struggled with what to call this one (not wanting to betray the sisterhood), but I settled on “the stupid female”: This one is more prevalent in the paranormal genre. It’s the character who thinks, “I don’t have any powers but others do, but I can’t possibly let them help me so I’m going to put myself in danger and make things worse.” I know there has to be conflict and drama, but this is nothing but frustrating to me.
The female who has nothing else in her life but the guy: She has no hobbies, no other friends, nothing to do but think about him and how wonderful he is. Moreover, if the guy goes away or they break up for a while, the world ends. Again, I know there has to be conflict. But if someone is that dependent on another person, I think there are larger issues here.
The overprotective/stalker-ish male: We all know this character. His girl can’t go anywhere without him, can’t be trusted to stay out of trouble unless he’s there to protect her. He watches her when she doesn’t know it. While she’s sleeping maybe? Sorry – couldn’t resist that one. And he gets angry at her when he thinks she puts herself in danger. Which leads us to…
The angry male: This often goes hand in hand with the overprotective male. The female character has to watch what she does so she doesn’t make him angry, often resorting to lying about her actions or whereabouts. Which always leads to more trouble. In addition, he often blames her for his anger; if she wouldn’t do certain things, he wouldn’t be so angry.
The male that treats the female like a small child: This could be carrying her around like a piece of luggage (again, happens more in the paranormal genre) or essentially patting her on the head and telling her to be quiet any time she tries to speak. You know… “It’s time for the grown-ups to talk now,” in the most patronizing voice you can imagine.
There are a number of reasons these traits bother me. When it comes down to it, would I want my daughter using these characters as role models? No. Okay, I don’t actually have a daughter, but I have some close friends who do. Do I want their daughters using these characters as role models? Absolutely not. I want them to grow up as strong, independent girls whose lives don’t revolve around a boy. And I want them to look for boys who treat them well, treat them as equals, and respect them.
I’m getting a little feminist here, so I’ll flip it around. I don’t want the little boys I know to grow up thinking girls are helpless and the proper way to treat them is to lock them in the tower and tell them “Don’t worry your pretty little head, I’m a boy, I’ll take of everything.” I want the boys I know to grow up and treat girls, or whomever their significant other may happen to be, as equal partners. Partners that help each other and help make each other better.
As promised, here are a few examples of strong characters (in my opinion) within YA fiction:
Kaylee Cavanaugh in the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent – she does what she needs to do to protect those around her and everyone else can either help or get out of her way. But, on the other side, she’s not a bitch about it either. She just knows what she has to do, she is protective of those around her and will do what needs to be done no matter the cost to herself. She has strength and integrity.
Grace Divine and Daniel Kalbi in the Dark Divine series by Bree Despain – she is powerful in her own right and Daniel accepts that (although it does take him a little bit to get there). By the end, they are true partners and he trusts her to make the right decisions.
Rose Hathaway and Dmitri Belikov in the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead – this is another example of a relationship where they are true partners. They make each other better, work well together, and treat each other like equals. There is still drama, and yes they are apart for a while (which seems to be a necessity in all YA series’), but it’s not what you expect and Rose does what she needs to do to try to fix it.
Dru Anderson in the Strange Angels series by Lili St. Crow – she gets thrown into a situation almost immediately that is way over her head. But, she uses what she knows, takes help where she needs it, and fights like hell to keep herself and others safe.
Apparently, I like main female characters who take on the difficult tasks. This may seem like it conflicts with my point above about the female who puts herself in danger unnecessarily. However, these characters have the skills they need to pull off the tasks at hand. They know their own power and use it, they don’t put others in danger because of an inherently flawed idea that people who care about each other can’t work together and help each other.
What it comes down to is this… Now that I know what I don’t like, I know what types of traits to avoid in my characters and their relationships. My goal is to write books that contain characters who are role models and who help to reverse this troubling trend.
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Glad to see you back! I think you brought up some very valid points. Personally I like mentally/emotionally strong female characters, who aren't necessarily “kickass” types. I don't like kickass male characters either, for that matter.
Yay! You're back. I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment. I especially hate it when those character traits combine in either a male or female trifecta. Well, I guess we need to know what we don't like in order to know what we do want to write!
Hehe. I love a good rant!
I think it's sometimes too easy to go with stock characters or archetypes. It CAN get annoying seeing the same traits over and over.
The key for me is… those characters have to be so fully developed and more well-rounded that even if they ARE playing a stock character role, the reader sees them as a normal person.
Thanks for sharing!
I think that's a good strategy to compile trits you do not like.
I don't like those negative YA traits either. I have son's and wouldn't want them bringing any of those whiney girls home. That's for sure. Great post.
So much agreement with this post! I've actually been pulled up for glaring at books as I read in the past because of characters making me mad (often for traits such as these).
I know exactly what you mean – there had better be great writing and character development to keep me engaged. I'm so glad you included the characters you enjoy too.
I. Love. This. Post.
I totally agree. The too stupid to live characters make me insane. Sometimes our characters have to put themselves in danger to do what must be done, but it's important that they're at least somewhat aware of the danger.
And misogynistic characters will make me throw a book across the room faster than anything else.
And having seen your list of characters you enjoyed, I can see I've got some reading to do. 😀
Leigh, this blog post literally made me lol (in a good way) because I can so relate to the trends that you've mentioned!
The chick who has nothing in her life except for her boy is the one that really irks me.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets kind of annoyed by these characters …
I totally agree with you. It doesn't take much for me to stop reading a book and you just named a whole bunch of the reasons.
I was glad you gave some good examples at the end, too.
Now for confessions of a worry-wart-writer-struggling-with-self-worth: I was worried my characters would fall into your “don't like” list. Phew! They didn't.
I agree, and liked your list of good examples, too.
Thanks for sharing!