Monday, August 2, 2010

5 YA Characters I'm tired of

Okay. There are a few characters that just keep popping up in contemporary YA (fantasy/paranormal or non) over and over in a proportionally high number to where I sometimes feel like I just keep reading the same book over and over. Consider this a brief rant.

1. Hippie Parents.
I grew up with hippie-ish (new age-y, really) parents. For one thing, the *average* parent of a teenager would now have been a teen in the 80s. Please update parents! I do seem some books that consider this, but still a surprising amount that seem stuck in the 60s as far as parents go. Also, the people I know who are children of hippie/new age parents don't roll their eyes about everything their parents do. Some things, yes. But within reason. Please stop playing hippie parents for purely comedic effect.

2. The Goth Girl.
Why is there ALWAYS a goth girl? Sometimes she's the friend, sometimes the protagonist, sometimes the love interest, sometimes the antagonist-turned-friend, sometimes the complicated figure who brings about a revelation about judging by appearance...she can fill almost any role, but she is EVERYWHERE in YA. Is it because goth is semi-timeless? Why is she so prevalent? Does every American high school really have one attractive, mysterious goth girl with an appropriately gothy name to match who is more than meets the eye?

3. Perky Friend.
Perky friend has been the main character's BFF since they were kids. Now, I love positive female friendships. I would rather have perky friend than bitch friend. Nevertheless, I'm a little tired of the perky best friend who is a little more flaky and wild than the MC so she can urge the MC in crazy situations. Also, if the MC has an older brother, she will have a crush on said brother. But really, it's the flakiness that drives me nuts. In this kind of story, the MC and her best friend seem SO close forever, like they've had sleepovers at each others houses since they were 6 years old, but the friendship just seems vapid, with contrived rituals to make us think they've been close friends forever.

4. Cool Grandma.
My grandma is pretty cool, in real life. I'm sure many of you have or did have cool grandmas. And I love awesome older women in YA. But I am starting to groan at the cool grandma in YA who is you know, so sassy and constantly reminds you how she is not like OTHER grandmas. You know, those other OLD PEOPLE grandmas everyone else has. Usually grandpa has already died or something, you don't see as many cool grandpas, although they pop up sometimes. Cool Grandma often likes to rock out in some fashion, I've noticed, but she never actually plays an instrument. (Why does she never play an instrument? That *would* be cool!!) And despite being so cool, she's still not that up on what the young people are doing sometimes.

5. Jerk Boy.
Jerk boy is kind of like jock boy and often overlaps, but he is a specific breed: the guy the MC is dating because he is the hot guy in school but she really discovers she likes this nerd/weirdo/musician/whatever boy. Jerk boy is the most typical boy ever. There is NOTHING redeeming or attractive about him even though we're told there is. We might get a mention of his abs, but otherwise, he boozes it up, wears baseball caps constantly and calls her "babe", but has no actual personality, not even a glimpse of humor or spark that might have attracted MC in the first place. I know we don't want to risk taking the limelight off nerd/weirdo/musician/whatever boy, but really, it won't harm the book to give jerk boy nuance.

That is all. Feel free to rant about characters you are tired of in the comments. Although I will add, since I got a bit snarky, I do still love a lot of books with these characters in them. Sometimes I think the author even pulls it off.

(But I still want more variety! PLEEEEASE!)


  1. I love the first one. I am a parent of teenagers and I grew up in the 70's and 80's--WELL beyond being a hippie.

  2. Great post! I especially agree with the Jerk boy. Every 'bad' character should have good characteristics (and vice versa) - it makes it more believable.

  3. Nothing about the wimpy female protagonist? THOSE are a dime a dozen in YA fiction nowadays. I could sit here and list off a few dozen books where the MC is a girl and who is a complete and utter wimp. All she does is run and scream and always goes fluttery and skittish over the totally hot dude (that she knows nothing about, of course).

    I wish I could say I was a little guilty because I happen to have a semi-goth girl in my story: the MC's best friend. But she's one of those dark-makeup-bright-clothes type of Goths. And she's too blunt for her own good. She's the funniest character I've ever written. XD

    Oh! I take pride in the fact that the grandmother in my story isn't cool. She's the type of grandma who's deadly with a wooden spoon. XD

    I don't have the patience to write or read about jerky boys. Inevitably, the MC is a wimp who is completely clueless as how to shut down jerks. All it takes is a) a good slap across the face if you're into that kind of thing or b) verbal, public humiliation.

    Great list. :) I absolutely love it.

  4. I just finished reading Need by Carrie Jones which had a perky friend and a cool grandma so I definitely see where you're coming from. Great list. I've plotted some YA fiction but I don't think I have any of these types of characters...we'll see...

  5. Trish: Yeah, my parents grew up in the 70s and 80s and they're definitely right in the age to have teenagers (I'm obviously past that but my mom was pretty young when she had me).

    Amelia Robinson: Well, the wimpy protag is definitely everywhere but people write essays about her all the time, so I wanted to pick on a few less commonly discussed tropes...which is why there is also no mention of the bad boy or anything like that.

    Keri: I should probably ask people not to name books. I don't want poor Carrie to read this and feel insecure! Also, I don't think you need to totally avoid these characters, just like anything else in writing, just be aware of the stereotypical representation and make sure yours is well-rounded. (Of course, that goes for any character!)

  6. Any stereotype is bad if you simply keep the stereotype and don't make it your own.

    My least favorite stereotype is probably this one: the '180-degree turnaround' character (whether it be a male or female) where the boy/girl is a jerk/witch at the beginning of the story and then learns the 'error of his/her ways' through interactions with the MC. Yeah. . .I don't find it very realistic. I often find such a plot point very flat. If you don't make the change-of-heart character sympathetic to begin with, then the 'change' will mean nothing to the readers. It will just look contrived. (I've seen it done in many books, and it annoys me to no end. Sad to say that I am one of those people who thinks that it takes A LOT to change a person. . .and a person, even a fictional character, will not change unless he himself wants to change.)

    Okay, rant over. :)

    Anyway, thanks for bringing the danger of stereotypes to our attention, Jaclyn. I think we often forget how easily they can creep into our writing if we're not careful. Great post!

  7. Oh, that's a good note about the hippie parents. They are a-plenty!

  8. the mean girl. definately the mean girl. we already know we hate her - we hated her in high school, so why do we have to relive her awfulness again?

  9. Hot, Dangerous Male Love Interest to Ordinary Girl MC: "The most important thing is to keep you safe."

    I mean, once is a character, but much more than that and it starts to feel a bit unreal/wish fulfillmenty or something. (Not that that's my wish--I like to work equally along WITH my Love Interest--not be put on a pedestal while he flexes his abs...)

  10. Sleazy BFF/Good Girl combo. I'd like to see a little less of that. Truth of the matter is Sleazy Girl and Stay-at-home-friday-night-to-do-calculus Girl are rarely friends, let alone BFF's.

    Negligent parents. I find I admire books much more (such as The Body Finder) when the parents are attentive and loving and prove it. Isn't the rule Show don't tell? As a teen I got into *tons* of trouble and because of it I was near constantly grounded. Did that stop me? No. So why is it the parents must be absent to have the characters in YA reenact that?

    I know I had another one but I can't think of it right now. But great list. I can't say I've seen much of Cool Granny but I highly agree with the others. ^_^

  11. Vampires and Tofu: I love the Goth parents idea! (BTW, anyone who needs ideas for wacky parents should watch Wife Swap or Trading Spouses. There are quite a variety of crazy parents out there somewhere!)

    Amie B and Rose Green: I definitely agree about those two. I didn't add them to the list because I feel like they border on archetypes in stories for teens, not stereotypes, although of course, they are often rendered badly.

    Crazy for words: Maybe I read a spate of cool granny books, I don't know. I can think of several offhand. I also enjoy books where the parents are more present sometimes. I do find it hard to pull off sometimes. When I tried modeling a mom in a book in part after my own mom, people said the mother and daughter got along too well, even though they did have some fights. In real life, I know I'm not the only teen who actually liked my mom's company, but it seems like a lot of people aren't willing to buy it in a book.

  12. Villainous cheerleaders. I mean, really? I've lost count now. Give 'em a breather. Cheerleaders read, too. What about the baddies in the band? Who would want to peeve off the tuba player and get metal wrapped around their head? Not me. =)

  13. I'm all for the goth parents too. I would like to read that. Mmm...NOW!

  14. Ha! Love this. I have evil cheerleader in mine, but I also have goth-cheerleader BFF. And perfect boy? In my story he got to be that way in part by growing up with a sister with MS. I want to show *why* he's sensitive, not just say that he is.

    Excellent topic Jacklyn!

  15. Oh, and I show why evil cheerleader has that chip on her shoulder: abuse at home.

  16. I am now semiconsciously making list of books that fit under these categories. lol I haven't noticed alot of hippie parents in the books I've been reading though.

    What I'm tired of is the "perfect" boys. You know, the ones that are heroic, controlling, and unbearably sexy. Don't get me wrong, I like these types sometimes. But what I really love is the guy that's not Mr. Instant-Passion. I watched a movie the other day called The Wild Girl on Hallmark and I just adored the character Albert. HE was the kind of love interest I like. The one that's always there but never really noticed until the end.

  17. The good news is, I don't think I have any of these characters in my wips! :)

    A few of them are okay in moderation. Imagine if all of these were in one story! You'd be running from the book :)

  18. Jackie!
    Just stumbled on this blog, although "stumbled" is not the right word for it - I knew you had shifted over from LJ, but this is the first time I'm really getting a chance to read through many of your posts. These are all wonderful - I love reading your writing again (miss you on LJ). And now - confession, I have a cool Grandma in my debut novel. It's funny - somewhere in me I had this nagging concern about her (maybe i was thinking to myself, aren't there a lot of Grandmas in story books?) But you summed it up so well here.

    The other characters made me laugh out loud. I haven't read nearly as far and wide as I would like, and yet I've encountered all these characters already!