Monday, February 14, 2011

Outsider Boy Love

At the Branson retreat we had a question of the night, and one of them was two things that push your buttons as a reader.

I have a very specific button-pusher, which is: Outsider people who are different in some physical way that they can't hide but who find a way to fit into society without compromising who they are. And preferably, who they are is also a hot boy, just saying.

Which led to a tweet from a certain moose (yes, the taxidermy in our house was tweeting, which I find disturbing) about how I like hunchbacks, but that is not really what I MEANT (although admittedly, Dean "Jarback" Priest from the Emily books was one of my childhood literary crushes, before I realized he's kind of a jerk, so maybe I do mean that).

There are a lot of ways to make a character different, though, especially in fantasy and spec-fic, where you can have a guy who looks like a demon for no apparent reason (Nightcrawler from X-Men), a guy with dragons growing from his back (Star Ocean: The Second Story for PlayStation), or a guy with scissors for hands (do I even need to tell you?). That is, besides the obvious ways to make a character different: disabilities, scars, being a different race from the norm, having strange coloring of some kind, etc. In fantasy, it's all blown up even beyond the differences we have to deal with on Earth.

I just can't seem to get away from this trope in anything I write. Sure, I have some other character types I love too (Arrogant Man with Pain Beneath His Exterior is another one that gets me every damn time), but that is like the soul of my writing.

It took me a long time to realize why I was so drawn to these stories, but I think (if I can't explain it with past lives?) it's because from the first time I was thrown into a crowd of peers (in 2nd grade, the only year I wasn't homeschooled) I realized I was deeply different. The things I ate, the medicine I took when I was sick, the music I listened to, the things I liked to do, even the way I thought the world worked, were all markedly different from my peers, and it was a shock. I still get that same shock every time I am in a large group of people. I think everyone must feel this way to a degree, but for whatever reason the theme always really resonated with me.

I think the other reason I am attracted to it is because when your outsideriness is obvious, you sort of have to work extra hard to be normal. I tend to see the outsider characters as the most "normal" at heart, I think. (And in this case I think of normality as a positive, relatable, moreso than "someone who is very average".) For a romantic lead, it can also be a rather vulnerable position...if you have a disability or are of a different race from the norm or whatever you have to have an extra dose of determination or cleverness or some it factor to get ahead.

A few of my favorite physical-outsiders-who-find-their-place-in-the-world:

Gen from Megan Whalen Turner's books
Otto from A Long Long Sleep (which comes out in August, I just read it, it's AWESOME)
The aforementioned Nightcrawler from X-Men, in his more fun-loving, swashbuckling configuration and not Emo Religious Mutant
Tyldak from the Elfquest comics
Chichiri from the Fushigi Yuugi anime

Gah, I know there are plenty more, but I have to go make dinner. And one of my favorite literary boys is Po from Graceling but he doesn't truly qualify. Anyway, if you have any recommendations, fire away, I'd LOVE to add more to the list...


  1. Love your perspective on this! Have you seen Avatar: The Last Airbender? Prince Zuko comes to mind.

  2. I LOVE GEN. He's probably my favorite YA character ever.

  3. LOVE AIRBENDER. And Zuko. That whole show was just a perfect piece of entertainment.

    And's like, one of those life dreams to write a character people love as much as Gen!

  4. I can't think of any right now, but I know as a writer, those tend to be the tropes I use too, only with my female leads (my MC in my one WiP is the "outsider" being mixed race during a time when that wasn't accepted).

    And Airbender is an AWESOME show. I'm watching it for a third time through. I cannot wait for the next series, Legend of Korra. :)