It began twenty or so years ago, reading bubble-gum trash for tweens/teens. As I matured, so did my library, introducing me to whole new ways to escape. However, of late I find I’m easily bored, and flit from one book to the next, desperately seeking my next fictional Mr Right. The problem is it’s the same characters that keep turning up. It’s as though a certain heartthrob formula is now being subscribed to. Bad move. Formulaic characters always end up 2 dimensional, simply because they have no personality of their own. When it comes to Young Adult books, I’ve observed this to most definitely be the case.
For your amusement, I’ve compiled a list of some of the typical characters and romantic situations I keep encountering in YA books. If I’ve missed any out, please make sure to add them in the comments at the bottom.
Of the cliché’s, this is the one I see most often in YA romances. It’s a main character who’s deliberately created to be generic. Not to be mistaken with The Ordinary Girl/Boy (see below), there’s little to know about them: nondescript looks, life, personality… The idea is that the reader finds it easier to see themselves in the role; slipping it on like a wetsuit and viewing the world through the characters eyes. As a result of Love at First Sight they end up in a romance with The Beautiful, The Goodie, The Unbelievable or The Misunderstood. The problem arises whenever The Shell actually does something, which ends up being so out of character - and more often than not, stupid and highly irritating - that you end up detesting them.
The Ordinary Girl/Boy
They’re just like you and me. In fact they could be you or me. Except something incredibly spectacular happens to them, and they fall in love with The Beautiful, The Goodie, or The Misunderstood. Yeah, right. Is that ordinary? No.
These characters are always created by authors who clearly have limited understanding of the opposite sex. Ther are many examples of this. Think eighteen year old boy who talks like a thirty year old woman. Not realistic. On the other side of the coin, there’s the archetypal icy females, who are effortlessly calm, show few emotions, and always say smart things. Again, not realistic. If you’ve ever met a woman you’ll know we’re all bat shit crazy. Some hide it better than others, is all. No matter how smart and calm we are, neurosis gets its claws into us eventually. These characters are created purely to indulge the reader’s fantasies, but it’s a romance that’s ultimately unsatisfying. Why? Because it’s not convincing.
The Beautiful romantic interest is very much like The Shell, in that they have nothing going on in the personality department. Sculpted by the very Gods themselves, these characters are so heartbreakingly gorgeous, their impressive looks need describing in great detail at the slightest opportune moment. Sadly, their wit, intelligence and integrity are rarely discovered. Probably because they don’t have any. These beauties usually promise undying love, repeatedly, but that’s about as deep as it gets. Probably because the author continually distracts you by mentioning their cerulean blue eyes every five seconds. What I’ve noticed about The Beautiful is that they can pretty much get away with anything in a relationship, like continually lying, or disappearing mysteriously with no word of why. Of course, they’re forgiven simply for looking sexy with their cerulean blue eyes. Did I mention the cerulean blue eyes?
The Love at First Sight
It doesn’t matter what either person in this relationship does, Shell, Beautiful, Misunderstood or otherwise. If they fall in love at first sight then they’ll forgive each other anything. That’s right! Being rude to each other’s friends, frequent arguing, and having completely opposing views/morals/opinions doesn’t matter to these lovebirds. Anything goes. Granny mugging too, no doubt.
The Love TriangleUsually happens to The Shell or The Ordinary Girl/Boy, who must decide between The Beautiful/Unbelievable/Misunderstood, and The Goody. Then there's the whole "Which one will they pick?" Obviously, the outcome is predetermined in the case of Love at First Sight.
Also known as the boy/girl next door, these characters are sweet, kind, and always do the right thing. You know they’re the one, but it normally takes dealing with a total bitch/jerk before you realise how good they are. It’s their unfailing goodness that makes them so lovable (Gag). At least there’s more chance of a well-rounded personality with The Goodie. After all, you need to know something about their personality to know that they’re a good person, and not just The Ordinary Girl/Boy or a Shell. Most of the time, The Goodie is cute. However, if they are too good looking it ends up overshadowing their personality, turning them into The Beautiful.
You suspect they’re no good for you, but you want them anyway. They’re so damn mysterious/brooding/shy. You know you mustn’t fall for them, as they’ll probably break your heart. But you can’t help yourself. Of course, eventually they let you in, open up about their feelings, and that deep dark secret which is tearing them apart. These characters are usually great fun to crush on, but they’re also highly unrealistic. For example, what happens when they cheer up? When they have their love reciprocated and turn into love-sick, gooey-eyed sweet-talkers? Without their moody brooding they don’t have much else going on. Once their dark past troubles them no more, they invariably turn into either The Goodie, The Unbelievable or The Beautiful.
So What Works?
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for being able to identify with a character so as to indulge in their romance and fantasy, but surely not at the cost of their personality. This continual rehashing of the same, garden variety characters and scenarios really grinds my gears. What then makes a good romantic interest? The answer is simpler than you might expect. A little moodiness, reasonable good looks, and a good heart can go a long way. When these traits are stretched to their stereotypical extremes they leave little room for a well-rounded personality. Individuality, originality, confidence, flaws; these are the things that time and time again make us fall in love, with either a character or a romance in general. A little mix of the above, with a selection of foibles and quirks, can make any romantic interest someone who stands apart from the crowd. It’s the one-offs that make the difference, not the bog stantard. As an author I can tell you that it's easier said than done to create such a character. But as a reader, hell, that's not my problem!
They are out there, folks. We just need to keep on searching. Until next time.
Remember, if you have something that you think would be of interest to ROYA, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with ROYA and your name as the subject.