Hey there, book lovers! My name’s Maggie, and I’m a blogger over at Maggie’s Musings. Paige has been my friend for a long time, and this week, she asked me if I would write a guest post for Between Reality. I thought, sure, why not? Books have been a part of my life since before I could even walk, I knew I could find something to write about.
I don’t review books very often, but I always seem to find myself analyzing them. Sometimes I focus on the plot, other times it’s the writing style. However, one thing that always stick out to me in books are the characters. They’re one of the driving forces of a story – you can’t have a book without the characters.
Unfortunately, many authors fail to do their characters justice. Instead of being well-developed and realistic, they are flat, shapeless clichés. Authors don’t take the time to create their own unique characters, but instead rely on formulas that become boring very quickly. As a writer myself, I know creating characters is hard. It’s tempting to take shortcuts if it means saving your time and sanity. Sometimes, especially for minor characters, it’s excusable. However, there are four specific character clichés I think should be banned from fiction altogether.
The Mysterious Bad Boy
He’s a man of few words with a leather jacket and a rebellious streak. His hair is long and his eyes are irresistible. He won’t open up to anyone, except maybe the new girl at his school, the heroine of the novel.
The Mysterious Bad Boy cliché is so prevalent in YA fiction these days that it even has its own parody Twitter account. Yep, it’s that bad. It’s a disease we can’t get rid of – after it infected one story, it spread like the plague.
So what do I hate so much about this cliché? Like all character clichés, it’s a sign of laziness on the author’s part. But apart from that, the Mysterious Bad Boy is an awful character, plain and simple. He’s a jerk who treats other characters, including his love interest, poorly. But instead of facing the consequences of that, he gets to shove all the blame on his “tragic” past and get off scot-free. And when he’s in a relationship (usually with the Ordinary Sixteen-Year-Old Girl), he’s often demanding and controlling. That’s not romantic, kids, that’s toxic.
The Ordinary Sixteen-Year-Old Girl
This cliché needs to be broken into parts. First of all, “Sixteen.” As I wrote in my Book Blurb Blacklist, there’s nothing wrong with being sixteen. We all go through it, after all. But why does YA treat it as some magical age where everything happens? And then there’s the “Ordinary” part. Everything in this girl’s life is completely normal, nothing to see here, until BAM! Out of nowhere, she gains superpowers, starts a revolution, or falls in love (usually on her sixteenth birthday, no less).
I’ve always felt that this cliché is a halfhearted attempt to get girls to relate to the main character. But instead of authors subtly guiding us to a place where we can empathize with the character, they drag us along screaming “Look, she’s a regular teenager JUST LIKE YOU!!!” Then, as it turns out, the so-called Ordinary Girl turns out to be something special, usually because her new boyfriend makes her realize it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with including normal girls in YA. In fact, I think they’re important. But why can’t we have female characters who are already awesome? They don’t need to be the face of the revolution to be confident. They don’t even need a guy to boost their self-esteem. They’re just regular young women who know their worth, and they don’t need anyone else to prove it for them. That’s what I want to see more of.
The Sweet Boy From Your Hometown
He’s been your next door neighbors for as long as you can remember. You were childhood best friends – and that was all you ever thought you’d be. But now you’re both teenagers (probably sixteen), and you’re starting to realize that maybe you could be more than friends…
Ugh. Let’s stop before I throw up.
The Sweet Hometown Boy is the most common contrast for The Mysterious Bad Boy, especially when it comes to love triangles. Who will the Ordinary Girl choose, the sweet, kind boy she’s known all her life or the dark, mysterious guy she just can’t stop thinking about? (I think I just described 90% of YA romance books.)
This character cliché usually appears to be innocent and kind, but underneath the surface, he’s fiercely protective of his best friend (e.g. the female main character), sometimes to the point where it becomes possessive. And he hates the Mysterious Bad Boy with every fiber of his being. In the end, he’s really not that much better than the Mysterious Bad Boy. If I were the Ordinary Girl, I’d move to Antarctica and just be done with it.
The Pretty & Popular Girl Who’s Definitely Evil
Once upon a time, an aspiring author – a shy, glasses-wearing girl – was teased by a cheerleader in high school. Most would just roll their eyes and drop it, but not this one. No, she vowed to get her revenge one day. One day, she’d write a book, and tell the world how evil the pretty and popular girls truly are. And thus, The Evil Cheerleader Was Born.
She’s tall, but not too tall. Thin, but not too skinny. Her hair is blonde and her makeup is flawless. She’s captain of the cheerleading team, and she hates your guts.
Well… probably not. I may have never attended a public high school, but I find it extremely hard to believe that every popular girl is automatically evil. Perhaps some are, but certainly not all of them. And illustrating them that way in fiction is not only harmful, but it displays the prejudice and arrogance of the author for all to see. But looking down on people is okay as long as they deserve it… right?
The Evil Cheerleader is often the Ordinary Girl’s nemesis and is in competition with her for the love interest (usually the Mysterious Bad Boy). After all, we all know there are only two types of teenage girls on the planet – the pretty, popular, evil ones and the ordinary, innocent, kindhearted ones. There is no in between. Besides, who ever heard of an arrogant introvert or a selfless cheerleader?
Of course, I could go on and on about all of the character clichés I dislike, but those four are the big ones for me. There are times when I can push my feelings aside for the sake of a story, but more often than not, these clichés are a huge book turn-off for me.
Now you’ve heard about the types of characters that I hate, but what about the ones I love? Over on my blog, Maggie’s Musings, I’m starting a short series on August 12 about my favorite heroes and heroines in YA fiction. I’d love it if you’d stop by and take a look!
What character clichés could you live without? Do you agree or disagree with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! I’ll be keeping an eye on them personally, so hopefully we can start up a conversation!
About The Author:
Maggie is the self-proclaimed introvert who’s the face behind Maggie’s Musings. She blogs about pretty much anything that strikes her fancy, from writing tips to lists of her favorite books. When Maggie’s not blogging, she’s usually working on her latest writing project, catching Pokémon, or finalizing her plans for world domination.
Read more of Maggie’s insightful wisdom at her blog Maggie’s Musings.