Apr 30, 2012

Right and wrong character types

Lately I've been reading a lot of stuff in the YA sphere about people's pet peeves with characters. Stuff like "I hate characters that are X" and "I don't like [character type]." Let me preface this by saying that everybody is entitled to their own opinions. I'm fine with that. But sometimes I feel like there's this group-think mentality where everybody is supposed to agree that certain types of characters are right and others are wrong.

Some of the big ones seem to be weak female characters (a la Bella Swan) and bad boy love interests (Noah Shaw, Edward Cullen, etc, etc). I can see where people are coming from with these opinions, but to me, those characters are unlikable because they're not terribly well developed, not because of their personality traits. (I should also add that I think Noah Shaw is going to end up with more development as the trilogy goes on, but I could be wrong.)

My issue is mainly with blanket statements that these types of characters shouldn't be so pervasive in YA literature. It's not fair to say they shouldn't exist or that no more books about them should be written. I don't agree that writing always needs to have some kind of moral or message. I think its purpose is to entertain. Would I ever date a raging bad boy in real life? Of course not. But would I like to read about one? Hell yeah. The same goes for the introverted girl who struggles to stand up for herself. Sure, maybe she's not as good of a role model as somebody who knows exactly what she wants and goes out and gets it, but I actually find that weakness intriguing. A female main character doesn't have to go out and kick ass all the time (although I will admit to being a huge fan of Graceling, and man, that Katsa kicks some serious ass).

I also wonder why this debate seems to be limited to the YA sphere. I can only assume it's because YA tends to be a bit more trend-oriented, as opposed to grown-up fiction. So the kinds of trends you might see within a certain genre of adult fiction wouldn't necessarily be used in an argument about all fiction in they way they are with YA.

I hope this becomes less of an issue as YA becomes more and more mainstream, because it kind of stresses me out as a writer. I often wonder if people will judge my characters and put them in categories of things they like/don't like instead of just reading the story. I'd like to think I'm writing outside of stock characters, but I guess I'll never be able to control people's opinions and reactions.

And to be honest, that's the best thing about books. There are just as many different characters as there are different kinds of readers. There are some characters who do things you agree with and some who don't. I'm thrilled to pieces that there's a huge range to pick and choose from anytime I like.