OK, so this is basically a discussion post, but it’s more specific: these posts will focus on various archetypes in YA books.
What is an archetype, you ask? Well, if you don’t ask, skip this definition from Dictionary.com:
the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.
This definition doesn’t necessarily cover what I plan on talking about in these posts, but I liked the title, so archetypes it is. I’m basically focusing on the “model” part of the definition, in that I going to look at various models or types of characters in YA.
As you can see from the title, today’s subject is about main characters that always seem to be wallflowers and attracted to best friends that are really outgoing and whose friendship often doesn’t make sense. This is a problem that can happen in contemporary and paranormal books alike, which means it’s something bugging me in over half of the books I read, no matter what the genre!
Picture a Plain Jane protagonist. She probably has “boring” brown hair, “boring” brown eyes, and is skinny (because you can’t have a protagonist who wears double-digit size jeans) but obviously too skinny, the bad kind of skinny. She is bookish (yet you never really see her read, and her bookish-ness only shows when she’s comparing her instalove with a Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte book or something) and doesn’t really have any other personality, other than “shy.” How the hell can you build a story on a girl who basically refuses to do anything interesting?
Simple: you throw in an outrageous and out of control best friend that drags the protagonist kicking and screaming into various plot points.
Imagine this is the Outgoing Best Friend pushing the Wallflower MC out of their room, rather than a cop tackling a dude with a gun.
I might be exaggerating slightly about the protagonist, but not so much the best friend. So many books seem to think that protagonists have to be shy and bookish and boring, like we can’t relate to anyone not 100% like us (plus, that’s assuming that all readers are shy, bookish, and boring, which isn’t the kind of assumption you should make if you want people to read your book), so the only way to make sure their protagonist doesn’t sit in their room reading all day is by adding in a wild best friend. It’s very, very, very rare to see it reversed (in fact, I can’t really think of any offhand – feel free to correct me in the comments if you know of one), and I think this is a trope that can extend to male protagonists as well.
Sorry, but you kind of are.
There are multiple reasons I don’t like this particular trope. For one thing, I’m tired of it. There are so many best friend duos that just follow the same pattern, which means it’s just one more book that focuses more on the romance than exploring a unique and complex friendship. When you have an outgoing BFF that pushes the protagonist to dress up or go to a party or whatever, it’s normally just pushing the protagonist to the love interest, which means the flimsy friendship disappears into the background, only popping up when the love interest is busy.
This isn’t just a tired trope, though – in many cases, it’s just lazy. Rather than creating a complex character, a confidant that the protagonist can depend on and can go to with whatever, including romantic issues, rather than only romantic issues, the character is a simple sketch that can be set aside whenever the love interest shows up. Not all outgoing best friends will be like this, but it seems like lately most of them are, which is a big problem. There just aren’t enough female friendships, let alone strong ones, in YA today, so why are we continuing to use best friends as plot props rather than real people who enhance the story?
You see, these kinds of characters will change everything about their life, even their personality, if it moves the story forward. Unlike the scene this GIF comes from, however, it’s not a funny thing – it’s just sad.
I want characters that are actually people, like you’re really seeing a portrait of them rather than a quick stick figure drawing.
And no, I’m not saying that this is an easy way to become extra skinny (because these BFFs are often obsessed with their weight, or are just naturally really skinny and curvy – yeah, because that happens all the time).
These characters act like checklists:
– Does she have some other hair color than brown, which is pretty much always perfect?
– Does she push the protagonist at the love interest or is indirectly responsible for their relationship?
– Is she the only “girly” girl that the protagonist can stand, and barely at that?
– Is she obsessed with material objects and appearance and the like to the point that the protagonist can secretly degrade her for not being the good girl that the protagonist is?
– Does she have a personality that can easily be changed depending on what the story calls for?
If you have a best friend with more than one of these traits, then there’s a good chance that she falls into this category. Sometimes books try to be progressive and different by making the best friend gay, but too often they just seem like the same shallow character, only with a penis. Really not the right message to send about the diverse group that is gay boys and men.
Gay characters don’t just exist as fashion accessories and plot props – they should be real people, with real problem, no matter what their sexuality.
I know that we can be different. We can have a more diverse group of best friends to pick from. We don’t have to fall back on the same boring, lazy trope every time. I know that secondary characters aren’t as important as the main characters (after all, they’re secondary characters and not main characters), but they doesn’t mean we can just ignore them and stick them in the same box every time. I want to rescue them from their boring, restraining box!
I also want best friends who actually seem like they’re best friends! I know that opposites attract, but there are some differences and then there are two characters who seem like they secretly hate each other because they’re so different and literally have nothing in common other than thinking the mysterious new boy is hot or something.
See? He’s judging you just like I am.
We can be so different and interesting – why don’t our characters reflect that?
Give me different and interesting best friends, darn it! Otherwise, we’re going to continue to read about best friends that don’t seem to have brains – not because they’re girly and outgoing, but because their books don’t care enough about them to give them any personality.
The GIFs came from here.