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 I write this, I realize it’s a little similar to my first post of this feature, The Broody Couple and Fun Friend, but I think there’s more to talk about when it comes to secondary characters that are much more interesting and entertaining than protagonists, whether it’s because the protagonists are broody and angsty or not.
When I look at some of my favorite books, it’s often because I love all the characters, including secondary characters. Books that are less strong – think 3 or 4 stars – might have really interesting secondary characters, but that’s all they really have going for them when it comes to characters. Basically, you get awesome secondary characters and a boring protagonist (and possibly love interest) that you fail to connect with and really care about – at least, that’s how it can be for me.
What is it about these characters that make them so much more interesting than the character that the book is focused on?
I know, it frustrates me so much as well! But you really don’t have to throw a fit…
Some books that immediately come to mind when thinking about this subject are Sarah Dessen’s books. I read them all during the summer of 2013, and they ranged from mediocre to new favorites, but they all pretty much had two things in common: interesting and entertaining secondary characters. Sometimes I thought they were great compliments to the protagonist, but sometimes I thought they were far superior to the main character. On the one hand, it’s nice when there are at least some characters you like, but it can be really frustrating when the characters you love aren’t the focus of the story!
On the other hand, you might find some secondary characters that you love and then you get so freaking excited when you find out the author is going to write a sequel all about them – and then it comes out and you realize that you don’t like stories focused on them. This was the case for me with the Hourglass books – I really liked the first one, thought the second one was okay, and ended up DNFing the last one. The second and third books had two protagonists, mostly or all secondary characters from the first book. Especially with the protagonists in the second book, I quite liked them in the first one, but I hated the fact that a book that focused on them and got into their heads made them way too angsty and uninteresting to me.
Replace “bad” with “boring” and then you have my feelings on the subject.
I think a big reason that this happens is that secondary characters don’t have to be so genuine. I’m not saying that you can slack off with writing your secondary characters, but you don’t have to get into their heads so much. If they spend 75% of the story being comic relief, then that’s fine (of course, you have to make that other 25% really count, but I digress), because they don’t have to carry the whole story on their shoulders. They’re there to support the story and the protagonist, but they can take a break if they need to – and they can also slap some much-needed sense into the main character if necessary.
They provide the wine rather than the drama.
Sometimes I think we need to take a step back from these entertaining and awesome secondary characters and imagine what our stories would be like without them.
We need main characters who can stand on their own – they can keep us entertained even when they have to deal with a lot of drama and angst. Yes, they have a lot of pressure on their very human (unless you’re reading a paranormal story, I suppose) shoulders, but they still have to be interesting enough to keep our interest as well!
Then, once that’s happening, we can let the awesome secondary characters back into the story to make everything even better.
The GIFs are from here.