Jaime Reed wrote an interesting blog about teen female protagonists. The letter filled with stereotypes found in lead characters was like a check list of “what not to do” in writing YA fiction. Reed discussed how they are catty, self-centered, and have one dimensional friends. She dissects the first person’s inner monologue for being hypocritical in her judgment of gal pals and the stereotypical description of the token gay BFF. While I nodded my head with her pointed observation and rolled my eyes at the obvious flaws of those characters, I started to question where this left my WIP. Is the lead character I love about to be filleted “Kill Bill style” because she is just like everyone else and I didn’t even know it?
It is common for artists to feel insecure. Anytime you create something with your heart that other people can have an opinion, you are vulnerable. While I have discussed my growing thick skin, I haven’t had the comfort of a professional acknowledging my work to put some of those fears to rest…yet. So of course I assume, even though Ms. Reed and I have never met, she is talking about me. My lead has girlfriends she isn’t close with. She struggles with boyfriends. She can even be called “snarky” at times. But have I created a cliché? Isn’t this common in teenagers? Correction, isn’t this common for all women? I’ve had conversations with friends in their thirties with all of these traits in one interaction. Does that make us all cliché? Don’t we all make poor choices in relationships at certain times and isn’t that the part that makes us human? Relatable? Real?
We all have our pet peeves in novels. I know of a very successful novel where I promised to throw up if I read the sentence “he was an Adonis” one more time. I hope my work has something different to it and hasn’t fallen into this trap of “typical teen.” I took deep thought in trying to make the character realistic with strengths and flaws. They were built on my own successes and short comings from back then and in my adulthood.
The irony is when I was a teenager, my mother would shake her head and tell me how no matter how hard I tried, whatever mischief I created, I was a normal teenager. “This is just what teenagers do,” she said. I screamed she didn’t understand, told her she was outdated while I wore a homemade shirt with the words “Fuck You” written across the chest in splatter paints (oh, the 90’s.) I look back and laugh for how cliché of a teen I actually was.
Is Ms. Reed right about authors relying too heavily on stereotypes? Or are they writing in fact and it’s people in general who are cliché? It’s easy to make arguments for both (depending if I spent the day standing in the line at the DMV.) It comes down to the reader. Maybe they want something familiar or reminiscent of their youth. Maybe they want to be surprised, but then discount it with being unbelievable. In the end, it’s up to the skill and experience of the author to find the delicate thin line in between. (I hope I have.)
To make this blog funny, I’ve added a photo from my teen years. (Please remember it’s the 90’s before you judge.) Here I am with purple-ish hair, a Pink Floyd tee-shirt, and best of all–long john’s under my shorts. Too bad the camera doesn’t show the Doc Martin boots on my feet. You can see grunge was in full effect. Go ahead…judge and laugh. Please, laugh your ass off.