February 7, 2011

Find the Gap: Characters

Last week we discussed settings that we'd like to see more of in YA. This week: characters! There are some types of protagonists that are very common in YA these days. There's the kick-butt heroine in fantasy novels, the geek who gets dissed by all the 'cool kids' in contemporary, and the girl who just can't stay away from that bad boy who might be a vampire or werewolf in paranormal. But what are some character traits or qualities you think are missing?

Here are a few to start things off:

- Tall people. I am decidedly taller than average (um, I'm about 6', actually) and I would love to see more YA novels where the protagonist is tall and has to deal with the problems of living in a world made for people of average height. (Trust me, there are some definite disadvantages. Like finding jeans that are long enough, and dealing with extremely cramped legs in buses and airplanes.)

- People of color, particularly in genres outside of contemporary. It would be great to have more protagonists of Asian or African background, for instance, in fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian novels. I think this is becoming a little more common (for instance, Silver Phoenix springs to mind) but they are still few and far between.

- Characters with fairly functional families and close relationships with their parents. I've seen this brought up by other bloggers and I have to say I agree - not every teen has a family that is wildly dysfunctional! If you went by contemporary YA, though, you'd think that it was normal to have either daily confrontations with your parents or ones who never appeared involved in your life at all.

- Individuals who stutter or have some kind of speech impediment. It's rare to have a protagonist who stutters, particularly if that is not the 'point' of the book but rather just a trait of the character. But hey, in real life some people stutter!
The King of England stuttered! (I haven't seen this movie yet, but I want to).
What are some types of characters you'd like to see pop up more often in YA? And any books you'd like to suggest that might help to fill some of these gaps?


  1. I would love for a love interest to be just a normal guy... it seems like most of the guys are either the "bad boy" with a heart of gold, or the popular guy who seems like a jerk but really isn't, OR the geek who is actually hot and super nice.

    I think I'd just like the social structure of characters to be more realistic. In my experience high school isn't divided up into the jocks, the cheerleaders, the nerds, etc. The lines are a lot more blurry like that, and while there are "popular people" it doesn't automatically make them evil and the enemy of all the nerdy people.

    I'm not sure if that issue applies to characters, or something larger... but yah, more "normal" people (if THAT even makes sense/can be defined) as opposed to rigidly structured hierarchies in high school characters.

    I agree with all the ones you said... it's funny because I'm re-reading The Princess Diaries series right now, and Mia is always so upset about being tall.

  2. I agree with the tallness because I feel like I've read quite a few books where the mc complains about being much shorter than everyone else. Mia is about the only character I can think of who's tall.

  3. I love these! Out of all of them, though, I think my favorite would be the characters with functional families. Paranoid person that I am, I can't help but wonder if functional-family stories are out there (especially in contemp), but publishers keep rejecting them because they don't think they're interesting enough. I hope that's not the case!

    And the last one is really cool. I've never seen anyone else come up with that before. In my MS, my MC doesn't stutter, but she has this compulsive issue of not being able to make eye contact when she talks. *shrugs* I don't know, that reminded me a little of the stuttering thing.
    Great list! I definitely enjoyed reading it :D

  4. @Ashley: I totally hear you about breaking some of the stereotypes around the love interest & high school social hierarchy. Not all high school structures can be broken down in the same way (and like you say, it often isn't quite so clearly delineated). And thanks for the reminder about the Princess Diaries - you're right, Mia does make a point of mentioning she's tall!

    @Bookworm1858: I know, a shorter female protagonist seems to crop up a lot more often than a taller one (I'm not too sure why...)

    @Amelia: Thanks! Yeah, in contemp YA in particular I have to wonder if the stories featuring more functional families are rejected in favor of the tension- and drama-filled dysfunctional ones.

    And that is a neat trait to give your MC - makes me want to know more about her personality!

  5. I thought of another tall girl who is also a kick-butt heroine! Kel from the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce! I remember she grew up to be pretty tall because her height was contrasted with Alanna's short stature.

    I think it would be nice to see more characters that have a wide variety of hobbies and sports. I can think of several books where the main character's favorite sport is running! I get that this is a useful hobby to incorporate from a writing standpoint. It allows the author to show the character's thoughts as she/he works through her/his problems. However, it is too overdone!!
    Some examples of these "running" books:
    The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
    Need by Carrie Jones
    Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty
    Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

  6. I agree with you about wanting to see more characters who have close relationships with their parents. I think some authors might shy away from it because they feel it would get in the way of the plot though or teenagers might not like it. Leading on from the stuttering, it might be nice to see characters who are wheelchair bound for example but not have the plot revolve around their disability. Also, I want to go and see The King's Speech too!

  7. I agree with you on the PoC in other genres. I mean, it's okay to read a book about people of color in contemporary, but how awesome would it be to read an African inspired fantasy, or a Asian sci-fi or Latino dystopian. Where the MC just so happens to be of that particular ethnicity

    There needs to be more average or even plus sized characters where their weight isn't the subject of the story. Also characters with special needs like Marcelo in the Real World. I know Junior in Diary of A Part Time Indian has a stutter, but I don't think the characters would write their story in a stutter.

    At any rate, this is a great and thought provoking post! I would love to see YA and subsequently all genres represent the world we live in with all it's uniqueness.

  8. hm, for POC there's:

    The Everworld series by K. A. Applegate
    The Pendragon Adventure series by D. J. MacHale

    You're right, all of these categories are hard to think of books that fill them. Most tall people in books are guys.

  9. @Sy: Thanks for the reminder of Kel! Yes, she's definitely taller than Alanna :D Good point about the sports — they can't all be runners, LOL!

    @Stephanie: It would definitely be great to have more books about teens with physical disabilities (like being in a wheelchair) without that being the focal point of the novel. And I know, doesn't The King's Speech sound awesome (especially with Colin Firth playing the king!)?

    @Najela: I would certainly like to see more stories where the protagonist is plus-sized but that is not the main point. Thanks for those ideas! :)

    @Small Review: I'll have to check out those books you mentioned. So true that usually it's the guy characters that are tall!

  10. I would like to read more from a male's POV but maybe that's just the books I am choosing. And a functional family! Yes that would be great for a change!

  11. I agree with Najela that the MC doesn't always have to be skinny! I would love to read about POC more too. However when I am writing I am kind of afraid to make my MC a different race because I don't want to offend people if they don't like the flaws that person has. It is kind of a double edged sword I think. You have to be really careful what you say when it comes to race.

  12. Found you thru the Saturday Situation. What an interesting discussion! I agree with the comments about wanting to see more plus size characters, where being large wasn't a plot point but just a fact of life. And I've read very few books with functional families, so that would make a nice change as well. I would definitely read those books!

    Alexia's Books and Such...

  13. Bit (okay, a lot) late to comment on this, but I just wanted to say that you made my day as regards to the stuttering. My MMC/love interest is a stammerer, from a functional family, and he's tall - woohoo!

    I think it's a shame that there aren't that many books out there with a stammering main character, whether they were born with it or got it as a result of a traumatic event (my character)... If anyone can reccommend any, comment back!



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