08 Apr

YA Cafe: 5 Reasons Your YA Character Might Flop

Posted in Character, Reading, Teen Lit, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We’ve also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today’s Special: What are your favorite characters in teen literature?

The truth is, I don’t really have a favorite character in teen literature, but I have lots of characters I dislike.  Some I even hate.  Like Holden Caulfield, Alaska from Looking for Alaska, and Harry Potter (especially in book V but, pretty much throughout the latter half of the series).  These characters got me to thinking, what makes me like YA characters or hate them?  And if a character doesn’t work, what’s the reason behind it.

Your YA Character May Flop Because He/She is…

1) Pathologically Self-Centered.  OK, let me start by saying that everybody is at least a little bit egocentric; that’s normal.  What’s not normal is when a character is so pathologically self-centered that he or she doesn’t care about anyone else.  At all.  Not even a little bit.  Take Alaska from Looking for Alaska: she’s so wrapped up in this persona of “traumatized-and-depressed teen” that she couldn’t care less how her actions affect the people who care about her.  Of course, her quirkiness makes her endearing at times so that’s her saving grace.  But if you really want to make your character the worst YA character ever, you need to make sure he has no endearing qualities whatsoever.

2) Pathologically Quirky.  More than the egocentric protagonist, one type of character I detest is the I’m-so-unbelievably-quirky-even-I-can’t-stand-it character.  A mild form of this character is Stargirl, who is quirky in a charming, funny way.  But if you push this quirkiness too far, you end up having a character who’s annoying and just plain weird.  And seriously, if your character’s in high school–don’t you think she has enough problems already? 

3) Pathologically Stupid.  Some characters have plenty of good things going for them, but they are in the habit of making one bad decision after another.  Good ol’ Harry Potter falls into this category (though despite his lack of sense, he still seems to come out on top and that makes him all the more infuriating).  My favorite Harry Potter moment happens in the first book when Neville Longbottom earns the winning points for Gryffindor by standing up to Harry and his buddies for breaking the rules.  If you want your character to annoy the living daylights out of your reader have your protagonist always make bad decisions, then make everything turn out OK for him anyway.  It’ll drive your readers nuts.

4) Pathologically Whiny and Self-Righteous.  With this rule we return to my favorite least-favorite character: Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.  He whines from the moment the book starts to the very last scene.  He believes he’s entitled to whatever he wants.  He thinks he’s SO above everyone around him.  *rolls eyes*  As if.  Self-righteous characters who think they’re so much better than everyone else are easy to hate.  Add a dash of whiny entitlement and you’ll have a thoroughly despicable character in the making.

5) Not A Teen.  That’s right.  If you want your book to have the worst YA character of all time, you need to make the protagonist not be a teenager.  Try writing a YA novel about an eleven-year-old.  Or maybe a twenty-something frat boy.  Because teens just love to read about middle schoolers almost as much as they’re dying read about adults (if you could call a twenty-something frat boy an “adult” but that’s beside the point.)  While there are many crossover books that are originally marketed to adults but have teen protagonists, I am hard-pressed to think of one truly-YA (i.e. not crossover) book with a protagonist younger than thirteen or older than eighteen.

What do you think?  What other reasons are there for YA characters that just don’t work?  Tell me because I’m dying to know.  Especially since I want to make sure my main character doesn’t reek of awfulness.  (Yes, I know it’s an ulterior motive, but help a girl out, ‘k?)

Want to read a post that’s actually about favorite YA characters?  Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her favorites on her blog: All About Them Words.  Check it out, then tell us who your favorite characters are!

Also, the winner of last week’s contest (for a signed copy of BITTEN by R.L. Stine) is K.V. Briar!  Congratulations!  *throws confetti*  Thank you to all who entered the contest.  K.V., please email me at iggiNgabi[at]gmail[dot]com with your address so I can mail you your prize.  


Comments on this post

  1. JoLynne Lyon says:

    I'm with ya–Holden Caulfield always creeped me out. Another problem teen character: the one that defines her whole personality by her boyfriend (vampire or not). Give her a life of her own!

    1. Gabriela Pereira says:

      Great point JoLynne! YA characters definitely need to have lives beyond their significant others.

      Write on!

      1. K.V. Briar says:

        *squeals* Yay 🙂 I never win contests! Email sent.

        I agree with all your points, though the Harry Potter one hurts (its so true, I wanted to slap him in book five!).

        I won't name names because I have this gigantic fear of offending someone, BUT . . .

        One of my biggest pet peeves is when characters don't have a backbone. Seriously, stand up for yourself and what you believe in. Another is when they let peer pressure get to them and compromise their morals because of it. Also, there is such a thing as *too* good, let them break a few rules and have a little fun.

        1. Stina Lindenblatt says:

          Awesome post, and I agree with JoLynne. Boyfriends should never define us.

          1. Ghenet Myrthil says:

            This is so funny. I agree about whiny characters. Who wants to read about someone complaining all the time? I also agree with JoLynne about girls defining themselves by their boyfriends. Not cool!

            1. J.C. Martin says:

              I've not read much YA lately, but Bella from the Twilight series got on my nerves from day one. With all the whininess and teenage angst and depressing emotional baggage, I'm left wondering WHY two hot paranormal men would even be remotely interested in her! Me, jealous? Never!

              1. Caroline Starr Rose says:

                Cynical and too prickly are turn offs for me. I know many characters are wounded and grow in the course of a story, but when I've lost sympathy for a character, it's hard to deeply care.

                1. Kiernan says:

                  100% agree with everyone about Bella.

                  As for your list, Gabi, I think I find pathologically self-centered the worst. Sometimes, a really slow, introspective book can come off that way even if that wasn't the original intention. After a while, I get a little sick of hearing about the character's feelings and just want them to DO something. (Suzanne Collins strikes a pretty good balance, in that regard.)

                  1. Donna Hosie says:

                    Great post. As much as I love the Potter series to death, Harry was never the one I rooted for.

                    1. Laura Pauling says:

                      Well considering all those books did really well – it must not be about those attributes. The only character I don't like is the one who isn't well developed and the writing isn't there yet. I'll love any and all of those characters if the motivation is there and the writing is excellent.

                      1. Gabriela Pereira says:

                        Laura – Great point. A little of these characteristics are usually not a problem, but like with all things, they are best used in moderation.

                        Also, these books did really well in part because those characters didn't carry the day. The books had tons of other great things going for them than just those specific characters. Sure, great protagonists are important, but readers are often willing to forgive an annoying protagonist if the book has other great qualities (like an amazing plot or incredible world-building or a fantastic voice).

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