Keeping It Real in YA
We’ve all heard about characters deemed too stupid to live (they even have their own acronym: TSTL), but there is such a thing as having a character be too smart as well. Those characters aren’t as common, at least not in my experience, and just like the TSTL, they sometimes work. Most characters, however, fall somewhere in between. In other words, they are more like the average person.
That’s the reason I always find it funny when readers balk at characters not having all the answers or not seeing what’s “right in front of their faces”, especially in YA. I don’t know any high school student now or when I was in school who really had all the answers, even if they thought they did. So, why the expectation for fictional characters to have them? Sure, if they have no answers, they aren’t being very active protagonists, but if they have all the answers why is there a problem in the first place?
For me, I prefer characters to have personality quirks that affect their ability to think things through rather than having actual intellectual issues. Elle and Cass from the Paranormal Response Team are good examples. Elle’s a smart girl, even though she has to work at her grades, but she’s a dreamer. Her imagination often gets the best of her and, by seeing too many possibilities, she misses reality. Cass, in many ways, is her polar opposite. She’s brilliant—like scary brilliant—but she has caged her emotions so far inside herself that she doesn’t know how to feel anymore. The moment anything starts to seep from that prison, she can’t function fully anymore, and she makes mistakes—some of them potentially fatal.
There were moments when I was writing Elle and Cass that I wondered if I made them too stupid or too smart or…too anything. I can’t speak for Cass quite yet (maybe after the next book), but a reviewer recently said Elle could have been modeled after her when she was in school. She didn’t just know a girl like her; she was that girl.
For me as an author, there isn’t a higher compliment I can get about one of my characters than that. It isn’t about likability or making a character that’s some perfect combination of stupid and smart. It’s about creating someone real who readers can relate to on some level, who they might know, and hell, on the best days, one they might even be themselves.
So, how about you? What character in a young adult novel did you read and recognize either yourself or someone you know in?
Julie grew up writing, as so many people do, but gave it up to study chemistry and become a teacher. One of her students told her she should be a writer, and that bit of encouragement stays with her to this day.
No longer teaching, Julie now splits her time between raising her own kids and living in the world of her imagination (where her children occasionally visit). They reside in southwest Michigan with her wonderful (and very patient) husband and two faithful dogs who like to sleep on her feet and occasionally drop tennis balls on her keyboard when she writes. All in the name of love.
Julie can be found at:
Readers, Julie is giving away a download copy of Pretty Souls to a random commenter. To enter, you need to leave a question or comment for Julie and then make sure you either leave your email address in your comment or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. The contest is open to everyone, and the winner will be chosen on Sunday, May 22.