Friday, May 20, 2011

Are YA Boys Bad for Real Teen Girls?

[I'm totally admitting here that this is a rehash of a blogpost I wrote last summer. I'm on page 163 of a 300 page revision that is due tomorrow morning, and if I don't get it done, life as I know it will probably end. On the other hand, as I'm about to launch an awesome new YA boy named Griffon on reading teens, it's a subject that's been on my mind.]

Are YA boys bad for real teen girls? This is a question that I've been thinking about lately. On some of the writer's boards there have been threads about how the boys in YA aren't anything like real boys. Some people call them chicks-with-(rhymes with chicks and I can't actually say it on this blog). You know the ones - the boys who are sensitive, handsome, strong, protective and intensely in love with our heroines. They don't burp or fart or fight constantly, answer complicated questions with 'huh?' or play video games excessively (as the only one in my house missing a Y chromosome, I know of what I speak). They pay attention to our girls, write them notes and texts and fulfill all of their romantic dreams. Even the 'dangerous' YA boys have a lot of these qualities that make the girls swoon. I should know - I'm guilty of writing boys like that myself.

I started thinking about this more during a recent Twitter chat. A teen girl was in on the chat and she mentioned that she didn't date real boys because they didn't stand up to the fictional boys she was always reading about. That made me intensely sad. I wanted to shake her and shout 'these boys don't exist - they're completely fictional!' Because once she is done reading about the fake boys that only exist in our heads, she's going to have to go out into the real world and deal with boys that don't necessarily measure up.

And that's where I feel guilty. In order to write the stories that make the girls swoon, we have to write boys who are not exactly like the boy next door. Our readers aren't going to go to school and find one of these guys hanging out at the lunch tables. Are we okay with this? Is it a form of false advertising? I don't know.

Maybe all YA books (especially paranormal romances) should come with a warning label: Caution.! The boys in this book are more fictional than they appear.

15 comments:

  1. LOL Like the heroes in adult romances are any different.

    With the fictious boys, they do capture (for the most part) the sensitive side that does exist when a guy falls for a girl. I saw it in my brother when we were teens. I've seen it in other teenage guys, too, when I've spied, I mean done research on girl/boy relationship. But maybe a warning wouldn't a bad idea for the bad boy types. More along the line of what you see is what you get. Guys don't change. ;)

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  2. I like to think of the boys in YA books as fairytale creatures. We know that elves and unicorns don't really exist (or do they???) but we read them to escape. The perfect boys in YA are an escape from the reality of not even close to perfect boys..I don't think it's false advertising so much as wishful thinking.

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  3. So true! I think the difference is that (we hope) adults will be able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, while the differences might not be so clear for teens or tweens. But yeah, it is fun.

    The other night I got caught up watching a Facebook drama for a teen I know. His girlfriend was accusing him of not 'protecting' her which totally made me cringe (the fact that I was spending revision time watching said FB drama is another story).

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  4. Asking this question is kind of like asking if the chicken or the egg came first. I know that having a lot of beautiful, perfect-ish guys to love in books and movies had a misleading effect on me as a teen, but is it actually their fault? Did they mislead EVERY teen? I doubt it.

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  5. Just yesterday a reader wrote and said, "I love the guys in your books, how do you think of them?" And I wrote back, "They're all my husband." Or, at least, how I think my husband would have been as a teen.

    He still would have loved sports, lived and died by basketball, played the guitar, had a cute ass in a pair of Levi's, be a great kisser, loved to laugh, and made me weak in the knees. The only difference? He would have done even more dumb things than he does today, he would have had a dumb group of guy friends, he would have made terrible mistakes, he would have broken my heart (and maybe healed it).

    I'd like to think that the guys in teen books aren't THAT fictional, these stories just recognize that there's this whole other person inside that doesn't get to be seen by the outside very often. Or until they turn 40.

    I doubt my husband knows that when I'm kissing him I'm taking notes for scenes, or that when we hug I'm coming up with words to describe how he feels. And he sure as hell doesn't know he's every (good) guy I've ever written about.

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  6. Oh noes! This just made me realize that my carefully-crafted boy (who is making me swoon a little in my spare time) is guilty as charged! But I'm really glad he doesn't fart. That's icky.

    Great post. I will consider further as I keep swooning.

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  7. Aw Jenny! What a nice tribute to your wonderful husband.

    Kip, just because I think about it doesn't mean I've changed too much. We make the fictional boys this way because we can. I do have to make strong fictional girls tho who can balance them out.

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  8. I actually prefer the rough edges of realism in my books--both as a reader and a writer. I like boy characters who are not perfect. But I really wonder if most readers do? The girl on Twitter may be an exception. Would any of us really trade our own homes--leaky toilet, peeling paint, and all--for Narnia or Oz?

    We know that real-life detectives spend more time on paperwork, computer searches, sitting in cars, and digging through trash than they do chasing bad guys through abandoned warehouses with guns drawn. But the reality is not as interesting to watch, and so the fictional detectives continue to have pulse-pounding adventures every minute. There will probably always be this division between reality and fiction, because fiction has an element of wish-fulfillment in it.

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  9. Ah. Teen girls will eventually learn how to find their boyfriend or husband's inner YA boy. Sometimes, it can be difficult. Here's a quick translation guide that I sometimes refer to for my fella.

    My guy doing whatever it takes to make me laugh when I'm upset = Edward sucking the poison out of Bella's vampire bite.

    My guy bringing me home one of those yummy single slices of cheesecake because he knows I love them = Edward buying Bella an unavailable car and giving her a massive diamond.

    My guy telling the children that they're going to respect their mom or they're going to be VERY sorry = Edward willing to go up against the Volturi if it means keeping Bella safe.

    See - once you have the translation guide, it's easy to see how much our guys really are like the fairytale YA boys. ;-)

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  10. I think you raised a really good point about who "real" boys are. Warning labels might be appropriate And guys need to realize that real life girls are not princesses either!!

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  11. I think about this alot, too. My paranormal romance character Ethan is guilty of being this type of character - although he is regularly clueless about so many things, that he's an imperfect version. But it fits the genre in which I've placed him. The guy characters in my more realistic fiction that I'm working on - they're much more, well, realistic. They do stupid stuff and make act like jerks even though there's a really good man hiding deep inside. In essence, they're the guys I dated - before they grew up and became awesome men... which took a few years. So that's how I divide it up - fantasy guys get a little more leeway to be 'dreamier.'

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  12. Great points (and I love Sammie's conversions!). I'm working on a contemporary YA from a boy POV which has been really eye opening for me. He's going to need a lot of warning labels, but false perfection isn't one of them.

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  13. Great post! I like the points about it being wish-fulfillment. One of the things that few writers address in YA (for obvious reasons) is how much of the "porno culture" is a part of teen boys' lives today. I wonder if anybody dare take that topic on for contemporary YA...

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  14. Good points. But I'd have to disagree. I started dating my husband (of 22 years) when I was a sophomore in high school and he was a junior. The reason I knew I wanted to marry my husband by the time I graduated was precisely because he was one of those kind of boys. Smart, sensitive, good sense of humor and totally into me. They are out there. (Few and far between and he was very mature for his age, which was another plus). But to say that there are no men out there in high school like that isn't exactly true.

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  15. This is definitely a tough subject. Although these unrealistic boys definitely influence the reader, whether they like it or not, is it really the author's duty, or even the duty of fiction as a whole, to portray real life? Is it the responsibility of the author to guide their readers in their real lives by portraying situations in their fiction that allow them to see truths in their everyday lives?
    Definitely something to think about.
    - Alyssa of Redhead Heroines

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