Kill This Character: Paperdoll Male Love Interest

| Friday, May 6, 2011
Today's Tune: Renegades of Funk

One of the more important ideas to remember in characterization is to avoid cardboard, stereotypical characters. The same old character we’ve seen a hundred times could become someone new and interesting with some artful tweaking. Here I’ll talk about a character that doesn’t work for me, why I wasn’t taken by them, and what would make them more appealing to me. By way of a disclaimer, let me add here that this is only my opinion, of course, and is colored by my own preference. But you should still listen to me because I'm VERY SMART. Onward!

Kill the Paperdoll Male Love Interest!

Who this character is: He's the love interest whose sole purpose is to make goo-goo eyes at the heroine. He's STUNNINGLY good-looking. He's like, the babeliest babe who ever babe'd. He has all kinds of stereotypical "ideal man" traits, like carrying her away from danger and buying her things and writing her poetry and staring deeply into her eyes and telling her he'll never let anything hurt her because SHE IS HIS ROSE AND HE IS HER THORNS or whatever. He doesn't even LOOK at girls until the protagonist comes onto the scene. As soon as he lays eyes on her, she's the center of his world. Nothing is as important to him as being with her and making sure she's safe.

Basically, he's like a life-sized cutout of various male actors and models cobbled together and pasted to a wall so the author/reader can project all kinds of hyperbolic "dream man" traits onto him. They can dance around him and swoon and make kissy faces. He has no functionality or personality beyond being the "perfect" mate to the female protagonist.

Why this character doesn't work for me: I should hope it's obvious, but I'll elaborate anyway. This character is practically a literal cardboard cutout. He might as well be a sexy, sexy robot. He is flat, predictable, and has had his humanity stripped away from him in order to fuel the vehicle of wish fulfillment. I know, I know, sometimes wish fulfillment is what people want. But that doesn't make him a strong character.

In YA, this character can take many forms: dangerous bad boys who are sexy and wild, sweet boys next door, roguishly handsome exchange students, beautiful and wounded artists... whatever. No matter what form they take, they have one thing in common: they don't act like teenage boys. They act like a fantasy, which is what they are. They exist to be sexy and romantic and tell the reader the protagonist how pretty she is.

How to make this character work: Let the guy be a guy, man. And I don't mean that in a stereotypical gender roles kind of way. Don't take this as me saying he has to fart and look at swimsuit calendars and play punching games. But let him be a person with his own interests that aren't intended to make him more romantically appealing. Just like we like to see our heroines be independent and strong, we need that from the guys, too. He should have a life beyond the heroine. Although that life shouldn't involve him getting to do everything while she sits around and pines, but that's another post. Also, sometimes it's okay for him to look like a regular guy instead of having a face/body cut from the marble of the gods or whatever.

Let him make mistakes. And by mistakes, I do not mean, "I'M SO SORRY I LEFT AND/OR BROKE UP WITH YOU, I'LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN." I mean let him forget her birthday. Let him be imperfect and human and multi-dimensional. Let things happen in the story that don't involve their relationship. Your characters should ALL have more than one motivation. Make sure you figure out what that motivation is.

There's also the option of writing a non-heteronormative story, JUST SAYING.


{ Margo Lerwill } at: May 6, 2011 at 1:55 PM said...

Thank you so much for saving me from having to write this. It applies well to many adult romantic leads. I do love the romantic stuff, but no so much it's obviously waaay beyond what any normal man would be saying and doing in real life and not when that level of intimacy hasn't been earned through relationship and plot development. It's actually better, I think, if there's so much internal conflict standing between the two that I have to wonder if they are ever going to get together or if they'd stay together two days if they tried.

{ February Grace } at: May 7, 2011 at 2:10 PM said...

"He's like, the babeliest babe who ever babe'd."


Love it.

{ Stina Lindenblatt } at: May 9, 2011 at 9:02 PM said...

You mean those cute YA guys aren't real? Darn it!

{ kurthartwig } at: May 13, 2011 at 2:00 PM said...

Also: he continues to moon around the protag, even though she's constantly pushing him away, inspiring the certainty that IT WILL WORK OUT. He never gets sick of being pushed away and actually... goes away.

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