Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Rise of the Dude in Distress

Once upon a time, women cried foul upon the damsel-in-distress image, and upon film and fictional depictions of languishing blondes waiting to be carried off into the sunset, trophies of accomplishment for the rugged hero. And understandably. I have yet to meet any fellow women who actually fit this description.

Instead, we've swung the pendulum the other way. Now we have kick-butt, spandex-and-black-leather-wearing, unnaturally muscular women, who are no better developed characters than the weakling princesses of the last century. They're just a different kind of eye candy with the label "empowered." But now, while they can defend themselves, they can't choose for themselves. They can't choose which side to take, which hot guy to like, or who to trust. And usually they morph back into the weakling princess for about five minutes of screen time or five pages of book, so that Love-Triangle-Option-One Guy can save her after all. Example? Tauriel and Kili. So much for making a statement.

But what has been arising, especially in the fiction world, and especially in YA (as a YA writer, it disappoints me), when you have these tough-as-nails, weapon-toting heroines, is that the male love interest inevitably becomes the "book boyfriend." I have to be careful, because I have my own fun shipping fictional couples (sometimes. Whenever I do, the characters are fully developed, not like the examples I'm giving), but here's my basic definition of a book boyfriend:

An underdeveloped, hot guy with shockingly green or blue eyes (or somewhere mysteriously in between), who promises to always be there for the girl. And they are. They practically worship, idolize, and deify their girls. To quote an article by the great N.D. Wilson, "Yes, Katniss. No, Katniss. Anything for you, Katniss." They usually have one strong fault the heroine points out snarkily, and one cutesy feature that tries to make them endearing.

Basically, you have the guy equivalent of the weakling princess. A male Bella Swan. The early Disney princes. Ken dolls.

Recently, a very popular young adult fantasy series disappointed me with this. I was excited to read it, because the description was right up my alley, until I read the first five pages. And in those first five pages, the heroine, who had never liked a guy before, was introduced to two hot book boyfriends, one with blue eyes, one with green, and she swooned inwardly at both of them. I rarely ever quit reading a book, but I never checked that novel out of the library, disappointed both with the author's portrayal of the girl, but especially the guys. P.S. This heroine is portrayed on the front of her book loaded up with weapons, supposedly a super tough, super determined girl.

Authors, I object to this. I object to weakling princesses, too. But at the same time, I object to the opposite extreme for both genders.

Why? Because you are sacrificing development. Regardless of your motives, you are sacrificing character development. Don't write sappy book boyfriends (dudes in distress) or overly macho hunks. Write men. Don't write waifish helpless princesses or angry leather-wearing brats. Write women. Create characters who are people outside of the ship you're sending them off on. Write people. Not ideals for either gender, and not people so messed up you wouldn't want to meet them in real life. Write people. Because that is reality.


  1. I so agree. I think the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and most of the male characters in YA are what girls want them to be, rather than how boys are in real life. Although I liked the first Hunger Games, I didn't like the rest of the series for this reason. It not only makes boys look weak, but it makes the female characters one-dimensional as well.

  2. I laughed really hard the first time read this article. I found myself having a "Book Boyfriend" on my hands, Percy Jackson!(Except in his case he is well developed, unlike the guys I try to write!) I agree with you and would love to see more well developed guys in books.

    P.S. What was the book series you tried to read and didn't like?