Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why We Don't Need Any More Loner Characters... Especially in YA

 Ah, the loner. The lone ranger, the self-appointed outcast, the dark and brooding mysterious scavenger-warrior who wanders and waits for their time to come and more oft than not, refuses assistance except perhaps from one trusted friend. Such figures fill literature and film, and we recognize them immediately. Aragorn, Gandalf, Han Solo, Yoda, Halt, Batman, James Bond, Rey, Captain Jack Sparrow, the list could go on. Antagonists frequently fit into this category as well. Protagonist or antagonist, the point is, this character archetype frequents writing. While I used to find such a character appealing to read and to write, I'm now a little more cautious to use them in my work and in recommending using them to other writers. Why? In this social day and age, I would say the loner who chooses to be a loner is no longer a romantic ideal that readers, especially teen readers, find appealing.

I was watching The Maze Runner film last night for the first time and was trying to figure out what made the main character, Thomas, so different from other YA blockbuster stars. He is a type of outcast in the Maze, as he turns out to be the Special Snowflake and the other resent him for it, but it wasn't the same. Eventually, I laid my finger on it. In the past, I have said I preferred Maze Runner to Hunger Games because in Hunger Games, it's starving teen against starving teen, but in Maze Runner, it's Pack of Survivors against the Outside World. There's a brotherhood, a lack of individualism and a focus on friendship that Maze Runner has that its competitors lack. Instead of Me, it's Us. And Thomas, with a lot of help from Newt and his other friends, pushes for this group dynamic. He tries to bring the Gladers together, as opposed to fighting on his rebellious lonesome. Now some might argue that other Loner characters such as Katniss do bring people together, but what's lacking is a social friendship dynamic.

I think we need more characters like Thomas, who strive for interactive relationships with those around them, than loners in fiction, especially YA. We live in a social world where we interact constantly. Characters who find that unattractive and would rather live in an empty world without friends (except one or two friends they choose, which basically makes them social jerks [#sorrynotsorry]) are not as relatable. I know this for a fact because in my own work, The Red and the Scarlet, all of my betas found my main character Fyr, who starts out as one of these Loners, unrelatable and annoying, even, and gravitated toward my more social supporting characters. But as the story progresses and Fyr starts to reach out to those around her in an attempt to befriend people out of empathy as opposed to self-interest, my betas started rooting hard for her. For teens especially, the character reaching for friendship (whether successfully or unsuccessfully) as opposed to choosing to shut themselves out is more relatable.


6 comments:

  1. First to comment! Yay!!
    I really liked this one, Rachel! Good job!

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  2. First to comment! Yay!!
    I really liked this one, Rachel! Good job!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I totally agree. I hate loner characters and tend towards to drop YA novels with a main character like that.

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  4. It's not that easy to write believable group dynamics, which is probably why loners (and orphans) are so prevalent in fiction. (Well, okay, that common advice to cut everything that doesn't advance the plot no doubt also contributes.)

    And "a social friendship dynamic" is actually not incompatible with a "loner" character. Even Han Solo is a case in point for that.

    Something that gets problematic is when stories ignore the pitfalls, dangers, and damage caused by being a loner. Even in The Hunger Games series, Katniss's loner characteristics led to her having to be helped despite herself.

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  5. I see your point as far as YA Fiction goes. The "loner" character is usually written as narcissistic, choosing to be alone for some kind of weird identity thing.

    However, in classic, long lasting stories like LOTR, the loner is choosing that life in order to benefit the greater good in some way. Aragorn chooses to be alone because he is involved in the greater good, fulfilling a necessary destiny. As it is with Gandalf, who, whether he likes it or not, has a destiny that looks different than the hobbit community, which he very much loves and perhaps envies. Self sacrifice for the greater good drives the best of "loners."

    That said, the non-narcissistic loner is desperately needed in literature, lest we forget that all of reality itself rests on one man of constant sorrow's sacrifice.

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  6. I really can't agree with you on this one Rachel. The loner is most always one of my favorite characters. The reason for this being they tend to be some of the most complex and hard to understand characters in fiction. This makes an interesting story line and changes the dynamics with other characters. A loner, in my mind, also has more of a relationship with the reader and the reader with the loner than with any other character.

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