Tuesday, July 20, 2010

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 my PG-13 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.

On this date: In 1963, Jan and Dean hit #1 with the song Surf City. Oh, and the first man walked on the moon in 1969.


girl jordyn said...

There's a difference between fiction and reality. That's obvious, and the YA books I read are probably more true-to-life as far as guys go than much of YA (for instance, I don't read any paranormal), but it's worth noting that NOBODY in fiction is real. Not the guys, not the best friends, not the parents.

Characters are not people. As a writer (and often as a reader also) I think of them as people. My characters often feel like my best friends, more real than many of the 3D people who populate my life. But writing is not life, just a reflection of it. So our characters are (or should be) a reflection of real people. Sure, YA boys (and boys in movies and boys in television...) often seem so much BETTER than real-life boys, but real-life boys have one huge advantage: THEY'RE REAL.

As real people they come with much more flaws than a character from fiction, but they also come with a more complicated story, personality, family, and everything else. If you're a fictional girl, go for the fictional boys, sure. But as far as real girls (with, come on, let's face it, our own myriad of flaws and complications), actual boys are much better.

(but hey, i'm single, so what do i know?)

Angelina C. Hansen said...

Okay, I admit, I read Mom's romance novels as a teen (YA hadn't burst on the scene yet). And I had a fairytale romance with a fabulous guy at 15. But two years later it fell to pieces and honestly, "the deed" was NOT as fabulous as the books had made it out to be.

I've thought a lot about what you've said here. About the guilt. I've written novels both ways. Happily ever after and angst and suffering when the fairytale goes south.

I wish when I was a teen someone would have taught me that great relationships take hard work, no matter how "swoony" the guy.

Or the disclaimer works:-)

cynjay said...

I agree with you both - fiction is fiction. But I also agree that relationships take work (I've been with my husband for 16 years) and I think that not just books, but movies and TV help perpetuate the myth of the 'perfect' guy (or girl). A lot of people think that if it takes work then it's not 'meant to be'.

girl jordyn said...

So maybe the issue we're talking about isn't making guys more realistic in YA, but making RELATIONSHIPS more realistic?

Just a thought.

cynjay said...

I really think it's both. Hannah Moskowitz had a great post that is close to this topic today: http://hannahmosk.blogspot.com/

Alexa said...

Really interesting post and I'm unsure of the answer. I know the boys I write are definitely more talkative and honest about their feelings then I remember teen age boys being. But I also remember having some very heartfelt conversations with my husband (we met when we were 17) back then. Also some lovely romantic gestures too. Of course there was no Edward Cullen then so maybe I'd think he was less romantic today ;)

I think the dangerous thing is the instant connection where the couple don't need to talk they just know because talking honestly to each other is what makes a relationship work.

But they are very fun to read. I guess you just have to learn the difference between reality and fiction.

cynjay said...

You're right Alexa - they are fun to read.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I wouldn't feel bad about a teen saying she prefers the boys in books to the boys in real life. When I was a teen, I also preferred the boys in books to the boys in real life. Was I being delusional? No, I just wasn't ready for dating, and I satisfied a lot of my adolescent curiosity about the opposite sex by reading about fictional boys. I *don't* think a teen girl (or any girl!) should "settle" or date someone just because they are "real." If they want to wait for a few years or not date until they have found a boy who is in touch with his feelings and is a supportive and committed boyfriend, I honestly won't lose any sleep over that.

That's a much better outcome than the other charge leveled at bookish girls -- that they fall for these "bad boys" in fiction who are abusive and violent and justified by being in "love" with the heroine, and therefore get confused that that is what love is -- and then date real abusive and violent men. That one I worry about sometimes. But I don't write those guys.

cynjay said...

That's true Diana - the 'bad boy' issue is another post altogether.

I hope that kids don't settle for someone just because he's real (overrated IMHO). As long as they give real boys a chance who may not be as perfect as the ones we create.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Oh, this is a hot button topic. I actually stopped reading romance when I was a teenager because it made it too hard to date real guys. They never measured up. They were never as romantic, or sweet or funny. Yes, readers need to remember that it's fiction, but it would be nice to see more romantic leads with real flaws.

cynjay said...

Hey Sherrie! It was so great to hang out with you this weekend.

I guess it's up to us to write them then.

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