Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Question of 'Real' YA Characters

Something I have been interested in as I have been noseying around readers' blogs, is the question of characterisation.
It has been of note to me that characterisation is very often what makes or breaks a book. It is interesting that to many readers the 'reality' / plausibility of a character is important; that to be able to suspend disbelief and journey 'into' the book that they need to be able to attach themselves to a character and travel the book together. This is very much the case with what I expect in a novel too - if you can't connect then the whole question of the novel's success comes under question.

However, what is equally fascinating is that there seems to be some universal expectations of characters - which in a strange kind of paradox, seem to actually remove the character from what is actually real.

In truth - in reality - even good people have annoying traits and weaknesses, moments where they behave in an unexpected way, or a way which we would prefer that they hadn't and yet with the protagonists of our books aren't we a little bit high in our expectation as to their superior moral and emotional conduct?

This whole question is of particular interest to me as I read a lot of, and write YA fiction, in which my protagonists are obviously Young Adults -who by their very stage in life have not yet developed a fully secure sense of self - that being the whole wonderful & exciting point of beeing a Young Adult. Young Adults often do not behave in a way in which the Adult (often more cynical / trained) world would like or prefer them to.

What is wonderful about being a Young Adult (and of much irritation to the adults around them sometimes) is that most teenagers have a wonderful freedom to express themeselves without a real fear or understanding of the consequences - there is a freedom from the expectations and conditioning that adults are subject to. As a result of this, sometimes Young Adults behave just as we would secretly like to but feel is off limits.
This kind of emotional freedom doesn't make them any less believable or real in YA fiction - if anything it is perhaps a truer reflection of the YA experience. (And in truth - I'm a little bit jealous of this!)


  1. Hi Katie! You are so right that characterization is critical to the success of the book. If we care about the characters, we care about what happens to them. The hardest part, it seems, is making them real and likeable. They have to have flaws - it's the human condition - right? ;-) but we have to want to cheer for them too! Eugenides of Megan Whalen Turner's THE THIEF is one of my very favorite characters. That boy has flaws, but we love him anyway.

  2. Thanks Kiki, I agree. Sometimes it is the flaws that make a character most human and in a strange way endearing.