I was browsing through some archives over at the YA Highway and found this clever post on five protagonists you meet in YA. Okay, so it was posted like a year and a half ago–it still made me smile.
It also got me thinking: what about BFFs? If we can identify distinct protagonist types, what about their trust side-kicks?
Here are my candidates:
The brainiac: this character is easily recognized by his or her uncanny ability to know everything. This comes in handy when the main character faces a character beyond his ability or knowledge; braniacs are also a helpful foil so that the main character doesn’t appear quite as nerdy by contrast.
In five years: happily enrolled at an Ivy-League school
The radical: You’ve seen her* in the Princess Diaries and other books. This is the girl (or guy) with extreme opinions and a passion for justice. She may be a feminist, an animal rights activist, an anarchist. In any case, he or she is interested in fighting the system, and may be the motivation main characters needs to tackle their own challenges. As with the braniac, this characters extremism makes the main character appear moderate (i.e., normal).
In five years: leading protest marches in Washington, DC.
The clown: This character doesn’t take anything seriously. This is convenient when you need moments of lightness after intense plot points; however, this character often comes with hidden depths, to be revealed in moments of crisis.
In five years: Delivering pizzas and taking night classes at the community college.
The ditz: This clueless but well-intentioned character frequents children’s literature. Like the clown, the ditz provides moments of comic relief, but unlike the clown, these moments are usually unintentional. This character’s efforts to “help” the main character often make things worse. If this character is female (and she usually is) she’s often the boy-crazy one as well.
In five years: Finishing up cosmetology school and engaged (for the first time).
The potential love interest: This character may have aspects of any of the above. The one constant, however, is their loyalty to the main character, and the main character’s inability to see them as anything more than “a friend.” (Perspicacious readers, of course, usually recognize this character from the beginning.)
In five years: Supporting the main character in his/her pursuit of a dream (ala Lloyd Dobbler).
Bonus: The backstabber. The backstabber isn’t really a “friend” in any conventional sense of the word, but many main characters find themselves with a fair-weather friend who betrays them or drops them at the first sign of a more popular friendship.
In five years: I think we’d all like to see this character alone and broke, but in reality, in five years, the backstabber is probably busy cheating his or her way through college and part of the most popular sorority or fraternity.
Which of these characters show up in your WIP? Types aren’t automatically stereotypes, so how do we, as writers, create believable characters out of these types?
*If you’re noticing that lots of these characters are girls, I don’t think that’s purely coincidental. Male MCs are much more likely to be loners than girls.
4 thoughts on “FIve Best Friends in YA/MG”
I like that there are characters who are composites of these – Ron Weasley is the last three at times, brainiacs and radicals show up as a composite often – Hermione fits I think. That is when the character gets really good I think.
Fun idea. I wonder if they translate over to other genres as well?
This was a great post and something I've thought about a lot. Thanks for spelling it out so nicely and cleverly! The trick is finding original ways to combine traits and archetypes into deep, three dimensional characters.
I can see all the characters from Buffy, The Vampire Slayer here!
Oh, this is great! I missed this post at YA Highway. Thanks!
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