Characters in YA: Expectations, Reality, and Balance- A Conversation

Hello all and happy Tuesday! Since I’ve been struck with major writing inspiration lately (those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter may have seen a tiny teaser I put out on my story), I thought I’d do some major in-depth thinking about characterization. Since my novel idea is in the YA genre I’ll be talking specifically about YA characters.

I don’t know why, but it seems like readers have become more and more judgmental when it comes to characters and how “realistic” they are, especially females. But the thing is, a lot of what readers seem to be wanting are the Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior, Hermoine Granger type of characters and I’m sorry to say that, though those characters are phenomenal and absolutely inspiring, they are not exactly what I’d call “normal” or “realistic”. I mean, I don’t know about y’all but, I would probably not survive the first two seconds in most YA novels let alone become an extraordinary leader and rebel and warrior at the drop of a hat. Though I’d love to say confidently that I could survive a zombie apocalypse or the hunger games or being attacked by evil wizards, the sad truth is I really don’t think I would survive any of that (and I think that that’s a true statement for most other people as well).

I’m not saying that we should have “weak” characters in our books, I’m just trying to point out how askew some reader’s expectations have become. A character, whom I love dearly, that has been criticized over and over again is Clary Fray from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. Readers have found her “whiny”, “annoying”, and “unrealistic”. I’m sorry but I don’t see what’s unrealistic about a regular teenage girl complaining and freaking out 24/7 because she’s just been forcibly flung into a dangerous, scary, life threatening new world that she knows nothing about. To me, such reactions would be perfectly normal for any regular young person to exhibit. Let’s face it, most of the situations that occur in YA books are so dangerous and spectacular and not a lot of people would survive the ordeal, let alone become natural leaders. That’s why I find characters like Clary, who complain a little and exhibit normal reactions of a human being, to be so realistic and refreshing.

However, it has become the norm for YA characters to be 100% heroic in the point two seconds they’ve been immersed in the new scary/dangerous situation they’ve found themselves in. I find such expectations to be absolutely hilarious. How can we say, as readers, that we want realistic people when the expectations we have are above and beyond any “real” human. I think characters should voice their fear and concerns more often. I’d love to see more characters be hesitant to embrace their new roles or maybe even go so far as to rebel against their new lives. The closer to your own reactions and emotions, the more realistic a character. For example, would you (yes, you), automatically charge into battle with a sword in hand, facing down an infinite number of bad guys ready to kill you dead after just being told that you were “the chosen one” two seconds ago? No, I really don’t think you would, or anyone else for that matter.

I think that a balance has to be struck within characters, a balance between those crazy expectations of the ultimate hero/heroine and the reality of someone who is just like you or me and who probably doesn’t want to die facing down some unbeatable evil. I’d love to see more characters start off as rebels against their newfound “hero” selves and have the reader get to witness the character evolve and learn and grow into the hero/heroine that will ultimately save the day. Good character development is key and you can’t get a good arc if your character starts off as the “I’d die for the sake of good because I’m the chosen one” type because then there’s no place to go, they’ll stay static, and that’s just beyond boring.

That’s my goal for all of my characters that I’m working on right now. I have some who resist their roles more than others, some embrace their paths quicker, some stray from their paths altogether, but all of them are planned to have amazing character arcs that will wind and bend and eventually have them grow into amazing and realistic people that I hope my future readers will love and relate to as much as I do.


Thanks so much for reading this post! I’m curious to know, how do y’all feel about some YA characters you’ve read about? Do you agree with my views? Disagree? To what extent? Let me know all of your thoughts and feelings in the comments bellow, you know I love to hear from y’all!

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14 thoughts on “Characters in YA: Expectations, Reality, and Balance- A Conversation

  1. Firstly I loved that you mentioned Katniss and Hermione! Secondly, I agree. Even though I think that I won’t be able to survive the Hunger Games or Voldemort, I think that the positive point that they had was that they didn’t lose self confidence. Yes, they had their points of weakness and what they did was that they overcame that fear and fought for what was right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post 😀 I totally agree that we need more realistic female characters in books. One of the reasons I like Clary is because it takes her time to adjust to the new world she has been thrown into and I don’t think she deserves any of the hate she gets for it 💜

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  3. Yeah! I mean they are heroines for a reason. If authors made them completely realistic, it would be the most boring story ever. Probably will be done in 10 pages too especially if it’s fantasy because on average I can imagine people just straight up ghosting the magical people because they freaked out hahaha it’s nice to have balance and it’s hard to have that but I also feel like it’s what makes books pleasurable, the tiny drop of unrealism. Great discussion post!

    Liked by 1 person

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