So we’ve been back from Winter break for a couple of weeks now, and it’s given me time to think about the reading I did on vacation. I read a number of manuscripts, some from clients and some requested projects from folks we’ve been considering, trying , Sisyphus-like, to make a dent in the “to-read” queue.
Much of what I read fell, one way or another, into Dark Young Adult for Girls. Some had elements of science fiction, some were historical, some were straight-ahead contemporary. But I found myself noticing a trend which, as it came up again and again, I felt warranted public comment.
The trend was the situation where the lead girl, who’s been traumatized by a particular illness, life circumstance, or by just being a teenager, is paired with the Sidekick Who Can Help, and then spends half the book misunderstanding the SWCH’s motivations (almost willfully), thus slowing down Progress until it’s almost too late.
OK fine, so this is the setup for buddy movies, rom-coms, and stories forever. But I’m seeing two things going on now. The first is that it seems to be taking longer—too long—for the Protagonist to get on board. It’s becoming a primary plot point (possibly designed to try to show the protag’s depth and personality). The Second is that it feels like a crutch, like the authors have manufactured conflict because they are not confident enough in the basic plot. And that’s ironic, because in each case over the break (and there were more than five of them), the overarching plot was fine—terrific, often—and the character-conflict served only as a distraction. The plots were complicated enough without unnecessary misunderstandings. I wanted to say to these girls “STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! (S)he can HELP you. (S)he’s proved loyalty to you , like, a hundred times. Get over yourself and get on with solving the murder/saving the world/finding the boyfriend/protecting the treasure!”
I guess my point to writers is this: Unless your story DEPENDS on conflict between a mistrustful protagonist and a secondary character who’s very different from the protagonist, don’t overplay this plot point. It served to make the protagonists less likable—I grew annoyed with their rigidity and unwillingness to forgive or get with the program. Have faith in your plot, and don’t get bogged down in petty bickering. Sure tension between characters (particularly if they are potential love interests) is useful and important. But resolve it and allow for cooperation before the reader wants to smack your protagonist.
I hope that’s helpful. It is not saying that everyone needs to be pliant. Just that it’s a plot point that ought to be resolved in time for the Team to work smoothly and for the people to trust each other.