We all love kick-butt main characters - but can a character be too kick-butt? So strong and confident she or he becomes hard to relate to and empathize with?
Also, do you like characters who aren't kick-butt in a physical sense, but become really strong emotionally or mentally or intellectually? Or do you find these characters somewhat too normal or boring?
Ana: There can NEVER be too much kick-butt! EVER. How can anyone not respect someone with awesome physical (or emotional) prowess? Obviously, you shouldn't model every protag after Katniss, but personally, I fall most in love with a character who learns to love through the course of the book and isn't besties with her sidekicks or the guy from the beginning.
Chihuahua Zero: I'm yet to encounter the first problem. But the second, I would like to see more often. I want to see a high fantasy story where the heroine tackles the main conflict without fighting. Or, if she does, some improvisation comes with it.
Lennon: Yes!! I hate it when the characters are so "kick-butt" that they lose their authenticity. People have flaws, creatures with humanistic qualities has flaws. If they are so kick-butt that they are unable to have any sort of flaws, I am immediately turned off of the character and, in some cases, the book itself.
Brianna: Definitely! If the character gets too confident or beats too many battles, they become almost inhuman to us. It's like a twisted Mary Sue, and it often ruins the book. Even kick-butt characters have to make mistakes and have doubts sometimes. On the emotionally/mentally/intellectually side of things, it depends. The author has to pull it off well, or I can't finish the book.
Gracie: YES!!!! PLEASE give me emotionally and intellectually strong characters, I LOVE THEM. I absolutely hate when people think only characters who can fight well or whatever are "strong" characters when that's completely not true. Tough doesn't have to mean they know how to sword fight. But you also have to have some element of weakness in those aspects (emotional and intellectual) of a character as well, otherwise they are hard to relate to. And by weakness I mean insecurities more than anything.
Maddie: I think that characters who are too 'kick-butt' and over-confident can begin to sound like Gary-Stues. You know, too perfect, too plastic, with no depth. Kind of like Dylan from the Maximum Ride series! (I hate him)
As for being really strong mentally, the character Claire Danvers, from the Morganville Vampire series comes to mind. She's incredibly smart, and her intelligence comes in handy when trying to figure out ways around the over-controlling vampires in her town. I think I relate to mentally/emotionally stong characters more than I do with physically strong characters.
Lissa: I dislike characters who are all about their strength - if they have no intelligence beyond brute force, they're not interesting to me, although I do like action and kick-assery. I think the borderline to consider when creating physically strong characters is to imagine just how practically strong a teenager, in a human's body, can be. Also, I LOVE intelligent and emotionally strong characters because I can connect better with them and see stronger values in brainpower and compassion than in how many times someone can whip another person around a room, despite how really fun that is to read sometimes.
Lexie: I would say yes. If a character is so flawless that they seem to never falter, so strong that they're practically untouchable, I find it hard to really identify with them. An essential part of humanity is failure. I most definitely like characters that are strong mentally or emotionally. When I think of a strong character, I don't just think of their physical prowess. There's a deeply mental side to it, and I think mental strength is often harder to attain, in a way. Also, I find that it can be easier to relate to--we can't expect everyone to be physical badasses, but many of us look for and admire that kind of internal strength.
Erica: Strong and confident is completely fine - It's more when those qualities go to a characters head that makes it hard to relate to and emphathize with. And characters don't have to be kickbutt in the physical sense in my opinion, I mean, hello, look at Hermione Granger - she's as smart as can be and completely kick butt!
School's rising on the horizon! What are you most excited for?
Ana: Excited? Excited? Me? Okay, fine. There is one thing. I'm going to be a senior! Which is both a relief and a distress. On one hand, I just have one more year, which is fantastic! On the other, applications, essays, scores, admissions, and financial aid is going to be all we think about for a couple of months. The whole process is crazy scary!
Chihuahua Zero: New classes and clubs in general. Basically, it's a new year. Time to seize it.
Lennon: Summer 2013!! In all honesty, though, seeing my friends and getting back into some sort of routine as weird as that sounds.
Brianna: I'm homeschooled, so things are a little different. I'm not looking forward to much - I mean, it's school. If anything, it's shopping for my little sister's school stuff. Getting everything ready used to be my favorite part, but since she's the only one still at public school, now I'm shopping for her. Maybe she'll let me convince her to get the cool stuff this time around. ;)
Maddie: Seeing my friends of course! And one of the english teachers who likes to read/edit my books for free!
Lissa: Oh no. School. Everyone keeps bringing it up and I'm trying not to think about!!!! But, uh, if I HAD to think about it, I guess I'd say I'm most excited about, well, the learning part. I actually prefer listening to my teacher's rant, and doing work, than the socializing aspect of school. (That might just be because I love to learn new concepts, or it might be that I can be pretty shy. Probably the former, though!)
Lexie: The typical: reuniting with friends, new classes. The excitement fades pretty quickly, I'm afraid.
Erica: I am most excited to start at my new college. I transferred at the end of last year, so I'm excited to see what my new school is like :)
Do you prefer books focused on school and friends, or home and family?
Ana: Although I'd like to say family, I can only think of contemporaries with that subject, which isn't exactly my favorite genre. School and friends on the other hand - you have so many options! They can be good or evil, foes or crushes (or both), and they're usually great life lesson-learners. With that said, I see very few YA novels these days that have a member of the family as a central character, so a family-focused novel would definitely be unique.
Chihuahua Zero: I prefer school and friends kind of story. Although they come with a set of cliche, I like the variety of plots that come out of them more interesting. Family drama is just not that appealing, especially sibling rivalries. Unless it's an extended family. Like in Grasping in Eternity.
Lennon: I can read both but I prefer school/friend-centric books, simply because, for the most part, they are easier to related to.
Gracie: All four! But honestly books centred around school kind of bug me because they always seem to fall back into the stereotypes like Hot Jock, Mean Girl Threesome and Best Friend Threesome or whatever. I love books with strong friendships and present, fleshed-out families and in my opinion there are definitely not enough of them.
Maddie: All of the above. I think a good book should incorporate all three, or the variations of them depending on the story's location and time setting. (School could be work, home could be...well, you get the point.)
Lissa: Hm. That's a tough question because one of my favourite aspects of books are how characters interact with each other, be the conversation between friends or between family. It doesn't really matter to me what type of relationship that the story is focused around, only that both friendships and family relationships, school and homes lives are at least given thought a borderline developed.
Lexie: Frankly, I don't think I have a preference. I think both have a lot of potential, if done right.
Erica: Both are good - I don't really have a preference. I just love a good book with a plot I'm interested in.
What's your opinion on books with a nonlinear timeframe (e.g., going back and forth between contemporary events and events of the past) or alternating POVs?
Chihuahua Zero: I only read a few past-and-present stories, but I like alternative POV when it's done well. One trend that is hit-and-miss though, is the heroine-and-hero POVs. Sometimes (like in Crossed), it comes off as an excuse to have a male perspective tacked on without losing the spotlight from the female protagonist. Thinking about it, the MG The Lost Hero does it well.
Lennon: I prefer something that has third person than alternating POVs, however one of my favorite books, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, has alternating POV. So if it is written well I don't mind it all that much.
Brianna: Both I find really interesting and typically great reads. Ever read Legend by Marie Lu? Or Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver? The first is a great example of alternating point of views, and the second is a brilliant example of back and forth events. Doing that sort of thing requires a lot of skill, 'cause you're walking a very fine line as you're writing. One wrong move and you've ruined the whole thing. That makes me appreciate and enjoy the book even more.
Gracie: It depends on how well it's done. Some books do non-linear time frames really, really terribly and some do them really, really well. I think Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road did an excellent job with two storylines, with one in the past and one in the present. It also has to be necessary somehow to the evolution of the story, otherwise it's pointless and boring.
Maddie: Well, since I have written books that use both, I'm obviously pretty biased :). I really like seeing a story from more than one perspective, and writing it that way is a ton of fun too since you could have two completely different personalities narrating the same event, but the stories would both be unique in their own way. And I love novels that do flashbacks!
Lissa: Just to put this out there: I'm not a fan of alternative POV at all. Both voices usually end up sounding the same, plus I just feel like it's cheating. If you're going to look into the heads of two (or more) characters, then you might as well just do alternative 3rd person POV, which is different than what I find most authors doing, which is 1st person POV and switching "voices" at every chapter. The only book in which I've seen alternative voices done credibly in is "My Beating Teenage Heart" by C.K. Kelly Martin, one of my ultimate favourite books. As for non-linear timeframe, it depends on how it's written. I tend to like this type of narrative, but sometimes the non-present timeline drags for me because I'm interested in how the character is faring NOW instead of how their personality came to be. The best book that has this type of technique in it is "On the Jellicoe Road" by Melina Marchetta (my ultimate favourite ever, in case you're wondering ;)). I think that the only way that nonlinear timelines work is if there are two very important stories to tell and both of them have equal weight of importance, evoke the same amount of interest in the reader.
Lexie: I think it's all in how you handle it. It can be pulled off brilliantly, or it can be a total flop.
Erica: Nonlinear timeframes are fine as long as they are done well. I have read some awesome ones, as well as some that are way confusing. I think the same thin goes for alternating POVs. I LOVE a good read that alternates POVs but some just get too choppy and confusing.
Those are some awesome answers for some equally awesome questions! If you asked a question and didn't see it in today's post -- NEVER FEAR! You might just see it again in a future post.... Thanks again to all our teen spies and analysts for their honest and super helpful insight. And if you've thought of another question or missed the post to ask it -- don't worry! We'll be back next month with another Ask-a-Teen feature.