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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Woman Who Learned Better -- And, Why She's Dangerous

This post contains mild ranting

My parents went out of town this weekend, leaving me alone. Since I was kind of bored and had nothing better to do (haha, okay, not true- I’ve always got better things to do, I was just being lazy) I got on Netflix and started browsing. I came across a TV show (which shall remain nameless as I’m about to bash it and hate doing that when the thing is named) and began watching the first episode.

Basic gist of the show is that rich, spoiled city girl moves to a small town. You can guess what happens- she has to change and become less of a rich, spoiled city girl as she tries to fit in and make this town her home. It’s actually kind of a common plot, one you see used over and over again in literature. Real writers (and readers) call it the Man Who Learned Better plot.

Except, as I sat watching this show, my writer brain started working and I realized something:

We don’t have many Man Who Learned Better plots anymore.

We have Woman Who Learned Better.

I’ve recently started really getting into YA fiction and while I really love it as a whole, there is one major flaw that is in serious need of mending- we tend to create girls with problems who need perfect men to save them. Or, we have girls with problems who don’t like the imperfect men who save them but then have to come to the conclusion that they can’t expect their man to be perfect.

Either way, you don’t often see a new book or movie with men who need to change. It’s always the girls.

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie about a rich, spoiled guy who moves from the big city and falls in love with a small town girl- once he realizes that drastic change is needed in his life before he can be a complete person? Like, you know, that he needs to stop being a jerk so that he can be a functioning human being that people actually like?

I didn’t think so.

Generally, it’s the girl who moves from the big city. It’s the girl who has to stop being spoiled and selfish and rude. It’s the girl who falls for the small town resident, who’s perfect in every way. Or, not perfect, but part of her changing is realizing that imperfections are a part of who people are, and even if he does act like a jerk sometimes, she needs to accept that as who he is. Forget that she just went through major character change because she can’t act like a jerk.

It’s very rare in modern YA to see an Ebenezer Scrooge type story, where a guy is so extremely wrong and horrible and needs to undergo intense character changes. And, that’s really, really sad.

I think, part of the problem with modern YA is that a lot of it caters to females. Or, at least, it seems YA books are about females. True, guys can read YA fiction, but it isn’t generally about guys. Out of the five books or series that come to mind when I think of popular teen fiction- Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, Twilight- only one of those series has a boy for the main character- and there’s debate over whether Harry Potter belongs in the YA or the children’s section!

So, we have an entire section in our literary field that- for the most part- caters to insecure teenaged girls- because, I have yet to meet a teenaged girl who isn’t insecure about something- while, at the same time, indoctrinating them with this idea that in a relationship, it is she who needs to change and never the guy. She is being taught- subliminally, so that she doesn’t realize it- that her man either needs to be perfect or she needs to adapt to accept his imperfections. Because, heaven forbid someone write a book where both guy and the girl need to change and adapt because that would be much too much like real life! (actually, Mary Connealy has written books like this and that’s why I love her, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Think about it- even these wonderful new books that people are claiming to be so awesome because they have strong, independent heroines, still feature this perfect guys or guys the girl needs to accept. Love triangles work so well because of this. Girl is in love with Hunk and can’t stand Annoying Guy. Annoying Guy becomes her partner on the journey- whether that journey is an actual journey or just a class project. Girl realizes that Annoying Guy isn’t so annoying. Girl and Not-So-Annoying Guy hook up. Everyone lives happily ever after- even Hunk, even though Girl dumped him for Annoying Guy.

And, that, my dear readers, is a basic breakdown of the romantic subplot of nearly each and every YA novel on the shelves today. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of writing this way too. I think it’s part of how we’re wired these days. And, I seriously hope I can unwire myself and begin writing books where the guy- along with the girl- both have to change. Because, I think that’s a much better message than the one we’re presenting girls with right now.

And, please note that I said this is most YA fiction stories. I recognize that not each and every story out there follow this pattern. Just most of them. For example (even though neither of these are strictly YA) Tangled features a guy and a girl who have to change as do most of Mary Connealy’s books (I say most because I haven’t read them all, but the ones I have read revolve around this theme).

Yeah, sorry, that was a bit of a rant. But, what can I say? I did warn you…

How about you? Would you agree with this assessment? Can you think of any modern stories that feature a couple that has to grow together rather than one person changing?

Also, don't forget: 5.12.14 -- my book releases next week!! *WOOTWOOT* I'll post on Monday about how to order copies and such!!


  1. This is a very indepth and insightful post. Very true. I can't think of any recent examples - only older ones! (Which supports your point...)
    I can't wait to read Rodney (Kit Parker #1)!!! Keep writing.

  2. Ooh... that's a very good question (story in which both the boy and the girl learn something). The only one that I can think of is the Chronicles of Narnia... and Adventures in Odyssey (the radio show).
    Then there's the movie Beastly but I think that one is only about how a boy learns better. I haven't seen the movie yet though.