Friday, April 12, 2013

YA Epidemics #5 - Plot-Device Boyfriend

 
YA Epidemics is an original feature in which I rant about discuss a different one of the
numerous trends and cliches plaguing the YA genre. The Epidemics are posted most Saturdays.
Comments and discussions are encouraged!
 

He's cute, but not sexy.  He's a good kisser, but he doesn't make her forget how to breathe properly.  His conversations are just interesting enough to keep her present, but nothing she'll think about for the rest of the night, not like when she talks to him, the one she really wants.  He's good, but not great.  Fun, but forgettable.

He's the plot-device boyfriend.


I know, I know; Another jab at YA love stories?  Getting old, Kelly.  But, hey, I work with the material these books give me, and not much annoys me quite as much as the plot-device boyfriend.

In case you're unsure of just what, exactly, one of these PD boyfriends is, he's the guy the author brings in when she's trying to keep romantic tensions high, but all other plausible obstacles between the End Game Couple have been exhausted.  He fills up a couple of chapters' worth of pages, gets our real romantic interest riled up, and reminds our Leading Lady just why she loves her Prince Charming so much and why no other guy will do.  Then he's politely tossed to the side and completely forgotten about by writer and readers alike.  It's similar to the love triangle, but it's got one major difference; not once do the readers or the protagonist think this might be the guy she chooses.

What bothers me so much about this Epidemic is that it's just So. Freaking. Obvious.  As soon as the MC - we'll call her Jane for brevity's sake - agrees to go on a date with Brandon the coworker or classmate or guy her BFF is so sure will be perfect for her instead of going out with the guy she's obviously in lurve with (we'll call him John), you know you can just skim the next hundred or so pages with him in them because it's always the same.  Jane goes out with Brandon, has a decent time but not-so-secretly wishes he was John, John gets all sexy and jealous, Jane finds out he likes her back, they have a big blow-out scene that ends in a passionate kiss, and voila!  Instant soul-mate couple.  Brandon is given a few short pages to have his heart broken then sent on his merry way, and Jane and John live Happily Ever After.

These plot-device boyfriends are a really easy way to show us both Jane's and John's true feelings.  It's a way to increase the chemistry, up the tension.  Brandon's inclusion in the novel is a way to show John's jealousy, which is, like, the number one way to show us that he for sure, for sure likes her like she likes him.  It gets him all vulnerable and irritable and protective, which in turns sends her feelings for him through the roof.  It leaves us readers on the edge, unsure what's going to happen because Omg, she has a boyfriend!  They can't get together if she has a boyfriend!  Ooh, what's going to happen? (I swear, that's what the desired effect is.  Does it work?  Not if you have two brain-cells to rub together, no.)

After seeing it done so many times in exactly the same way, I'm beginning to look at this as a cheap trick to hook readers.  One some of my favorites have, admittedly.  I mean, it works.  It's not too far-fetched, it's easy to write in, it gives us character growth.  The romantic plotline practically writes itself, which makes it about as predictable as boiling water.  It's a ride we've all been on a hundred times.  We know every twist, every turn, every loop and every jolt.  Can it still be fun?  In the right hands, yes.  But it'll never be original, which means, ultimately, it'll always be forgettable.

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree about the Plot Device Boyfriend's predictablity, or is it possible to have an original story with one in it?  Has this ever seemed like just a way to hook readers to you?  Let me know in the comments!

And don't forget to Follow PaperFantasies through bloglovin to have your YA Epidemic posts available right at the click of a button. Because who needs Google Reader, anyway?

19 comments:

  1. I read one of these lovely books about a week or so ago and it frustrated me beyond all reason. I wanted to pull my hair out and scream because there was not one..but TWO plot-device boyfriends on top of the triangle.

    But now that I think about it...the "other guy" in the triangle could more or less be considered a PDB as well because she never wanted him either it was more of an emotional blackmail type of thing from him.

    Why did I keep reading this garbage you're wondering? Because the male MC was worth the torture.

    *Cough*FromAshesbyMollyMcAdams*cough* :/

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    1. Aww, I hate that! When sooo many things about the book make you want to pull your hair out, but there's that one aspect to it that refuses to let you just stop the series.

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  2. As predictable as boiling water, that's it you said it perfectly. I always feel sorry for Mr OK, we all use him, Jane uses him, the author uses him and we use him for cheap entertainment and then puff, he's gone. Poor old Mr OK.

    I love YA, any glance at my bookshelves will tell you that but authors really need to cut the popular-trends cord and go out on a limb with something original or the whole genre will become one big clich├ęd mess.

    Great piece of writing Kelly.

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    1. And you are spot on too with the difference between love triangles and plot device boyfriends.

      Mr OK is never ever Mr Maybe always just Mr OK-for-now. Here today, gone tomorrow.

      And why do I always have to add a second comment!! Slow brain, always has a second thought!

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    2. I choose to look at it like you're too cool to only leave one comment haha.

      It just bugs me because so many of these trends seem like just a way to sell books. I love YA, too, it's hands down my favorite genre. But there are a lot of books that just reuse hooks and plotlines, and it gets annoying.

      Thanks, Trish!

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  3. Let me just say, YA epidemics is one of my favorite Weekly memes! Now, back to the PD boyfriend, THIS is the reason I never root for the good guy. He is always the same, and the outcome of his relationship with the protagonist is almost always predictable. Now, though, after reading this post, I have a reason to not feel guilty for rooting against him. The one character that comes to mind is Simon from TMI. He is the typical PD boyfriend!

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    1. Aww, that just made my day! Thanks so much, Reem!

      I read City Of Bones sooo long ago that I only vaguely remember Simon. He's the token BFF with the hots for Clary, right?

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  4. For me, I always hate these PD boyfriends just because of the fact you know it won't work out. I tend to dislike the loves in which the girl is over-the-top in love and obsessive, because I just feel like it's unhealthy and usually undeserved (unless love is based entirely off of looks, which really seems to be the main selling point). I want the PD boyfriends to win.

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  5. Grr it ate my comment >< Let's try this again, shall we?

    I agree! The predictability is the part that drives me crazy. Usually I find myself really rooting for these PD boyfriends, and just for once want them to come out on top. I feel like when these girls fall crazily in love it's always too much and unhealthy - and usually the guy doesn't even deserve it! He's a complete dick, and really it's all about the physical attraction more than anything else. But what about the everyday guy who doesn't drive you crazy? I fall in love with them all the time, and I feel like they deserve more love in the stories. It's sad they get used and left behind. :(

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    1. Oh see, I refreshed after that first comment like ten times and it wouldn't show up, so then when I finally retype another comment it's there. I just can't win! Sorry about that, you can delete this if you'd like.

      Delete
    2. Lol that's happened to me before, no worries. I used to always root for the main romantic interest when I was a teenager, but lately I seem to be like you. Rooting for the underdog, knowing he'll never come out on top. It's a shame, too, because so often our main guy is just a clone of every other YA heart-throb, a hot guy with no real personality, while the PD boyfriend is actually developed and distinct.

      I think this is the reason I get so obsessed over the rare healthy YA relationship that's not co-dependent or based off of looks. It seems to happen so infrequently anymore.

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  6. Some ways to liven this up a bit, maybe.

    John in a fit of jealousy actively tries to get rid of Brandon, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Up to and including murder

    Brandon, realizing he can't compete with John in Jane's heart, tries to get rid of John, thus demonstrating that his "ordinariness" is just a surface impression.

    Jane abruptly finds herself in insta-love with Brandon the same way she was with John, and realizes that something wonky is going on here. Exploring that wonky going on is the real plot.

    Brandon is actually John in disguise.

    Jane decides five minutes into the date that Brandon would be a good match for John's other potential love interest Brenda, and tries to hook the two up (before the ending.)

    Jane tries to convince Brandon that he's actually attracted to his soulmate, her as yet unconceived child with John.

    (Tangentially, I am now reminded of a fanfic series where the authors pulled the dick move of having the loser in a love triangle discover that she was only attracted to a guy because he reminded her of her true soulmate...his brother, who had died before she was born, and who she would only ever see once thanks to time travel. The authors hated that girl.)

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    1. Haha skjam, your comments always crack me up. :p You should seriously consider writing a paradoy YA book! I'd probably lose 5 pounds just from laughing while reading it.

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  7. Hmmm. I'm actually having a hard time thinking of any books I've read that have a plot device boyfriend in them. I know there's got to be some, but why can't I pinpoint any?! Do I just somehow avoid books that use this tactic? o_o

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    1. I do notice that this is more popular in the over-the-top cliche books, which a lot of avid readers and reviewers avoid. (And for good reason.) There was one specific book that prompted this one from me, which I won't name because it's really popular and I don't want to be boycotted haha. I've also seen it in a lot of tv shows and movies.

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  8. Ahaha, it's soooo true! It always happens. If there is a girl/guy BFF combo, in the end they will be together, but not until one of them starts to date someone else first. Most recent one I've read like this? If He Had Been With Me. Although, that one doesn't end on such a happy note, but it was the same thing. Best friends and neighbours their whole life. They start to grow apart and he starts dating someone and she started dating someone and then they realise they like each other.

    It does get predictable after you read enough of them!

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    1. I haven't heard of If He Had Been With Me, but by the title I can kind of guess it has a PDF lol. I wish authors would find original ways to keep romantic tension, it would make the book stand out a lot more.

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  9. WOW, a PDB, I am going back through my current WP to see if I have a PDB sneaking in. What about PDG? I might be guilty there. Do you think romance originality is hard for writers? Your last paragraph sums it up really. You read a book you love and as a writer, you want your own readers to feel the same way you did with your favourite book. Do you turn that on its head and risk it with originality? Maybe it is about time someone did!
    BTW, you have now given me a lot to think about, with keeping romantic tension without PDB/PDG or BDF. I need to do some brain storming.

    Great blog!

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    1. Thanks, Zane!

      PDG applies, too, but since most YA features girl protagonists, I went with the boyfriend. I understand what you're saying. But I do feel like taking a step outside of the box and going for originality over tried-and-true methods is the way to go now. Romance in books is huge, there are thousands of books to choose from to get your quick love story fix, so having something to really make your story stand out is more important than ever.

      I'm glad this post helped you! If you're writing a story having a PDB (or PDG) won't make automatically make it bad. Maybe a bit predictable, but as long as your writing is high-quality, it'll still be a good book.

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As you may or may not know, life is eating up way too much of my spare time right now, so pretty please don't hate me if it takes me a few days to get back to your wonderful comments. I read each and every one from my phone, and they always make my day. <3