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16 Jul 2012

Can Nice Guys Come First?

This is one of those posts where I prove how much of a sheltered life I probably had.  Something I see a lot in YA books, programmes and films is a douche teenage guy who becomes the LI and the nice, well-mannered young girl who falls for him.

As a writer I see:

Potential conflict.
Character development.
Journeys and experiences to grow wise from.

As a reader:

Idiot girls falling for awful guys.
Shitty personality and thus unnattractive.
Bad, complicated relationships that can't be good for the girl's mental state.
Unnecessary, OTT drama.
The poor nice guy who is so much better being chucked to the side in favour of hot, bad boy.

I'm torn because I see why a writer chooses to add issues like this in.  Love triangles where there is a perfect, lovely and genuine guy yet the FMC can't stop thinking about or has started falling for the hotter guy who has proved time and time what a douche he is and makes the female feel bad and inferior about herself.  He causes her tears, a lot of private time spent analysing every signal, word, and look.  And with the nice guy, the girl feels better about herself.  She's happier, comfortable, and there's no drama.  Just the typical weak knees and shyness.  It's conflict and stirs things up.  It gives writer an opportunity for character development.

But is it getting too much now? Are bad boys glamorised?

I'm totally in love with Awkward right now where Jenna has become official with Jake, the attractive, pleasant guy who's been through one terrible relationship and Jenna herself knows that she feels better for herself now that she's with Jake.  He's not embarrassed to be seen with her, is honest and open and treats Jenna like his equal.  I'm glad she went for him.  But then there's still Matty.  The first guy she ever slept with but treat her like crap.  He wouldn't be seen with her in public, he would flirt and kiss other girls while Jenna just stood and watched in the background, unsure of how Matty felt and making her feel more like an outsider and not someone cool and popular.  But the love triangle continues and now Matty is purposely trying to sabotage Jake's relationship with Jenna.  He's following them everywhere, not giving Jake any free time with Jenna and inappropriately touching Jenna, even while Jake is around.  And on a site recently, I saw that the author of the post favoured Matty.  They admitted he was being a douche in this episode but he won the episode because he took his shirt off.  Really?

Jenna is still attracted to Matty.  And this, along with Jessica's Guide, I've been thinking about the bad boy LI all weekend and why books always make the girl end up with them or still pine for them.

Now, I must still be completely naive but in high school I grew up with quite a few relationships where both people truly liked or loved one another and went out for a few years.  Sure, there would have been fights but the couples I knew didn't have as much drama as I see in fiction.  They were public with their relationship and even if they didn't last after school they at least broke up knowing that had a good time together.  The bad relationships where the guy or girl was a douche and had nothing but arguments and constant drama didn't last long.

I've only had relationships where I liked the guy and the guy liked me and we weren't embarrassed or didn't try to make each other feel bad about themselves.  I've only ever dated the nice guys because from YA books I was taught that the bad guy isn't worth it.

Matty is Jake's best friend and he's prepared to not only ruin Jenna's happiness but his best friend's.  How can a guy like that still be attractive?

In Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, Lucius becomes an emotional, insulting and terrifying character who threatens to kill Jessica towards the end and hooks up with the girl he knows bullies her.  But she keeps following him and is determined to have him.  Do you seriously want someone who keeps saying he's going to kill or destroy you? And allowed the bitchy girl to throw insults at you?

Edward Cullen... stalking and again threatening that he could hurt Bella at any time.  Worth it or not?

Jace Wayland, Draco Malfoy Delos Redfern, Damon Salvatore... all these characters have had darker, nastier sides and are total poster boy pin ups for teenage girls. 

Is it time for the nice guys to start fighting back? The Riley Finns, Toby Tuckers, Jake Rosatis.  Is it possible for the book to still bring in readers and encourage them to keep going if the nice guy wins for once and shows the girl how he's so much better for her? Or do you like the whole bad boy thing and think YA needs the conflict, even if the relationship doesn't look too healthy or happy?

I do wonder if maybe a book could be better by showing the girl moving on.  Date the douche because it's a life experience and teens make mistakes but maybe write so the FMC does find someone better in the end, like Jenna in Awkward and Emma in The Future of Us.  The nice guys she's been with have been dumped all in favour of this Cody guy she's obsessed with.  But she comes to her senses and I wonder if that's a better way of writing a story like this? There's redeeming the jerk character but I've seen too many jerks to know that some just can't change like that.

I'd love to hear other people's opinions of this.  How do you feel about the bad boy scenario? Time to push them aside or is it a fun bit of conflict to read? Or is there another way to write these relationships without making it look like you should always go for the dick in the end?


  1. I saw friends seriously hurt (really, properly messed up) over the whole "bad boy" thing at school so the fact that it's all over YA really frustrates me. Yeah, we all make mistakes in our teens, and I'm glad to see there are books out there with female MCs realising this and getting out. But too often it reads like it's up to good girls to redeem/save bad boys... and that's it. Forget her own interests, mental health, friendships and other relationships - it's aaaaaaall about the one guy who's SO awful but ohmigosh she can totally save him.

    Girls need to recognise an unhealthy relationship AND know there's a way out. I feel more YA should reflect this. Two of my friends put themselves in very real danger over guys who were basically abusive and nothing anyone said could make them see it until something awful happened. Girls don't need to be told "oh, it's okay if this guy threatens or harms you - if you love him enough he'll totally chill out." They need know no one is worth their time if their actions are causing harm.

    So yeah, let's have some more nice guys in YA. Believe it or not, they do exist!

  2. This is totally the approach I'm taking with my WiP. Good guys should get the girl, and right now that's my endgame. :) I really appreciate this post, because you're totally right. There's a bit of an unhealthy preoccupation with the bad boy LI, I think.

    Also, totally love AWKWARD. Their scriptwriters are genius! :D

  3. Agreed, the girl should leave a messed up guy to the therapist and stay away. My housemates both dated awful guys in my opinion. One just wanted sex and no commitment, pretty much like Matty. It left her heart broken. She was determined to make him change his mind and believed she could talk to him but it was never going to work. It seriously made her depressed.

    The other is still with this guy who has played mind tricks with her, cheated with her, messed around and I just think: why have you still bothered?

    I know if I had a daughter I would be extremely uncomfortable if she read books like this. I'd worry that she'd think it would be worth her time to try and change the rebel. Because while it always has a happy ending in fiction, reality is more cruel.

  4. Thinking back to my school days, pretty much the bad boys and the edgy girls found each other. Some of the good girls might find some of the bad boys attractive, but I can't think of one instance where a bad boy dated a good girl, or a good boy dated a bad girl. The good kids might look and smile, but that's as far as it went.

    I'm sure it happens in real life, and, I suppose from a literary point of view, the bad guys tend to be more interesting to write, and hence potentially more interesting as the leading LI. But that doesn't mean they can't be shown up for what they are by the nice guys and lose out in the end.

    Good food for thought, Robin! :)

  5. I think the bad boy thing would be infinitely better if they actually changed - if the girl could ever open her eyes and see how bad he really is and walk away, and if the boy could become a better person to try to get her back. These boys never do anything to make them worthy of being so adored beyond being hot and "bad". I wish the girls could see past that!