What to do when he’s too damn dreamy: Thirteen can’t-lose tips for writers of young adult novels for girls

Writing a young adult novel for girls? If you haven’t yet heard and learned from this story, odds are you’ll be telling it yourself: “I submitted my first draft. The editor sent her notes. The good boy was too bland, and the bad boy was too dreamy.” It’s a common problem — one that even veteran writers at the top of their game struggle to surmount. Take heart, though. Herewith follow thirteen of the best tips for de-dreamifying and up-hunkifying.

  1. Throw in a couple paragraphs describing how the “bad boy” habitually dresses in old T-shirts with permanent mustard stains.
  2. Have the bad boy deliver a monologue describing how OJ was framed. Give him a mangy old cat named “The Juice”. It should spray everywhere.
  3. Give the good one a metaphorical pet python. He (the boy, not the snake) notices and comments on the protagonist’s new shoes.
  4. Give the bad boy character a chewing tobacco habit and terrible dental hygiene. Have him hunt varmint on weekend. Never pluralize the word varmint when he says it aloud. Give the good boy character excellent teeth and a Macbook Pro. His weekends are spent doing hair-raising skateboard stunts on a ten-story-tall vert ramp in order to raise knee-guard and helmet awareness on behalf of an exciting consortium of public safety NGOs.
  5. A popular trick is to give the bad boy character a busted-ass Nokia smartphone from 2005 that he uses to incessantly retweet racist polemics from the John Birch Society.
  6. Nobody likes a hypocrite. Make the bad boy character a topfreedom advocate who is vocally and insufferably opposed to breastfeeding in public. He is a frequent poster on a mens-rights Internet forum that has collectively chosen to defame a brave young Saudi Arabian feminist who has overcome poverty, self-doubt, and institutional sexism in order to win a pan-Arab spelling bee. The good boy character marshals the forces of 4chan to expose the bad boy’s identity and crowdfund the girl’s college education in England, where she is finally able to earn a driver’s license and motor about in classic European cars.
  7. Establish ongoing conflict by placing the good boy and the bad boy in an endless Wikipedia edit war. The bad boy is reverting all constructive contributions to the article on feminist epistemology. In a second-act cafeteria showdown, the good boy zings the bad boy: “You’re as intent on preserving a stub-class article as you are your own stub-class intellect.” The lunchroom clatter is abruptly silenced, and they exchange smokey glares. Somewhere in the room a fork drops.
  8. Make the good boy charmingly naive. Have him be a gigantic Harlem Globetrotters fan who hasn’t yet realized that the games are rigged. When the strong female protagonist finally convinces him that the outcome is always fixed, he suffers a crisis of faith. This leads to his coaching an inner city children’s basketball team that ultimately ekes out a thrilling victory over the LA Lakers in an amazing exhibition game played to benefit an upstart charity that gives designer shoes to the needy.
  9. A good plot device is to task your bad boy with thanking World War II veterans on behalf of his class at a D-Day anniversary ceremony. After using his speech as an opportunity to advocate for the privatization of social security, he is caught on an open microphone making disparaging remarks about senior citizens. He later writes a term paper that is extremely critical of the French Resistance.

    Optional: The good boy receives a governor’s award for his standout oral presentation on how continental philosophy — and in particular French existentialism — was shaped by Europe’s experience of and opposition to totalitarianism.
  10. Have the bad boy try to win the protagonist’s affection by gifting her with a large collection of Dave Matthews bootlegs burned onto store-brand CD-Rs. As a result of improper care, no disc will play without skipping. The good boy gives her a refurbished iPhone preloaded with high-bitrate, legally purchased recordings of her favorite band, an up-and-coming three-piece rap-funk group that releases new tracks only after all samples have been cleared by lawyers.
  11. Just like real life, boring internships can pay big dividends. A common approach is to make the good boy a production assistant for the local TV news crew. His hard work is rewarded with a traffic report fly-along in the newscopter. When the gruff but affable pilot is disabled by a heart attack, the good boy takes the controls and lands the chopper on a nearby emergency room helipad. While recovering in the intensive care ward, the pilot opens up to the boy about his time in Vietnam.
  12. Contrast the good and the bad boy characters by giving them a common interest in dancing. The bad boy can suffer from the delusion that he is a really good breakdancer. He always carries a dirty piece of cardboard with him in case he needs to bust a move. The good boy is an excellent slow dancer with a well-known reputation for not pressing into you too hard.
  13.  Whenever the bad boy character walks into a room, have the wireless router immediately stop working for no apparent reason, annoying everyone. The good guy’s catchphrase can be, “Here, let me power cycle that for you.”

Special thanks to my friend Jen, whose experience editing a young adult novel for girls inspired these suggestions. I haven’t yet checked with her, but I think she used all of them.

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