Apparently THE HUNGER GAMES is for Girls and THE MAZE RUNNER is for Boys

(Don’t worry, there are no spoilers ahead! Also note that this post discusses the movies not the books.)

TMR Movie Pic

From New DVD Release Dates

THG Movie Pic

From New DVD Release Dates

Last week I was outraged by an article I’d read. This lovely bit of prose was titled “The Maze Runner Review: The Hunger Games for Boys” and can be found here (it’s very short for those of you who find long articles daunting—I do at times). The review reasons that The Maze Runner is a so-called boy movie because it’s “chock-full of male bonding, homemade weapons, robot battles, [and] even a tree fort.” (Oh boy, a tree fort, guys! Evidently boys are the only ones to have spent time playing in tree forts.) Basically this article infuriated me to the point where I knew that I had to see the movie immediately so that I could sufficiently address and, as I suspected, whole-heartedly disagree with its claims.

I could go into lengthy detail about how male bonding, homemade weapons, and robot battles are not inherently male, but I think a few short lines will suffice. Anyone who has read Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass can attest to Celaena’s intelligent use of a homemade weapon made from hairpins and string. And let’s not forget the famous (and now super rich) Cassandra Clare, whose Clockwork Angel has many exciting battles with robots. And need I even give an example of a supposed girl book or movie that contains a bromance?

So if the issue isn’t that girls can’t enjoy The Maze Runner is this review’s main point that boys can’t enjoy The Hunger Games? Why would boys show any interest in a story in which the characters have to survive in the wild, flee from deadly creatures, participate in bloody battles against their competitors, and win a game that will test their physical and mental prowess? I know many boys who have read, watched, and enjoyed The Hunger Games and many girls who have read, watched, and enjoyed The Maze Runner. Why then does this article feel the need to say that “The Maze Runner is the first dystopian teen movie in a while that offers boys a room of their own”? I dare you to find one showing of The Maze Runner in theaters that doesn’t have a single girl in the audience. Are boys so unwilling to share their movies? Or are they unwilling to be seen anywhere near a showing of The Hunger Games?

The movies have so many similarities. Both Thomas’s and Katniss’s inciting incidents involve selfless actions to protect someone else. Thomas rushes into the maze to help Minho and Alby stay alive, and Katniss volunteers to participate in the deadly Hunger Games to save the life of her sister. Both protagonists show extreme bravery, cunning, and a willingness to do what they believe is right despite how difficult the path ahead may be. They feel a need to protect those around them. Katniss quickly forms a bond with Rue while Thomas befriends Chuck, both the runts of the stories. Our heroes feel responsible for them and a deep need to protect them. Katniss makes it her mission to save Peeta and get him through the games, and Thomas makes it his goal to get everyone out of the maze and to freedom. Both characters have to resist a higher power that is trying to control their lives, and while this last example is a trope typically found within dystopia, the other examples cannot be attributed as such. So we can’t say that the movies have these similarities simply because they fall within the same genre.

Why then is one for boys while the other is for girls? Perhaps we need to look at the differences between the two movies to understand. Most obviously, we can say that The Hunger Games has a romantic subplot while The Maze Runner does not. Ah, that must mean that all stories with romances must be for girls. Clearly Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and most super hero movies must be exclusively for female audiences. Or we could say that The Hunger Games is heavier on character conflict and development while The Maze Runner mostly relies on the mystery of the maze to drive its plot. Are mysteries for boys then while books with round characters are for girls? Perhaps it’s the painfully small female cast that makes The Maze Runner a boy book. Only two girls in the movie have speaking roles, and both play minor parts. In fact, Teresa really doesn’t even need to be in the story. Everything that she adds to the plot could easily have been accomplished by Thomas’s character. With the way Teresa’s character was handled in the movie, you’d think she was just randomly thrown in as an afterthought. “Sure, why not have a girl in the story? We don’t want to have too many though, boys might get the wrong idea and not understand the story is for them.”

As far as I can tell, the article’s only reasoning as to why The Maze Runner is a boy movie while The Hunger Games is a girl movie is that one has a female protagonist

SC_D11_02752

From Wikipedia

while the other has a male protagonist.

Thomas

From Kansas City

One was written by a woman

Suzanne Collins

From IMDB

while the other was written by a man.

James Dashner

From Mediabistro

One has an equal male to female ratio

THG Cast

From Stuffpoint

while the other is lacking in female characters.

TMR Cast

From Nuke the Fridge

I’m still waiting for the world to realize that we can have more than one female character in a story. Because women’s personalities are just as diverse as men’s. Being a woman does not make the character have a distinct personality, and we should stop crafting women in stories as though this were the case.

Why should we fear that girls and girl things in stories would dissuade boys from touching them? Girls can like boy things but boys can’t like girl things, is that it? Boys are mocked for liking things that are girly, and as a result, we as a society are treating feminine actions, ideas, and items as though they’re lesser than masculine things. That stories featuring girls are not as important as stories featuring boys. That it couldn’t possibly be worth a man’s time to observe a story in which a woman displays courage, skill, compassion, sympathy, or any other worthy quality. Because if it’s a woman exemplifying those traits instead of a man, then it can’t be as important or as entertaining. The problem isn’t that boys can’t enjoy girl stories, it’s that they’ll face social suicide if they were even to try.

Honestly, I find this truly disturbing. Is this article inadvertently claiming that girls won’t enjoy The Maze Runner? Or, worse yet, that boys should feel less manly and ashamed of watching and enjoying The Hunger Games?

How Young Adult Lit Isn’t Killing Adulthood

It seems like every couple of months, someone comes around to shame adult readers of YA for their choices in entertainment. When I heard about the most recent iteration of this—an article written by A. O. Scott in The New York Times last week—I sought out the article with a certainty that it would strike up enough rage for me to rant about in a post. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good rant? But then I read the article and the rage-monster inside of me never surfaced—instead my intellectual monster did—and she’s been rather dormant since I graduated nearly two years ago—so instead of amusing angry ranting, you’re about to get amusing intellectual ranting. Still with me? (Probably not, but I swear it won’t be boring, folks!)

The central premise of “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture” is that American culture is killing adulthood—and it has  been for a long time. Even our canonized literature mocks the establishment of adulthood and society by heroizing boys and men who traipse around outside of society to have adventures (see Huck Finn, Moby Dick, the awful Leatherstocking Tales, among others). And looking at these books, most of which I studied in pursuit of my undergraduate degree, he makes a good point. The American literature canon is filled with countless works about exploring the unknown or going on great quests and adventures and generally shirking societal duty.

But at the same time, he kind of misses the point—and that’s what I want to talk about here. He describes current American adulthood and the YA genre—along with a handful of TV shows and dudebro comedy movies—as a sort of modern day Fountain of Youth. People aren’t growing up anymore. We’re growing older, certainly, but we’re not becoming adults.

Of course, anyone who’s even tangentially familiar with the great “Are Millennial the worst generation ever? EVER?” debate is familiar with this and I could probably paper your walls with a lengthy treatise on why this alleged eternal childhood of the Millennial is complete and utter bull crap, but now is not the time nor the place.

Instead, I want to talk about why Mr. Scott has got it wrong when it comes to YA.

So let’s lay out some facts for full disclosure. One: I’m an adult. I’m twenty-four, I’m married, I’ve graduated from college, and I pay taxes and my own rent. I think that unequivocally makes me an adult. Two: I adore young adult fiction. Three: I was an English major back when I was in school, so it’s pretty much second nature for me to break apart literature and examine it from all angles—even the literature I like. Even when I want to, I can rarely read things purely for pleasure. A part of my brain is always processing and deconstructing what I read.

I like to think that I’m the antithesis of what Mr. Scott thinks a YA-reading adult is.

Mr. Scott essentially describes YA literature as “literature of boys’ adventures and female sentimentality.” Included with this comparison is the assumption that those things are bad, but I’m just going to come out and say that they’re not. What’s bad about having stories wherein boys go on adventures and learn things (because in the YA I’ve read, at least, the learning things is always a crucial part of the story)? What’s wrong about stories about “female sentimentality” wherein girls talk honestly and openly about things that important to them? (And let’s not get me started on the raging misogyny in the assumption that anything that talks about “girl issues” is inherently ‘lesser.’)

I can see why these stories might not be for everyone, and I can see why some adults might eschew YA lit in lieu of something they feel more able to relate to, but let me be clear: YA is not mere escapism, nor is it a glorification of eternal childhood.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at one of the central facets of YA literature. In pretty much every YA book you’ll read, there’s an absence of adults. Adults pepper the background, of course, but they’re usually the antagonist, set dressing, or they’re there to impart vital information before dying. This lack of adults is essential to the genre because it forces our teenage protagonists to assume adult roles. (For an example of what happens when the adults don’t take the backseat, see Avatar: The Legend of Korra.) YA literature is full of teenagers who have to step up and save the world—or piece their lives back together in the case of contemporary YA—because the adults, to whom that role “rightly” belongs, are gone or incapable of filling that role. Harry has to defeat Voldemort alone because his adult mentors have died (and because the megalomaniac adult of Voldemort is hunting him down). Katniss must overthrow the government because the adults involved want to replace one corrupt government with another. Keladry of Mindelan (of my favorite Tamora Pierce books) must take a stand and stop the bullies and protect the small because the adults around her certainly aren’t doing it. Hazel Grace Lancaster must cope with the all-too-adult realities of love and death.

YA, at its heart, is not about teenagers enjoying their responsibility-free lives. It’s about teenagers having to step up and assume adult responsibilities because the adults around them are absent or incompetent.

At the end of his article, Mr Scott alludes to the idea that we’re having a “crisis of authority,” and that phrase struck me. YA fiction is about a crisis of authority. Everything from “teen girl problem novels” to the swamps of dystopian fiction are about navigating the waters when the authority figures you thought you could trust are no longer there for you. And you know what? That’s an important lesson for everyone to learn—for the children who have been let down or abused by the adults who they should have been able to trust, for the recent college graduates who are trying to find work and stability in one of the worst job markets this country has ever seen (especially when we’ve been told all our lives that we can do whatever we put our minds to), to the middle-aged adults who also face economic instability and a government that’s so self-destructive that it can’t really offer anyone anything.

We are having a crisis of authority—but that’s why we need YA literature more than ever.

 

Read a Lot. Write a Lot.

stephen_king

“[R]ead a lot. Write a lot.” –Stephen King

*This is the Monday post you’re looking for*

Without further ado (who am I kidding? I love ado!) this Tuesday’s Monday’s post!

Continuing on a claim I made in my last post—that I’ve read 150 books so far this year—let me say that I had a reason for reading so much. Since last year I’ve been writing in the new-to-me romance genre, and I wanted to get a feel for it.

But reading so many books is expensive. Erasmus might be able to spend his money on books first, but I like to wear clothes and eat decent meals too. Over the years, I’ve come up with some ways to read a lot on a budget.

(1) The library, duh.

You might not have heard of a library, but it’s a wonderful place where you’re allowed to borrow books for free! It’s book paradise.

But seriously. I know many people who love to read and don’t ever go to their local library because the library never seems to have the books they want. If you have a little know-how and patience, you could read virtually whatever you wanted using only your library. All copies checked out? Place a hold. The title you want isn’t carried by the library? Put in a purchase request. That’s right. Depending on the library, they might go ahead and buy the book for you. (Your mileage may vary).

(2) The online library.

This option is for those who perhaps don’t have the ability or wont to go to the physical library. Increasingly, libraries offer digital media, and as with all technology, the interfaces are becoming slicker by the year. Many libraries’ online catalogs let you download audiobooks and ebooks. For example, the Provo City Library uses One Click Digital and Overdrive. I’ve used both.

Even more exciting, more and more library catalogs have “one-click” downloads that allow you to check out and download the book directly from the catalog without navigating to an external site. But even if the library catalog redirects you to an external site, the process for downloading your books to your computer is extremely easy for even the non tech-savvy.

Companies (like Overdrive, the one I’m most familiar with) are also developing mobile apps that are continually improving. Once you have an account set up (based on your library card information) you can check out and download books straight to your phone or tablet.
All for free!

(3) Online retailers.

Amazon? But this is an article about saving money!

True. I will admit that sometimes I have a hard time finding the titles I want to read at my local library (and sometimes I don’t have the patience to wait for a hold). Perhaps it’s because libraries often carry the most popular books, and I’m to the point where I’m reading in niches and subgenres that don’t make sense for the library to carry. Libraries are the best, but I’m also not averse to buying books if it supports the author. The key for me is balance. I check some out from my library, I buy some from Barnes and Noble or Amazon or wherever.

But here’s a cool idea. Go to your local library’s website and see if they have a program called Buy It Now. This is a fairly new program that some libraries have that allows you to enter Amazon’s website through the library’s Buy It Now portal. For anything you buy, including items other than books, a percentage of the proceeds is given back to your library!

Here’s an example, again from the Provo City Library.

buy it now

Full disclosure: I work for the company that developed the Buy It Now program, but they’re not asking me to pimp it. I just think it’s really, really awesome.

(4) Free ninety-nine.

Try a self-published book or a book from a small digital press.
They often cost much less than a book from the Big Six. I often buy books for as little as $0.99–if you’re braver than me, you can go for the free books.

I’d recommend taking the time to find a blogger or two you like who review indie-pubbed books in addition to books from big publishers. You’re more likely to avoid the low-quality offerings and go straight for the good stuff. In the romance genre, sites like Dear Author and Smart Bitches Trashy Books review indie-pubbed books, and through experience I’ve learned I trust their reviewers’ opinions. Some of the best books I read last year were indie-pubbed and I learned about them because of these two review sites.

For YA and Fantasy, my favorite bloggers are called The Book Smugglers. They will also occasionally review indie-pubbed books. Let me know if you can think of any others.

(5) The book round-up.

The two sites I mention above do a daily deals feature, and they nearly always include books deals for all the major online retailers and from all major and minor publishers. Even if Amazon isn’t your cup of tea, Barnes and Noble and Kobo deals are also featured. Here’s a little secret for the people in love with Amazon’s low prices—Barnes and Noble more often than not price match Amazon. If Amazon is running a great deal on a book, B&N probably is too.

(6) A final note.

For print-only readers I have fewer suggestions, and unfortunately they’re all pretty obvious. Use the library. Borrow books from friends. Swap or trade books at a used book store.

Any way you slice it, writers need to read. We need to know what is happening in our field. All writing is a conversation, and we need to know what’s already been said in that conversation so our contributions can build on the whole and add something unique.

Writing a Sequel

Catching_fire

Image from Wikipedia

crown-of-embers

Image from The Young Folks

Frostbite

Image from Fanpop

Harry_Potter_and_the_Chamber_of_Secrets_(US_cover)

Image from Wikipedia

Those of us who read can relate times when we’ve been disappointed by sequels.

I’m afraid I can’t get into specific examples of bad sequels. As a rule, I don’t like to insult other authors—you never know when that can come back around and bite you. But I can point out good examples (see pics above) as well as things to avoid when working on sequels, which is what I aim to do with this post.

Someone once told me that we shouldn’t be disappointed by an author’s sequel. They have creative license. What they envision for the book is how the story should go. Authors can’t write their books “wrong.”

But if that were true, why would editors exist?

The fact of the matter is that authors CAN write their sequels wrong, but oftentimes editors don’t bother to change the big stuff because the first book did so well (I’m sure there are also various other reasons, but for right now we’ll stick with this one). They know the second book will sell well too. But what about the books after that? What happens when an author gets progressively worse because no one will tell them what they’re doing wrong?

First off, the goal is to make each successive book either better or just as good as the last one. As a writer, your books should not be getting worse. And by worse, I don’t mean that bad stuff happens in the book. No, no, no, no. I mean that the quality of your story worsens.

So. Here’s how this works. You write a book. You have a setting. You have a cast of characters. You have a main character or two or five, depending on the norms of your genre. You have a voice, a style, a feel to your book. You’re giving readers a specific experience that only you, as the unique writer that you are, can give them. By writing that first book in a series, here is what you are promising your readers: “Here are how my books work. These are my characters. They have these personalities. You can expect this kind of pacing from me. This is the kind of climax you can expect from me. Here are the kind of subplots I will be doing in this series. You can expect this kind of unique world building in my setting. Etc.”

And when it comes time for a sequel, your writers EXPECT you to give them all the things you promised them in the first one. They want that experience again. They want it to be the same, but different. They want the experiences they had during the first book—the laughing, the crying, the gasping, etc.—but this time with a new story.

Because it’s a perfect example for just about everything, let’s look at Harry Potter to demonstrate this. When JK Rowling wrote that wonderful book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she showed everyone what incredible things she can do. She demonstrated wonderfully diverse and round characters; multiple mystery subplots; a magical setting; numerous fantastical elements; and themes of friendship, loyalty, and bravery. You can even get into more specifics. You will read about people flying on broomsticks. You’ll see people brandishing wands. You know that the bad guy is not who you first think it is. The characters will cleverly get out of tight situations. They will make you laugh.

I could go on, but you get the point. Rowling makes this all happen in the first book. Then it happens again in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. All the same things. All the same elements. But does it feel like the same story? No. Completely new story, but you get all the same experiences. And Rowling always makes sure her books are just as good or better than the last one. As a series, we can say that Harry Potter wins.

Let’s look at another good example: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Does she give her readers the same experience in her sequel that she did in The Hunger Games. Yes. Can you find the same elements and themes? The same characters. The same feel. Yes.

Other good examples of sequels include The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson and Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about other books because I want to get on to ways that authors can ensure that readers will be satisfied with their sequels. Because believe it or not, there are simple things to do to give your sequel the best chance it can have of being just as good or better than the first book.

First, I need to preface this by saying that just because an author you know did one of the no-nos I’m about to list, that doesn’t mean I don’t like that author or their books. I respect all (well, most) authors because writing is hard no matter what. And even if an author I love did one of these things, I would forgive them. Unless they started doing it consistently. Basically, if you’re a published author reading this, don’t hate me if you’ve done one of these things. It’s not personal. I’m probably still going to upset someone, but whatever. This is all in the interest of making us all better as writers. So you shouldn’t hate me.

The first on the list is pretty simple: don’t change the genre of your book. If your first book is a romance, the sequel should not be horror. You laugh now. You think that no one would actually do this. But I’ve seen it done. Not with romance and horror, but with other genres. If your first book is a “fight to stay alive” kind of thriller, the sequel should not be a mystery. Give readers the same experience. When your book is a mixing of genres, give your readers the same mix of genres in the sequel.

Second and third, don’t replace all your characters or separate all your characters. These two kind of go together, so I’ll talk about them at the same time. If in the first book, you made us all fall in love with one cast of characters, don’t replace them with a new cast. This isn’t to say you can’t kill off characters or introduce new characters. Go ahead. This means you shouldn’t take your character away from all the other fun characters. Don’t have your character spend a whole book in a new country and ignore all your other characters. Bring them along too. Because readers enjoy the interactions between all the characters. They love the conflict that arises between Character A and Character B. They like the way Character C and Character D crack jokes together. They like the romantic tension between Character E and Character F. When you separate even two of the characters, you don’t get that interaction that your readers loved in the first one. You’re giving them a different reading experience.

Fourth, have the same kind of subplots. If you’ve got an incredible mystery subplot in the first one, have another one in the second. If you have an element of adventure in the first one, have it in the second one. If there’s a romance in the first one, have it continue onto the second one.

Because I’m me, I just have to expand on the romance thing for a bit. If your series contains a romantic subplot (and especially if you’re writing YA), then it needs to have the same amount of romantic tension in each succeeding book. If you lose the romantic tension, you’ll often lose the reader too. If you’re writing a series with a huge romantic subplot, the guy and girl cannot get together at the end of the first book. Well they can, but something needs to disturb it at the beginning of the second book then. That tension needs to continue. You need to give readers the same reading experience.

So don’t be a one hit wonder. Be that person who has readers dying to read their next book because they can’t wait to see what awesome thing you’ll do next. Because they know they can expect it from you. Fulfill your promises to the reader. Be like Rowling.

 

Nice Boys Don’t Have to Finish Last

So a two weeks ago, Tricia talked about morally ambiguous characters and I thought I’d follow her trend and talk about a different character trope—The Nice Boy. I’ve kind of been obsessed with The Nice Boy in fiction for the last few years because I got sick of the edgy, brooding, bad boy with his tortured past and tight leather trousers and his guyliner. Because while those bad boys are certainly nice to read about or to watch on screen, I don’t think anyone ever wants to actually end up with a bad boy in real life (I mean, come on, talk about exhausting relationships) and I became obsessed with finding boys in my media who I think would be suitable boyfriends for my baby sisters.

Unfortunately, most people botch The Nice Boy. The Nice Boy tends to be boring. He tends to be a counter-point to the bad boy. He can offer his potential romantic partner a stable, fulfilling relationship, but he’s usually the foil in these love triangles. He’s the boy the heroine (or hero) isn’t supposed to end up with. He’s set dressing. He doesn’t have anything interesting going on. He’s static. He’s stiff. We’re not supposed to like him even though he’s usually pretty likeable.

But sometimes The Nice Boy can be done well, and in an effort for giving young people models of emotionally healthy relationships, let’s talk about a couple of Nice Boys who have been done right and what we can do to make them more than cardboard cut outs.

Nice Boy Number One: Steve Rogers

Art by lul-lulla.deviantart.com

As far as Nice Boys go, Steve Rogers is practically our poster child. Upstanding citizen, strong internal moral compass, respectful, loyal, honest. Captain America is the sort of guy who’s going to help old ladies across the street and save kittens from tall trees. But let’s be real here—who doesn’t love Steve Rogers? He’s amazing. He’s complex. Tony Stark might think he’s a bit of stick in the mud, but at the end of the day, Tony will still follow his lead.

I think what makes Steve work so well are the internal conflicts he’s presented with. Let’s look at The Winter Soldier, which is essentially a movie about torn loyalty. That movie pits Steve—a soldier, used to trusting his superiors and following orders—against the very organization he’s supposed to be taking orders from. He’s supposed to trust SHIELD. They’re supposed to be the good guys, but SHIELD has also been compromised by an evil that Steve was willing to die to eradicate. And that conflict of loyalty is layered with his loyalty to Bucky. On the one hand, Bucky has been brainwashed and is now a huge threat to Steve and the people he cares about. Steve thinks that the Winter Solider is responsible for Nick Fury’s “death.” But on the other hand, Bucky is still his best friend, and he’ll be with him till the end of the line.

Steve’s job isn’t black-and-white the way it once was. It’s no longer Captain America against Hydra and the Nazis. It’s Captain America versus the people who have been giving him orders. It’s Captain America versus his best friend. The writers for that movie did an incredible job of taking an action movie and layering it with complex emotional conflicts. How does someone who believes in honesty handle discovering that the people he’s working for are keeping secrets from him and lying to him? How is someone who honors loyalty supposed to fight a friend who might as well be family? (And let’s not forget, Steve already lost Bucky once. He thought Bucky died back in the 1940s. He saw him fall off that train, for crying out loud! He failed Bucky once. Could he really let him die again?) Instead of making Captain America this perfect, invulnerable man who can take out evil with his awesome boomerang shield, The Winter Soldier strikes Steve Rogers where it’ll do the most damage—right in the heart of his loyalties.

Nice Boy Number Two: Remus Lupin

Art by hitofanart.deviantart.com/

For those of you new to The Plotless, I am a shameless Harry Potter fangirl and I’ve been in love with Remus Lupin since I read Prisoner of Azkaban when I was 9. (Yeah, okay, that might be creepy, but I don’t care.) Lupin is the kind, compassionate teacher that we all wish we had. J.K.Rowling has even said that if Snape is supposed to represent the ilk of educators, than Lupin is supposed to be an example of the best education has to offer. He cares about his students. He’s patient with them. He doesn’t get irritated or snippy with Snape when Snape acts like a douche-canoe. In Goblet of Fire, when the fake Mad Eye Moody pulls Neville aside after the Unforgivable Curses lesson, Harry describes the action as the sort of thing Lupin would do. Lupin is a voice of reason. A mild-mannered man who bears adversity with dignity and courage.

Where Steve’s character depth comes from his torn loyalties, Lupin’s comes from his angst ridden past—which is something he shares in common with a lot of the bad boys we see. As a small child, he was infected with a curse that ostracized him from mainstream wizarding society. It’s only because of Dumbledore’s compassion that he was even able to obtain an education. As an adult, he struggled to find work and be accepted among his peers for the charming man that he is because of a condition that he could safely manage with something as simple as a potion. And all of that is on top of the traumatic loss of his entire support network when he was only twenty-one years old. In the space of about forty-eight hours, Lupin lost Lily, James, and (presumably) Peter to death and he lost Sirius to Azkaban (and, you know, that whole thing of thinking his best friend was a murderer). He had every excuse to become as hardened and bitter as Snape was.

But he didn’t—and that’s what makes him interesting. To me, at least. Lupin is the sort of person that crap has just happened to. All of his troubled past was entirely out of his control, but for the most part, he doesn’t let that define him. He doesn’t dwell on the factors of his life that he can’t control. Of course, we see times when his circumstances take their toll on him which is a natural and reasonable reaction, he doesn’t let those things define him the way Snape and Sirius let their pasts and their crummy circumstances define them. He chooses to rise above it. And even when he makes the wrong choice at first (need I remind you of his little meltdown at the beginning of book seven after he found out Tonks was pregnant?), he always gets his act together and does the right thing in the end.

Nice Boy Number Three: Peeta Mellark

Art by hooraylorraine.deviantart.com

In the beginning, Peeta comes across as the stereotypical nice-boy-foil to the bad boy love interest. Even though The Hunger Games aren’t really a story about love triangles (despite what every media outlet ever will try to tell you), Peeta still fills that nice-boy-foil role. He’s the boy next door. Kind, friendly, but mostly overlooked.

But Peeta is also powerful—and not just in a physical I-can-toss-around-hundred-pound-sacks-of-flour sort of way. Peeta’s strongest assets are his charm and his charisma, and I think part of Peeta’s appeal is that we too often see that sort of charm and charisma in sleeze-ball characters who are trying to manipulate us and not in good, neighborly sorts of characters. Peeta’s sort silver-tongued charm is something we usually associate with villains and lawyers (see Billy Flynn from Chicago). But over and over again, Peeta’s way with words is seen as something that he uses to benefit other people instead of himself. Katniss describes Peeta as being invaluable to the revolution because “he will be able to turn his pain into words that will transform people” (Catching Fire, p 17). He uses his way with words to try to protect Katniss instead of himself. (Let’s be honest here. Katniss kind of sucks with interpersonal interactions and she would have gotten approximately zero sponsors if Peeta didn’t relentlessly use his charm to benefit her.) And Peeta is selfless. As a sixteen-year-old boy, he’s willing to die to save a girl he has a crush on. And he’s willing to do it again the next year. As a young boy, he was willing to face his parents’ wrath to give burnt bread to a starving little girl. He doesn’t put himself first. Ever.

Peeta takes traits we typically associate with self-serving Slytherins (yes,yes, I know not all Slytherins are bad guys, but we should at least agree that they’re generally a self-serving lot) and applies that to the hard-working Hufflepuff. He’s cunning (siding with the Careers at the beginning of the 74th Hunger Games) and he’s silver-tongued (which usually means manipulative), but he is, at his core, a Nice Boy.

So there we have it, folks. Three ways to make your fictional Nice Boys into engaging and interesting characters. Don’t settle for cardboard cutouts anymore. We don’t need brooding bad boys and guyliner to make a compelling character