Where teen guys have drifted to sports and gaming, teen girls still like to curl up with a good book. It’s all in the numbers. The stats claim females make up over 80% of YA readership, most of which is penned by female authors. Did you think the popularity of the romance novel was a fluke? Does it surprise anyone that the majority of YA fiction has female protags and heavily lilted with romantic nuances? I almost titled this article, Have Romance Writers taken over YA Fiction, but I didn’t want to alienate my good friends who write romance, yet took the time to nurture my fledgling writing career. Besides, you can’t argue with reality. It’s a marketing thing. That said, we need to up the stats for male protags written by authors who have a Y chromosome.
Aside from being one funny dude (and a sailor’s potty mouth), author Chuck Wendig’s article, 25 Things You Should Know About YA Fiction, offered a unique perspective of the genre. One of his points, ” This is where someone in the back of the room grouses about how when he was a young reader, they didn’t have young adult books and he read whatever he could get his hands on … by gum and by golly — he read the Bible and Tolkien and Stephen King and Henry Miller and Penthouse.”
I’ll admit to being old enough to remember when we didn’t shop books by genre. Hell, I don’t remember anyone in my time using the word genre. Schools and religious organizations did the sifting for age groups. I do remember it was a time when everyone read books, because it was the only media entertainment available outside of the movies. Then, TV expanded beyond five channels and ruined everything. Gaming and texting took that ruin to uber-levels.
Meghan Lewit of The Atlantic had some insight on this subject in her article last year, Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young Adult Fiction? She and others, myself included, have a high regard for great female storytellers of teen fiction. The majority of top rated YA titles are written by female authors, but she is quick to point out the reverse is true with sci-fi and fantasy, where male authors rule.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it isn’t easy to present a realistic teen male POV if you haven’t been there. I ought to know, this theory works in reverse . I have a couple books with teen female protags (got to go where the food is), and I relied heavily on trusted critique partners to flag errors with my interpretation. I return the favor when possible, helping friends ensure their male characters don’t come across like … girls. Girls have greater intensity with emotion (and want to see it with their heroines). Guys don’t show emotion as readily. It’s in their head, but to openly display said feelings is a betrayal of male genetics set down before the frontal lobe provided a shortcut to intelligence. Girls want love. Guys want … pizza. Estrogen and testosterone … think matter and antimatter.
There’s a few brave YA authors out there who stand while peeing, Green, Westerfield, Riordan, to name a few, but the number is dismally low. It’s our own fault. Teen boys, and the adults who think like them, aren’t all that into reading, and if they do, they want the adult stuff, sci-fi, dark fantasy, and horror.
So why am I even bringing this up?
Blogger Kessie Carroll, who writes male protags into her stories, posted an article with similar sentiments to mine, Where are the Male Protagonists in YA Fiction? “I thought I was weird until I started reading discussion threads on Goodreads and other places. Girls pleading for male protagonists who weren’t just romance-fodder for the Hot Teen Girl.”
I learned a lot by writing from a female POV in past stories. It helped hammer-down the emotion barrier, forced me into a place guys fear to tread. Now it’s time to put those lessons to test. My latest story engages a teen male who has to figure out why he’s different in a time when mankind is about to go extinct. It won’t be easy for him. Along the way, he’ll have to make sense of the emotional funhouse that can scramble a guy’s head faster than a Ninja blender.
We need a few good men in YA fiction. I’m in.
Who wants to come along?