by Melanie Fishbane
Over the last decade, lists, blog posts, and articles have surfaced online that speak to the first book crush. I was so curious about this, that I’ve spent the last two and half years exploring this connection between YA authors and their literary ancestors and between authors and their fans. This blog post is sort of a fast and dirty look at some of the material that I’ve looked at. There is feminist and literary theory hiding behind these conclusions, so here’s hoping you can follow my train of thought in 1000 words or less.
Authors have books that inspire them. L.M. Montgomery loved Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters and Stephenie Meyer loves Austen, the Brontës and the Anne of Green Gables books – there is even an AGG reference in Eclipse. The Female Literary Tradition is one of the ways in which women can imagine, debate and fantasize about the issues that concern them. And by crafting a Perfect Man Archetype, we can craft boyfriends worthy of our protagonists.
I’ve defined the Perfect Man Archetype as: a combination of attributes that has been historically designed by the author to make the reader fall in love with him. He is handsome, witty, intelligent, and emotionally open. Always having an appreciation for his love interest’s intellectual or artistic pursuits, he believes she is his equal in every way. Often troubled with a bit of a bad boy/dark side, he usually has a dark secret that forces him to make great sacrifices for her.
Three Qualities of the Perfect Man:
1) He has an appreciation for his love interest’s intellectual or artistic pursuits and see her as his equal with her own goals and ambitions that are separate from his own.
Follow the line here: Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth’s love of reading (Pride and Prejudice) – Professor Bhaer’s supporting in Jo’s writing (Little Women) – Gilbert’s encouragement of Anne’s educational (Anne of Avonlea) – Stan being okay with Jane working (Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen) to Noel supporting Ruby’s crazy bake sale and artistic notions. (E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series.)
2) He must also be willing to meet her half way, sacrificing something of himself.
Here is where the Byronic brooding boys, like Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) and Rochester (Jane Eyre) live. They usually have a secret that isn’t directly their fault and sacrifices something of themselves for their lady loves. The literary path looks something like this: Heathcliff and Rochester to Frank (Madeline L’Engle’s Camilla) to Michael (Forever) to Edward (Twilight Saga) or Will Herondale (The Infernal Devices trilogy.) Edward pushes Bella away because he believes that being with him might hurt her and Will does the same thing to Tessa because he thinks that his curse will harm anyone he loves.
Thankfully, the gesture isn’t just in the hands of the brooding boys. Consider how Darcy helps Lizzie with the Lydia and Wickham fiasco without wanting her to know. Or, how Gilbert gives up the Avonlea school for Anne so that she can stay closer to Marilla after Matthew dies. Or, Almanzo picking Laura up every week from the Brewster’s place. Or, Noel leaving Ruby that note and baked goods even when he isn’t sure that they should be talking.
There are many roads to the ultimate sacrifice; it all depends upon what kind of man you want your male love interest to be.
3) He must show emotional vulnerability.
Declarations of love are key here. Like when Darcy tells Elizabeth how much he loves her, or when Almanzo builds Laura all of those drawers, or when Gilbert proposes to Anne is (like it or not) how emotive both Jacob and Edward are with Bella.
The Anti-Perfect Man
The most common affirmation of the Perfect Man archetype is the “anti-Perfect Man,” the guy who does not respect the protagonist’s artistic or educational goals. While it certainly appears in Beverly Cleary Jean and Johnny to be a love story, it is clear that Johnny does not respect Jean’s time by making her wait for him and standing her up, or just talks about his radio show all of the time instead of asking about her. So, rightly so, Jean breaks up with him and goes out with nicer guy, Homer.
Consider all of the anti-Perfect men that Ruby dates until she realizes that Noel is the one. In particular the one who started it all, Jackson, who cheats on her with her best friend and then plays with her emotions. Cad.
So, as I see it, the Perfect Man continues to charm readers and be a strong literary model because within him is the potential of a person who will appreciate his partner’s goals and ambitions and her individuality.
Here are 5 Questions I suggest you ask yourself when writing your protagonist:
1) Who was your first literary crush?
2) What was it about him or her that made you fall in love with him or her?
3) What was the moment where they proved themselves worthy of the protagonist?
4) Was there a male or female literary romantic figure that you detested? What was it about him/her that made you dislike him/her?
5) What are the traits that your character would look for in a perfect partner and can you construct a person worthy of them?
Remember, it is up to you as the author to craft that perfect person for your protagonist. That person, by the way, should be flawed, but it will be in their flaws that your reader will find their most endearing qualities. Go forth and craft.
Melanie Fishbane is a writer, lecturer, and has spent many years in the book industry thinking and writing about kids’ books. She has a Masters of Fine Arts from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first literary crushes were Gilbert Blythe and Almanzo Wilder.
Read more from Melanie on her blog: Wild About Words!
Follow Melanie on twitter: @MelanieFishbane
This blog post was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Blog Series.