How to balance hot YA Book Boyfriends with positive self-esteem – the electric ‘Obsidian’

Beautiful face. Beautiful body. Horrible attitude. It was the holy trinity of hot boys.

obsidian_coverThis is Katy’s p27 take on Daemon Black, one of the most entertaining Love Interests I’ve met in a while. I’ve been reading ‘Obsidian’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and it’s got me thinking about how to create the perfect YA Book Boyfriend.

Adding romance elements to YA can make your book HOT. But this isn’t just about book sales – if you’re writing for teens you need to be considering their self-esteem, and modelling positive relationships.

I also see three elements to a great YA Book Boyfriend, but I think Katy got them wrong. As a character, she’s supposed to get it wrong. We, the readers, are the ones who need to see it right.

Elements of a hot-dayam Love Interest:

  1. Instant (mutual) attraction
  2. He acts like a jerk most of the time
  3. There is a good reason why, and we readers get hints about this early.

I’m not saying this is the only recipe for romantic tension, but it’s one that’s worked time and again. But don’t miss the important fourth element – your MC’s self-esteem.

Element 1: Instant attraction

In the words of Katy’s friend Lesa in Trig class (p 151):

Holy Hawt Chemistry, Batman!

It needs to be there. Think how Bella can’t stop staring at Edward. How Tessa is stunned by Will. How Ashala reacts to Connor. And how Katy gets struck dumb when Daemon answers the door half-naked.

But it can’t be all physical – there needs to be witty conversation, humour, intrigue – SOMETHING more. We absolutely don’t want teenage girls to think they can judge on looks alone, and also the chemistry is unlikely to come through if all you’ve got is a grumpy gorgeous guy.

Daemon is knock-you-over hot. Just like Edward and Will are. But in all three cases, my reading hackles don’t get raised because these boys aren’t human – they’re allowed to be abnormally beautiful. If your Love Interest is a plain old human, it would be nice if they weren’t drop-dead gorgeous. Ditto for the Main Character. Include diversity. Very few of us are beautiful, let’s not drag readers’ self-esteem down by populating our entire book with beauty.

However do note… If you’re writing in First Person or Third Person Limited, then you only speak the thoughts of the character whose head you’re in. And they’re obviously going to think the person they’re attracted to is pretty damn attractive, and describe things in that biased fashion.

Element 2: He’s a jerk/mean/dangerous

Ha! This is so much fun to write, so much fun to read. The tension, the opportunities. There has to be something wrong with the Love Interest, otherwise it would all be too easy and your romantic sub-plot will fizzle. Edward wants to eat Bella. Will acts like an obnoxious prick most of the time. Connor is Ashala’s prison guard for goodness sake!

Likewise, Daemon seems to hate Katy with an intensity, and enjoys showing it.

The moment my mom shut the door behind her, I whirled around and pushed Daemon, but he was like a brick wall. “You jerk.”

Grinning, he backed down the steps. “I’ll see you at noon, Kitten.”

“I hate you,” I hissed.

“The feeling’s mutual.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Twenty bucks says you wear a one-piece swimsuit.”

He was insufferable. (p46)

I totally loved their back-and-forth. I loved him as a character.

But why? How? Because of the all-important…

Element 3: We know there is a reason why he’s like this, and that actually deep inside he’s a complete sook who has head-over-heels fallen for the Main Character

So integral! Otherwise we are telling our YA girls it’s acceptable for guys to treat you like crap so long as they’re hot.

We get early hints there is something otherworldly about Edward and his conflicted looks tell us he’s noticed more than Bella’s blood type. Will can be so cheekily lovely, and early on we learn he’s making up many of his tall tales for a very good reason. And Connor’s salute to Ashala as he walks her to the machine makes us suspect there is something more than meets the eye going on with him. Ditto for Daemon.

“(Daemon) doesn’t hate you,” (Dee) replied quietly. “I think he wants to, to be honest. But he doesn’t. That’s why he acts like that.” (p125)

We get told by Dee that Daemon’s not normally like this, we see that something is different about him and his sister. And at times, he drops his “arrogant half-smile” and becomes “real”. He seeks out Katy’s company even when he doesn’t need to. It’s clear he’s into her. Before the 50% mark, we learn he’s an alien and all he wants in life is to protect his sister from getting sucked dry by the Arum like his brother was.

So really, he’s a tormented sweetie.

The integral fourth element- Promote Self-Esteem – don’t let them get together until she knows he’s actually a perfect gentleman

If you’re writing for YA, you have a responsibility. YA’s are living vicariously through the pages of your book, so help them to recognise what being treated right feels like, and how to protect themselves. In July 2015, the Victorian government reported that more than one in four teenagers had experienced an unwanted sexual encounter, with 17.6% of girls experiencing “unwanted sex” (why not call it what it is – rape?) while drunk, and 13.9% due to pressure from their partner.

This is not cool. We must never promote acceptance of abusive behaviour against girls.

Armentrout makes sure she doesn’t in her book. (Spoiler warnings here…) When Daemon and Katy argue, they’re often both enjoying the riposte so the nastiness is stripped from it. When her Homecoming date refuses to understand “no”, it’s Daemon who saves her, helps her cover her ripped dress and drives her safely home. (Or would have, if those nasty Arum hadn’t attacked half-way.) And at the end of the book Katy walks away from him because, even though she’s driven half-crazy by attraction towards him, she doesn’t believe he’ll be good for her (p357):

“No. Sorry. You have spent months being the biggest jerk to me. You don’t get to decide to like me one day and think I will forget all of that. I want someone to care for me like my dad cared for my mom.”

Bravo, Katy.

This is what, as a writer, I consider a win-win situation. Katy exhibits admirable self-esteem and positive relationship values, and Armentrout gets to write another book with the same sparkling sexual tension.

About that next book…

I had to request ‘Obsidian’ from another library – Mt Barker in fact, which is like four hours south of where I am in Perth. It took so long to get here I’d forgotten I’d asked for it. I’m not sure I can handle waiting that long for the rest of them.

On the bright side, Mt Barker is a great wine region, so perhaps I should head there for a reading holiday. Lux Series, Daemon Black and red wine… hmmm…



7 thoughts on “How to balance hot YA Book Boyfriends with positive self-esteem – the electric ‘Obsidian’

  1. I’m writing a New Adult book about a young black woman falling for a merman, and yes, he does have the jerk personality. I do find it interesting that readers love the jerk guy, not the sweet guy. It makes me wonder sometimes…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m always on the side of the ‘bad boy’, so long as he actually is a sweetie inside..! I think because, as a character, they are more fun and they are a puzzle you need to solve. But there is a fine line to walk as an author… Good luck with your novel, great to see diverse characters in there!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do agree that the “bad boy” makes the story more interesting. And thanks, as a black woman who loves fantasy, I always encourage more diverse characters.

        Oh, my book is a little on the mature side. Kind of like a dark fantasy romance story :X

        Liked by 1 person

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