It’s been an age since I’ve had a chance to jump in on the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme, but this was a topic that I just couldn’t resist! As usual, my list is very YA-centric since that seems to have been my reading focus for the past several months, but basically all of these wants could apply in adult genres as well.
1. Female characters who aren’t loathsome to one another
When I first started thinking about what I wanted to see more of in fiction, I thought about the famous Bechel test for movies that requires that two women talk to each other about something other than a man. While it is true that I would love more examples of that, there was something else I wanted to see a little bit more: female characters who don’t treat each other terribly. It is, unfortunately, very common for women in fiction to be judgemental jerks to one another. YA characters in particular are often thinking about how “slutty” and vacuous the other girls around them are. Not every character is going to love everyone, but male protagonists are not usually written in such an unnecessarily contemptuous manner. I challenge authors to write women without the cattiness. If you need tension, figure out some other, more creative way of showing this!
2. Fat Characters
If I have to read about one more not pretty, but totally pretty female main character, I will scream. While I applaud the increase in female protagonists in YA literature lately, I am sick of seeing the same white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, thin girls that aren’t particularly transgressive. In short, I want to see something new, and the next few points on my list talk this desire.
For example, I want to read about fat characters. Not teenage girls who think they are fat because they are in the middle of puberty. I want to see characters whose bodies fall outside society’s norms, and I want to see them in stories that are about more than them being fat. I do want to see how anti-fat stigma affects their lives, but I want to see them be more than that. I want them to have exciting adventures and dramatic personal lives. I want to see fat characters as people because fat people exist, and I’m tired of seeing so much erasure in my reading material.
3. Racialised Characters
Similar to my ranting from above, mainstream fiction really needs more racialised characters. There are plenty of stories out there featuring non-white characters, but in North America, almost all the popular novels feature white-coded protagonists. Not only should stories about racialised characters be promoted simply because these people exist and deserve to have stories where they can see themselves reflected, having diverse characters means having diverse and interesting stories!
4. Disabled Characters
One of the things that I loved about the Hunger Games was that Katniss was pretty blatantly coded as mentally ill during part of the series. Aside from books that are meant to deal with disability as a “special” topic, there aren’t all that many stories in popular fiction that have a protagonist who is differently abled. This seems to imply that disabled characters can’t be protagonists because disability is seen as inability. However, in Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes, the protagonist has autism and must travel with a service dog, yet she still manages to be a very interesting and capable individual. She faces unique challenges, but this just gives an author the chance to explore a different story.
5. Queer Characters
Popular fiction has a dearth of queer characters. Heterosexuality is assumed, and queer characters, if they are present at all, are often just in the background. As someone who identifies on the queer spectrum, I really want to see a better representation of sexual orientation because my life would have been better if I could have seen myself reflected in books when I was a kid. However, I want queer characters to appear in stories that aren’t just about their love lives. I want a queer protagonist in a dystopia where the plot doesn’t center on whether or not s/he gets a romantic partner. I want them to exist as something other than a morality plot
6. Polyamorous Characters
I HATE love triangles. When they pop up in a story I usually have to refrain from tossing my book across the room because they annoy me so much. I know that love triangles occur in real life, but they are over-represented in fiction, and they problematically glorify monogamy. There are plenty of people in the world who are quite happy having multiple partners, and I see no reason as to why this relationship type so rarely gets portrayed in a positive light in literature. Why does a character always have to choose between two excellent potential romantic partners? Maybe the three people in the love triangle can work out a solution where everyone wins!
7. A little less romance, please?
It seems to be an unwritten rule of most popular literature that romance must play some sort of role in the story, but sometimes I just want to read about people who are doing things together without any inclination to eventually kiss/have babies. Much of my distaste for romance comes from the fact that these plots can sometimes overtake the central plot, or even if romance is a subplot, it’s badly written and just slows down the rest of the narrative. Like the rest of a story, romance should flow organically. If characters are gravitating together in a non-platonic way, then work to make this an interesting part of the book. Otherwise, let your characters be single.
8. Sex as something fun and responsible
Sex can be a complicated, difficult, and fraught with emotions topic to deal with in fiction, but I wish sex could be portrayed in a responsible, but fun manner. Particularly in YA, where sex is serious business, I would encourage authors to consider creating sexually empowered characters that are capable of making safe choices, but who can also enjoy themselves when it comes to sex. Pleasure isn’t something scary or bad, and I’d love to see a more positive representation of sexuality where the parties are mutually enjoying themselves to be portrayed in fiction,
9. Realistic Romance (No more insta-love!)
Just before Christmas I read a book called The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson. One of the things that really impressed me about it was the fact that the teenage female protagonist acknowledged just how totally in love with her boyfriend she was, but also recognised that their relationship didn’t have to last forever. Too often I see YA books fall into the trap of having young adults pledge themselves to each other until the end of time. While sometimes people do end up staying with their teenage partner for life, this is not the most realistic scenario, and it would be wonderful to see authors write about relationships that can still be very strong and important without implying that this is the characters’ last romantic choice ever.
10. World-building that Makes Sense
Finally, just to include something that isn’t character-focused on this list, I really wish that authors would spend more time actually thinking about the world where their characters are residing. While you don’t have to figure out every single rule about your universe, to write a well-constructed story, you do have to know more than will probably end up in your book. If I keep stumbling across fuzzy places in your narrative where there is a question about your world that hasn’t been answered, I will continually be drawn out of the story. I come across this problem a lot in dystopias or speculative fiction when a government is evil just because, or society has undergone a radical change for no apparent reason (I am looking at you, Unwind by Neal Shusterman). If your plot depends on specific world-building traits, then make sure those traits make sense!