Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nice Guys Finish Last - YA Character Study

We all know about the Bad Boy of YA lit. He makes the heroine giggle and swoon and fall head over heels every time. And of course, his questionable character is redeemed by the end, thereby making him worthy of the heroine's love.

Blah blah blah.

What about the Nice Guy?

Exhibit 1A: Quasimodo
(Awwww lookit the birdie!)

Exhibit 1B: Duckie
(Hi, Duckie. You're awesome.)

Ok, so here's the deal with Nice Guys. They NEVER get the girl. (Alright, go ahead, point out the, like, five times in the history of the universe where the obviously Nice Guy got the girl. For the purposes of this post, it's never happened.)

Here's the thing: If the Nice Guy makes a cameo in your novel, please please don't underestimate him. Nice Guy has all sorts of redeeming qualities, and he might even be moderately attractive. Sure, he doesn't brood or smolder, and he might only have a four-pack ---

[Pause for gratuitous six-pack image.]

[Remember when he was Nice Guy Dean on Gilmore Girls?]

Where was I?
Right, the positives of the Nice Guy.

--- but he's also less inclined to have a big ego and anger issues. And there's none of that "I love you let's be together forever" / "Just kidding let's break up" dramarama. He might even bring you flowers on your birthday, which he remembers all by himself.

So when this Nice Guy shows up in books/movies/TV shows, what's his story?

He could be the Best Friend Who's Secretly in Love With You Nice Guy.

[Hi Duckie. Lovely to see you again.]

The Stranger Who Worships You From Afar Nice Guy.

[Hey Q. That's a lovely doll.]

The Bumbling Yet Well-Meaning Boyfriend Nice Guy.

[Nice astronaut suit, Paul Rudd. But Juliet doesn't dig it.]

Or the I Love You and Will Wait Around for You to Dump the D-Bag Nice Guy.

[Jacob, I wish you didn't look so stalkerish here. But I like the haircut.]

Here's the problem with these Nice Guys. As readers, we feel bad for them. Why? Because we KNOW, beyond a doubt, that they're going to get kicked to the curb. Nice Guys finish last, y'all. Sure, there's that moment or two of hope, usually during one of the "He dumped me! My heart is broken and ... oh, is that a warm, sympathetic, manly shoulder to cry on? May I borrow it until he takes me back?" days. (I'm waiting for Elena to have one of these with Matt in The Vampire Diaries.)

But, inevitably, here's where the Nice Guy ends up:




Wait -- where are the Nice Guys?


I want a Nice Guy to get the girl, dammit! (Hence, I'm Team Peeta. I'm holding out hope.) But here's your challenge as a writer -- give the Nice Guy a real shot. Meaning, even IF the heroine ends up with Broody McBrooderson, the reader actually believes that she just might pick the Nice Guy. This extra effort to give Mr. Smoldering Gaze some competition will actually strengthen the romance in the end because it raises the stakes.

(By the way, THANK YOU SUZANNE COLLINS for doing the Nice Guy thing so so so well. I really don't know who Katniss will choose.)

[Pause for a moment of Hunger Games awe.]

Disclaimer: This is not to say that all the non-Nice Guys are Bad Boys. I mean, Romeo was the king of lovesick fools and took "til death do us part" wayyyy too literally. Bad Boys don't have HALF that unvacillating dedication. [Woooo $5 word...that I think I made up.] But they definitely have an epic, intense edge that knocks the Nice Guy to the wayside.

Help me out here ... who are some Nice Guys who get the girl? How did the author make the romance have that fantastic spark WITHOUT the intense, dramatic stuff? Did the Nice Guy have any real Bad Boy competition?

Here's my contribution to a rare Nice Guy win:

Heck yes, Mark Darcy.


  1. If Peeta and Katniss do not end up together I will cry.

  2. I agree. How do you combat this? Do readers expect the girl to get with the nice guy or the bad guy?

  3. If Katniss ends up with Gale I will probably have to chuck the book out a window. (and then run outside, dust it off, and apologize to it profusely)

    Mark Darcy! Excellent choice. But then, Mark Darcy isn't a YA character. I think authors of YA novels have this assumption that teens are all obsessed with Mr. Not-Nice Guy. For the sake of my daughters, I hope this is not true.

  4. Great post! And excellent points. Haven't yet read Catching Fire, but after The Hunger Games, it never occurred to me that Katniss would end up with Gale. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta was so well-developed, I guess I just assumed they'd either work it out or not. I may just have to start Catching Fire today to find out. LOL!

  5. All the time I was reading the post my mind was screaming WHAT ABOUT MR DARCI!!?? But you got that one lol

    I got another nice guy that wins the girl, The vampire diaries actually. Elena ends up with Stephan not Damon (though I love Damon) see? One win. Whaaat eeelse. Oh oh Uglies series, kind of. Wicked Lovely!

    Ill stop now xD

    Great post! BTW I did love Quasimodo, so sad when he didn't get the girl.

  6. Yay comments!

    Najela - I think readers seem to expect the heroine to go with the bad boy -- as long as he is redeemed for his misdeeds. But I think that, as long as the author builds the story correctly, the heroine can end up with either.

    NotNessie - Mark Darcy definitely isn't YA, and he doesn't even technically fit to my parameters, because Daniel is never really and truly redeemed. But he's so darn cute!

    Anissa - I agree, Collins is setting up more of a Katniss and Peeta relationship, but her bond with Gale is so intense that she could easily have Katniss choose him in the final novel, as long as their relationship gets the appropriate depth.

    Taschima - For the Vampire Diaries TV Show, the Nice Guy is definitely Matt. I haven't read all the novels, so if Damon is redeemed and Elena still chooses Stefan then yay! Nice Guy for the win! And Wicked Lovely is an excellent example! I haven't read Fragile Eternity yet though. And the Uglies series is on my TBR.

    All - Another Nice Guy who lost? Dawson Leery. (But I always liked Pacey best.)

  7. Donna, Thank you for this post-you had me cracking up!

    You're right--it took me WAY too long to think of examples, but I did think of one. It's kinda weirdly structured because the books are told first person from the good guy's POV, but Percy Jackson--SPOILER ALERT--gets the girl he wants at the end of the series, not his evil nemesis Luke. So that's ONE. (And yes, I am Team Peeta so I am hoping very much the Hunger Games will turn out to be another example!).

    Also, I would argue that She's All That sorta counts because while Freddy Prince Jr. was very hot in that movie, there was um, PAUL WALKER--pretty much the Hottest Guy in the Universe--vying for her attention. Sure, his motives weren't pure (and his acting was terrible) but did you see the shirt off scene? *Pauses to fantasize about it* And she had a chance to hit that, but passed it up to go dance in her backyard with Freddy P--not exactly a consolation prize--but STILL!

    So there's two. And if I get to write my whole series there will be three--but that's all I have to say about that for right now. :)

  8. So true. There's just something about the bad boy that draws you in. One YA book that comes to mind where the nice guy gets the girl is Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott.

  9. Oh my god, this post is FANTASTIC. Yay for all the nice guys! (Though I admit, the bad boys have a place in my heart as well.) And is that a still from New Moon I see? Interestinggg.... Jacob = fiiine. I'm also intrigued to see who Katniss will end up with, even though I don't think the romantic buildup was done up enough in the series...

  10. Man I don't even know who to side with in Hunger Games-I am not on either team, I love them both! For the first half of Catching Fire I was dying over Gale (omg that one scene in the market!) and then the second half I was all Peeta. I honestly have no clue and I like that. That's the one thing that bugs me about nice guy love triangles in general-you usually know who is going to win and the nice guy starts to feel forced. Worst example-Finn on Grey's Anatomy. I mean come was sooo Derek all along that it was like Finn, just go home!

    Yikes I hope I can pull this off...

    Mmmmm you know another example? Lorelai and Luke! Luke was the ultimate nice guy but whenever Christopher was there I genuinely wanted them together, but it was Luke in the end.

  11. Frankie - YES! Luke and Christopher are another fantastic example of the Nice Guy love triangle done well, where you seriously can't choose.

    And, to a smaller extent, Ben and Noel in Felicity. Because Ben was kind of a jerk.

    But part of my inspiration for this post was your transformation of Tristan to a contender in the Nice Guy category. Never fear! The FNC has your back.

  12. Awwww Tristan inspired it:-) That makes me sooo happy.

  13. I can think of two Nice Guys who justifiably got the girl...
    James in Audrey, Wait! (and he had to win her from a rock star. Ice cream scooper: 1. Rock star: 0)
    Col. Christopher Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (Not sure if this is counted as YA, plus the fact that he and Marianne were just secondary characters)

    And, yes, Peeta + Katniss for me (and I'm fervently wishing that he doesn't get killed off on book 3).

  14. Just stopping by to let you know that this post has been featured in my Weekly Wrap-Up! Stop by and check it out if you get a chance!

    Natalie @ Mindful Musings

  15. holy frickin wow you summed it all up flawlessly!

    i do have to disagree with you on one thing though, while i do love Peeta, I think I might actually be pulling for Gale. Actually, I think he technically can be considered a nice guy, he is in love with Katniss for all that time and then has to see her go off and be all cuddly with Peeta. Theres something to think about...


  16. Yeah, Gale hasn't done one thing wrong. How would he not be a nice guy? Katniss is choosing between two amazing guys, that's what makes it so hard.
    But meanwhile she's got to save the world first.

  17. Shannon - Well, since I'm finishing up these comments-on-comments soooo delayed... there's a good chance you will get to finish your series!

    Michelle - Great example!

    Sandy - YES, since I wrote this post, I've read Audrey, Wait! Another win for the Nice Guy!

    Natalie - Thanks!

    Dani and anonymous - Yep, Gale's definitely not a Bad Boy -- check out my Disclaimer, he's like Romeo -- BUT he has an edge to his personality, and he's kind of a reckless anarchist, so comparitively, Peeta's the Nice Guy in the love triangle. I still love them both! That's why HG is so amazing!

  18. It's true, the nice guys really do always finish last. Originally, I was all for Gale, but right now I'm actually just kind of sitting back and being angry at Suzanne Collins for letting all of the romance fall way flat in Catching Fire. In book 2, nothing really upped the dynamic between Katniss and Peeta, and while this was (not) happening, she din't even use this book as an opportunity to fully attach the readers to Gale like she did for Peeta in book one!!! AAARRGhh!! Ah well, hoping she can satisfy me with the third installment..

  19. Starlight - Yep, I'm just waiting to see who Katniss ends up with!

  20. I just wanna say: Victory to Peeta!! :D

    And umm I would not call my knowledge of literature broad at all, so I won't be giving you any examples :)

    Oh, I love Hermione for ending up with Ron. He never had any bad boy competition or anything (unless you count Krum, which I don't really), but I just wanted to mention her.


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