Friday, March 9, 2012

On giving your main character an awesome group of friends. (Guest Post by debut author Meredith Zeitlin)

My absolute favorite part of Meredith Zeitlin's awesome debut FRESHMAN YEAR AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS was the positive portrayal of a strong, loyal group of friends. Too often in YA, girls are shown as backstabbing enemies or catty frenemies, or at the least, much less appealing to have than a guy friend. Also, few YA protagonists have more than one close female friend.

For writers, adding multiple fully-realized characters without taking away from the MC's story is a tall order. Meredith Zeitlin pulled this off with much success, and she's here to tell us how she did it!

One of the scariest things for me about my freshman year was starting at a brand new school where I didn't know a soul. Getting good grades, being cast in a play, making the sports team you want... those things all pale in comparison to finding someone to sit with at lunch or tell your secrets to. And for Kelsey, who has so much enthusiasm and so much bad luck (a lot of it of her own making, of course), I wanted her to always have a really strong foundation supporting her. Without her friends' encouragement, she probably wouldn't be able to pick herself up and keep going in the wake of disaster after disaster.

It was important to me that each girl really have her own story, her own specific personality, her own family background, and her own way of speaking. That's one of the things I worked hardest on, and I hope I was successful. But of course, each girl also serves a purpose in the protagonist's – Kelsey's – journey.

Em is Kelsey's Jiminy Cricket. She's the quiet and shy one, but she's also Kelsey's rock. When they have a fight for the first time, the bottom really falls out from under Kelsey. Em centers Kelsey in an important way: sometimes when you're outgoing, you forget that it's okay to sit quietly sometimes. Em is that reminder. She also sticks to her guns; for example, she absolutely doesn't drink alcohol, and she doesn't let anyone make her feel bad about that. That's a key thing for Kelsey, who gets really wrapped up in what other people think, to see.

Cassidy is the most like Kelsey herself, and because of that they tend to butt heads the most. They both have strong opinions and like to be in charge of the group, but they also balance each other out, because they can't BOTH be in charge all the time, right? Cassidy has a very different home life than Kelsey, though, and because of that she tends to act out more. As a result she gets her way a lot more often. This drives Kelsey nuts and also reminds her to be compassionate – despite all her complaints, Kelsey knows she's pretty lucky when it comes to her family and support system at home. Cass doesn't really have that.

JoJo is the friend who does her own thing and never seems to face any repercussions for being different or boldly charging ahead. Kelsey both envies JoJo's easy-breezy life and cannot fathom how to be that way herself. JoJo never seems to be insecure about anything – how is that possible?! Of course, JoJo has her own journey, but in most things she is truly confident and comfortable with herself. Kelsey looks up to her, but JoJo never looks down. That's a pretty amazing friend to have.

Based on this picture, wouldn't you
want to be friends with Meredith?
Overall, I developed these characters to act as a unit. The group doesn't really work without all the members, and there's security in that. It also makes it essential for the girls to look out for each other which, especially in a new environment like high school, can be hard to remember. Friendships change, grow, and sometimes end – I wanted Kelsey to see that this was in fact a possibility, and work really hard not to let it happen. For Kelsey to truly appreciate her friends, she has to worry a little bit about losing them, and that happens too. But ultimately, despite all the ups and downs, the boys and the fights, the differences in handling things and misunderstandings, the girls end up facing the world together. Which makes each of them, but especially Kelsey, really lucky.

(By the way, I did make amazing friends in high school and never had to sit alone. In fact, many of the characters in the book are named after wonderful girls – okay, women – that I'm still super lucky to be friends with today.)

Thanks, Meredith! Love the insight!

If you haven't already, be sure to enter our giveaway for FRESHMAN YEAR AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS! (Or just hop on over to the post to share your favorite --- or most embarrassing --- moment from school.) 

If you'd like to stalk Meredith (in a friendly way, of course), follow her on Twitter @zeitlingeist or check out!

Tomorrow, I'll resume the Lucky Seven book reviews with Veronica Rossi's UNDER THE NEVER SKY!

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