Sunday, March 20, 2011

Character Creation 101: The Popular Girl

The popular girl is a stock character with a wide range. She can be stuck up and bratty or nice and compassionate. Modern YA authors tend to go for the former rather than the later to evoke sympathy from their readers for the protagonist. It would be absurd to say that you can only be popular if you're a snob, but in YA the protagonist is usually the outcast victim. And rather than create real drama, the mean girl is used. Sadly. she is becoming more and more prominent as the popular girl. Below are some examples of the different types of popular girls in fiction.

The Mean Girl

This is the girl who dates the popular boy, cheats on him, and makes the wimpy protagonist feel inadequate all in one afternoon. She's got her daddy's credit card in her right pocket and the it list in her left. Most often portrayed as a blond with a narcissist attitude, the mean girl is the standard antagonist for modern YA chick lit.

She's got a team of girls and boys ready to do her bidding. She'll do anything to get her way. And she's got an annoying sidekick to reiterate everything she says. She's cunning and has a purse full of schemes to stay in power. Pink is her color and collecting expensive jewelery is her hobby. The mall is her natural habitat and valley girl is her first language. Her IQ rarely spans over 110. Her face is probably going to be pointy, like a rat's, and she's so thin it's a wonder she's not anorexic. Depth is rarely one of her traits as she is more of a plot device than a character.

Examples: Lauren Moffat from 'How to Be Popular', Lana Weinberger from 'The Princess Diaries', Angela from 'The Castaways', Angelica Pickles from 'Rugrats',Pansy Parkinson from 'Harry Potter', and Mia from 'Vampire Academy'.

The Queen Bee

The queen bee, like her namesake, is the 'queen' of the school. Unlike the gossip girl, she doesn't get giddy over boys, they approach her. She's got lots of friends who respect her because of her intelligence and her personality. It might help that she's also attractive. Under-pressure she can be tough but she's very sensitive and has a tendency to cry after tragic events. She may also be from a respected family. Her antagonist is the mean girl who unfortunately can't dispose of her because the queen is just as popular as she is. She is extremely loyal to her friends but can also have a tendency to be clingy. She is very emotional and at times will need a shoulder to cry on. She is also very polite and doesn't spread rumors. This is the girl that every boy will crush on but sadly cannot date because she is already taken. If the mean girl isn't dating the popular boy then you better believe that the queen is.

Examples: Cho Chang from 'Harry Potter', Daisy Walker from 'Static Shock', Lissa Dragomir from 'Vampire Academy', and Susan Snell from 'Carrie'.

The Gossip Girl

This is the girl that giggles with her friends at lunch over their new found crush. She gossips, spreads rumors, and is, at times, extremely shallow. But she is kind to everyone and the girl is everyone’s friend. She had the opportunity to become a mean girl but she took the nice route instead. But that doesn't stop her from being hypocritical and judgmental. She's cute rather than beautiful and dates jocks of all kinds. She falls for guys based on their appearance rather than their personality. And she loves to flirt. This gossip girl will hate a boy one second and make-out with him the next. She can be superficial and have seemingly low intelligence but she does well academically.

She's doesn't act this way on purpose, it's just the way that she is. Do not doubt that she'll be in a clique. She is the head of the preppiest clique in the school. She loves make up and nail polish. Squealing with joy over something ridiculous is also another one of her hobbies. But she likes to nag like no tomorrow and sometimes she will remind you of your mother. She is not afraid to speak her mind even if her opinion is completely absurd. Gossip girls don't have any specific crowd that they run with, they're friends with everyone. She is definitely an interesting type of popular girl to say the least.

Examples: Carly Shay from 'iCarly', Katara from 'Avatar: The Last Airbender', Frieda from 'Static Shock', and Courtney Crimson from '13 Reasons Why'.

The Ice Queen

You couldn't melt this girl's heart with a blow torch. Not even a nuclear bomb could warm it. Approach with caution, the ice queen is a dangerous breed of popular girl ready to tear you into shreds. At first glance, she may seem like the heart-breaker, but she is much worse. Her heart is protected like Fort Knox. She'd probably laugh at the idea of drowning puppies, if she had a sense of humor. Apathy is her middle name and sympathy isn't a game she likes to play. She doesn't date, unless she has a steady boyfriend who she keeps under her thumb. She has probably had her heart broken before and refuses to get hurt once more.

Underneath the icy exterior is a train wreck of emotions that only the biggest fool would try to fix. It's a wonder this girl has any friends. Most likely it has to do with her appearance. The ice queen will never get lower than nine out ten on the beauty scale. She's always there for her friends and will be a shoulder to cry on. Just don't expect her to comfort you. She is a rock, nothing more, nothing less. She doesn't confide in anyone and never cries. Don't get on her bad side because revenge is her favorite game and you can guarantee that she'll get even no matter what.

Examples: Tanya from 'Dark Angel', Rosalie Hale from 'Twilight', Anna Kyoyama from 'Shaman King', Leah Clearwater from 'Twilight', and Rikako from 'Ocean Waves'.

The Manic Pixie

This is the girl that drives guys crazy. They'll wonder why the ever fell in love with her in the first place. She's got her quirks and her flaws. She might be aggressive, self destructive, or just a party girl. But one trait they all share is their sense of individuality. They don't usually fit in with cliques. They prefer to hang out with guys and those guys are more often than not crushing on them. She has to be the most annoying of the popular girls. But she has inner pain that she hides by being unpredictable.

She doesn't mean to be a heart breaker. She is probably moody. She will cry when her feelings are hurt, but only as a last resort. The manic pixie will be the character to die more often than not. She has to be attractive. Her best friend is the only person she truly confides in. She's had many love interests, each different in their own way, but none are more important than the other to her. Sometimes she is used as a plot device to teach the protagonist something about themselves. Her vices will sometimes include smoking and alcohol abuse. She also likes flirting even more than the gossip girl. And she's not as shy about it. Expect her to have leukemia or another deadly disease if the plot calls for it.

Examples: Alaska from 'Looking For Alaska', Samantha Puckett from 'iCarly', Summer from ' (500) Days of Summer', Avery from 'Vampire Academy', Rachel from ' The Animorphs', Olivia and Harriet from 'Lock and Key', and Sarah Deever from 'Sweet November'.

The Heart Breaker

This character is most often confused with the manic pixie and the ice queen. However, she is very different. She has many boyfriend, most of which she dumps. She doesn't feel remorse about it either. Unlike the manic pixie, she doesn't cry about it. She knows that she dumped them for a logical reason and she doesn't feel guilty. She moves on very easily. It's very likely that she had a good reason for dumping them. She has a strong personality and quite an attitude.

Most heart breakers do their fair share of flirting but they have quite the temper and aren't passive aggressive like manic pixies who may suffer from depression. This character has her mind made up and when she makes a decision it's final. She probably has a calender date for when she dumps a boy. She hangs out with a variety of people and confides in no one except for one or two close friends. She may also be quite the bully but she has to be very attractive to keep her circle of friends. Like the ice queen she provides a shoulder to cry on and is very dependable, but she will occasionally provide comforting words. Most importantly she doesn't take anything from anyone.

Examples: Tris from 'Nick and Norah', Remy Starr from 'This Lullaby', Blaise Harman from 'Witchlight', and Victoria from 'Along for the Ride'.

The Green Girl

The green girl doesn't drink coffee, you'll most likely find her in a tea house sipping chai. Or she'll you'll find her eating a crossaint in the park on a cold morning. The green girl and the manic pixie are the backbone for the rom-coms of the late 90's. While she is the least popular of the popular girls she is definitely the nicest. Her compassion and caring attitude draw people near her. She is one of the friendliest characters you'll ever write. While boys will wonder why they're attracted to manic pixies and heart breakers, they know why they like the green girl; because she's nice. She doesn't have to beautiful, sometimes she only has to be average. Being attractive isn't her strong point as she relies on her personality, unlike the ice queen. She'll most likely be a vegetarian or even a vegan.

If you received an organic hand knitted sherpa hat for Christmas, it was from her. One of her major flaws is that she puts people before herself, never caring to think that she can't be a saint all of the time. While she may be the best person to come for if you're in need of advice, most won't simply because she tends to be preachy and over sympathetic to the point of embarrassment. She doesn't realize that she can't be Oprah all of the time. People like to solve their problems on their own, and they don't need her to tell them how to do that. One major difference between her and the queen bee is that she is the shoulder to cry on rather than the one that cries on the shoulder. You'll usually find her outside with animals or in beautiful scenery because she loves the outdoors. Hipsters love this trope.

Examples: Heather from 'Lock and Key', Cassie from 'The Animorphs, Luna Lovegood from 'Harry Potter', and Stargirl from 'Stargirl'.

In conclusion, the popular girl can cover a wide range of personality types but the one thing they share is that people are attracted to them. 

If you have anymore characters to add, or if you think I've mis-categorized someone, please let me know in the comments.


  1. I disagree that Rachel from 'Animorphs' is a manic pixie. To me, a big part of a manic pixie is that it is shown that they have problems, but these problems are overshadowed by the protagonist's and never really taken into deep consideration or account. Such as Alaska or Summer.

    However, Rachel, unlike Alaska and Summer, is not only a full three dimensional character (instead of a person with many quirks and a thin personality to draw them all together) but her problems are discussed and dealt with, rather than ignored and shoved to the side. I think that Rachel is a very fleshed out three dimensional character, and she has flaws other than being fickle and dating someone other than the MC.

  2. I was wondering where Lila Zacharov - from Holly Black's Curseworker series - should go, and I think she needs a category of her own - the Femme Fatale.

    Also, Monica Morrell from Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires is a Mean Girl, Isabel Culpeper from Maggie Stiefvater's 'Shiver' is a Heart Breaker and Ivy from Melina Marchetta's 'Looking for Alibrandi' is an Ice Queen.

  3. I'm always happy to see the Animorphs crop up in current YA discussion, but I also disagree with Rachel as a manic pixie. The series has its flaws, but I've always appreciated its well characterized female protagonists. Namely, that they ARE protagonists: their problems and motivations are given weight, depth, and perspective.

    I'm less familiar with the other girls on this list, so this could be a case of stock characters being in the eye of the beholder.

  4. Thirding the whole "Rachel isn't a MPDG" thing, for the reasons the others have stated.