The rule in the Harry Potter books, Twilight series, and The Hunger Games series is clear: A popular YA novel needs two male main characters for every one female.
Did you ever notice that these stories all have two guys and one girl? Hermione, Harry, & Ron; Katniss, Peeta & Gale; Bella, Edward & Jacob.
So, why don’t novels written with two females and one male become hits? Perhaps for the same reason that J.K. Rowling did not publish the Harry Potter Series under her name “Joanne,” that is, over worries that boys would not be interested in reading a story by a female author. Even today, just weeks from 2014, is it too emasculating for male readers to read books that might be considered too girlie?
Let’s look at the role of the leading ladies in Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.
Hermione from Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone
- Hermione is a strong character but still a sidekick. She is on equal or higher footing than the boys intellectually. Check out this article on “the girls who weren’t the chosen ones” for a deeper look.
- Hermione had more to prove before Harry and Ron accepted her into their peer group. Harry and Ron bonded quickly on the train ride to Hogwarts. Even though they met Hermione on the train too, she wasn’t considered their friend until after she earned their trust by lying to the teachers to cover for them.
- Hermione still has to play the damsel in distress. Harry and Ron save Hermione from the Giant. Though, Hermione “saves the day” at least twice: during the final scene, she untangles the gang from the Devil’s Snare plant, and she is the only one who can solve the logic puzzle (a scene which was not worthy enough to make it in film version of the novel).
Bella from Twilight is a Weaker Heroine
- Bella is a weaker character but she gets the lead. She is smart, but she also is clumsy and self-conscious. Her weakness may be more in line with what is standard for romance novel rather than the strength we expect for an adventure story.
- Bella is constantly the damsel in distress. Edward saves her from being hit by a car, Edward saves her from getting raped in a dark alley, Edward saves her from the evil vampire. Check out this article called “That’s not very feminist of you, Bella” that explains how her passivity makes her a protagonist but not a heroine.
Katniss from the Hunger Games is a Strong Heroine
- Katniss is the best example of feminism: she is strong AND she gets to be the main character. She has hunting and trapping skills, tree-climbing skills, and amazing archery skills.
- No matter how much ass Katniss kicks, her romances still carry for the story. Maybe the YA market isn’t ready for such an empowered heroine: one of the most popular google searches including her name is “Katniss and Peeta kiss.” Sorry Katniss, the “Capitol audience” is real.
How to channel some Girl Power into a YA novel that still gets read
- Writing about three friends stirs conflict. It naturally leads to “an odd (wo)man out.”
- Conflict develops from tension. Tension comes from the heroine trying to choose between two males who want her attention, like Edward and Jacob competing over Bella, or Gale and Peeta competing over Katniss. In Harry Potter the gang is so young that the Hermione stirs tension just by forcing the boys to interact with a girl.
- Conflict develops from trust issues. The introduction of a third character disrupts the relationship of the first two friends. Katniss is happy in her relationship with Gale, and is not sure if she can trust Peeta because he might kill her during the Games. Bella is attracted to Edward, but she learns from Jacob that again, there’s a real possibility that Edward could kill her. Harry and Ron are happy to have made friends with each other, and they are not sure if they can trust goody two-shoes Hermoine to not tattle on them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: does writing a novel with more females than males create a risk of alienating half its readership?