Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mean Girls Are People, Too!

I recently showed my nine-year-old son a group photo from my *mumble* year high school reunion. His first question? "Who were the mean girls?" He's only in 4th grade and he already knows. And I know how he knows. I've worked in his classroom; I've seen junior mean girls in action. The warfare is already strictly psychological. Some examples, all said with pointed looks toward shorter/less attractive/chubbier victims: "Eww, what's that smell?" "Why are your pants so short?" "How fast did you run the mile?"

The thing is, in a group shot of over a hundred people, I could pick the mean girls out quickly, efficiently, definitively. How could I do this after so many years? Because those junior mean girls, for the most part, grew up to be thirty-something mean girls. Some, either battered by life or surprised by its goodness, evolved into decent people. Most, though, flashed their large diamonds in the faces of women who obviously struggled financially, elbowed their way to the front of every photo op, spread nasty stories about women who weren't there, and couldn't defend themselves.

Mean girls are tough to write about. They shouldn't be. Every high school has them, as do most YA books about those years. When someone is mean to us, we remember the transgression in minute detail. This should make it easy to pull sensory images from real life when writing, but maybe this is the problem. Those instances become almost mythical for writers and can turn into caricature when we are loosely recreating them on paper.

I have a mean girl, Nina, in my novel. In my (super-smart) agent's revision notes, she wrote, why doesn't Nina get any closure? My first reaction was, because Nina doesn't deserve any! But then, I thought about it, and decided I was being a mean writer. And a short-sighted one. Do I still hate the mean girls, even though I now figure they all have inferiority complexes or unhappy marriages or personality disorders? Yes. Does it mean, from a writer's perspective, they aren't deserving of being treated as whole, multi-dimensional characters? No.

What do you guys think?


  1. Mean girls have great depth, in my opinion;) Though I wasn't one, I rode the coat tales of many.

    My own daughter was one, and then got bitten, and now sits on the outskirts... she's okay with that. Being a girl (mean or not) is rough, tough, crafty magic.

    Great post!

  2. OK, so I feel like I know a thing or two about mean girls. Heck there are a few times in my life that I was probably considered a mean girl (ouch). Plus the movie Mean Girls is one of my all time favorite movies. I mean what's not to like? Tina Fey, Rachel McAdams and La Lohan back when her hair was red, she had a nice rack and didn't look like someone had attached her to the back of their bumper and driven around with her dangling off the back for 24 hours.

    But I digress.

    We have a mean girl in our book too who Major Agent proclaimed a "caricature" after reading our first draft. So we gave her an older sister to boss her around and put her in her place a bit. And in this latest version she even grows and changes a bit throughout, because even mean girls deserve a little redemption, right?

    As for Nina, man I hated that bitch. BUT you did an excellent job because by the end of the book I ended up feeling a little bit sorry for her. Turns out mean girls are human too and I guess that's an important lesson for YAs and for us grown ups too.

  3. Wow ... what an incredible post. Your son is so perceptive! Such a great point in developing charaters too! Thank you!

  4. I agree with Lisa and Laura- having just finished reading your book minutes ago, I too felt a bit sorry for Nina by the end and that is enough closure for me.

    I guess from a grown up perspective having learned lots of life lessons about the woes we all face as girls... yes- mean girls to deserve a chance to be real full characters with feelings and points of view and all that... but I can't help revert back to my former self, the victim of many many mean girls, and say "screw 'em"!

  5. Thanks for the comments!

    Suzanne--I'm fascinated by what precipitates the transition from mean to nice. Maybe an idea for a story? Hmmmm....

    L & L--Your mean girl is hilarious, and the reader (at least this one) can see there is something behind the eyes, you know?

    Thanks, Kelly!

    Kathleen--Having also been a victim more often than not, I can say, yeah, it's hard to let go of those feelings. But I'm glad you felt a little sorry for Nina at the end of my book--you're supposed to--yay!

  6. Oh, and L & L, you are absolutely right--what the hell happened to Lindsay Lohan? I used to hate the phrase "Ridden hard and put away wet" but I guess, in her case, it fits.

  7. Loretta - We love the phrase "rode hard and put away wet." We even used it in our first (and oft rejected) YA novel. We've since come to the conclusion that it might not be very YA friendly. But it's perfect for describing people like La Lohan and Little J from Gossip Girl.

    And for the record, I blame Dina for Lindsay's steady decline. That woman is the devil.

  8. Tracey Ullman does a great skit about Dina Lohan. Have you seen it?

  9. I'm with Lila. Mean Girls is one of my all-time favorites too.
    I absolutely agree that mean girls are people too. I think there are a couple of reasons why it's hard for writers to write mean girls. 1) for the most part, we were on the other end of the meanness 2) some of us (not me, of course) still harbor a little resentment toward them 3) the mean girl with a heart that just secretly longs to be loved is almost as overdone as the caricature, flat mean girl. I wonder if people have a hard time striking the perfect balance?
    Great post!