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?