There is a recurring theme in most YA novels.
It is this:
Most male characters (main or not) are too serious.
They’re usually dark and brooding, mysterious and edgy. But with a soft heart, of course (just don’t let others see that bit). Somehow, writers have in in their brain that this characteristic makes them more likeable.
But, in all honesty, you are creating an unrealistic character. Have you ever met anyone who never cracks a joke or a smile?
Of course, I understand that some of these guys exist. I can understand why a character who’s family was killed by a cow stampede when he was seven is a little harsh.
But should it make him sulky?
Also, why does a guy need to be brooding to be mysterious? Why not avoid pointed questions with a snarky remark instead of a miserable aversion of the eyes?
Now, none of this is to say that this particular character should never, ever be put into a good novel. I know broody guys have a place in society too.
If this person does have a place, undoubtedly, in your novel, my advice is this:
Let him lighten up sometimes.
He doesn’t always have to be hard of heart and grim. He doesn’t have to “flash a rare smile”. He doesn’t have to be a jerk.
He can have a quirky sense of humor. He can have facial expressions once and a while. Why? Because he is a person.
Does he have to be Mr. Happy Fun Times?
Does he need to be a little more rounded?
The thing about people is that they aren’t one extreme or the other. This goes for all stereotypical characters ever. Not all cheerleaders and blonde. Not all wizards have a pointy beard and long robes. Not all people from Tatooine are destined to be the Chosen One.
And not all male characters are meant to be sulky.
You may be asking, “How can I improve my broody/sulky/grumpy character?
The answer is simple.
Let him develop and change not only in the long run of your novel, but in the little circumstances. If he’s mysterious and guarded, let him show a little personality once and a while.
And no, I don’t mean by being a jerk or showing surprising heroics (although heroics are sometimes necessary).
What I mean is let him talk.
Not about sappy backstory or regrets. I mean real, normal-people words. Let him have a conversation about how to roast hot dogs properly or that one time he broke his ankle playing dodgeball.
This is something I’ve learned with my main character, Alex. My novel, The Specter’s Play, has gone through many, many transformations. Alex has gone from being a twenty-something year old CIA agent with a black past to an eighteen-year-old college kid whose native language is sass and overall goofiness.
But there is a medium. Not all characters fit in the Alex slot, he just happened to work out for my particular setting.
Your character may be vastly different, but there has to be a dose of both sides. What portions to add would be up to you.
Overall, your character is pretty amazing. He can do things besides feel miserable. There’s at least a sliver of light in his heart that’s okay for him to show others.
And your readers will love him for that.
(Oh, and don’t worry ye female charries, I’ll have words with you next week in Pt. 2, Why Your Female Character Should Stop Being Tough!)