Rosalind Wiseman: Queen bees & Wannabees
Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence
Not quite a teenager anymore? Me neither, so I wanted to get a bit of fresh perspective for my writing regarding that age group. I happened to stumble upon Wiseman’s book about the real life of teens and it was a fascinating read. The book is directed to concerned parents to help them help their daughters through adolescence, but it works fine as a fiction writer’s guide to the subject.
Not only is Wiseman spot on in so many of her characterizations, her book is excellent inspiration for writers! However, it is also quite chilling to remember she’s talking about real people and real lives. Wiseman paints a picture of the US high schools as battle grounds of several different clans, no mercy asked, no given. Is it really that hard to be young and a girl?
I have to admit, that some of the things she describes seem a bit far out. I guess my Finnish teen universe was not quite as elaborately class or status oriented as the US counterpart. But I can completely relate to one thing: girls can be utterly cruel and devious to each other. Sometimes sweet and supportive too. Just like any of us. But the latter happens seldom, Wiseman warns. There’s even a word for the twisted form of friendships girls can create: frenemies.
Is your teen character real and relatable?
For a YA fiction writer Wiseman’s book is excellent reading. It takes you back to your teenage feelings and gives a plethora of authentic opinions and views by the youth she quotes. One thing that all too often irritates me in YA fiction is the unrealistic teen characters. Either they appear to be light years more mature than their peers in the real world or – this applies especially to male characters – they’re straight out of daydreams.
I don’t believe this is a coincidence, though. Wiser-than-their-years characters most probably appeal to many readers. However, if you as a writer want to create somewhat realistic characters or characters that resonate with young readers, perhaps it would be a good idea to get familiar with the actual think sets and logic your audience shares?
And where’s the book about preteens’ behaviour patterns?
Another pet peeve of mine are child characters that are completely wrong for their age. And I know it is really difficult to get them right. Most often children in literature appear too childish, too innocent and far too clueless. It is as if writers would like to present children through an ideal instead of a real, living thing.
A wonderful child character is Flavia de Luce, a shrewd detective girl aged 12 by Alan Bradley. With my experience of two daughters it’s very easy to relate to this girl’s witty cynicism and discerning observations of the life around her. Another beautifully built character in her preteens is Mia, from Kerstin Gier’s Book of Dream’s trilogy.
Who’s going to write a guide on the real preteens? Wiseman touches a bit this age group, as she includes 12 year olds in some of her examples. But what about 7 to 11 year olds? The problem is, that in that age group the level of maturity varies enormously between individuals. Where some 9 year olds play with dolls, others listen to the latest pop music and spend their time in WhatsApp. And even the same individual may do one thing today and the other on the next day. So, how do you present a character of this age group – especially if she’s just a side character with not that much presence in the novel?
Need a cast of stereotypes?
Here’s a big bunch of them. Wiseman’s categories of reputations are something straight out of an high school comedy. They are not as apparent in literature, but some elements of them are visible in many characters in YA fiction. Even if these would be simplistic used as such in a story, the reputations can give ideas for the group dynamics in a novel cast or elements of a character’s behaviour.
In-Your-Face Angry Girl: She’s not afraid to dress differently and be ”bitchy”. She is dramatic, interested in zines, has no patience for popularity and people in the popular cliques. She seems cynical, but is in reality easily hurt and feels like the world is against her.
Quiet, Morose Girl/Loner: She’s an observer and poet, expressing herself in journals. She’s withdrawn, depressed, sullen and prone to wearing all black.
Big Girl/Tomboy: She’s often physically bigger than other students. She’s reluctant to join groups, is quiet and feels out of place. She’s rumoured of being gay.
Jock: She excels in sports and looks masculine. She’s often see as asexual. Come’s across as tough and unemotional.
Social Climber: She’s the chameleon. She changes herself constantly to fit in with girls she emulates. She’s afraid to express her own thoughts. She is easily manipulated by more powerful girls.
Teacher’s Pet: The reputation that won’t go away. Girl’s don’t trust her and for the most part teatchers don’t like her either. The Pet often makes things much worse for herself by becoming the rules enforcer when the teacher isn’t there.
Perfect Girl: Everyone wants to be her. Meanwhile she feels like a fraud and thinks that at any moment someone will call her bluff.
Boyfriend Stealer: Some girls think this girl is cool as long as boys aren’t around. She acts ditzy around boys even if she’s smart. Other girls don’t trust her.
Tease: A girl is called a tease for the most arbitrary of reasons: for wearing stylish clothes, even ones that aren’t tight, for not making out with boys and being pretty.
Lesbian/Butch/Dike: Often closely associated with the Big Girl/Tomboy regardless of actual sexual orientation. A masculine appearance can earn this reputation, but some girls adopt a ”butch” look, because it’s comfortable for them or they want to desexualise themselves.
Square: She could be a genuinely happy kid, but she also might be covering.
Actual Happy Person: There actually genuinely happy girls, although Wiseman reminds us that she rarely sees them.
The Über-Rep: The Slut: This is obviously the worst reputation and it has actually two origins: acting like a slut or being a slut.
Seems a bit grim, doesn’t it? But as they say, the truth is stranger than fiction…
Wiseman has written a book about boys (or guys) too: Ringleaders and Sidekicks.
”My daughter used to be so wonderful. Now I can barely stand her and she won’t tell me anything. How can I find out what’s going on?
There’s a clique in my daughter’s calss that’s making her life miserable. She doesn’t seem to want to go to school anymore. Her own supposed friends are turning on her and she’s too afraid to do anything. What can I do?
Your daughter’s friendships are the key to surviving adolescence – as well as the biggest threat to her happiness and well-being. In her groundbreaking book Rosalind Wiseman cracks the ”girl code”. Wiseman has spent a decade listening to girls talk about the powerful impact that girl cliques have on what they wear, how they respond to boys and how they feel about themselves. Here, quoting dozens of teenage girls, she reveals her findings and teaches parents how to understand the secret world of cliques with its various roles: Queen Bees, Wannabees, Messengers, Bankers and Targets. She also explains how to infiltrate ”Girl World” to analyse teasing and gossip; boys and sex; alcohol and drugs and more so you can help your daughter to take control of her situation.”