The Mean Girl Cliche
Everyone knows her and loves to hate her. She's normally blonde, wears only the trendiest clothes, and has a faithful sidekick who always agrees with her. Can you guess who I'm talking about? I bet you already figured it out. (Or read the title of the post, but whatever.) It's the classic mean girl, a part of any story that takes place in school. Today we're talking about why she's such a cliche and how she can be used effectively or be changed.
You're already picturing all the different mean girls (which I'm going to call MGs from now on) you know, aren't you? I know I can think of plenty, many of which come from Disney Channel movies. The MGs from books vary a bit more, but still don't stray far. Sometimes it's even a mean guy. But why do we like this character?
Because we want someone to dislike. Like in Zapped, a DCOM. The story is about Zoe and her journey to adjusting to her new family. It doesn't have a villain, so they added a blonde girl with a dumb sidekick for a bit of tension. She basically added nothing but some cool dance-offs to the story.
If you continue to study MGs, you come to realize that most of the time, they are just there for added tension and a bit of subplot. They don't even always have a good reason to be opposing the protagonist. It gets tiresome. I mean, how many stuck-up high school girls do we need? And of course, half the time it turns out the MG was just misunderstood and really isn't that bad.
How to Change It
A MG can be used well, but often people don't take the time to do so. Let's look at three ways you could use her so that she isn't useless or the villain.
1) As a foil.
A foil is a character who has contrasting traits to the protagonist. It's a way to highlight the traits of the main character. This way you could include the MG, but also have her serve a purpose.
2) As a false friend.
Instead of making an obviously mean character, why not have the MG pretending to be the protagonist's friend, while really stabbing her in the back. It's twice the drama, plus you'll have a fun scene where the protagonist realizes that bwahaha, her friend isn't her friend after all.
3) As a contagonist.
A contagonist is a person who hinders the protagonists, but isn't directly opposed to them, unlike the antagonist. They are considered the opposite of the mentor. This would add the tension you're looking for to the story, but without the cliche.
If you still need more ideas, here are some thoughts I have about MGs.
• Show me why she acts the way she does. Too often the MG is mean just because. Or the protagonist provides some boring backstory in a piece of info-dump dialogue. (You know what I mean. "I don't know why she's always out to get me since second grade when. . .") Has the protagonist always left her out? Is she spoiled or is she mean to make herself feel better?
• Why not have a smart sidekick? Why do they always have "friends" that think a calculator is magic or that never has a clue what's going on? It's a missed opportunity.
• Perhaps the MG could be more than just a pretty face, topped with blonde hair? Why not other hair colors or ethnicity? Why can't she be razor sharp?
• And why can't she be an average girl, instead of a rich kid with doting parents? Maybe she only has "friends" because she's good at digging up dirt on people or something like that?
What do you think about mean girl characters? What are other ways to switch up the cliche? Comment below and tell me.