When writing mainly young adult fiction, I come to the moment in plotting where I consider giving my characters typical teenage firsts: pimple, period, um, accident, kiss, that other first. Generally the characters I write find themselves both wanting the it-takes-two firsts. At the very least mentally, if not outwardly expressive of the desire.
Yet in fiction I’ve read, the authors have done a swell job of swaying me to root for the firsts, but have at least one character unsure, hesitant, and then ultimately find herself “forced” into the first, however subtly. What do these readings have to say about issues of consent in the real world?
One example is scene in a novel I read for a summer study while in high school. It’s not of “the canon” of YA, so I can’t remember the title or even the character, but I remember clearly feeling uncomfortable as the heroine’s new love interest came to her dorm bed at night, lay with her, and then left. And later in the book she’s still with him. The next day during discussion, the professor distinctly said “so, after what we all agree to call ‘the rape’ of…” What gives us readers the power to judge an action if the character herself doesn’t see it that way?
In a second example, from an upcoming dystopic YA, the first-person narration tells us reader she is terrified; she’s just been through a dramatic escape during a raid; she is bleeding heavily from the leg. And yet the hunky guy starts running his fingers along her face and then his mouth until they are kissing. At first, I was swept up in the drama and heat; but later I felt disturbed. Obviously not all characters can be like one particular ex-boyfriend who literally asked permission before kissing me, but still I found myself later thinking, wouldn’t taking advantage of the heroine and the moment be cause for concern? Why did she, a naive love neophyte surrender to someone who knew exactly what he was doing, fully conscious of the fact that she did not? Am I allowed to bring my real-world sensibilities into the reading, or should I accept the characters’ granting of permission?
At the very least, expounding on these questions will inform my conscience when writing my own firsts scenes, unless of course BoyWonder the Character gets out a broom and sweeps me up.