The Writing Life: Manic Pixie Dream Girls

The Writing Life BannerWelcome to my weekly feature, wherein I discuss writing style of authors, elements of books that are particularly interesting to me, and at times my own writing escapades as I venture into the writing process of my fourth novel. And, as a researching and always-learning aspiring author, I want to hear your opinions on these bits and pieces that make up our beloved paperbacks.

Most of the time I find that in reviews we talk about the feels or the romance or the plot, but here I want to get to the nitty gritty of syntax and devices and whatnot. Mafi’s similes and metaphors? Sanderson’s world building? McGarry’s ability to write three books with the same romantic trope and yet all three books are freaking fantastic? All of that, and more!

Manic Pixie Dream Girls: Pathetic Cliches or Important Trope?

Let’s get my opinion out of the way: I love the MPDG character, if she’s done the right way. I do not like MPDG (we’ll deem her Type 1) if she fits this definition:

That bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely . . . to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. (Wikipedia, originally from Nathan Rabin)

Basically, I like the MPDG (let’s call her Type 2) if she has all the quirky, strange, dynamic, explosive qualities of the trope, but stands as her own person and has a purpose besides inspiring the depressed teen boy. I think this post sums up what I feel pretty well, using Jess from New Girl as her example. I also think that Alaska Young from Looking for Alaska is a great example – in the “Before” part she’s very much the above definition, but in the “After” part we learn so much about her that she becomes a three dimensional character standing on her own. Instead of being grafted to Pudge, Alaska simply entwines her life with his for a time, and then moves on.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like characters who completely change other characters’ lives. People waltz into our life for a time, make a huge impact, and then move on. It happens, so it’s not like that part of the MPDG is implausible. And that’s why I like this character trope: some of my favorite books are about those kind of people that enter your life as a whirlwind and spin you around until you see life in a completely different way. I think it’s the most beautiful part of humanity, how a simple action or a way of thinking can touch so many lives in just mere moment.

In the book I’m writing right now, I found that one of my characters was falling dangerously close on the Type 1 MPDG. It was a bit backwards since the MC is a girl and they’re best friends, not romantically involved, but the basic concept is there anyway. So while I was outlining, in order to turn the best friend into a Type 2, I had to completely rearrange how I was writing the story. And that also changed the structure. Ultimately, I think it was for the better, and now I have a character who will have that huge impact on my MC, but can also stand as her own and is fully developed.

Opinion time! How do you feel about the MPDG? Do you think she is a valuable and interesting trope, or do you think she should be avoided entirely? What are some of the books you’ve read that incorporate the MPDG?

10 thoughts on “The Writing Life: Manic Pixie Dream Girls

  1. I think MPDGs can be interesting but usually they end up being side-lined as more of a plot device than a character. I have been thinking about the term and its execution a lot after reading this article: (and writing a rather lengthy response to it on the blog). I’d also say you should read The Beginning of Everything if you haven’t already because it turns the basics of MPDG upside down in some clever ways.

  2. Like you Kayla, I LOVE a MPDG if she is done right and I think Alaska Young and even Margo Roth Spiegleman are very good examples of that. Isn’t it amazing how a tiny change can cause this huge ripple effect and change the story? Great post, Kayla! 🙂

  3. I agree that I can love a MPDG if she’s written the right way, and not just a cardboard cutout that exists just for a guy. Those types really annoy me; but if you give a MPDG enough depth, she can be really great character! 🙂

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