The Art of Sass (and literary characters that do a terrible job using it)

In books, there are many cliché character archetypes that irk me to no end. Sure, the somehow handsome bad-boy love interests and the bland but oh-so-sweet female love interests have me grinding my teeth as I read, but there is one character in particular that really draws my ire. And that award goes to the ever annoying sardonically sarcastic sidekick. Now, I may have left you puzzling over what I mean by the “sardonically sarcastic sidekick”, but please allow me a moment to clarify. This character dwells mostly in YA literature, but it sometimes shows up in other genres. He is hardly ever the protagonist, and is mainly embodied in other less-important secondary characters. His characteristics include using frequent sarcasm and put-downs in their speech, being humorously pessimistic, using sarcasm to address other people’s flaws, and using his tough, sassy exterior to hide a kind, insecure interior. Well, in my opinion this character is just pathetic. Why authors would even want to employ this character in their writing completely escapes me. And surprisingly, this character makes appearances almost everywhere in modern literature. What baffles me even more is that a lot of fans seems to actually like these sassy secondary-characters. Why? To me, this only shows a lack of character development  that weakens the entire plot, for this character truly has no personality. Some people might argue that their sarcastic disposition is their true personality, but I would beg to differ. The constant use of wise cracks does not a character make, in fact it is just a mere façade to hide a two-dimensional personality. Sarcasm and jests need an interesting character to back them up, for we as readers truly do not believe that one character can be entirely made of pessimistic jokes. One character that does an excellent job of this is Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio acts as a natural foil to Romeo with his use of crude yet witty humor. Everywhere Mercutio goes he stirs up mischief by poking fun at others and using sarcastic retorts. Why, then, does this character work so well? He seems so far to have employed all of the characteristics of a “sardonically sarcastic side-kick”. This is because sarcasm is only one facet of Mercutio’s personality. Besides being obviously witty, Mercutio seems to be hiding a slightly darker, cynical side of his personality. This is especially evident when he cries “A plague upon your houses!” while he is dying. He is capable of more than just sardonic humor, and that is what makes him such a great character.

Now, please do not begin to think that I completely against the use of sarcasm, but most of the sassy characters that I have run across in books are just that: solely sarcastic.  Another thing that also makes my skin crawl is that most of these sassy characters are females. And being a girl myself I find it ever so irksome that authors will make a female character sassy just to make them appear “strong”. Since most authors don’t get the hint, allow me to show give them a quick tip on the mechanics of a strong character: sass does not equal strength. There. I could elaborate on this other facet of my argument, but I won’t exasperate myself any further on that point. Moreover, most of the time these characters do not even use wit, a far more intriguing intellectual attribute. Most of the time they just come across as whiny with their pessimistic remarks.

So, I suppose my main purpose in ranting in this manner is to encourage writers to think against creating sarcastic characters in their writings simply to use sarcasm or create comic relief. These characters are two-dimensional, whiny, and downright bland. Even if they do use sarcasm to hide their insecurities, it just makes the character even more cliché, for we readers have seen it all before. Also, as a writer myself, I will strive to only use sarcasm and wit when needed, and to use it with well-developed characters. I know how painful it is to sit through a perfectly good story that is overshadowed by those infuriating “sardonically sarcastic side kicks”, therefore I promise to not annoy you readers any further by adding to the plethora of cliché characters.

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