Monday, May 12, 2014

LET'S DISCUSS: The Decoy Boy

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Definition: (also Decoy Girl) In a story, the other person the main character (MC) dates or flirts with that isn't her/his True Love Interest. Utilized a lot in contemporary YA romantic fiction, the addition of a Decoy Boy/Girl is different from a love triangle because this character doesn't last long as a love interest and the overall romantic tension in the story is not between this character and the MCIt's usually obvious that Decoy Boy is not the best match for the MC, and clear that he's not real competition for the True Love Interest. Sometimes, the True Love Interest has a decoy romance happening that parallels the one between the MC and Decoy Boy. 

Reasons authors include a Decoy Boy/Girl in their stories:

1) Confusion and conflict - Decoy Boys are very good at causing confusion and tension between the Main Character and her True Love Interest.  They are a way to add conflict to the overall plot, and obstacles between the couple that the story is really about. 

2) Another Purpose - Sometimes this character will play a different more important role in the book, and his role as decoy romantic interest is just a smoke screen for his real purpose. When this happens, the decoy love interest plot is in itself a decoy for his bigger purpose in the story. (If I didn't explain that well, Blake in Onyx of the Lux series is a good example of this).  

3) Jealousy and a wake up call - Decoy Boys are a great way to make the True Love Interest jealous, and a way for the MC to finally realize who she really wants, which is not Decoy Boy. 

4) Filler - Gotta keep that tension high, and not let the real romance peak too soon. Throw in a decoy romance to fill some time!

My thoughts on this phenomenon:

It's probably not surprising that I'm not the biggest fan of decoy characters, though I find them much easier to handle than real love triangles. As mentioned above, it's usually very obvious that this guy is not the right match for the MC, and equally obvious that the MC isn't that into him. However, there's almost always a generous lag time between me thinking the Decoy Boy is getting in the way of the Main Love Story, the heroine fingering out that he's not who she wants, and then when she finally drops him. I'd rather save myself the trouble and cut him out completely, or shift his role in the book. There are only a few cases where I've appreciated his role in the romance. But considering the amount of times I've run across him recently, I have a feeling he's here to stay. 

This boy is everywhere! Stories I've read recently featuring this concept:

What do you think of the Decoy boy? 
Love him, loathe him, indifferent? Is he a necessary evil? 
Or should we rid the world of him? Thoughts?


  1. I like to think I can usually spot decoy guys. (I always thought of Jacob in Twilight as a total decoy.) Not crazy about "make him jealous" plots using decoys but I do like the idea of decoy who play an important role in the story...
    Jen @ YA Romantics

  2. I figure that there's got to be some sort of obstacle that keeps the MC and her true love apart, and decoy boy is probably the lesser of the evils (although in dystopian, fantasy, and paranormal novels there's usually the overall evil that can take care of that. I think that's why you see them more in contemporary, but maybe I'm wrong about that). I don't mind decoy boy because the MC isn't usually waffling and sometimes the guy needs to be jealous and honestly, if not for decoy boy, it may be too easy and then it would just be boring (and maybe 100 pages shorter). And yes, I agree, I like when decoy boy plays a larger role, like Blake (oh, how I hated that guy). Great post! ~Pam

  3. I usually feel sorry for the decoy boy (or girl). They're never gonna get that particular person so they may as well just give it up right now. I also get frustrated with the decoy, especially when they're used as filler. If your book doesn't have enough tension, find another way. Please. I'm begging here.

  4. I don't mind the decoy boy or girl, but I kind of feel a little bit bad for them. I prefer the decoy more than a straight-up intense love triangle. I would rather the decoy be evil so I don't have to feel bad for them, Haha! I know that's a cop-out, but I can't help myself. I want everyone to be happy...except the villains! Plus, in my defense, sometimes the guy or girl really needs a good wake-up call, so thank you to the decoy boys or girls that help put my favorite fictional couples together!

    I really liked this post! :D Thank you for this discussion!

  5. I think I get more annoyed than anything. It's easy to spot when they're decoys (as opposed to being part of a love triangle), so I try not to stress *too* much about them. I prefer if it doesn't take too long for them to be nixed, and that it's obvious the MC isn't really into him/her (pls, no kissing!). The Lux series (book 2 only) and The Distance Between Us came easily to mind - while I could get through them, I would probably given both books even higher ratings had they not been present at all. It's just not my favorite way to bring tension to the romance (unless the "decoy boy" and the girl don't even like each other, but the love interest gets worried/jealous... that's not too bad, because then her heart isn't torn in any way... it's all in the love interest's head).

  6. To be honest i can usually stomach the whole "decoy boy" thing since its more realistic than a love triangle. I like to think i can spot them pretty well, usually and like the idea of them eventually playing an important role LATER on in the book/series. It just justifies their existance more than having them simply be a "decoy boy/girl" if that makes any sense...i don't know. Maybe i'm just rambling... LOL
    Lily @ Lilysbookblog

  7. I absolutely hate The Decoy Boy when he's either used as a filler or as a potential love triangle interest who, let's be real, isn't a true contender at all, much like Gale from THG. I've found that the jealousy Decoy Boy gets used more in Adult Romances, which I don't mind if written well. (Sadly, that's not always the case and I become disappointed with quite a few romance which take this turn as they simply use and discard The Decoy Boy instead of treating him as a person.) I do, however, think it works really well in YA Contemporary for situations such as Faking Normal, Magnolia, and On the Fence. I find I enjoy the tension built and, what's more, I relish the self-growth that stems from the presence of The Decoy Boy. It's important for girls to identify what they want in a guy instead of merely settling or transforming themselves to cater to his wants/needs, so The Decoy Boy can be a surprisingly feminist technique when employed well. Even in Cruel Beauty, I didn't mind TDB too much but, admittedly, I enjoy the straight-forward romances between two individuals the best, like Stiefvater's Puck and Sean or Grace and Sam. It allows so much exploration of two characters on a different level than when TDB is introduced. Anyway, love this term Lauren -- I'll be using it all the time now! -- and adore the post! :)

  8. I don't mind him when it's obvious, unless like you say, the female MC takes forever to realise that she doesn't really like him. I do get why authors use him, but it's better when he has more purpose than just being the guy-with-no-chance!

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist

  9. I love these discussions, Lauren! You're constantly introducing me to new vocabulary and concepts related to romance/love triangles that I've never even heard of before, much less have thought about in depth. I think I'd be a little more accepting of this plot device than a full-blown love triangle simply because this does sound much more plausible an occurrence in real life. Although, I can't say for sure as I haven't read any of those books you've mentioned above! I guess I'll have to read one (or more) and then reflect back on this topic.

  10. Decoys never really bothered me, but it always depends on the story. When a character uses a decoy to try to convince themselves they aren't in love with the one I like it, it feels realistic to me. Then again,I don't hate love triangles in general.

  11. Rid the world of the Decoy Boy! I do not approve. Anything that reminds of a love triangle.. no thank you, lol :) I just want the girl and the boy to only want each other. No other stupid person involved, hih ;p Anyway. Amazing post sweetie. <3 :) Thank you for sharing!

  12. Not a fan of the decoy boy Lauren! Like you, I'd rather just see his role shifted so he's not a romantic player at all, or is only a romantic player in his own mind. I'm thinking of Cole in Everneath. He was never a true threat, it was always Jack for Nikki, but Cole loved her in his own way and I really enjoyed the role he played. I think relationships are tricky enough between two people, especially at a young age, there's no need for the additional drama of a third person:)

  13. In all honesty, I'm not a fan of any kind of "third person" in a love triangle, so I don't care much for the decoy boy either. It seems to be that most often the decoy guy is often "mistreated" in a way and everyone knows that he isn't going to end up with the girl. Plus, I hate it when the girl takes forever to realize that decoy boy isn't for her. I'm with Jenny here. Why include a third person if relationships are already complicated? There are more interesting ways to create drama!
    Great post, Lauren.

  14. I agree: decoy boys are less repugnant than love triangles, but still generally not a good practice.

  15. I usually spot the decoy boy and fall for that character anyway. Even when I know it will never be. I don't mind them, so long as it's pretty obvious what their purpose is, and it's not really to form a full-on triangle. But even then I can appreciate his role, as long as it's done right. I'm so wishy-washy, huh? :P

  16. Excellent observation! I really do think the "decoy boy"/"decoy girl" exists in many stories, but I think my most recent read with it was actually the Lux series. I did not like Blake (at all), and I totally knew it would never happen between him + Katy. He was just a convenient decoy while she tried to deal with her feelings about Daemon! I do think decoys are better than actual love interests though, as there's less investment involved (for the character and for the reader).

  17. I'm crazy....I actually prefer triangles over decoys. Decoys don't serve much of a purpose to me, but I get liking two people at the same time.
    A decoy won't make me hate a book, per se, but....yeah. Still annoying.

    Great post!

    Jennifer @ The Bawdy Book Blog

  18. I love this post! I never thought about this before, but boy, you've got me thinking about this. Personally, having a "decoy boy" or "decoy girl" in books might annoy me, but it does happen in real life. You know, never realizing you really like your best friend, who is always there for you, because you're busy being infatuated over some other guy until you realize the truth? So even though "decoy boys" and "decoy girls" will annoy me in books, I'll forgive it happening in the book since it does happen in real life.


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