The protagonist must slay their own dragon.
I have spent an hour trying to figure out where I learned this. If it was one of my Norton books, a writing class or a conversation with Kimberly. Wherever I did hear it, it stuck with me. The idea that a character has to face their conflict. No other character or element can do it for them. Well, they can but it’s not nearly as interesting.
And that’s the problem I had with Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend. The world bent around Bianca’s conflicts. She’d angst and grumble, but every conflict she had was eventually solved by someone else if she just waited long enough. And I got really sick of waiting.
For the least spoilery example: one of Bianca’s friends was pissed that Bianca had been ditching her for a guy. Three chapters of build up pissed. But the moment Bianca needs help, all is forgiven in less than two pages. Which isn’t nearly as bad as the world bending that was done by the end, so Bianca was free of any non-self-inflicted angst.
Of course, all good stories have two levels of conflict: External and internal. And I think Keplinger did a good job of handling Bianca’s internal conflict of feeling ugly compared to her friends. But those damn external conflicts were just poorly handled.
But let’s take a moment to acknowledge that I read a romance book. The things I do for you guys.