Saturday, April 13, 2013

**Arclight Seeks to Put the HERO back into Heroine**

I once read an article about firefighter training where one of the core lessons was “Never give up your ax,” meaning that if a firefighter enters a building, ax in hand, and someone needs a door cut down, the others move out of the way for the one with the ax. They don’t pass the ax to the guy in front – they move, because passing the ax hand-to-hand makes dropping it more likely. But here’s the thing, the guy with the ax is the one taking action; he’s in charge, so everyone wanted that ax, even if they had to take it from another trainee.

It occurred to me that the rules about wielding that ax make a pretty good guidelines for someone writing a YA novel with a female lead.

Too often, a female main character is not the heroine of her own story. She tells the story, but someone else lives the adventure while she’s either captured or unconscious. If she's conscious, then she exists to hand the hero a weapon, or to shout out the positions of the enemy as they close in on him. Granted, the last one makes sense if she's tied up or in a cell where she can see what's happening, but not participate, however, most YA heroines *choose* to be passive.

They get the details second hand, along with the reader, but worse than that, they reinforce the idea that the girl needs rescuing and that she’s inept when it comes to danger. She’s reduced to the role of a fangirl recounting the story of “that time my hero saved me.”

No, thank you.  

If I'm going to follow someone for 400 pages, then that someone better be doing something more than moon over someone else who only enters and exits scenes to save the day and leave. Even in speculative YA, where the heroine is literally a weapon in her own right, you'll find her sitting on the sidelines or freezing up so that others have to charge ahead without her. What good is a weapon that can't be used?

I knew going in that I wouldn't let Marina be that kind of heroine. She's a survivor, and that's not something that happens by accident. (Or if it does, it doesn't happen twice.) Now, I'm not going to say that she's some super-warrior - she's not. She makes dumb mistakes, but at least she tries. 

In the first scene, when everyone's hiding under their tables, Marina is there with the rest of them, but she's ready to move, not waiting to be saved. Like the others, she's not sure if they'll live out the night, but she's made up her mind that if she's going to die, she's going to do as much damage to the enemy as possible. Her family's gone; at least nine people she never knew sacrificed themselves to save her from the Fade - she's not going to lie down and let that mean nothing. Or, to tie it to the story at the top of this post, she's got her ax in her hands, and she's not giving it up until she's done with it.

And it's not just Marina, not just main characters. I *loathe* passive background characters, too. Where is it written that the MC's friends - or enemies - must be reduced to verbal foils? Why can't they do more than cause minor irritations or humorous hijinx?

There's one scene I fought very hard to keep in tact. It's a fight later in the story where a group of kids is face-to-face with one of the Fade-creatures. They're unarmed and isolated, and this creature is more than enough to eviscerate every one of them. 

In this case, we're talking a group of three girls and two guys. Conventional dynamics would have the three girls in a quaking huddle while the two guys did all the heavy lifting. But, by the end of the fight, they've all done their part to try and contain their enemy. Having it any other way makes no sense to me.

2 Chiming In:

LibraryHungry said...

I'm having trouble coming up with examples--especially recent ones--that have this problems. I feel like I read a ton of YA fantasy with kick-ass female leads, and not much at all with the passive ones. Though it could be because I throw them across the room without finishing.

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