Writing Female YA Characters Without Romance - Who’s brave enough?
I’ve been thinking about female characters quite a lot lately. Probably partly because I tend to write them, and partly because there’s a never ending debate about them.
The Female Character has been represented in many ways throughout literature. I’m an active member of a number of Goodreads groups, and the issue of female characters pops up frequently. I’ve seen it discussed in threads on sexism, tropes, equality, great books, classic books and literary awards. For what it’s worth, here’s my two cents on the subject.
I really enjoy reading female characters, and in retrospect, I owe a significant part of my adolescent and adult feminism to characters such as Enid Blyton’s George, Arthur Ransome’s Nancy, and Robin McKinley’s Harry and Aeron.
Some time back I wrote a blog post on my own site about Enid Blyton’s George, which proved to be one of the most read pieces I’ve ever written. It says a lot about how non-stereotypical characters impact us all.
Why did I choose this subject for a blog post, you might ask? The short answer is that I’ve read too many books where despite the female character’s strength and the overlying story, in the end, she is defined by her ability to attract the male character/s. And I’m deliberately writing /s because of the preponderance of love triangles in YA literature, and my books are currently YA.
Female characters are often defined by their romantic relationships. They’re also often defined by their dreadful pasts, which more often than not involves being raped or abused in some fashion, and then redeemed by ‘the love of a good man.’
By all means write romances for female characters, and by all means write in an abusive past, but don’t do it all the time, and don’t necessarily let it be the defining thing for your character unless you really want it to be and it needs to be. Characters are always much more interesting when they’re conflicted or having to deal with something out of the ordinary, but it doesn’t always have to be the same overused tropes.
As a YA writer, I read YA books. I like to know what’s going on and what YA readers are enjoying, and of course I just love reading YA stories. I like them because they often deal with the big picture events - you know, Good vs Evil, grey areas in ethics and morality, and the ability to rise above disaster. Sadly, what I’m often finding is the same characters written over and over again, thinly disguised as different people. Summarised, they can look a bit like this:
Girl - hot but doesn’t know it, usually has two or more males interested in her and sometimes they even compete for her. She’s meant to be saving the world and may well do so in some very clever and tricky fashion, but she really can’t decide between Josh and Michael. It’s soooo tricky. Is super gifted and clever but will probably need rescuing by hot boy at some point.
Boy/s - hot. Wants relationship with girl. Will be either hot and sensitive or hot and athletic. (Will have ripped abs whether athletic or not.) Will rescue girl.
The above are probably a bit rude, but it’s a fair representation of what’s out there in a lot of stories. I believe the challenge for authors is to be different, to attract their readers to a different type of character who is much more than her romantic relationships, and whose story is bigger than her romances, whether they’re included or not.
In real life, romance happens often, but it doesn’t happen all the time. The most difficult thing when we’re writing is to balance things. We can write romance for a female (or male) character, but it’s our choice as to whether the romance completely dominates the story or the character. It’s a juggling act. The question is not necessarily whether we can do it, but sometimes, whether we dare to break the mould and drag our readers along with us.
Maybe I’m off in fairyland and maybe I don’t know what readers want, but I’d like to think that there are readers out there who want to see a female character who is enough of a complete person to dominate the story without being defined by a stereotypical romance. Let’s be brave and find her.
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Hague Publishing
Word Count: 133,000
Cover Artist: Emma Llewelyn
The much awaited sequel to Frontier Incursion.
The Garsal have landed and Frontier has changed forever. Now Shanna and her friends must master their new gifts that will enable them to seek out the alien invaders before they enslave her world.
On the plateau the Council under Tamazine (the Senior Councillor) allies with the Starlyne race. Only united do the Scouts, their starcats, and the Starlyne have any chance of surviving, but Tamazine's distrust of the alliance creates a fatal weakness.
Below, the Garsal plot. They need a new pool of human slaves to expand their empire, but first, they must locate the humans already on Frontier and subdue them. Time is running out for both invader and settler, and the outcome hangs in the balance.
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/tvymDYRwj6Y
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As Shanna entered the common room for breakfast, yawning and rubbing one eye, Arad hurried over to her looking worried. There was no one else in the room as she’d woken early, and she smiled at him as he approached.
“Have you seen Nosey this morning?” he asked. Shanna shook her head and lifted a querying eyebrow at the Scout.
“What do you mean? Have you lost her?” It was an odd question – no one ever lost a starcat.
“Not exactly,” Arad looked slightly embarrassed. “She was on my bed as normal when I went to sleep, but she wasn’t there when I woke up. Actually, would you send Storm or Twister to search the place for her, please? I’ve looked everywhere I can think of.” Shanna took pity on Arad, and called Twister to her.
“Twister, find Nosey!” Twister blinked his tidemarks once, and immediately shot out of the common room door and vanished up the corridor. “Well, there’s one answer, Arad. You couldn’t find her in here, because she isn’t in here.”
“But where on earth would she have gone without me?” asked Arad in a puzzled tone. “If she needs to go out in the night, she always wakes me.” He smiled ruefully. “And everyone else as well.” Shanna shared a companionable grimace with him. The whole group had experienced Nosey’s boisterous rousing of her companion.
Storm hummed quietly at them and looked pointedly at the door, and the two of them followed him as he took the path his brother had taken, but at a more sedate pace. For ten minutes, Storm wound them through the maze of underground corridors of the Starlyne habitat. After more than four weeks, Shanna could now usually recognise where she was, but this time Storm led them into a completely new area of the complex. Abruptly, Twister was with them again. He hummed quietly, and winked his tidemarks at his brother in a pattern that Shanna had learned to recognise as quiet amusement. Intrigued she shared a look with Arad as the two of them followed the two cats. Two more corners and through a sliding door, and then the corridor sloped upwards and exited into a tiny sheltered valley hemmed about by sheer rock walls. In the midst of the open space was Nosey surrounded by ten tiny Starlynes, the eleven of them gambolling and playing, rolling over and over each other. The pudgy little starcat was bouncing and leaping, and tapping the tiny Starlynes as she leapt up and over them. Would you call them children? wondered Shanna.
Arad watched with his mouth open, eyes wide as his starcat and the Starlyne younglings played. They were exuberant and both Shanna and Arad could feel the enjoyment wafting in waves off the group. An adult Starlyne glided up to them as they stood there, watching the merriment. “She arrived as the younglings did this morning. They think she’s wonderful.” The tone of the creature’s voice was fond.
“She’s rather naughty, actually,” said Arad, firmly, “She shouldn’t have wandered off like that.” His eyes continued to reflect the enjoyment so obviously being had by the small group gambolling together despite his stern tone, as Nosey swarmed up a small tree and then launched herself over the little Starlynes, bouncing on her paws behind them as they turned to chase her down.
About the Author:
Originally from Western Australia, Leonie now lives in NSW in the Upper Hunter. She is the author of “Frontier Incursion” (YA Speculative Fiction) published in October 2012 by Hague Publishing, and also works part time as a physiotherapist. She dabbles in poetry, and has had a short story published in Antipodean SF.
Frontier Resistance, part two of the Frontier Trilogy was published on the 3rd of October 2014, and she has also finished the first draft of the concluding book. They’re full of glow-in-the-dark cats who like to sleep on the bed, alien invaders, and a planet out to kill the unwary.
She has a past life as a volunteer firefighter and State Emergency Service member, and once trekked almost six hundred kilometres with eight camels and several other human beings. She is married with two late teen kids, two dogs and two cats, one of whom frequently handicaps her ability to use a laptop computer.
Wordpress blog: www.leonierogers.wordpress.com