Firstly, I am going to say this. I would not overtly call myself a feminist. I am a feminist, by some definitions and terms, but I do not believe, as some people do, that women should be given everything they want at the click of their fingers. There are things men can do, and things women can do. We have different strengths and weaknesses and must play to those accordingly.
That leads me very nicely on to my array of female characters. Doing a quick tally now in my head, I can say with some certainty that most long pieces (excluding short stories, that is) I have written have a female protagonist. Probably because I’m a female, in all honesty. Not through any feminist choice or deliberate point – as I have previously mentioned, characters come to me with stories to tell and I merely tell their stories as best as I can. I am not trying to say that women are better than men, neither that they are weaker, but I try to explore every female character in every way possible. Women characters, I think, feel more, and are ruled very much by their heads AND hearts, which makes them spontaneous, irrational, and great fun to write about. They often surpass other characters’ expectations because of their gender.
I became very interested, while typing Heath of Fire yesterday, in the differences between Delphi (the protagonist of Against the Elements) and Adeline. Considering that I was roughly a year older than I was when I wrote Elements, the two characters are startlingly opposed.
I am going to attempt to do this without any spoilers.
Let’s start with similarities.
- Both girls are fifteen.
- Both of them feel like they are in a place which is not truly their home, somewhere they do not inherently belong.
- Both girls have the strength and courage to embark on something larger than themselves and their problems.
- Both girls haveleadership qualities.
- Both, at the end of their journeys, find peace in some manner or another.
The differences, however, are vast and more varied.
Point Two – Belonging
Belonging is a recurrent theme in my novels. I don’t think anyone need to read too closely into that (I am a sane, normal human being, with a family and friends, and I don’t constantly wander distant places looking for somewhere to call my home – I am very settled, thank you very much), but I think it’s something every teenager desires. In novels, of course, all of these things must be amplified in order to give them any grounding.
So Delphi, fifteen, believes she does not belong on her island home anymore. There is never any real explanation for this, and she doesn’t feel it before she leaves, which I think is important to note. She just has this gut instinct that something there isn’t quite hers, or right. She loves her friends and she is grateful for all she has had. In fact, not belonging is a troubling thought for her.
On the other hand, Adeline has not belonged all her life. She is the girl ‘without a Blessing’, which is a rather taboo subject in her small tribal village. She has grown up not belonging, being excluded, being shielded from things she ‘can’t understand’. And she is resentful of this. She is jealous of everyone; she can’t understand how she can live a normal life being the way she is, and she is desperate to change. She wants to conform. This kind of belonging is different from Delphi’s, vastly so.
The other point here is that Delphi is an orphan (a narrative device usually used by Young Adult writers – if you remove the parents, children can do whatever they want without any thought of recrimination or losing anything dear to them). Adeline has two parents, and a brother. Adeline is rebelling in the only way she sees how; Delphi has become very used to being on her own. Although there is a family unit, it is broken by Adeline – she is a weak link in a strong chain. She believes her family is embarrassed of her and goes out of her way to punish them for that.
Point Three – Adventure
Every good protagonist has to go on an adventure at one point or another. The way these start can be many. Delphi is sent. Adeline chooses to go.
I think this is a crucial point between the two girls. Delphi, submissive, subservient (the only behaviour she knows) is sent, and told to return. She does as she is commanded. The first step is not her own. She doesn’t want to go. She can’t think of anything worse. But she knows if she doesn’t go, things she loves will perish. It is a necessity, and she must do it. Her journey is a journey about taking her own steps, making her own choices, learning to think and act by herself. She is becoming something more than she believed she could. And she has to come back. That is what she is driven by. Coming back. People expect something of her, and she must deliver.
Adeline chooses to go to punish her village. That’s her first and only driving thought. She has to get out because it’s the only way she’ll find somewhere she belongs, and her family will suffer, and she doesn’t care. She takes a completely independent but malicious step out, for herself and herself only.
That changes very quickly. Adeline’s journey is a journey of acceptance and forgiveness. She and Heath, interestingly, go out to find ‘the truth‘, although neither of them understand what the truth actually is. When she realises, she changes in an instant; her pain and her stubbornness becomes her strength. Adeline is a far more independent and autonomouscharacter than Delphi.
Point Four – Leading and Being Led
That swings smoothly onto point four. Delphi, the servant, the keeper, versus Adeline, the princess.
Adeline’s father is a leader. Her brother will be leader after that. Adeline’s sense of responsibility for others and leadership is inherited. She instantly feels responsible for creatures in worse positions than herself, like Heath and, later on, Hodge. (We will discuss Hodge in much more detail later on.) She makes decisions and she sticks by them. She takes things upon herself not required of her. She has a very clear head when it comes to taking risks and chances.
Delphi instantly panics every time she has to do something a little out of the ordinary. She is used to being told what to do all the time. All her life decisions have been made for her. She has never had to do anything on her own. She clings to leader-like figures for support; she feeds off their strength to learn her own. Alone, she feels powerless. Whenever it comes to making any sort of decision, she turns to someone else to permit her to do what is required. This does not make her weak. It simply makes her afraid. Fear is an important part of learning. Without it, Delphi could not complete her task.
Oh yes, and Adeline has a companion, constantly; Delphi picks them up and drops them as necessary but stays emotionally attached. Adeline has her one man kingdom in the form of Heath. When he acts outside of her expectations, she flips out. Delphi finds strength (leaders, mostly), utilises it, completes what is required, and moves on. Adeline needs something to rule. Delphi needs something to follow.
No two female characters are ever quite the same. On the surface, there seems to be two kinds of female character – damsels, and sirens (the theme of which I explore extensively in Son of Songs, but more on that later). That’s not a fair representation. Delphi may seem like a damsel, but when it comes to the crunch, she always delivers; she saves herself more times than she is saved. Adeline is close to being a siren, but without the confidence in herself. It irritates me when I watch a film or television show, or pick up a book, and the female characters have to be beautiful and drippy or badass and sexy and there isn’t any in-between, unless they’re butch and plain.
Why can’t a beautiful damsel save herself every now and then? Why can’t a badass siren need to be saved? There are so many shades of female characters that aren’t ever explored. Someone once said to me that there were no damsels in any of my stories, and I took that as a great compliment.
It means sisters are doing it for themselves.