Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When Destiny Isn't Enough?

I’ve been reading lots of YA Paranormal and Urban Fantasy lately. The current trend in these sub-genres is the celebration of the bad-ass, kick-butt heroine. When the bad-ass heroine was first introduced, everyone was really excited. It was about time women stepped up, took the lead, and learned to fight. It was great to see female characters who saved themselves (and their families, friends, and love-interests) instead of hiding in a tower and waiting for their prince to save them. Am I the only one who thinks this trend is getting old?

I have nothing against a courageous female character. I have no problem with women taking a leading role. I don’t want to see my favorite bad-ass heroines trade in their daggers for a pair of knitting needles. I don’t want to see my heroines forgo a demon-slaying for shopping with the girls. Nor do I want to see them replace courageous missions to save the world with makeovers and pedicures. I don’t want to see ‘girly’ heroines. What I do want to see are likable and believable heroines.

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately. Let me know if this sounds familiar…

Character A is a shape-shifting Demon Slayer. She goes to high school by day, but by night, she relentlessly slays demons. Before breakfast, she blithely yanks a dagger from her shoulder while studying for her mid-term in Biology. Why does she forgo sleep and endure brutal stabbings? It’s her destiny.

Character B is ass-kicking spy. Her parents were spies. Her grandparents were spies. So she’s a spy too. She spends all her time spying, kicking ass, and hurting people. Why? It’s her destiny.

Character C is the chosen one. She was born with a mark on her back which symbolizes her destiny as an ass-kicking warrior. From the time she was a little girl, she’s learned the sacred art of ass-kicking. When her path crosses with a cute, smart, courageous hero, they fall in love. Why? I have no idea.

These are pretty decent premises for a fast-paced, action-packed novels, right? In the hands of a good author, these characters have serious potential. So, what’s the problem?

Destiny isn’t enough.

Destiny isn’t enough to make me fall in love with a one-dimensional character. Destiny isn’t a motivation. Destiny can be a starting point, but unless the heroine questions her fate, doubts her own abilities, or tries to fight her destiny, I’m not going to be invested in the story. I need more conflict than just an endless stream of fight scenes–I’d like to see some internal conflict too. I’d like to see the heroine succumb to self doubt. To mourn the loss of a friend–not just vow vengeance as she sharpens her dagger. I’d like to see the heroine make really bad decisions that make her situation worse–not move through the story, killing without breaking a sweat. I want to see real, multi-dimensional people.

When Character A isn’t slaying demons, what else does she do? Does she often think about ignoring her destiny and becoming a doctor instead?

Does Character B have friends at school? Does she often have to leave in the middle of soccer practice to go on special-ops missions? Does she struggle to keep her identity as a spy secret from her friends and her crush at school?

Why does the cute, smart hero fall in love with Character C? Why does she fall in love with him? Is he able to look past her stoic, ass-kicking demeanor to discover hidden vulnerabilities?

These are things I want to know. But, in some of the books I’ve read lately, I’m left wondering. But, I don’t wonder enough to want to read the next book in the series because I’m not invested in any of these characters. They’re wooden. One-dimensional. Unlikable. There’s tons of external conflict as the heroine moves from fight scene to fight scene, kicking ass and making rude comments as she goes, but there’s no insight into who she is as a human being. Therefore, I’m not invested. Therefore, I can’t care what happens to her.

Lately, I’ve learned there’s a fine line between being a skilled demon-slayer and a sociopath. Some of the characters I’ve been introduced to cross that line. If a character’s primary emotion is blind rage, it’s really hard to me to like them–whether that character is male or female.

Give me characters who are ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Characters who rise up to meet their challenges. Heroes and heroines who can be courageous, while still displaying human emotion. Characters who have a destiny, but do not let destiny define them.

Readers, what do you look for in a hero or heroine? Authors, how do you make your characters multi-dimensional?

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