Thursday, September 16, 2010

Puzzling Plots

Junior year has begun. Homework's picking up a little bit, but not as much as I was expecting it to -- there's been a few nights without homework and this weekend is a no homework weekend, because of the Jewish holidays. I've been working with one of my friends on orchestrating a letter campaign for the troops currently serving overseas, so that's taking up most of my time that I'm not spending on writing.

Plus, I've just been lazy with updating this lately. I've been a little sick all this week; it hasn't been very fun. Oh well. I promise I'll update this thing over the weekend. Maybe with some character studies with someone other than Roulette.


There's a forum topic on Nathan Bransford's forums about Weak Female Protagonists in YA Literature that caught my attention. Some of the protagonists mentioned were Bella from Twilight and Katriss from The Hunger Games. I haven't read The Hunger Games yet, but they're on my list, so I can't talk about them. I can, though, talk about Bella, as I read the first one and a half books before giving up on her. 

The purpose of a character is to evoke an emotion from the reader. They must further the plot in a way that makes the reader care enough about the conclusion to keep reading. Bella did her job: she made me want to beat the crap out of her for being pathetic, but she got an emotion from me. Twilight isn't meant to be anything truly literary; it's meant to be a romance. A poorly written  romance about a mortal girl and a vampire guy who fall in love.

And when Edward abandons her, Bella doesn't know what to do with herself. She sits for months, doing nothing. This was when I could no longer relate to her even as a character. She was so petty and unrealistic (for me) that I couldn't stand it. I put the book down. But millions of other girls my age adore the stories. My best friends have read them and liked them. My cousin loves them. So Twilight did what it was meant to do.

Another best selling series is the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordian. Annabeth is one of the strongest female characters I've read in YA, and she was written by a middle aged man. She and Bella can't be compared, because they're such opposite characters. Annabeth would never get herself into the situation of pining for a lost man for months. She wouldn't let the emotions run that deep. Even if she was hurt, she would pick herself back up and continue on with life, because her world would demand it.

The plot would demand it. Bella's plot didn't. So, if plot affects characters, and if characters affect the plot, what should be more important? The effect the plot has on the character, or the effect the characters have on the plot? I think it should always be the latter, because without characters you have no vehicle for your plot, which is how an author's message manifests itself in a novel.

Plot and character may be interwoven, but character should always drive the plot.


  1. Interesting post. As I've been writing for years about my central character who is female I'm always on the lookout for female-driven stories. I can't stand Bella and almost stopped reading the Twilights where you did but for some reason I continued. I think it was the plot which was infinitely more interesting than the mediocre characters. I'm glad I did finish them even if only to join in conversations about the series and to steer anything I ever write well away from Bella.
    Katniss, unfortunately, is much closer to the character I'm writing. I always hate it when you read a character in a book who is so close to what you're writing. But the Hunger Games are way better than Twilight because both the plot and the characters are strong enough to maintain interest. I haven't read Percy Jackson yet. Sounds like I should get around to them.
    What are your more prominent female characters like, Hannah?

  2. I agree: character should drive plot, always, always, always. If an author is always twisting the character's actions to fit the plot, the story won't feel real. A good author should be able to make them both work together.

    I haven't read Twilight, but from what I've gathered from hearing about it, it takes the emotions that many teenage girls experience and expands them so that in the story they are as drastic and overblown as they feel in real life. Perhaps that's why it sells.

    I know the temptation in my stories is to make my lead females the "damsels in distress", because that's how I am in real life. I don't think that weak female protagonists are necessarily bad, if they are portrayed correctly (does the author actually know anyone like that?), and there are consequences for their wimpy behavior. If the rest of the character accept it as normal, make up for it, and thereby cause everything to flow splendidly like nothing ever happened... well, there you have a problem.

  3. Ah... Annabeth. <3

    Characters VS Plot pushing the novel is an interesting point. I'm not sure which side I'm on.

    And you know how I feel about female characters at all, so... [/OMG SO MISOGYNIST. CALL IN THE FEMINISTS]