Is Your Protagonist a Plot Device?

When writing YA, particularly YA with a female lead character, one of the biggest and most complained about pitfalls is the Mary Sue. The infallible martyr with inexplicable allure, despite being so dull and plain. You know, the one that makes us roll our eyes until they fall out of our heads. Of course, this also happens with love interests; but I’m going to focus on female driven YA. Seeing as that’s my personal experience.

One thing that always stands out in my mind when thinking about this, is my Creative Writing professor using her pen to illustrate how often YA heroines are black holes that exist solely to move the plot along. Which doesn’t sound all that exciting now that I’ve written it, but was actually hysterical in the moment. The two examples she used was the OG, Bella Swan, and Katniss Everdeen. I’ll pause for a moment for all the Twilight and Hunger Games fans.

The reason for writing about this in the first place is this: You have to ask yourself and you have to be honest. Is your character a plot device? We, as human beings, can be loving, hateful, kind, erratic, hot tempered, vulnerable, delusional, and make appallingly stupid decisions. Just to name a few things. You have to impart this to your characters. Its uninteresting to read and impossible to connect with a character who’s flawless. I’ve always felt that, a reader feeling kindred with your imperfect character is so much more impactful, and makes a longer lasting impact, than a reader wishing to be your perfect character.

On the flip side, I can understand the appeal of writing an implausible character. Presumably, it makes for a significantly less frustrating writing experience. When I was writing Ascendent, there was many a chapter when I wanted Sabine to react how I would. I am notoriously candid; my protagonist is not. Being upfront instead of internalizing everything would have undoubtedly saved her some angst, but that’s not who she is. Not to mention, changing such a big part of her personality would have diminished her growth as a character. By making your character perfect, you are eradicating one of the most satisfying parts of a book to read and to write.

I know what I’ve written hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel, but it seemed fitting for my first post. I want to thank anyone who took the time to read it. And, if anyone is interested in the book I not so casually mentioned writing, details about the publishing date will be coming soon. Bye!

Image belongs to NASA