Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing Craft: Rounding Out Your Characters, Part Three

We've all heard those complaints about female protagonists who are so bland, they aren't really anybody. And the general wisdom, espacially when it comes to girls in kidlit, is that Bland = Bad.

We've also heard about the importance of making your protagonist relatable to as broad an audience as possible.

And sometimes those seem like two contradictory statements.

Fortunately, I read a book lately that is a great example of a female protagonist who is simultaneously relatable, and multi-faceted and specific in her interests and goals. (And I'm sorry for not having a picture; my computer is still in the shop. It might be able to be revived, and we're pacing anxiously while we wait to hear the news. In the meantime, I've got an adequate but subpar stand-in that won't let me do URL picture links. Apologies.)

Carolyn Mackler's THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS introduces us to Virginia Shreves, an overweight, insecure, cynical teenager who feels out of place everywhere, but nowhere more than at home with her family.

I picked this book up because of the title (which is AWESOME, isn't it?), and because of the shiny silver sticker on it that says "Printz Honor Book." Yup, you read that right. How could it not be good? But within the first few pages, I thought, "Hmm. I don't think I can relate to this girl." Her problems, at first glance, were not my problems, and her interests were not my interests. In fact, I found myself identifying with her family, the ones she felt she didn't fit in with: I like learning languages and getting exercise and watching artsy films. So I was worried. I thought this was an example of "too specific."

But it had the sticker, and I loved the voice, and I believe in giving a book more than the first chapter to reel me in. By chapter four, I was completely sold on this book, and the more I read, the more I loved it.

Here's why:

Virginia's problems were not with her body, or with her family having different interests. They were with how people spoke to her and treated her, and how she viewed those people, and how she let that influence how she viewed herself.

Her personality was specific, and that made her interesting and believable. But her problem was global, and that is what makes her so relatable.

You can have a specific, well-rounded character (pardon the pun) who is also someone everyone can relate to. And these make some of the best books.

Go read this book! Study it. It's a keeper.

Do you have any other examples of books with specific characters who face global problems?

1 comment:

  1. This sounds great. I can relate to being overweight as a kid and not many books portray girls with this issue. Sorry I don't have any books to add to your list. I mostly read fantasy & paranormal.