Saturday, 15 November 2014

Inertia and fictional heroines

A quick search of Wikipedia gives this brief definition of inertia: “Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion (including a change in direction).”

Okay, then. We’ve all had this in physics class (or will cover the subject, if you’re still in school). The principle is fairly basic and rather easy to comprehend - I even believe that the people who write space operas realise that “stopping dead in the water” in space is…well, tricky. Like suffering from instafreeze, or hearing stuff blow up in a vacuum.

But I digress.

To make this quick, I’m just going to dwell on my main problem with female characters in YA fiction, when modern authors really should know better: they suffer from a terminal case of inertia. Seriously. When they’re standing still, they’ll continue standing still until someone sets them in motion. When they’re moving, they’ll do it unflinchingly until an outside force (usually their designated love interest or something connected to him) either forces them to a halt or changes their direction. I’m not kidding. It’s friggin’ everywhere.

Much-berated Bella Swan suffers from this. She’s a klutz, klutzing about like there’s no tomorrow (however, only when it doesn't impede the plot), and gets rolled into motion by her shiny designated love interest. When he makes like a tree and leaves, she stops dead in space - literally. She curls up into a ball and simply stops functioning. Completely. Utterly. What sets her back into motion? Sparkly dude. That’s exactly how stuff goes down in New Moon. I’m not making this up at all.

Bella, however, is not the only culprit. You have Katniss from The Hunger Games (the books, anyway), who goes fullblown sociopath on everyone and mopes around, only bothered by her boy troubles, until circumstances force her into action. Other people force her to get her butt in gear, and she follows this motion, not ever questioning her own lack of proactive attitude. Seriously. It’s quite unnerving, once you notice this.

There’s other examples of book heroines (the usual suspects being YA protagonists of nowadays) who are pushed into motion by plot, romance, villains, circumstances…any outside force the respective author deems appropriate for the occasion. The worst offender, I believe, is the terminally inactive protagonist of the abominably bad City of Bones series, Clary. Holy cow, is that dumbo inert. If this had been done on purpose by her infamous creator, fine, but it seems to me that this was not the case at all.

Is this tendency, this trope, this cliché a requirement for YA? Is it a formula that’s necessary for portraying the journey of a character from living a “normal” life to growing through adventures she did not ask for? Well, of course not. Personally, I am sick to death of these spineless, inactive, useless people in fiction, and delight in how skilled bloggers and critics deride them into the ground. Because it may be hard to write a proactive, strong female character who nonetheless stumbles into a difficult situation, but it is possible.

My favourite example is Susannah Dean from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. She literally gets pushed into another world, doesn’t have much choice about participating in the adventure (like everyone else in the story, really), but she is a strong, three-dimensional, proactive young woman (not to mention a POC) who takes bullshit from no-one. You can, as you read, visualise her perfectly, you can see her character developing, you can hear her voice. She is a strong character in every conceiveable way, and whilst not always in control, she is most definitely empowered.

This, dear authors, is the type of woman that YA fiction is in dire need of. This is the kind of character I wish to see portrayed more often, even though I understand that not everyone can pull off what King does in terms of characterisation. Still, it is worth a try, and as I see books authored by the woman who inflicted the Draco Trilogy upon this green Earth being adapted to the big screen, I can only hope that one day, this dream will come true. One day, female protagonists in YA fiction will escape the powers of inertia.

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