Sunday, November 4, 2007

Creating Girl Characters

In my previous post, I wrote that I was having trouble with my ten-year-old girl character. I want to make her feisty, but I am starting her off as kind of a blob. I want girls to identify with her, but it is kind of hard. They would have to trust me for the first half of the book. I have a ten-year-old daughter in my household. If she makes it through the first half of any book, it is amazing.

I've been reading the book Packaging Girlhood. I just finished the chapter on the princess movies/books and what stereotypes they use. Their examination of the movies showed that the main characters often have traits that show off weaknesses such as clumsiness and awkwardness so that girls out there can relate to their self-consciousness. Is that the number one attribute that girls relate to? And yet, I was falling into that trap. My character was nondescript and lonely. I've decided to rewrite my character as a smart girl who the system just forgot. Maybe she does blend into the background a little, but that's because teachers don't call on girls as much as they call on boys in the class. Also, teachers don't need to concentrate on the smart kids. They are the ones who are doing well, so they don't need the encouragement. So I am going to give this girl a mind from the beginning. What if she's lonely because she is in a reading level beyond her peers?

The other point that Packaging Girlhood pointed out is another plot point in my book. I am going to give the girl someone to help her along, but the woman is in a grandmother role. Apparently, wise grandmother-types are the rage, at the expense of mother bonding. A few years ago, I boycotted the Disney princesses, not because they were silly stereotypes with unattainable cartoon-drawn bodies, but because I was sick of reading stories aloud to my daughter in which the protagonist had no mother. None of them have mothers. I would love to create a good mother/daughter story. I'm just not sure how to do it. One of the reasons that the orphan archetype does so well in youth literature is that it is a device that it gives the reader a tangible story to illustrate the process of separating from her parents and forging her own identity. Must a daughter disassociate from a mother to do this? A grandmother figure provides guidance, but is removed from the mother by a generation.

I won't get a chance to write more of my novel today. I am going to a bridal shower which is 2 1/2 hours away. But you can bet, I'll be reading Packaging Girlhood in the car and taking some notes to better formulate my character to create her in the way I want to see girls portrayed.

For my comment crew--What are some of the great girl characters in literature?
I'm thinking Harriet the Spy, Laura Ingalls, Lyra (from His Dark Materials), Margaret (Are you there God, It's Me Margaret). They are some of my favorites and today my gratitude moment is for them, the fabulous girl characters who were such a real part of my growing-up years that I count them as friends.
Who are your favs?


JulieAnn Henneman said...

Hey Jill.

You know, I am a weird writer, so this may not work for you, but it does for me. I try very hard to not read a book similar to my writings while or before I write. I believe each characteris alive and once I begin to sketch her, she comes alive with her own idiosynchratic capabilities, personality and quirks.

I never ever compare because my creation will be more unique than an amalgam of a bunch of other protagonists.

I just trust my process...

so that's my two cents. :0) Great blog. I would like to add you to my blog roll. Would that be okay? You'll get new readers, trust me. :)

take care

Lostcheerio said...

Ramona Quimby! And she even had a mother.

Interesting stuff about the mothers. As a mother and a stepmother, I always enjoy being either dead or steeped in wickedness. *wan smile*

I'm writing a mother/daughter story too.

french toast girl said...

I was just thinking about Harriet the Spy while reading your post. :)

Diahn said...

Wow. Some of my very favorite young female characters just don't have moms. Jean Louise (Scout) Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, India Opal Buloni of Because of Winn Dixie. But they do have strong fathers - equally important in the raising of girls.