An unconventional heroine

Lucy Lawless as Xena, warrior princess
NOT my protagonist!
Having finished going through Bell’sbook on plot and structure, I’ve begun to think more about character and incident and how they relate to structure and theme. The protagonist of the novel I'm working on, Kate, is not typical for female protagonists of science fiction novels  -- a young woman who is strong minded but not really interested in taking charge of things, nor will she be forced into an obvious leadership role in the action. She doesn't feel compelled to jump into a fray, although she will quietly, but firmly, give advice when she feels it's needed.

In the beginning, at least, the reader's interest will be engaged through sympathy for Kate and her situation, although later on her admirable strengths will begin to emerge. I imagine some of these know-it-all book mavens might look at my story and tell me either to demote my protagonist to a secondary character or make her more of a feminist amazon, neither of which I intend to do. So I’ve been thinking about what will justify her being the lead character in my story – what quality does she have that will make her a compelling character to my readers?

Ripley from Alien movie
Nope, NOT my protagonist!
When I was thinking about the structure of this story, and the extent to which it resembles some of the great story patterns that tend to recur in literature, I found that it has some things in common with ancient epics, the Odyssey and the Aeneid. All three are tales of heroes who embark on a long and perilous voyage home. In the case of Odysseus, he is making his way home after being away at war for many years, while Aeneas is being sent by the gods to found a new home for his people in a strange land.

In both the Odyssey and the Aeneid, the hero is helped by some gods and hindered by others. Although much of the hero's conflict is man-made, a good deal of it is created by the gods, who use the mortals as their pawns in their own squabbles. Similarly, in my story there are also two groups of powerful forces that parallel the gods of ancient epics, their existence and machinations little suspected by the main players: one group covertly and benignly directs the course of our heroine and her companions, while the other, opposing the efforts of the first, even more stealthily attempts to discover that course and wreck the expedition.

scifi image from 1950 Galaxy magazine
NOT my protagonist -- but
I like her coiffure!
Kate is my equivalent of an epic hero, although that won’t be apparent in this first novel – as the series progresses, her heroic qualities and the epic dimensions of the tale will become more evident.  Like Aeneas, Kate is voyaging to a new homeland in a far off place, which will not simply be a new home for her and her companions but an important foundation for a new future society. Like those of Odysseus, her heroic virtues will prove to be prudential wisdom, fortitude, and humility perfected through suffering. But that is the long view; in this first novel, she will be (figuratively) at sea most of the time, feeling her way through situations in which she often feels rudderless and tempest-tossed. She won’t be alone, though, and these bewildering situations will test her relationship with her husband and companions. The dynamic of her development will be more like that of any other modern protagonist than it will resemble the heroic model -- epic heroes are born, but modern protagonists must undergo long testing and inescapable trials before they discover their inner strengths.

I'll have more to say on the conceptual model of my novel, as I develop it. Meanwhile, I invite readers to leave comments on their favorite literary protagonists and what makes them compelling and sympathetic to readers.

Labels: , , ,