Thursday, February 09, 2012

It's About Character

Today I'm going to talk about two of my very favorite female characters. Though they come from books in wildly disparate genres, both characters are fully realized as individuals. They're both characters I'd love to meet in person—for the snark, if nothing else. Who these characters are is shown through the skillful use of thought and action, without the respective authors resorting to superfluous description.

Tremaine Valiarde is the heroine of Martha Wells' The Fall of Ile-Rien fantasy trilogy (books: The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, The Gate of Gods). Tremaine is witty, exasperating, sarcastic, snarky and ruthless, and she has a slightly morbid sense of humor. We're introduced to her in the very first sentence of The Wizard Hunters:

It was nine o'clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring in a verdict of natural causes in court when someone banged on the door.

Confession time—that sentence is my favorite first sentence of any book I've read to date. Within the next paragraph it's made clear Tremaine's family history is rather...unconventional. Consider the following:

The library at Coldcourt was ideal for this, being large, eclectic, and packed with every book, treatise and monograph on murder and mayhem available to the civilized world.

Coldcourt is the name of her family home—and doesn't it convey just the right amount of gothic shivers all on its own without any further description? There's a war of magic going on in Tremaine's homeland of Ile-Rien and, indeed, across much of her world, and her people are losing. The sorcerer at her front door is an old friend of Tremaine's deceased father. He's looking for a magical sphere left in Tremaine's care and he requests Tremaine's aid with it, telling her he knows what he's asking is dangerous. The first chapter ends with:

Dangerous. Tremaine stared at him. That's perfect. She nodded. "Give me a few minutes to get dressed."

I love this. Tremaine isn't the sort of character who jumps at the chance to be a hero (or heroine, if you prefer), nor is she even a reluctant hero—she couldn't care less about any of that. No, she's only willing to dive in feet first because she sees it as the answer to her problem. Surely she won't survive anything so dangerous.

The rest of The Wizard Hunters sees Tremaine and her friends dislocated into an alternate universe where they're captured and escape (several times, actually), and where they make new alliances. Tremaine throws herself (recklessly and snarkily) into danger again and again and again. By the time it finally dawns on her that she doesn't actually want to kill herself she finds she can't stop leading by example. She's become used to facing danger head on and she's learned she's a lot more brave and resourceful than she ever imagined.

My second favorite female character is Minerva Dobbs from Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me, a contemporary romance. Consider our introduction to Min in the very first paragraph:

Once upon a time, Minerva Dobbs thought as she stood in the middle of a loud yuppie bar, the world was full of good men. She looked into the handsome face of the man she'd planned on taking to her sister's wedding and thought, Those days are gone.

All through this first scene, Min's thoughts are a hilarious counterpoint to her boyfriend's seriousness while he dumps her:

"This relationship is not working for me," David said.

I could shove this swizzle stick through his heart, Min thought. She wouldn't do it, of course. The stick was plastic and not nearly pointed enough on the end. Also, people didn't do that in southern Ohio. A sawed-off shotgun, that was the ticket.

In a less talented author's hands, Min could have come across as either a ditz or a complete cynic, but Jennifer Crusie strikes just the right balance. Min is intelligent, confidant, and her journey to love is full of laughter and, of course, snark.

My fondest hope is that one day I will create characters half so memorable as Tremaine and Minerva.

Now it's your turn. Tell me about a favorite character and why she/he stands out to you. I'm always on the lookout for a new character to meet.

1 comment:

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

I was so fascinated with Tremaine and Minerva, you totally took me by surprise by asking for a favorite character and my mind went blank.

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it!"

Think I'll just slink away and put these books on my to-be-read list.

Good post!