Character Study: Female Protagonists

In the past month or so, I've had the pleasure of reading three great books: City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley, A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell, and A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield. I loved them all and recommend them all, so if you like a good crime story, pick 'em up (I've included the Amazon links here, but if you live in the Los Angeles area why don't you head on over to The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood and purchase them there)?

All three novels feature strong female protagonists with fierce independent streaks.  Reading them, I couldn't help but think of my own main character, Isabel Wilde, and how, like these women, she's "bucked the system." From the beginning I wanted to portray Isabel as a woman who, though she's been victimized, is no victim. She uses her experience to find a way to succeed, even if it means stepping on a few toes (and some very important toes, at that).

I think I've said this before–Isabel Wilde is, first and foremost, a
woman of her time. She is constrained by many of the attitudes and
superstitions of the age she lives in (17th century London) even as she
struggles to break free of them. It's as though she's chipping away at
the structure of her society, inch by inch, but is sometimes confused
by the messages she'd grown up with that tell her this is the way it is, the way it's always been, so live with it.
She moves forward, but that doesn't mean she doesn't slide backwards
from time to time, because she likes feeling safe and protected. She isn't 100%
comfortable with being an independent woman, even if she knows she has
no choice.

But what really stood out to me was that my plot shares key elements with all three of these books, and I got to thinking about this: is the female condition such that we're forced to consider only a few options for our protagonists and thus we've come up with the same ones? Is it possible I haven't worked hard enough to find plot elements for my main character that are true to the time she lives in and to her sex but also not so obvious? Mind you–this is in no way a criticism of the choices made by the three authors mentioned above–their plots work perfectly and I wouldn't change a word. 

In the end, I've decided not to make any big changes to my plot on the basis of these thoughts. The choices I've made work, and they're true to Isabel and the moment in time I am writing about. If she's lucky, Isabel will learn from the experiences I've portrayed in my novel and will build upon them in future stories. Here's hoping!

Holly West

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