Females in YA: Part 2 My Writing

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on July 22, 2013 in Books, Elixir Saved, Females in YA, Writing |

Elixir_Bound_300dpiThe discussion about females in YA continues. If you missed Part 1 Growing Up Female, be sure to check the comments section as well as the blog post because there is some great stuff there.

So in Part 1 I asserted that though boys were an important part of my teenage life, they weren’t everything. I had goals and dreams that had nothing to do with boys, and I think this is similar to how many teen girls feel today. This lead to the question of whether or not YA books reflect this. Before I think about other people’s YA books, I’d like take a moment to look at my own writing, specifically my YA book Elixir Bound and what my goals were with the female characters.

I originally conceived Elixir Bound as a there-and-back-again quest, a sort of tribute to my sister Kylene, who died at the age of 16. I had hoped to give her a fantasy tale of her own. When it proved too hard to write the story from the POV of a character inspired by her, I decided to try from a different charcater’s POV: her sister’s Katora.

This really changed the direction of the story. Where Kylene was sweet, sensitive, and wore her feelings on her sleeve, Katora was stubborn, independent, and also sensitive but would never want to show it. Elixir Bound then became a story about a young woman (Katora) who must go on a quest to find out whether or not she will become guardian to a secret healing Elixir and bind herself to it.

The binding part was key because it wouldn’t allow to just use the Elixir as she wanted to; the binding would force her to use it in a way that also served the Great Mother (who is also called Mother Nature, and is basically the highest form of being in Katora’s world). Now I had a story where a very independent character was forced to make a decision that would seriously hinder her independence and impact the path the rest of her life would take.

This whole story line was a personal journey that was paralleled by a physical journey in which Katora and her companions had to find the secret ingredient for the Elixir. Notice the total lack of mention of a love interest. It was really important to me that Katora’s motives for the quest had nothing to do with a boy.

It was also important that Katora be chosen for this quest, not either of her two older sisters or her younger brother. I’ve always wondered why in so many real and fictional worlds the oldest son is the one who is entitled to the inheritance, so I wanted Katora to be neither the oldest nor a boy. The reason Katora was chosen as the next guardian of the Elixir, taking over for her father, was she was person who was best suited for the job.

As I started writing Elixir Bound, I realized I wanted these themes to be reflected in Katora’s world as well. I think a lot of these themes spilled out of me unconsciously and only in revision did I become consciously aware of the feminism in them. Suddenly Katora’s world had turned very pagan with the people following a female deity (the Great Mother) closely tied to nature. From there I sort of ran with the idea that females would, in a sense, rule this world. Though I kept it that Katora would take over for her father because I wanted some balance in the world. Women didn’t need to rule everything.

And Kylene was still there on the quest and plays an important role (though not the starring one). I wanted her there to contrast Katora’s personality because there are other strong female characters besides the bulldozer type, which is kind of how I think of Katora. I even wrote a guest blog post about this different type of female character, strong in character but not in your face about it. Also, Zelenka, a member of the miniature demick species, was an interesting female character. In many ways very much like Katora, but also a bit of an adversary to Katora. They never quite get along, mostly because they are so alike.

There does end up being a love interest on the quest. One I had to emphasize and play up more as I went through revisions of the story because several of my early readers didn’t think it played a big enough role in the story. Katora initially resists forming a relationship with Hirsten, the handsome son of a famous mapmaker. She doesn’t want anything to distract her while on her mission and while she has such an important decision to make. Though the quest part of the story is not driven by romance, Katora’s ability to realize her capacity for love (and in turn why she has resisted her feelings for Hirsten) does play into her decision on whether or not to become guardian of the Elixir.

As you can see, I thought a lot about the role of females in the made-up world of Elixir Bound as I was writing it. I’d like to think my story offers a feministic look at females and hopefully speaks to teenage girls in a positive way. Although, I didn’t want to force any certain didactic message about feminism in the story…more an offering of female characters and how they take control of their lives and futures. Themes I certainly plan on considering while writing future works as well.

Thanks for letting me wax philosophical about my own book! Next up I’ll take a look at some of the YA books I’ve read recently and what messages about females in YA I took away from them. Any requests on what books you’d like me talk about (can’t guarantee I’ve read them, but I’m open to suggestions)?

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  • Isn’t it amazing how realizing you picked the wrong MC to tell the story can make all the difference? It sounds like Katora is a great MC, and I love that you chose to go against the norms of the first born or the boy being the one to take over after the father. 🙂

    • Finding the right POV character really does make all the difference, Kelly. I’m happy to say I’ve found the right place for Kylene’s POV in the next Elixir book, Elixir Saved.

  • Meradeth says:

    I definitely think you provided a great example in Elixir 🙂 (And I’m kind of giggling at the thought of Katora as a bulldozer–that wasn’t how I saw her, but I can see what you mean!) Looking forward to your next post!

  • Ann Herrick says:

    “… strong in character but not in your face about it.” I think this is important. Occastionally authors put so much emphasis on making a female mc strong that they almost forget other aspects of her character.

  • Kai says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I love that you specifically chose not to make the Katora the first born. When I was 13, my mom chose to send me to France for the summer instead of my 18 and 19 year old sisters. She said I was more mature. You can imagine how controversial that decision was in the household. But it happens, doesn’t it?

  • Erin says:

    Great post as was the original. 🙂

    I like strong girls with a good mission, but I also need a little romance. LOL! 😉

    How about discussing Katniss in Hunger Games, Annabeth in Percy Jackson, and/or Sydney in Bloodlines? 🙂

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Erin…I’m pretty confident a few of those girls will show up in the next post.

      I’m not against romance, and obviously if you’re writing a romance that will play a central role, but I think it’s important to keep in mind there are other things. 🙂

      • Erin says:

        Awesome! Can’t wait to read it!

        I know you’re not against romance. 😉 I’m just making a confession…My name is Erin, and I’m one of those female readers that loves a good romance induced heart palpitation! 😉

        • I love a good romance myself. I’ve been with the same man for soooo long now (married almost 8 years and together for 14 I think…which is almost half of my life!), it’s nice to read about new love and all those tingly feelings that go along with it.

    • Excellent article recommendation, Ann! Such a great discussion on feminism and romance. I do hope that girls read stories about romance and love and sex, and have a safe place to read about their “girly” emotions. I loved the Twilight books (and enjoyed making fun of the movies with the girls!). (Team Edward here!) I especially liked where the author said teenage girls don’t need a lecture but support.

      In a way I think I’m writing about a similar topic, only over the broader scope of YA and not just romance. I think we need to give teen girls a wide scope of experiences, including but not limited to romance, to read about without being didactic in our writing. It’s something I think about whenever I put words on a page.

  • That was a very interesting post with a lot to think about.

    • Thanks, Victoria! I always find it hard to write about this topic because I have so many thoughts and feelings (sometimes conflicting ones) on it. I’m never quite sure if I’ve done my thoughts and feelings justice in a short blog post.

  • More great discussion in the comments…thanks for being a part of it! Look for my next post on Monday…where I look at YA books in general (instead of blathering on about my own book!). 🙂

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