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From The Archives: “One Girl in all The World”

While I’m on vacation this week, I’m diving into my archives for a look at some of my favorite old posts. You voted on what you want to see, and this is the result. The following was originally published in June of 2010. Enjoy!

KanjiDestinyI tweeted this the other day: “I think I’m completely over DESTINY as a plot device.” I expanded it a little more to say, “Destiny, Fate, Birthright… all are too often used as a crutch for legitimate character development.” But what do I mean?

Well, in looking at another hundred or so queries today with Intern Jenny, I’ve come up with a bit more on the subject.

I’ve seen too many novels with a character who’s the only one in the world who can stop the war between the vampires and the werewolves, or the good and bad angels, or some random other two disparate groups. Or maybe they’re the prophesied one who can bring their world back from the brink of ruin, destruction, or war. Too often, though, it seems like a giving a character a special destiny, a birthright, is a short cut for otherwise making them interesting.

So you’ve written a YA novel about an ordinary girl? So what? Thousands of people have. Oh, but yours is about a girl with a destiny? Well, maybe you’ve cut your competition down to the mere hundreds. But just THINK if you could tell me about an ordinary girl who turns out to be special because of the way she thinks, or the way she acts, or what she believes — and not because she’s been told by some prophecy that she has to be special.

Am I making sense? Rexroth admitted yesterday in conversation about this subject that this was one of the reasons he had some problems with the character of Buffy, in what is one of both of our favorite TV shows. What I think Joss Whedon did, though, was take that (already very common in 1997) trope and turn our expectations upside down. Buffy herself remarked upon the prophecies about her in Season One’s episode “Phophecy Girl,” in this exchange with The Master:

Master: You were destined to die! It was written!
Buffy: What can I say? I flunked the written.

That’s character development right there.

Now, this isn’t a diatribe against all paranormal manuscripts in favor of realism, but I ask you to be aware that for every book you might read and think has a neat idea about a predestined love or action, agents and editors have seen 200. Do you want to be the 201st? Unlikely.

We’re looking for characters that do something unexpected and interesting, not something we saw coming across the room. Questions? Comments? Favorite Buffy episodes?

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