In honour of the release of The Rose Society, the sequel to The Young Elites, Marie Lu is here today to discuss why she made the main character of her series a female villain. Take it away, Marie!
I didn’t set out to write about a lady villain.
I’d set out, originally, to write a hero’s journey. My original draft of The Young Elites was about a kind, good-hearted, thoroughly bland boy who is inducted into a society of young people with superpowers, and then fights a villainess named Adelina Amouteru. Only when my agent warned me that my main character was thoroughly uninteresting did the story start to shift. Adelina was clearly the most interesting of all my characters in that draft. And soon it became clear that the solution to fixing this story was to make her the main character.
I won’t lie, though. I hesitated. My agent hesitated, too. Going dark with my MC, I was told, was a huge risk. I was warned that if I really wanted to go ahead with this, then I should brace myself for potentially lower sales numbers, a backlash, a possible career hit. All legitimate concerns. Maybe I should stick with the safer option. Maybe I just needed to reexamine my good-hearted lead.
At some point during this process, I wondered why writing about Adelina scared me so much. After all, doesn’t everyone love a good villain?
And then I remembered the reason:
Kills millions of innocent people + loves his mama and is really hot = come here poor sweet baby let me love you
Kills baby Jedis + chokes to death the woman he loves = totally redeemable
Falls desperately in love with a boy + is clumsy = DIE HORRIBLE WITCH DIE
Okay, I admit, I am firmly in Camp Loki Love. It’s pretty hard to argue with Tom Hiddleston’s smooth-as-silk voice. (And, okay—Loki and Darth Vader get cooler outfits. Just look at how shiny Vader’s helmet is.) But what if Loki was a lady, and still committed the exact same acts? Would I still want to wrap him in a blanket and feed him chicken noodle soup? If Bella was instead a Bran or Bob, would I spew as much hate and ridicule upon him? I’m not sure I could answer these questions without feeling a little shame, because we’re all trained to think like this. [Ed. note: Marie wrote this before the release of Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, so she's basically psychic.] There has historically been a lack of lady villains in entertainment, especially in film. The few lady villains in existence tended to be shallow, superficial one-offs. The Evil Queen in Disney’s original Snow White was evil because she wanted to stay beautiful. The Little Mermaid’s Ursula was depicted not only as wicked, but illustrated as visually grotesque and sexually charged in a way that reinforced old tropes. These play back to long-held, subconscious beliefs that women should be quiet, charming, humble, selfless, pure, always smiling, always positive, and above all, powerless. After all, villains are powerful. That’s what we like about them, isn’t it? A lady villain, therefore, is a powerful lady. And that’s kind of uncomfortable.
So I realized that this was what worried me. Adelina is a girl who is incredibly selfish, who wants—more than making friends or being nice or doing the right thing—to stay alive. She fights hate with hate, fear with fear, and fury with fury. She is not gentle. She does not wage a noble war. She does not forgive. In fact, she has no real reason for wanting to seize power other than that, well, she wants it. Adelina is a girl who will say, “I’m going to go do this thing because it makes me feel good.” Adelina is not pure, and that makes her fundamentally unlikable.
Why would I write about an unlikable girl? Would any of my readers want to be inside a head like that? What if everyone ended up hating me because they hated Adelina? If even regular girl protagonists get dragged through the trenches for loving a boy, what would happen with a girl full of hate for others?
But thoughts like this are the kiss of death for a story. You start worrying about others’ reactions, and then marketing and numbers and publicity and pretty soon you’ve talked yourself out of everything you want to write, letting your own fears triumph over your passion until you end up with a half-assed, watered down story. I had to close my eyes and remind myself of what I wanted to write when all of that was stripped away. That, like Adelina, I had no real reason for writing a lady villain’s story other than that, well….I wanted to.
And that’s not such a bad reason.
Photo credit: Paul Gregory
About the Author:
Marie Lu is the author of the New York Times bestselling Legend series. She spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing Assassin’s Creed, and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with one husband, one Chihuahua mix, and two Pembroke Welsh corgis.
Thanks for stopping by, Marie! You can visit her on:
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