You’ve met my lead, now meet the team. Giving no names (at least not yet) we have (from right to lift) the doctor, the pilot, the loyal dog, the adventuress, the financier, and the linguist.
When I was first formulating my story, I immediately began to craft its cast of characters. Because for me characters are one of, if not the most important thing in a story. They determine, with their personality and principles, how each scene of the story will play out, and they are what the reader will, hopefully, relate most to.
I started to craft them as both a team, making sure that their characteristics were compatible yet distinct from one another, but also (and more importantly) as individuals. One by one, I set about determining what they would sound like, look like, act like, and what they would bring to the team.
The Adventuress was not only my lead character, but also my team’s leader, and as such needed a strong personality to keep everyone in line. Though that’s not to say she needed to be a people person. She was a tough, blunt, no-nonsense woman of action, and though her team didn’t have to like her, they would have to listen to her. At least most of the time.
Perhaps it had to do with the fact that she had been forming in my head long before the story ever had, but I very naturally felt she would have a weariness about her that the other characters might not. She was the veteran of the team and all her thrill for discovery had long since vanished. Her life of adventure and treasure hunting had turned to a menial job of virtual tedium. And I felt it suited her nicely.
The Loyal Dog, for me, was a no-brainer. Of course my adventuress would have a scruffy mutt at her side. I mean, what story isn’t improved by a dog? He could warn the team of impending danger that only his keen ears could detect; he could distract the enemy to give his master the upper hand in a fight, but more importantly, he would bring out my surly protagonist’s softer side whenever she interacted with him.
The Pilot had been floating around in my mind almost as long as my adventuress had, and as a character he was very clear and straightforward. He was a Russian mountain of a man, had a mustache, was a pilot, and as a matter of principle he never, ever, crashed. He would be my leading lady’s old friend and second in command. And though the two could function as a well-oiled machine when needed, they would also contrast each other in many ways.
He would take great pride in his work, she would be in it for the money. He would never hit a woman, she would hit anyone who deserved it. He would be the strength, she would have the cunning. He would be her foil, and she would be his. They could stand side by side, with their differences and similarities, without detracting from the other’s strengths.
The Linguist was a character of many facets and skills, but mainly seemed to fill the role of peacemaker amid a team of conflicting personalities. She was there to make things run smoothly, when anyone would listen to her. She was clean, poised, and feminine, yet physically adept and logical. She served as a secondary foil, contrasting my pilot and filling the feminine side of things to highlight my lead’s rougher edges.
The Financier was originally a rich couple, who wished to find adventure in their declining years of life. But for the sake of conserving detail, and characters, they were merged into one, very excitable, aristocrat. Her unquenchable desire for excitement would fuel the adventure. She was, after all, funding the whole thing, so it only followed that she should be passionate about it. Plus there seemed to be little drawback to including an elderly lady thrill-seeker in the tale. On the contrary, it opened up a world of possibilities as a writer.
The Doctor was a necessity in that the team would suffer injury, and someone needed to patch them up. But her character needed to be more than that. She needed to be an individual, with a distinct personality that would play against the other members of the team. Looking over my other characters, I realized I lacked a voice of reason to point out all the over-the-top craziness that was going on and flat out say “This is insane!” and my physician seemed the perfect character to fill that role. She would be thin, bespectacled, and highly phobic of the world around her as a result of her extensive medical knowledge.
After fleshing out my team as individuals, I looked over them as a whole and realized something… there were four women and only one man. Instinctively I started looking over my characters to decide who would make the switch from female to male to even things out, but almost the moment I started to ponder the conundrum, I couldn’t help but think, “Why? Why can’t my cast be predominantly female?” That was, after all, how I pictured them as individual characters, and had the lopsidedness gone in the other direction, I doubt I would have batted an eyelash.
I think my kneejerk reaction came from a desire to NOT write some sort of feminist-statement book. Which predominant female stories inevitably seem to become. I don’t like stories that set out to make a point in spite of how clunky it might make the narrative. I wanted it to be a fun, lighthearted adventure book. Not a lecture on gender politics. But I decided that just because the cast was mostly women, didn’t mean it had to be a book for only women. They were a team of quirky characters, with differing perspectives, personalities, and a wide range of skills, who just happened to be female.
The story was set in the mid-30s, and so it seemed to require some simple reasoning for why the team was lopsided in an unconventional way for the time. But being that I already had an unconventional elderly adrenaline-junky financing the quest, I figured a small addition to her eccentricities of insisting on hiring all women, would be a simple and effective answer to the question. My team could remain as I had originally envisioned them, and my story could continue as planned.