Artemis is the heroine of my fifth novel for Orbit Books, and she’s a lot like me in many ways. She’s a cool, sexy, superfit, ruthless, murdering bitch who loves reading books.
Okay, she’s a lot like me in ONE way. I also, um, love reading books.
I find I’m naturally attracted to characters with a hint of evil in their souls. Like Lena, or indeed Flanagan, in DEBATABLE SPACE. Or Saunders in RED CLAW. Even Sharrock in HELL SHIP is a warrior, and hence a cold blooded killer.
Some of the characters I’ve created in these books are, however, Good Guys. Version 43, for instance, in the novel called (would you credit it?) VERSION 43 is an honest cop in a dishonourable world. He may have flaws but he’s not corrupt. In fact his main flaw is that he’s not nearly corrupt enough. He is, exasperatingly, too good to be true; because he’s a cyborg and not a true human. But, as time goes by, he gets more and more human…and that makes him, in my view, easier to warm to. And he’s also very good at his job, of enforcing law and order, usually by killing people.
Artemis, though, is very much at the ultraviolet end of the spectrum of amorality. She is a one woman killing machine. But does that make her an unsympathetic character? Well, I’d argue not. Because she has reasons for what she does. Good reasons…
But she’s flawed, without a doubt. Highly flawed. Murderous – sometimes selfish – obsessive – and vengeful. I like characters with flaws; perhaps because I am myself a character with many flaws… And I believe firmly that characters who are nice and full of virtue aren’t the ones we root for when we read stories. That’s why Satan is the one we cheer on in Paradise Lost, not those wretched angels; certainly not God.
Mulling on this theme, I’ve coined the term ‘Rootability’, to refer to that special quality in a character that makes us want to root for him, or her. Tyrion Lannister (in George R. R. Martin’s Games of Thrones series) has it in abundance. Eddard Stark is far more heroic. Daenerys is more exotic, and has those wonderful dragons. But Tyrion is the evil dwarf we love to hate; he’s the underdog; he’s the smart one.
Harry Potter, for my money, DOESN’T have Rootability. He’s too powerful. He’s too nerdy. He has those glasses. I’d like those stories much more if Hermione were the heroine – the ‘little girl’ who no one takes seriously but who always wins the day. But then again I’m strange; and JK Rowling’s fans seem to like Harry’s books just the way they are.
So to define the essence of Rootability in a story is to reveal something about yourself. I like strong female characters. I like flawed characters. I like funny self-deprecating characters. I like characters who have to make complex moral choices and don’t always get it right. Those are the characters I tend to root for. But then again, I also root for Conan the Cimmerian in the Robert E. Howard stories, and he’s not female, he’s not flawed (he’s the perfect example of what he is) and he never makes complex moral choices – he does what he does according to his code, with nary a moral qualm afterwards. But I root for him because he’s indomitable. He just keeps on keeping on.
Not every protagonist has to have Rootability. You can enjoy a story for the sake of the story; you can enjoy following a character without ever wanting him, or her, to win. But for much of the time, it’s a key element in the strange process of the enjoyment of fiction. We root for the good guy, or we root for the bad guy, and that shows we really care.
Rootability is close to Empathy of course; and Empathy is akin to Madness. That strange Madness whereby the bookaholics among us lose ourselves in strange worlds, and identify, and sometimes overidentify, with the characters in those worlds. But it’s possible to have empathy with every single character in a multiple-POV story, and still only truly root for one, or maybe two of them. There are people who rooted for Willow, not Buffy, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are certainly people (I’ve met them) who rooted for Cordelia. There are others (strange people) who rooted for Xander. Who you are affects who you root for.
This is, by the way, the third novel I’ve now written with a female protagonist – the others are Lena in DEBATABLE SPACE, and Sai-ias in HELL SHIP, who isn’t in my view Rootable, because she’s Nice, but I still love her.
Artemis is, I suspect, though don’t tell the others, my favourite of these three protagonists. She narrates the whole novel; she’s in every scene; she has a thirst for vengeance; and she lives, oh boy, she lives.