Where to Go with a Rebellious Character

From picture books to novels, we know one thing. Our characters need to grow and change. So what do you do when you start a story with a rebellious character?

This question came up during a webinar I attended last week. The writer had created a middle grade character for a historical novel. The girl is rebellious, not fitting securely into her parent’s or society’s expectations. She’s outspoken, doesn’t like to wear dresses, and thinks for herself. Where do you go with a character like this?

This is the kind of question I hear so often. We think of being outspoken as a virtue because in the past women were repressed. And I’m not saying this is incorrect.

But where do you go with a character like this? There are several directions this could go, depending on your story.

Let’s say that your character refuses to wear dresses and is outspoken because she refuses to be a superficial kind of girl, seen but not heard. Through the course of your story, this girl could discover that a rebellion that is 90% about appearance is just as superficial as what she is rebelling against.

She could also discover that she is rebelling against all of the wrong things. So she wants to wear jeans and boots instead of skirts and curls. But she has no interest in supporting herself or anyone else. That’s a limitation she could overcome in the course of the story.

Rebellion can take a wide variety of forms. It can also be against a wide variety of things.

My mother refused to call herself a feminist. Why? Because she grew up in the ’50s and was condemned for wanting to get married and have kids. “If the issue is choice, why is my choice wrong and their choice okay?” You’d have to have known my mom to know just how angry she had to be about this to speak up.

But what if a feminist character realized that she had to support her cousin’s right to choose a different path if she wanted people to support her right to choose work and higher education? I don’t know that any of this would work in the story of my fellow writer but I hope this helps you see that a character may seem to be in a place of strength and still have room for growth and reflection.