To Hell with Alphas Part 3: “My Name is Alice and This is My World” – A Tale of Two Alices
Here are two examples to illustrate my point. Two female characters, both named Alice. One is an Alpha female; the other is something else altogether. Read about them both, and tell me who (aside, maybe, from a moment of campy humor) is more interesting.
The first is Alice from the “Resident Evil” series. She’s presented as an indestructible young woman who ends up playing an interminable round of Whack-a-mole with zombies and evil corporate types. Infected with a mutant strain of the dreaded T-virus, she has superior senses, speed and strength. She also possesses clairvoyance, telekinesis, and a spontaneously acquired adeptness at martial arts.
If she needs some new power she just grows it.
By next film she’ll no doubt breathe fire, have laser-beam eyes and bullets will bounce off her skin. She’s ridiculous. She’s a “natural leader” – a lazy way of (not) explaining why people would blindly follow someone who does little more than constantly bark orders. There’s no time for small talk, certainly not for any character development. Like the energizer rabbit, she just keeps going and going, tirelessly pumping bullets into zombies and corporate minions alike.
The second, better-known, Alice is she of Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. She’s intelligent and has a very developed imagination, but no superpowers or extraordinary athletic ability. She’s fond of showing off how much she knows, but is polite, well raised, interested in others, and curious about the world around her. Although she sometimes makes the wrong remarks and offends or upsets those around her, she’s genuinely kind and affectionate.
Alice is easily put off by abruptness and rudeness in others, but she is otherwise trusting – too trusting sometimes. She never resorts to violence, but seeks to reason her way out of or through her difficulties, occasionally winning adversaries over by being obliging. In each new encounter, we are left to wonder what will happen, and how she’ll resolve any difficulties.
There is dialogue aplenty, and in each encounter we learn something new about Alice.
Is there any doubt who’s the more fascinating character or which the more involving tale? We all want our hero to win, but if the result is never in doubt or if we’re not left to wonder how the protagonist will cope, let alone grow on the journey, then ultimately there’s no interest in the story. And that’s the trouble with alpha characters: They neither hold our interest with the situations and challenges they encounter, nor do they give us anything to relate to and sympathize with as characters.
Like a star about to implode, they flash brilliantly, dazzle for a moment and make a lot of noise. Then they leave a black hole in the centre of your story.
We can do better.
© 2015 G.H. McCallum and excerpted from Writer to Writer: First Edition, an anthology published by Writer’s Mastermind Group and available from Amazon books.
Look this coming autumn for G. H. McCallum’s novel The Bluebottle Boys, from Duvanian Press and available from Amazon books.
G. H. McCallum
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