Stella Blunt is not an easy character to like.
While some people admire her instantly for her snark, and identify with her easy anger, many others are put off by her. Who can blame them? Stella starts the story by yelling and swearing in front of her parents. One of my reviewers called her “rude”, “inconsiderate”, “judgmental” and “selfish” – and that was from a positive review!
It isn’t unwarranted criticism, either. It’s just TRUTH. And that means that a certain number of people are going to read the opening pages, and close the book forever.
But it’s not something I would ever change.
The problem of Stella’s personality is the heart and soul of Chemistry. It is the first topic of conversation as the book opens.
“What’s wrong with my F***ING ATTITUDE?”
“Do you want the short list or the unexpurgated version?” snapped Dad.
Her own best friends are quite open about the fact that Stella is a difficult person to like.
“You are going to have to try and change a bit if you want to have the slightest hope of making people like you.”
“Like her?” said Jeremy, “How about just not hate?”
“You two are so good for my self-esteem.”
“We love you, Stella, but you’re about as friendly as a hungry cobra. Do us a favour and try not to beat anyone up on your first day, okay?” Jeremy folded his hands together pleadingly.
Stella swears compulsively. She uses anger as a defense mechanism. She’s so used to being rejected that she’s swift to reject people before they can even get around to rejecting her. Stella carries such a massive chip on her shoulder that it’s probably visible from space.
This is the heroine that I’m handing to my readers. I’m not giving them an easy task, and I know that.
But the world of fiction is already full of shy, caring, likeable heroines. They’re indecisive. They’re easily manipulated. They’re afraid to speak up. They’re riddled with guilt, often unnecessarily. They’re everything that society wants and expects from a woman.
I wanted to give the world a different kind of heroine. Stella swears. She’s assertive. She doesn’t take any crap. She makes demands. She expresses her feelings loudly and clearly. She takes up space, and she doesn’t offer any apologies for it.
Stella, in summary, has a lot of traits that are considered masculine. Assertiveness, swearing, and aggression are considered more acceptable in men and male characters. But assertive, aggressive women will be dubbed “bitches” – they are the kind of woman that Trump would call “nasty”.
But if women want to survive in male-dominated fields, they need to develop some of these features. Analysis of female CEOs has found that they share certain personality traits, like assertiveness and aggression. They have also found that accommodating people who work hard to please others are actually less likely to become business leaders.
I think it’s important for young women to meet female characters who are comfortable being assertive and aggressive. Even supposedly “strong” heroines like Katniss Everdeen tend to go where they are pushed much of the time.
I also think it’s important for us to learn to look past someone’s outward behaviour and get to know what makes them tick – once people learn more about Stella and understand her better, they get to like her. And Stella is only seventeen. She has a lot to learn, a lot of prejudice to overcome, and some insecurities to be defeated. She has a lot of growing to do.
Stella’s journey is at the heart of Chemistry, and it continues on through the series. I think that’s how things should be, when you start a book series. What point is there in reading about a character who doesn’t have flaws to overcome? Who wants a Mary Sue? Aren’t there enough of those?
So if you looked at the first few pages and you didn’t like Stella Blunt, that’s okay. You aren’t alone. But give her a chance, and she may surprise you.
Nasty women often do.