I just recently finished rereading one of my favorite book series, Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter. The series takes place at an all-girls school for young geniuses where the students are trained for future work as scientists, analysts, spies and other high-level government jobs. In the meantime, however, the girls are still navigating everyday life (they’re just doing quantum physics instead of high school biology).
Not only is the Gallagher Girls series one of my favorites, but it’s also a very well-written series of books. There are a lot of elements that make the Gallagher Girls amazing, and so today, I’d like to share some of the biggest writing lessons I’ve learned from this wonderful series.
Lesson 1 – Female Character with Unique Personalities
Yes, I talked about well-written female characters back in my post about lessons from Hamilton, but since society is still incredibly confused about how to write good heroines, I think it’s worth mentioning again.
Since the Gallagher Girls series takes place at an all-girls spy academy, there are, as you’d expect, many awesome female characters. In most other spy/espionage movies and TV shows, the (few) women characters tend to be relatively the same across the board: they’re super smart, have the emotional capacity of a brick (an emotionlessness only surpassed by the lead male, because he’s always angstier), and can clobber a guy in about two seconds flat. Now, maybe the trope has some credibility, and that’s fine – the problem with it is that it reduces the heroines to a single type, instead of exploring the different personalities, skill sets, etc. that are available. With over 7 billion people on this earth, there has to be some variations in personality, right?
This isn’t a problem for the characters in Gallagher Girls. There are four main characters in the series – Cammie, Bex, Liz, and Macey – and though they do share some similarities (they’re all at superspy school, after all), they have a variety of personalities and characteristics. Cammie is “the Chameleon,” who prefers staying in the background. Bex, on the other hand, is much more intense and aggressive, and is definitely the type of girl who would punch a guy if he looked at you sideways. Liz prefers to solve her problems with science and calculations, and can crack even the toughest codes. And finally, Macey has a more rebellious streak and tends to come off as snooty, but is a loyal person at heart.
The Takeaway: When you’re writing a cast of female characters (spies or not), give them diverse set of personalities and characteristics, and don’t just limit them to tropes. Yes, it’s true that even the most well-thought-out characters can be boiled down to a trope, but if you create unique characters with complex personalities, your readers will thank you for it.
Lesson 2 – Involved Adult Characters
In most middle grade and young adult novels, the adults and parents are either nonexistent or only appear in a few scenes to cook dinner or teach a math class (because it’s always math, for some reason). Although it is the nature of MG and YA to focus mainly on the younger cast of characters, it does get a bit tiresome to see adults reduced to simple clichés.
Gallagher Girls, however, spits in the face of this notion and has visible and important adult characters, mostly in the form of the teachers at the Gallagher Academy. The focus is still on the four girls, but characters like Rachel Morgan, Cammie’s mother and the Academy’s headmistress; Joe Solomon, the Covert Operations teacher; and Abby Cameron, a CIA agent and Cammie’s aunt all play important roles in the overall plot of the series. They’re also not idiots, like most adults in MG/YA are portrayed as. I mean, they’re spies after all! Give them some credit.
The Takeaway: Even if your main characters are young, there will be adults involved in your story in some way. They don’t have to be main characters, but seeing adults who aren’t stupid and have plot importance is always refreshing for the audience, and it adds an interesting dynamic for your younger characters to deal with.
Lesson 3 – Creative Narration
Point of View (POV) and narration are one of the most important parts of any story, but we don’t usually notice them unless we’re taking a close look. They can, however, change the way the reader perceives a scene or character, and are very powerful tools for any writer.
The Gallagher Girls series is told from Cammie’s first person POV, which means we see the world through Cammie’s eyes. Although this isn’t particularly unique for a MG/YA series, what sets the Gallagher Girls apart is the voice that Ally Carter creates for Cammie’s narration. Cammie uses lists, snarky side comments, and covert operations reports to tell her story, and it’s always fun to read.
The Takeaway: No matter what POV you’re writing from, try to find ways to make your narration unique. Think about what makes your POV character or narrator different, and play with it! It might not work for every story, but if you find yourself stuck, feel free to experiment with your narrator’s style.