Creating strong female character's?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Darkfantasy, Oct 8, 2018.

Tags:
  1. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Mystagogue

    205
    35
    28
    'A strong female character'

    I have been hearing this phrase a lot lately on the other writing forums I use and I don't really understand it. I hear people say this female character was strong and this one was weak. I don't really understand the difference between the two. It seems a bit objective sometimes so maybe it all comes down to a person. I ask this question between I read the comments on another forum of two people disagreeing over whether Katniss everdeen was a strong female or not. I'm not familiar with the Hunger Games but I've been hearing this phrase more and more lately - like it's the new obsession to create strong females. Haven't female characters always been just as strong or weak as male characters? Why is there this preoccupation on strong females and not strong males?
    What are some characteristics of a strong female character. I think of Scarlett O'Hara as a strong but maybe I'm wrong.

    thanks
     
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

    1,727
    976
    113
    It sure isn’t new, but I doubt you will find a real concencus. I don’t think about it. I shoot for “real” and make sure they fit the story. The rest is blah blah blah to my ear.

    I’m sure you can find Miss Scarlett called weak or strong, just like Katniss. It woud be an interesting argument, and unwinnable, about which is stronger.
     
    pmmg and Darkfantasy like this.
  3. EponasSong

    EponasSong Apprentice

    18
    13
    3
    In my opinion, that they are a legit chachter on their own merits. Neither stereotyped nor given special treatment by the author.
     
    Demesnedenoir and Darkfantasy like this.
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Shadow Lord

    989
    323
    63
    It’s the reverse of a Mary Sue. It just means “female character that I like”.
     
    Demesnedenoir and Darkfantasy like this.
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,201
    2,763
    313
    As a general rule, I've always felt that if a debate comes down to "It depends on how you define the word," it's not usually worth having.

    For your own writing, just be a little conscious of how often you're defaulting characters to men, skip the sexy dumb waitress types, and develop your female characters to your best standards, and you'll probably be fine.
     
    Demesnedenoir and Darkfantasy like this.
  6. DragonOfTheAerie

    DragonOfTheAerie Valar Lord

    3,341
    1,387
    163
    My opinion is don't bother with strong female characters. Make nuanced female characters. Make female characters with complex goals and motivations. Make characters that are full and developed and real. "Strong" is too vague to be worth pursuing.
     
  7. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Mythic Scribe

    4,018
    1,244
    163
    Strangely, this is part of the premise of my 'Empire' series. Tia Samos is an ordinary, upper middle class woman in a quasi imperial roman society. Tia is accompanied by her bodyguard Sir Peter Cortez, arguably among the empires better warriors; Kyle, her oafish carriage driver, a fair sword swinger and competent magician, and Rebecca, a gypsy musician and petty thief who acts as her maid.

    Tia has no magic, no skill at weapon play, nor is she a thief. (though she did take basic self defense classes in book 2). Instead, she's attractive (worth a second look), has access to money, and a quality education. Yet the end of each book is deliberately structured that it is Tia who resolves the situation - after her talented employees have failed..
     
    Ruru and Darkfantasy like this.
  8. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Mystagogue

    230
    171
    43
    This feels like a down a rabbit hole question... I don't think I can answer this with the entirety of my thoughts on the subject without it turning into a lecture series, or dredging up RL history and modern politics.

    But, I can share an observation: and I feel like there's actually a [marketing or writing formula, depending on how cynically you interpret the trend] to get people to think of "strong" and "female character" when they read a book with a woman featured as a significant character...

    1. The said female solves her own problems, and takes responsibility for her mistakes and OWNERSHIP of her successes. She isn't a damsel or southern belle in distress, waving a hankercheif and swooning to the fainting couch. She isn't helplessly dependent on *anybody* else to solve her problems. She is not a bystander in her own life and is proactive rather than reactive. This does not mean lack of reliance or vulenerabilities to other characters for "tactical, emotional, whatever", Support.

    2. She remains emotional AND logical. No hysterics all of the time. Not running from emotions, either. Usually, fair-minded. Sensitive, in tune with her emotions but not driven to irrational acts consistently. Also, big keyword here: EMPATHY. She can be empathetic, but also can spot manipulation and exploitation.

    3. She understands her own autonomy and worth, freewill and personhood, and Respects other people in turn. Even if others fundamentally disagree with her views or actions. Whether this means "equality" to men, gods, government, church officials, robots, aliens, whatevers or something else that is premised as intellectually compelling to the reader; it's a level of self-awareness that may or may not be the norm for her gender, social status, whatever.

    4. She is not "passive". Nor unjustifiably aggressive. Not helpless, not a push-over. Depending on genre, also willing to take names and kick a$% on occasions that call for it.

    5. Goal execution. Whatever the point of the narrative, she intends to be successful.

    6. Validation of convictions: she's willing to put her personal beliefs to the test, her self on the line, stand up for others, etc. Self confident, but not necessarily a narcissist.

    Now, I want to make a seperate observation regarding sexuality, sexual preference, motherhood, (or not-motherhood) relationships to self, others and gender roles. As these discussions might get bent towards RL religious or political contexts, I can contribute this: I believe the above 6 things don't necessarily have to revolve or include themes just mentioned (sex, preferences, motherhood, etc ) and the Six things can exist independently in fiction. Not necessarily in a vaccum... as a modern reader would likely see these themes as an intrinsic part of the feminine experience. I think it's important to incorporate these themes as the author chooses as it is appropriate to their work? Yes. That's all rather the point.

    Now, why the term "strong female" characters is actually a thing these days... because until recently, there wasn't a whole lot of fictional characters that demonstrated the Six things above. Perhaps, one or two which was outstanding for 'the times they were written'. Heck, history books *might* offer a slim chapter or footnote about important women in prior ages. ( Until you get to University, and there's actually a Women's Study courses that you can maybe squeeze in, but isn't REQUIRED curriculum.)

    In western culture at least, I grew up wondering in my textbooks and personal reading, "Where are all the women?". If there was an answer to that question, it was more or less in context to what we would probably call sexist or misogynistic, and the majority of the time, so utterly disappointing to female readers. I can say "mostly disappointing" to me as a young reader looking for what? Strong girls and women.

    A more modern example? Bella in the Twilight series was, in my friend's opinion, a weak female character. ( There were many occassions were the book would go flying somewhere across the room out of her hands in disgust, because quote "it sent her sense of feminism reeling in disgust." I won the draw to *not* have to read about the teenage love triangle and sparkly vampires for employee book reviews, but I trust her opinion. )

    Hermione Granger? A "strong female character". She was an awkward, gifted, unconventionally confident girl who grew up to be a cunning, loyal and independent woman able to hold her own; and stare down evil to be willing to fight it.

    Now, I read the above Six items and don't immediately assign gender. Those are just 'strong characterstics'. Other nuanced characteristics can happily exist for either gender as other Scribes have suggested in this thread. The phrase 'strong female character' has some societal weight behind it, at present. It's one of the most Googled and Amazon search phrases. So, I actually think that as a zeitgeist gestalt kind of thing, writers should probably be wondering just what 'strong female characters' really are.

    I'm writing a novel with a heavy cast of females. Would an audience identify one or more as having some or all of those six traits? Probably. But, I didn't set out to write a 'strong female character'. I'm just writing a strong character, who is female.

    I'm curious if any Scribes can offer anything in addition to my six observations and themes?
     
  9. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Mystagogue

    205
    35
    28
    Thanks guys. I always write the character I need to write and have never given a second thought to if they are role models for young girl's/women. I've just noticed this phrase being thrown around a lot and wanted to know more. Oddly, it seems to be something Americans say a lot, never noticed it be said once on my British or European forums.
     
    Night Gardener likes this.
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Dark Lord

    1,908
    893
    113
    Certainly it depends on being able to define your terms before you enter into the debate! If you have one definition of "strong" and the other person has a different one, but you both just assume that you both mean the same things by "strong", then you might as well give up before you begin. But then, when the topic of discussion is "what is this thing and what are its characteristics" then the discussion is for the purpose of defining the term and input by people will different points of view is invaluable for understanding.

    That being said, Merriam-Webster actually lists 16 definitions (some with sub-definitions) for the adjective "strong"! Some of these depend very much on what noun the word is attached to. But the point is clear: "strong" is a very nuanced word and one we shouldn't take for granted in our understanding. Should a strong character be "not easily injured, disturbed subdued or taken"? We apply such a meaning to, for instance, a "strong building" or a "strong army" even. But I think it becomes less healthy a definition when you apply it to individual people. Because things happen to people all the time and we often have no control over it. If I get hit by a car and injured, does that mean I'm not strong? If I get overwhelmed by someone with greater physical strength and abducted, does that mean I'm not strong? To be strong does a person always need to be in control and at the top? Well, I don't think it should.
     
  11. DragonOfTheAerie

    DragonOfTheAerie Valar Lord

    3,341
    1,387
    163
    I think this is a good overview. I think a more succinct way of expressing it would be a character that doesn't depend on men for her story to move forward; she leads her own story and has agency. I guess? Even a character in a situation where she has very few options can be strong.
     
    Malik and Night Gardener like this.
  12. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    2,968
    1,680
    163
    I've thought about this for a while now. Right now, for me, when I characterize a character as strong or weak, I avoid linking those words with anything to do with physical ability.

    I like to think of strong or weak in terms of quality, as in that was a strongly written character or that character was weakly written. Because really, real people, people with depth, they are all strong and weak at the same time. It all depends on context. One person may be a tower of competence and confidence in athletics, but a weak willed speck of insecurity in the boardroom.

    any ways my 2 cents.
     
  13. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,065
    2,110
    313
    A strong character is one that is able to carry the(ir) story forward (on their own).
     
  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

    1,727
    976
    113
    Used wisely, the fainting couch can be a powerful weapon, heh heh.
     
  15. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    918
    594
    93
    I don't think so. It has nothing to do with reliance on men, and everything to do with how the author presents character and her ties to the story. A strong character, whether male or female, in creative writing, relates to their involvement in the story. It's not about physical strength, or about sexism or anything of the sort. A strong female character is one that is not Mary Sue, not stupid, and definitely drives the story forward. As much as I despise GRR Martin and ASOIF, I would have to admit that Dani is a strong female character imo. I didn't always agree with her choices, but she always pressed forward and was intelligent about it. She commanded respect and what was hers to begin with, never relenting. She drove story forward. That's strength.

    Another example of a strong female character is Scully on the X-Files (the original series, haven't seen the new ones). She also commands respect, drives story forward by being an awesome investigator, and is very well written/portrayed as a woman who doesn't just let things happen.

    A weak example comes from the story Brooklyn, where I can't even remember the character's name. I hated that book and that woman because she just got everything handed to her in the story and on top of that was ungrateful about it. Aelish...that was her name. Stupid girl. Stupid choices. Just let everyone step all over her and in the end never changed. That's weak writing and a poor excuse/attempt at writing a woman in general.
     
    Night Gardener likes this.
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Dark Lord

    1,908
    893
    113
    Hmmmm... I'm not really grokking some of the descriptions of "strong women" people have posted here. They rub me the wrong way because they seem to still be about possessing power or being completely independent of other characters. It doesn't sound like the kind of strength I find to be interesting or positive.
     
  17. DragonOfTheAerie

    DragonOfTheAerie Valar Lord

    3,341
    1,387
    163
    True.

    Here's food for thought: Why do we see independence from other people as strong???? We are largely defined by our ability to love and form relationships, as individuals and as a species. Depending on others really should not have anything to do with strength. It is our bonds with others that make us strong. Again, both as individuals, and as a species.

    I blame toxic, modern Western individualism. We see ourselves as units entire of ourselves rather than parts of a family and/or community. And we try to define ourselves apart from everyone else as if standing alone is virtuous, or more virtuous than standing together.

    Honestly? I wish that we as writers and readers and an entire culture could just forget about and get past the "strong female character" thing. It's simplistic, reductive, and no one has any idea what it means. The female characters that have stuck in my mind haven't been the "strongest" ones, in physicality or in mind or in spirit or in plot relevance or in alignment with feminism or in separation from males or literally whatever strong is supposed to mean. It's been the ones hat had depth, complexity, honesty in regards to humanity, and hopes and dreams and fears and virtues and flaws and struggles and victories.

    And that has nothing to do with gender.
     
  18. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    918
    594
    93
    No. If a character is presented strongly then they are not independent of relying on other characters. They NEED other characters in order to drive story forward. There are various angles with which to view this. None of the examples I gave (with the exception of Aelish) were women who did it all on their own without having relationships with other characters who helped them achieve maturity in the story. A strong female character, however, should possess power of some sort...and I'm not necessarily referring to magical powers or physical strength. Power in a woman's world has everything to do with her attitude, how she carries herself, how she treats others, etc. In no way shape or form does a strong character, either male or female, go at story alone. Again, it's not about independence in the sense that they don't have relationships with others. As a romance writer, my heroines learn to love unconditionally, which is powerful in itself.
     
  19. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    918
    594
    93
    Then why did you post this: "I think a more succinct way of expressing it would be a character that doesn't depend on men for her story to move forward"
    Doesn't that make it about gender? I'm just trying to understand.
     
Loading...

Share This Page