The Truth Behind “Strong Female Characters”

Today I got to have a chat with a fellow writer who’s just starting out. She and I had a very fun chat that started with a discussion on superhero films. It quickly changed to a discussion on the “strong female character” trope in television and literature. It was easily one of the most informative and revealing discussions I’ve ever had with someone on the topic. If she stays with this way of thinking, I think she could go pretty far in the writing industry.

This is the slightly edited version of her side of the conversation.

*Warning: Occasional Language*

I think that women in superhero movies are often really dumbed down to either two stereotypes:

1.) Helpless or

2.) “I DONT NEED A MAN I AM WOMAN IM SO POWERFUL AND SEXY YEAH I HAVE NO FEELINGS I AM A BRICK WALL- oh wait I’m gonna soften up.”

Strong women don’t always need to be one of the extremes. Here are some examples of “strong” characters that I honestly hate: Michonne from the Walking Dead, Black Widow, Catwoman. [They’re] the kind of sexy but very stone-faced characters. [Michonne] is one of the stereotypical strong women that doesn’t like to feel emotions outwardly, and I’ve just seen that so much. I love Lori and Carol because they’re so dynamic and not just sexy, strong, and stoned-face. That’s just my opinion.

I just get annoyed when I see females like that, because I think that people try to overcompensate for women. They try to make them as strong as possible, but then it makes them the typical “oh look how strong I am, I don’t need a man, I can shut out the world”.

I like characters who are both strong and loving, especially mothers. Honestly, my favorite characters are usually mothers like Molly Weasley. She’s so caring, kind of cute and sweet, but is extremely strong.

Honestly if there’s one thing I’ll say [about her], J.K. Rowling did an amazing job with female characters.

  • Hermione – strong, smart, physically not beautiful, but so loving,
  • Tonks – kinda scrappy and awkward but a fighter,
  • McGonagle – badass but caring.

It didn’t have to be the modern superhero sob-story, sexy angst-fest.

I feel like it almost adds to the sexual appeal when the “strong women” are really stone-faced and emotionless because then it becomes the man hero’s job to try and make her feel again, which is usually what happens. Michonne and Rick, Gamorah and Starlord, Black Widow and Bruce. And it’s funny, because these “strong” women are usually actually very sexualized. When I see a “strong woman character”, I often cringe. If they’re trying to make her strong, chances are they’re trying too hard. I love mother characters. Extreme love, extreme strength.

A lot of other “strong women” honestly are just bitchy.

I do like Rey, too. She’s a strong female that wasn’t over sexualized and didn’t come off as unfeeling. At first I thought she was, but it wasn’t overly so.

Lori was amazing because although I didn’t like her as a person, she was really complex, and often got faced with a lot of moral choices. I would sometimes say “Oh, she shouldn’t have done that!”, but then [I thought], “Honestly, I may have done that.”

Any female character that is badass and knows it and then continues with it, [she] just seems a little laughable to me. Please chill out and stop defining yourself only by your strength.

I “like” Michonne but, honestly, people are like, “wow, she’s so strong and badass”. I’m sorry, but in a woman, badassery is fine, but if that’s your defining quality it gets old. Michonne is the same but she really just becomes predictable. And [she’s] always so bitchy. I’m just so sick of strong female characters. Just make them characters; complex, not as badass as possible.

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Building a Character Arc

thecharactercomma:

One of the best parts of an awesome character is watching them grow and change over the course of the novel. Even if you’re planning a multi-book series and they don’t complete their arc in book 1, they still should be making progress.

Basically, a character arc shows your character’s progression, typically from better to worse. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll focus on the “better to worse” progression, but realize that’s not always the case! I’ll write about the other kind later, probably. But anyway, this might be like your selfish, closed off protag with trust issues learning to open her heart again. An arc got her into that rut, and an arc can get her out.

This only covers the thought-process questions you should ask yourself for creating the arc. Get an idea of where they will start, and a (probably vague) idea of where they will end up or where they want to be.

  • What’s wrong with your character? Like I just said, are they a selfish, closed off protag with trust issues? Maybe a manipulative liar? Are they insecure, self-depreciating, arrogant, or greedy? It doesn’t have to be a flaw with their character. It could be that they can’t get over a parent’s divorce or a best friend’s death.
  • What’s holding them back? The answer for this is often one and the same with the above question. It should reconfirm that this is the problem your character needs to tackle. What’s keeping them from being happy? Making friends? Moving on in life? Being successful? Is it holding them back in one way, but pushing them forward in another way? If your character is highly competitive and that drives them to success, maybe it holds them back in that they have trouble making friends. Thinking about what’s holding them back from a better life will tie in why this change is important.
  • What sparks them to change? Are they sad or unhappy with their lot in life? Are they jealous of another person’s kindness or friendships? Did they push someone else too far and feel guilty about hurting them? Or maybe an experience that made them rethink their priorities?
  • Remember to move slowly. Even a life changing experience will be followed by a jumble of thoughts that your main character won’t be able to make sense of right away. Spread out some micro epiphanies through the story, and have your character reflect on their changes either before or after each step.

Not everyone has to have a huge, life altering character arc. It’s fine to have static, constant characters in your novel. These might be older characters who have already gone through their personal struggles and figured out who they are. So keep that in mind! Even your constants should have had an arc sometime in their life. What did they have to struggle with? Keeping that in mind will flesh out your whole cast, not just the ones with arcs.

This might help.

—E

“Mister Jack” sketches

So, I’m flinging myself back into writing AND drawing. The drawings are for an upcoming webcomic called Mister Jack. I’m not sure when it’s coming out (early October is the plan) but I do have some character sketches ready. The first is one of the main character, Jack.

He is neither dead or alive due to a curse he placed on himself. After wandering the earth a few decades, he decided to become a private eye for supernatural creatures. As he is a completely new kind of supernatural creature, he has some very strange abilities up his sleeve.

The second is the main character’s best friend and a vampire (specifically a kyonshi).

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And honestly, if you don’t think a vampire wearing a “give blood” hoodie is hilarious, I just feel sad for you. He’s been around a couple centuries, but does his best to keep up with the latest style. And he most certainly won’t be wanting to shut up.

That’s all I have for today. But keep on checking up on us for updates!

Make your deaths mean something

writrs:

I was beta reading a book for a friend from the NaNo group where I live and during a certain part of the book, I sensed that someone in the story was going to die. I’d never read anything by her, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the immanent death and it made me a bit nervous. (I even messaged her on Facebook to tell her that I would be disappointed if she “Romeo and Juliette-ed” the story.

After finishing the story, I thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about using death in your stories. What kinds of pitfalls you might encounter and how it can help your story grow.

Fiction vs Reality

Death is a fact of life. I’m sure you’ve heard this quote from Ben Franklin: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

It has become a bit cliche, but that doesn’t change the truth in the quote. If you ignore the revolving door of certain fictional characters, everyone is going to die.

In fiction, death is less permanent. Harry Potter (and Voldemort for that matter) died at some point in the novels. Jean Grey and death are old friends that visit from time to time. (Although Magneto has been dead more times.)

So what does this mean for your story? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Death has an impact on your story and the characters in your story. Do not treat a death lightly.
  • How will your characters grow because of this death?
  • How will it change the message of your story?
  • Ask yourself why, in the structure of your story, the character has to die.

Let’s consider a popular fictional death-Gandalf the Grey.

Gandalf is the leader of the company because of his knowledge Middle Earth. He has long wandered the highways and byways of the world and knows many of the secret places. When he leads the company to the mines of Moira, it is because the path is secret and will hide them from prying eyes.

The problem the story encounters is that Gandalf has become a crutch to the story. If he remains, then every problem can and will be solved by him. No one will grow, and the story will stagnate.

Gandalf’s death brings about many changes. Here are a few of them:

  • Boromir has a motive to lose faith in the company’s ability to bring the ring to Mordor.
  • Aragorn has to take charge of the company.
  • Frodo realizes that he is endangering the rest of the company.

Gandalf’s death is the catalyst for all of the action that takes place afterwards.

What purpose does death serve in a story?

Gandalf is just one example of a death in a story, and death can serve many purposes in a narrative.Let’s consider some of the ways that death can have an impact on your narrative:

  • Bring change to your living characters-Sometimes your characters need something to motivate them to change their lives. Death can be such a factor. Perhaps your character will decide the death is a reason to change their habits or lifestyle.
  • Create an emotional impact-Most of your readers will have experienced death in their lives, and these experiences cause some sort of emotional response.
  • Make the story longer by making it harder to accomplish the goal-What if the death is of a key character for the goal your characters are trying to accomplish? That can add to your word count as they strive to overcome this sudden lack.
  • Create an atmosphere-Especially if you are working in a genre such as horror, incorporating death in the story can create or enhance an aura of dread to your tale.
  • Accelerate the pace of the story-Death can make the elements of your story move more quickly, especially if the characters that are still alive feel a sense of immediacy.
  • Cause change for the sake of change- This is seen quite often during National Novel Writing Month in the form of the Traveling Shovel of Death. Killing off a character can bring about a wide variety of new dynamics in your story, but I wouldn’t recommend using it just because you don’t know what else to do.
  • Because art reflects life, and sometimes people die in real life- We already mentioned that death is a part of life, and sometimes death just happens, but make sure you understand how it will impact your story before you jump into it.
  • In order to un-kill them later/have a surprise return-This one is easy to abuse. Sure it can add to your story, but don’t do it too much.

  • Fulfilling revenge/just desserts- Sometimes your story just needs some payback, so why not let your character just go for it?

  • Demonstrate the severity of a situation- Think about every ‘bad guy’ scene in a movie. What does the bad guy do to prove just how bad he is? He shoots somebody. It may not always be fatal, but it proves a point. 

  • Make a plan fail- Think back to Gandalf. His death upset the plan for the company to travel to Mount Doom together. This makes the story change direction.

Avoid cliches

Let’s take a moment to talk about cliches. Cliches are everywhere, and there are more of them every day. So how did cliches get to be so cliche in the first place?

A cliche is kind of like peer pressure-Everybody’s doing it. That’s how it became a cliche. In fact, every cliche was once an original idea, and everybody loved it. Just think, there was once a movie audience that had never seen any of the horror cliches, and they were amazed and shocked by the jump scares, and other overdone tricks that we groan about.

The problem with originality is that after someone sees it and wants to use it for their own project, there’s the danger of everyone wants to try it too. Before long, that unique take on the world has become overdone and boring. 

What’s worse is that people are going to forget who had the original idea. If you look at the Lord of the Rings, it’s just like so much of the fantasy stories out there these days, but don’t forget that Tolkein wrote his books when the world of fantasy was young.

So what does that have to do with death in your story anyway?

Common Death Cliches

  • Coming back from the dead- This is a huge thing in comic books, but that is a different kind of medium and comic book companies depend on those big name characters to draw in readers, but that isn’t your book. Your story needs a sense of permanence. So when death happens, only take it back if it serves a purpose in the story.
  • I’m Not Dead Yet– We see this in every horror movie. the monster isn’t really dead yet. The fine fellows from Monty Python made a great scene where they spoofed this idea with the Black Knight. Even after he was only standing on one leg with no arms, he was still hopping around trying to kill Arthur.
  • Killing a character because you don’t know what else to do- Sure you need to introduce some change into your story, but death isn’t always the answer.
  • Getting rid of a character that doesn’t fit into your story- Better ways to get rid of that character include, but are not limited to: moving, getting lost, being kidnapped, alien abducted, you get the idea.

Hopefully that gives you some food for thought about death. (Yes, I am well aware that ‘food for thought’ is a cliche, but I wanted to check if you were paying attention.)

If you have other questions, let us know, and feel free to give us some feedback on the post.

Billy

A Thought on Gender-Bending

A Thought on Gender-Bending in Writing… #gender #writing #novel

gb

This is an odd subject. Still, I’m going to give it a try.

The reason I have been considering this is due to some progress with the novel. As I am home, I have been discussing with people whether I should change a certain character’s gender. The character has been female for some time, but I am considering changing her to a male and a male character to a female. Oh, the things that go down in the…

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A Thought on Gender-Bending

This is an odd subject. Still, I’m going to give it a try.

The reason I have been considering this is due to some progress with the novel. As I am home, I have been discussing with people whether I should change a certain character’s gender. The character has been female for some time, but I am considering changing her to a male and a male character to a female. Oh, the things that go down in the second draft…

So it has been going on in my head, this question… why? Why should I change their gender and when is it necessary to do so?

It has come to my attention that I may not need to do so at all. I started considering it because the story I am writing is based on another story. If I were to follow the same storyline, it would force me to either change the love interest’s gender or keep it the same. The second option did not seem so much uncanny as much as it seemed unnecessary. But then I began to look at this from another angle.

Was it the romantic interest that was keeping me from changing gender, or was it something else? Was it perhaps the character themselves?

I had always felt that something was missing from this character. I had an idea of this character when I began, but it never seemed to work. I now worry that I had become so absorbed by making a realistic female that I actually made her unrealistic. I had heard a saying that a truly complex character works as both genders. I’ve never met a person who fits every single stereotype for their gender. That’s because complexity makes things not always line up evenly. The human brain is a maze, not just a straight path.

At first, that sounds strange. I think to myself, well, wouldn’t translate perfectly as a female! Certain characteristics just wouldn’t translate! Does that make me not complex? Or would they? Maybe things don’t have to translate directly. When translating the English phrase “you’re welcome” to Spanish, you get “de nada”, or “it’s nothing”. It may not have exactly said “you’re welcome”, but it’s the same idea. So it goes with personalities. This means that masculine men can translate to girls and girl women can translate to guys.

Changing a masculine male to a female doesn’t necessarily make her a tomboy. Doing the same with a girly female doesn’t make the boy that comes of this feminine. A motherly woman can be translated as a protective man. A brawny guy can be translated as a girl that doesn’t think so much with book smarts.

It was due to all this thinking, I have officially decided that I will separate the second draft. The one side will have this character as a male, the other as female. And perhaps through translating this, I can make a more complicated character out of both.

But, after all, this is just the ravings of a mad scient… I mean… amateur writer… ahem. I swear there is no secret lab in my basement. Nothing to see here.

So what did you guys think? Any further ideas? Any refutations?

Introducing Character: Trizkol

hood

By far one of the most dangerous characters in the series. I won’t give out what side he roots for, as there are dangerous and evil people on both sides of the imminent war. But be very careful with this one. His killing power rests more in his mind than in his fists.

The hooded figure in the front stopped feet from the guards and stood silently.

The guards looked between themselves, and finally…

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Introducing Character: Trizkol

By far one of the most dangerous characters in the Dark Veil series. I won’t give out what side he roots for, as there are dangerous and evil people on both sides of the imminent war. But be very careful with this one. His killing power rests more in his mind than in his fists.

The hooded figure in the front stopped feet from the guards and stood silently.

The guards looked between themselves, and finally the left guard spoke. “Hello gents! Is ‘ere a funeral goin’ on?” He joked.

The hooded figure stood silently. The guards looked between each other with raised eyebrows, but decided to press the matter.

“Oo’s is it?” asked the other guard.

The figure stood silently again. The guards were quite distressed for a couple moments. Then the hooded figure spoke, looking between the two guards. A deep, gravely voice came from under the hood.

“I hath not yet decid’d.”

A trickle of sweat dripped from the left guard’s brow, but he tried to attribute it to the sun. He laughed softly, nervously.

“Wots, ah, wots ‘at supposed ta mean?” the right guard stammered.

Suddenly the hooded figure locked his stare onto the guard who had just spoken. A sharp-toothed smile glimmered under the hood.

“I hath decided,” the figure concluded. “Thine.”

The guards, realizing what he intended, braced themselves with weapons raised.

“A’ight, now,” started the right guard, “‘at’s just about enough o’ your…”

The figure raised his hand and swung it at the guard forcefully, beheading him.

Introducing Character: Rük

Introducing yet another character from Dark Soldier. Still have not gotten to the MAIN character. May eventually.

battle axe

Finally, you get to see some speech from the beast of a guy I always talk about writing for. The Pyruvian accent is based off Scottish, Glaswegian specifically. He’s six feet tall with dark skin, brown eyes and a battle axe worth noting.

“Dornt ye fash yerse abit ‘er,” said the dark-skinned one, his arms crossed while he gazed into the white-haired one’s eyes for a moment as she gazed back. “She…

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Introducing Character: Rük

Finally, you get to see some speech from the beast of a guy I always talk about writing for. The Pyruvian accent is based off Scottish, Glaswegian specifically. He’s six feet tall with dark skin, brown eyes and a battle axe worth noting.

“Dornt ye fash yerse abit ‘er,” said the dark-skinned one, his arms crossed while he gazed into the white-haired one’s eyes for a moment as she gazed back. “She gabs lots when she’s canty.”

[…]

“And this is Rük,” she explained to him, her eyes turning towards the man she was introducing. “Your eyes are looking a little red,” she noticed. “Have you been drinking again?”

“Drinkin’?” he asked, opening his eyes wide. “Wa ye hink ‘at?”

“Stand on one leg,” she commanded.

He tried unsuccessfully and fell right down on his backside. He cursed.

“You’re drunk.”

“Blooter’d an’ tipsy arenae th’ sam hin’,” Rük said, his words slurring a little.