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.

Don’t Be Anyone But Yourself.

Perhaps as someone who hasn’t published much except a few things online, I don’t have much of a say in this. However, it seems to me that the writers who excelled are the ones who didn’t try to be anyone but themselves. They may have been inspired by other authors, even borrowing some things from their style. In the end, their stories were still their own.

I tried so long to be like J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis. It was all a failure, really, because I wasn’t reaching my true potential. My potential is not reached in trying to be someone else. I am not someone else. I am me. I write very distinctly and definitely with intensive detail. While I may be inspired by other authors, I cannot allow their styles to overshadow my own.

Maybe I’m going too far with this, but I don’t think I could be more insulted than being told I am the next version of an old author. I do not want to be the next C.S. Lewis, although I love C.S. Lewis. I don’t mind it being said that I write like a certain person. I have someone who I write somewhat like. I am fully aware that we have similar styles, and we’re actually good friends.

(This would be the fantastic Caitlin E. Jones that I am referring to, by the way. She is currently writing Chimehour, an excellent Gaslamp Fantasy.)

Still, our stories and content are very different, and I think both would be happy to say that we’re different.

Don’t try to be the next J.R.R. Tolkien or Emily Dickenson or Ernest Hemingway or Robert Frost. They’re all dead. Just try to be you, and you’re already on your way to greatness.

They’re all dead. Just try to be you, and you’re already on your way to greatness.

Just try to be you, and you’re already on your way to greatness.

Thoughts for Today

Write the book you want to read.

If there’s something you don’t like in books, make a point not to put it in yours.

If there’s something you think modern books need more, put more of it in yours.

It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fit a specific genre completely. It doesn’t matter if absolutely nobody else likes it. Just write the thing. Write it for you, because you’ll regret it forever if you don’t.

Write what you want to write and screw what anyone else says.

Personal Writing Tips

Write the book you want to read. 

If there’s something you don’t like in books, make a point not to put it in yours. 

If there’s something you think modern books need more, put more of it in yours.

It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fit a specific genre completely. It doesn’t matter if absolutely nobody else likes it. Just write the thing. Write it for you, because you’ll regret it forever if you don’t.

Write what you want to write and screw what anyone else says. 

Do dragons exist in your setting?

characterdevelopmentforwriters:

What do dragons look like?
>Are there different types/subspecies of dragons, or is there only one?
>>If there are different subspecies, what are the similarities? Why are they all dragons instead of being classified as different species?
>How large do dragons get when fully grown?
>What size are they when they’re babies?
>What is the general shape of a dragon?
>>Short and fat?
>>Cow-like?
>>Lizard-like?
>>Long and skinny?
>>Snake-like?
>How many legs do they have?
>Do they have wings?
>>How many sets?
>Do they have horns?
>Spikes?
>Antlers?
>Claws?
>>Are their claws for digging or for tearing?
>What does their face look like?
>What shape are their teeth?
>>Or do they have beaks?
>Do they have feathers or scales?
>>Both?
>>Neither?
>>>What do they have instead?

How strong are dragons naturally?
>Can they do anything to increase their strength?
>>What?
>What does their hide protect them against?
>>The heat?
>>The cold?
>>Water?
>>Scrapes from rocks?
>>Animal attacks?
>>Is their hide strong enough to protect against human weapons?
>>>How strong would the weapon have to be to penetrate the dragon’s hide?
>Can dragons fly?
>>How high? (Remember that air gets thinner and colder at higher altitudes.)
>Can dragons swim?
>>How long?
>>How deep? (Remember that water gets more pressurized and colder at lower depths.)
>Can dragons breathe out fire?
>>Can they breathe out something else?
>>>Does this happen every time they exhale, or do they have to consciously decide to do it?
>>>Are there any times when they can’t?
>>>>Underwater?
>>>>Above certain altitudes?
>>>>When they’re tired or malnourished?
>>>>When they’re juvenile?

What do dragons eat?
>If they can breathe fire, do they cook their food first?
>Where are dragons located on the food chain?
>>Are they apex predators, or are they derpy little lizard babies that get eaten by bears and condors?

Where do dragons live?
>Do they live mostly by themselves, or in family units?
>How much space do they take to nest in?
>How much territory to they claim as their own outside the nest?

Do dragons hoard things?
>What kinds of things?
>Do they like shiny things?
>>Do they like worthless things too, as long as their shiny, or can they tell the value of an item?
>>>Is this dependent on the individual dragon in question?
>>>Does it depend on the dragon’s age?
>>>The dragon’s subspecies?
>Where do dragons keep their hoard?
>>Do they keep it in a back room?
>>Do they use it as a bed?
>>>How do they not damage the items with their weight?

Can dragons use magic?
>Can dragons shift into a humanoid form?
>>For how long?
>>How often?
>>What determines what their human form will look like?

How intelligent are dragons?
>Do they have their own names?
>Do they have rulers?
>Do they have a culture of their own?
>>How far apart do dragons have to be before there are noticeable regional differences?
>Do dragons have a sense of humor?
>If dragons aren’t intelligent, can they be/have they been domesticated?
>>Can they be trained?
>How do dragons communicate?
>Are dragons antagonistic towards humanoids?
>>Any specifically, or all of them?
>>If not, will they allow humanoids or others to ride on their backs?
>Are dragons antagonistic toward other dragons?
>>Only ones they aren’t related to?
>>Only ones from other subspecies?
>>Only ones that trespass?
>>Only to ones from different regions?
>>Only to ones with different politics?
>>To ones that smell bad?

Are dragons more reptilian or mammalian? Keep in mind that if they are mammalian, the females will have mammary glands.

How do dragons reproduce?
>Are they live births?
>Do they hang out in a pouch for a while afterwards, like kangaroos?
>Are they up and about almost immediately, like horses?
>Are they pretty useless, like human babies?
>Do they hatch from eggs?

A good source for these sorts of things. I came up with something similar for the noggards in Dark Soldier.

Medieval Weaponry

Many people forget that broadswords were not the only weapon used in medieval times. In fact, swords were quite hard to make compared to many other weapons. So, if you’re writing a medieval/fantasy battle sequence, make sure to give your characters some fun non-sword weapons as well! 

 Here are some links on fun medieval weapons and how to use them. YouTube is excellent for this kind of thing:

A List of Medieval Weaponry
Warhammer vs Mace
A Few Thoughts on Battle Axes
Combat Techniques with Ancient Axes
How to Use A Medieval Crossbow
How to Swing a Sledgehammer
Spear Fighting
Quarterstaff Techniques
Lars Andersen Archery

If anyone can find stuff to add to this, reblog with more links!