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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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!

A Guide to Black Hair #2 – Natural Styles

tehawesomersace:

Natural Hairstyles

Natural hairstyles are as varied as textures of hair.  For simplicity’s sake I’m not going to include styles that use fake hair or additional hair, such as weaves, lace fronts, box braids, and the like.

Natural hairstyles feature hair that is not relaxed or texturized (a kind of super mild relaxer) and worn in its natural state or styled.

The Afro: This is probably the most iconic natural hairstyle and most readily recognizable natural hairstyle for those outside of the black community.  It is usually a haircut without taper and a pick comb is used to “pick out” or lift hair, causing a nice amount of poof.  After the hair is picked out it is patted back into place.  Any kind of pressure on the hair results in flat spots, which is why people who wear Afros often have an afro pick nearby.

The Natural:  This is kind of an old-fashioned term for a close-cropped hairstyle.  The hair can be tapered or a single length, but it is usually NOT picked out.  A Good example of a natural is Poussey from Orange is the New Black.

Tapered Natural/Afro: Similar to the Afro, but this is a haircut that is longer at the crown and shorter against the neck.  It can by picked out or left as is to curl.

Fades: these are cuts worn by (usually) men and done in a barber shop.  They aren’t longer than an inch at the top, and go to the skin near the neck.  Similar to a tapered cut, but much shorter all around and against the skin around the back.  Kanye wears a fade.  Fades can have lines or designs cut in along the temple.  Butch lesbians in the black community sometimes wear fades.

Dred locs or Locs:  Hair is tangled to create a rope, size dependent on personal choice.  Sister locks are tiny dred locs created with an instrument similar to a crochet hook.  Once put in dred locs are incredibly difficult to remove.  Hair can also knot naturally to create a large matted clump of hair, but these are not dred locs.  I was taught that dred locs were named after Dred Scott, but I have no idea if that is true.  Still, I like the idea of this historical tie in.

Kinky Twists:  Twists on natural hair.  If done while the hair is damp the can be removed to create smooth waves.  Usually require a special leave in conditioner.

Cornrows: a hairstyle favored by rappers and historical films.  The cornrow is created by parting hair in sections and braiding it in a pattern similar to a French braid only in reverse (where a French braid picks up hair on the top and goes over the existing strands, a corn row picks up hair underneath and deposits it below the existing strands).  Most hair-storians (if this isn’t a thing I want it to be) attribute corn rowing to tribal styles worn in Western Africa, and knowledge that was brought over with blacks during slavery.

Quick braids: Braids that are done quickly but are not box braids (the generic braids that most people recognize as long braids) or cornrows and are usually a little messy and unkempt.  These can also be called Celie braids after Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the Color Purple.  Celie braids could also be braids that form a sort of crown (depends on area, speaker).  When I was a kid my mom (who is white) used to call these unkempt braids pickaninny braids, but this is racist as fuck, so don’t use that.  Still, if folks recognize the pickaninny character from old advertisements (Google!) then they will recognize quick braids.

Straight: Yes! Some black people have straight hair (the black experience is not a monolith!).  Often you will hear people refer to someone as having Indian hair, but this isn’t people from India, this is based on the belief that Cherokee and blacks intermarried in the early 1700s (the jury is out on whether this is true or not).  Either way, these are black people with very little curl in their hair, and they can usually get away with blow drying their hair with a paddle brush and then flat ironing.

There are also folks with kinky curly hair who go to the salon every few days to get their hair straightened in what is called a press and curl.  The hair is washed, dried, and straightened by a beautician, usually using a hot comb or a Kentucky oven (a device that heats cast iron rollers to high temperatures).  It used to be difficult to straighten hair with store bought electric flat irons, but now that commercial brands have very high temps (such as the Chi and Sedu flat irons) natural hair can be straightened at home and straightened very well.

Little Girls:  Most little girls will wear a combination of cornrows and quick braids, but usually neater than quick braids. The hair will be sectioned, combed and braided, and this is a huge ritual between mother and daughter.  Little girls will sometimes have beads threaded onto the end or use decorative hair ties.  If you have a young character and refer to her as wearing braids you won’t need to go into any great detail.  In fact, the day most little girls get to go get their first relaxer is a BIG DEAL.  And the ritual of a mother combing a daughter’s hair, and the daughter complaining about the pulling, is a big one and a cultural memory for most black women. 

Red flag words

Here is a list of words that have very negative connotations when used about natural hair, especially if used by a white person:

Nappy

Poofy

Matted

Comparing black hair to sheep’s wool or cotton (this is up for debate, but I find it’s usually done on a very gross and othering way).

Kinky (this one depends greatly on context, but as above it’s usually done in a very gross and othering way)

Any excessive amount of description that focuses on how different natural hair is.

So, that is the basic info on natural hair.  Next up: Weaves, Wigs, and Other Styles that Use Artificial Hair etc.

This is super important for writers who have black characters in their books like I do. Make sure that it fits the era, though! I wouldn’t expect someone to have a fade in a LOTR-era book. It would be cool, though!

theticklishpear:

(A table of contents will become available when I return to a computer post volunteer work tonight. It will be kept updated throughout the series, and I will reblog it upon completion of the series. This series will remain open for additional posts.)

Part 3: Ever Versatile Action and Adventure

If statistics could be pulled for each genre from across the world where every book is labeled with every label that could apply to them, I would be willing to stake some amount of money on the opinion that either “action” or “adventure” would be tagged on at least 80% of all books. Despite that these are two separate genres that simply happen to share many similar qualities, they are often paired together, even hyphenated to action-adventure fiction. Not only are they squished together, but they’re often a “given” label in other genres.

Yes, action and adventure are our most prevalent cross-genre perpetrators.

What makes an action story?

This is the easiest genre to understand and the hardest to talk about without sounding silly, because honestly, an action story is exactly what it sounds like: A story that is driven by action. This doesn’t sound like anything special, but consider that narrative can be driven by two forces: external conflict and internal conflict. Much of genres like literary fiction and the classics deal in internal conflict that are character-driven. Action is a more outward show of doing things, rather than thinking about things.

Because of action’s broad definition, the genre can be crossed with nearly any other genre. Action thriller? Absolutely. Action historical? For sure. Action comedy? Have you even seen Guardians of the Galaxy?

Given how prevalent action can be, when trying to decide if your story aligns with this genre, you’ve got to be more careful than you would think. Don’t just slap it on because it probably applies. Consider how much down-time your story has. The more character-focused, the more willing to pause and smell the roses with your characters, the more internal dialogue there is in your tale, the more likely it is that you simply don’t need this label.

Choosing your genre isn’t a mad rush to find all 26 labels that fit your story. You’re looking for 1-3, maybe 4 at the maximum. 2 is the sweet spot. Is action really one of the main 2 or 3 focal points of your story? Did you write this because you were looking for the thrill of the car chase? Really think hard before taking action as one of your carefully-chosen genres.

What makes an adventure story?

Action–external sources of conflict–is often a key feature of an adventure. That’s why these two get linked so often. But there’s more to adventure than just filling your pages with things happening. We’re talking about a mission, a goal to achieve, obstacles to overcome–and these may even be internal! The most often-seen and most often-accepted adventure stories center on the external: Villains and evil antagonists, mountains standing in the way, a battle to wage. Just as important can be the adventures that are more mundane: Moving to a new town, finding new friends, a character overcoming their anxieties to accomplish something. The Lord of the Rings is a quintessential adventure story, but alongside it are The Bridge to Terabithia and Trickster’s Choice.

Just as action is an exceptionally broad genre, adventure also winds up cross-genre-ing with just about everything. Adventure romance? Try Through Fire & Sea. Adventure dystopian? The Fog Diver. Adventure comedy? The Worst Class Trip Ever.

All the same warnings apply to adventure as applied to action. Be discerning about what your key features of your story are. Is your plot couched in a quest? Are your characters making a journey? Do they get into trouble they have to find their way out of? Adventure is probably for you. Add it to your list!

Next up: Alternative History!