“Strong Female Characters”
As I work on polishing Light of Dawn so it’s ready to be shared, I was having a few thoughts about a certain aspect of writing characters which I’ve noticed has become a stigma with several people. It’s a question, really, and after working on a number of original characters, I think it’s pretty pertinent.
It’s also pretty simple: Why write strong female characters?
You might be thinking, “Because they’re great!” and you wouldn’t be wrong. Strong female characters are great–but so are weak ones. Granted, I’m not talking about strongly or weakly written characters, I’m talking in terms of their personality traits.
So the question’s kind of a trick, and now that I’ve explained myself, I’ll ask again. Why write a strong female character? You know, instead of a weak one, or one who’s complex. Why not write a woman who’s sassy, clingy, fickle, crass, scared, or demure?
This goes, in particular, for leading characters who are female, and this standard has become a stigma with many writers because it’s a way of saying “If you want your female characters to be likable, they have to be strong, know how to fight, defend themselves, and so on.” In many instances, this definition of strong also involves sacrificing trait(s) you could potentially give her that are traditionally considered to be feminine.
For instance, she doesn’t like to wear dresses, or makeup, or she doesn’t like to cook. She may also exude some attributes that are considered masculine, potentially making her “surprising” and “more likeable”.
But stories are going to get old pretty fast if the only women we involve in them are “strong female characters”, and honestly, it’s insulting to think that, if I want people to like her, she can’t be or act any other way.
In my experience, it’s the ability to identify with a character that’s the real ticket to winning over an audience. A character’s goals (male or female) and what they’re willing to do to achieve them, whether they’re strong, clever, weak, saucy, or stoic, is what a reader connects with and, inevitably, wins their favor.
You also have to wonder why there’s no real “standard” for writing “likable” men. Typically, they come out the way you want them to, and no one really complains as far as “they were a poor character” is concerned. Certainly, people do complain about male characters, but usually it’s their actions within the story that gets the grousing, and not their personality traits. (For example: “God, she’s too whiny. Why can’t she just accept what’s happened and move on?” as opposed to “He’s gone through so much, the poor guy! I don’t blame him for being so sullen!”)
There’s always exceptions, but I’ve actually never seen any articles explaining ways to write likeable men. It’s either “how to write a likeable character” with no gender specification, or it’s “how to write a strong female character”. (Then again, maybe I just haven’t seen them, so if anyone knows of any articles to link, please do!)
As an example, when I wrote Ashley Passmore in Blue Moon, I wanted her to have some gumption, but I knew she wouldn’t be very realistic if she was so strong she never faltered. This would’ve also changed the story entirely because she wouldn’t have needed Leo’s help, or Cade’s guidance if she didn’t have some vulnerability.
I also gave her the quirk of loving to cook, which some people might call a feminine trait to have, but I usually end up wondering if these people have ever heard of Gordon Ramsay or seen Hell’s Kitchen. Yeah, I don’t think cooking is really a trait that would weaken a character by making them seem “too feminine”.
So what’s wrong with being “feminine” anyway, and why would that weaken a character? Is there really no way for a woman to be accepted into society unless she’s kicking someone in the face, overthrowing armies, and scoffing at the latest fashion trends?
So, in all, I think we should be against writing strong female characters, and for strongly writing characters in general, no matter what their personality or gender. Like men, women have a wide range of traits that all add up to make a human being, and those traits aren’t limited to “how equally as well or better than a man they can perform a particular task”.
In the end, I wanted to write this short article because some of my friends who also aspire to write stories have stumbled across this same concept, and I thought it might be food for thought to others out there as well. So write your characters any way you please, and don’t preoccupy yourself worrying over whether or not they’ll have a good reception because they’re too . . . whatever they might be.
Just write them the way you want them to be. It’s as simple as that.
So feel free to leave a comment if you have a related story to share, or point something out if I’ve missed anything important (which is very possible when this was just intended to be short and to the point).
Hope you guys are having a great day! Cheers! :D