Friday, June 3, 2011

To Be Strong

This post is inspired by Stephanie McGee's post from May 27th. Thanks for making me think, Stephanie.

I write books where the main character is a girl. Not only is she a girl, but a teen girl. And the word on the street is that teen girl characters have to be strong. But what does that mean? As I've been thinking about this, especially in relation to the rewrite I'm currently working through, I've come to a few conclusions that I wanted to share with you.

I have thought about some examples of what I consider to be strong female characters. You may be surprised by what I came up with. There's the obvious answer of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games books. Strong and edgy and capable of doing whatever it takes. Was she always that way? Yes, she was used to doing whatever she needed to do to survive, but I don't think she became that way by chance. She developed the hardness over time. And that is the first thing I've learned. There is an arc of development that a character goes through. They don't have to start out strong. The best journey is the one where you end up strong.

Nest example. Anne of Green Gables. I know. She's as old-fashioned as they come. The exact opposite of what they mean when they say strong and independent. Except that she isn't. She didn't depend on anyone else to determine her fate. She was creative and capable of taking care of herself. When she finally did marry Gilbert, she went through some really tragic things. The loss of a child. The loss of friends. A war. Yes, she lived with high expectations and was pretty happy all the time. And that's the next thing about strength. Strength is situational. I think it takes more strength to be happy in bad times. To be creative and capable when it would be easier to let someone else take over.

The last example. Harry Crewe from Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. (If you haven't read this book, you should. I read it at least once a year. One of my very favorites.) She was thrust into an unfamiliar situation, kidnapped, then had to learn a whole new culture and way of life. She could have been a "poor me, I'm the victim here" girl. And no one would have thought twice about it. Instead, she refused to give up. She went from pampered life to unwilling hero. To get to the hero, she had a teacher and a friend to lean on. And this is lesson number three. Strong doesn't mean you never need help. In fact, it takes more strength to know when you need help. Just blundering around and trying to do it on your own can be pretty foolish.

So, to sum up, if you want to know if your female character is strong, ask yourself a few questions. What is her situation? How does she develop strength? Is she able to ask for help or does she do everything herself?

What do you think, friends? What makes a strong female character?


Stephanie McGee said...

Very nice post! Thanks for the link. I think sometimes women who won't take any crap from people can be made into strong and believable characters. Thursday Next in Jasper Fforde's books is like that. She is going through a lot of stuff but she always draws the line somewhere when it comes to the crap people dish out to her.

Ben Spendlove said...

My daughter is a strong female character. She's eight. She doesn't worry about what people think. She gets back on her bike with a ten-stitch gash gushing blood down her face. She tells it like she sees it and speaks truth to power. (Meaning me.)

Jennifer Shirk said...

That's very true. I think strength is situational and can be conveyed to the reader with regards to that. Good food for thought!

ZapAdRem said...

I think it's also good to remember that 'strong' doesn't mean your character can never show weakness. They can be upset when they're at their lowest point, but they just have to pick themselves back up again and keep moving on.

Great post!

Russo said...

Oh, I loved this post- so beautiful. I agree with you, a charcters gotta have stregnth and I love anne of green gables (my momma gave me Anne as a middle name just for the of Anne of green gables)

ali said...

Great post Kayeleen. And I haven't heard of The Blue Sword, for thanks for telling me about it! As for me, I think a strong female character is one who can make the hard choices. Who chooses what's best, even when it's not what she wants.

Ashley Nixon said...

I think a lot of people interpret strong as being a feminist in a lot of respects. Especially in an age where we fighting misogyny, so it's nice to see others taking the meaning of 'strong' in a different direction.

BTW - I tagged you in a meme! :D You can go to my blog to see what it's about!

The Las Vegas Writer said...

I love a heroine who can kick ass and not apologize :) Thanks for stopping by the blog. I love the design you have here.