1. karldots92
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    karldots92 Active Member

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    Strong Female Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by karldots92, Sep 12, 2016.

    In my fantasy WIP I have around 16 MCs. Of these 7 are female. I'm very conscious of not making these characters stereotypical female (damsel in distress types) and I want to make sure that they come across as strong but I also want to make them realistic too in that some of them fall in love (in one case even though she doesn't know it). So I'm looking for a bit of guidance particularly from the female members of this forum.

    What would you consider a strong female character? What traits should she have?

    I appreciate any and all thoughts

    Disclaimer: If this post comes across in any way sexist I apologise as that was not my intention. I am genuinely interested so I can refine my characters
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Read Robin Hobb...she has plenty of strong female characters.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't help asking: Don't any of the guys fall in love? Does that make them weak?

    But anyway: "strong female character" is a somewhat ambiguous phrase--which isn't your fault; you didn't coin the phrase.

    It could mean "A female character who is strong."
    or it could mean "A female character who is well and realistically imagined and portrayed."

    I'm assuming that you want the second. You don't necessarily need every character to be the first. Both male and female characters can be emotionally or physically strong or weak.

    But strong or weak, a realistic female character should have her own reasons for existing or doing what she does. For example, if Dr. Jane is part of the archaeological party, she shouldn't just appear to bind up Professor Male Special's wounds and have respectful or admiring or loving feelings for him. She should be there for her own reasons. Maybe she wants the experience on her resume, for some career move. Maybe she's there to get information about where the treasure is. Maybe she's been quietly assigned by the government to keep an eye out for artifact theft.

    And female characters should be plot drivers--it shouldn't be only Professor Male Special and Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith making the decisions or committing the betrayals or whatever. And "plot driver" doesn't mean "she was kidnapped--that was a plot!" If a female character's role could just as easily have been taken by an infant or a precious gem, that role is not a plot driver.

    That's some thoughts.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh! And watch Orphan Black. All strong female characters, all the time.
     
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  5. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    Step 1: Write strong character. This means having faults as well.
    Step 2: Make female.
     
  6. karldots92
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    karldots92 Active Member

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    Yes they do. In fact one of the guys (Gaeral) falls in love with one of the girls (Onala) who doesn't love him back but he stays by her side anyway as a self-appointed protector (even though she's perfectly capable of protecting herself). Another guy (Jorin) is in love with Sherina but he has trust issues so can't commit himself to her which she resents as she feels he is just using her.

    All my female characters have reasons for being in the story. So here's a quick breakdown of the characters

    Sherina: Magic user who struggles with her destructive power. Mother died in childbirth, never knew her father, brought up by her mother's twin sister as one of her own. She's trying to fin the answers to her past but doesn't know where to start looking
    Ariana: "Sister" to sherina. Feels she has to protect her sister. Magic user but has mastered her more protective and nurturing powers.
    Veridienne: She is a student of ancient history and archaeology. Obsessed with ancient artifacts and collects as many as she can get
    Shiara: Member of an order of Monks. They are required to spend a number of years in the outside world.
    Onala: Priestess of the "Mother Godess" she is dedicated to protecting the less fortunate.
    Faerys: Leader of the "Heirarchy" and one of the main antagonists. She is the spokesperson for the God "Savis" who considers himself the one true God and wants all the other Gods destroyed. She is driven by her hatred of everyone who stands against her whether friend or enemy.
    Fauerstein: Officer in the Heirarchy army. Believes she is fighting for a righteous cause and uses this belief to justify the atrocities the army commits.

    Just so you have an idea of their motiviations.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2016
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  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    This reminds me of a joking response to a question like this.

    Step #1: Write a strong male character. From beginning to end.

    Step #2: Lop off his dick and balls by change all masculine pronouns referring to him to the female pronouns. Give him a lady's name.

    Step #3: You now have a strong female character.
     
  8. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    Wasn't this from a fallen member of our forums? I remember him saying this in that famous banter thread about too realistic medieval setting.
     
  9. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd like to submit the term "Martining" for when this happens to a character within a story.
     
  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you have good intentions, but I read your post and I see the line:

    What would you consider a strong female character? What traits should she have?​

    And I groan a little.

    There's no one "strong female character". There's no list of traits that every female character should have in order to be strong. (I know, it might have just been an accident of wording. But...)

    Your female characters are individuals. Try to get into their heads and understand them as people - their sex is only one aspect of their multifaceted world.

    This could be kind of challenging when you're writing 13 main characters. That's a pretty ambitious book. If you're unsure about writing female characters, maybe you should write some warm-up scenes with these characters, backstory or whatever, things that probably won't be included in the final version of your book, in order to help yourself get inside their heads?
     
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  11. karldots92
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    karldots92 Active Member

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    I already have substantial backstories for them all. I guess what I was trying to avoid was stereotyping them. I was reading another thread about the Bechel Test for female characters and it got me thinking if my female characters are strong enough. That's what prompted the question. Sorry if it came across the wrong way.
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hear what you're saying, but I think the idea of "what traits should she have" is actually going to make it more likely that you create a stereotype, not less likely. Does that make sense?

    Would you ever write: "What would you consider a strong male character? What traits should he have?" and expect to get meaningful answers? Female characters are just as varied as male, and can express their strength in just as many different ways.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2016
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  13. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @BayView what is a 'make' character? Is that a Male character that is made of Cake? :supergrin:
    Sounds like the sort to have phobias of forks and parties. :p
     
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  14. Darth Batman
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    I have run into this problem, especially with my current project having multiple female major characters. What I did was write them as characters that just happened to be female, with both positive and negative traits. One case revealed an impulsive, quick-on-her-feet character, who was terrified of public speaking.
     
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  15. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say that it's a good thing you have that many, because making them different from each other is more important than what any of of them is like. Just like men.

    If Kyra Sylvan were my only female character, then she would be giving the impression in the story that all women are extremely focused on what other people want/need instead of themselves, extremely religious, and that their place in the world is to be tortured by the bad guys to make the heroes look good for saving her.

    If June Harper were my only female character, then she would be giving the impression in the story that all women are both raving sex junkies and bloodthirsty serial killers.

    If Colonel Leeson were my only female character, then she would be giving the impression in the story that all women feel that it's acceptable – even required – to torture people half to death (or all the way) "for their own good" because being tortured builds character.

    If Arachne were my only female character, then she would be giving the impression in the story that all women are less human than men.

    If "Beta" (who later starts calling herself "Kathryn") were my only female character, then she would be giving a) the same impression in the story as Arachne, and b) the impression in the story that all women should go into mechanical engineering.
     
  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't worry too much about making them all "strong woman" stereotypes, especially if you have a lot of them. If you look at what a lot of literary agents and editors are saying (Twitter is great for that) - they're moving past the "token strong woman", almost to the point of revolting against that trope. What a lot of them - especially those who are women - are seeking are "real women". You know, people that are neither the damsel in distress or the token amazon bada**. People are looking varied female characters (preferably more than one per story) who have strengths and weaknesses that surprise us - as if we weren't just reading the same archetypes over and over again. Vulnerability is fine, weakness is fine - actually both of those things can be good if properly applied - so just make sure you have REAL women who differ from each other, and you should be good.
     
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  17. karldots92
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    karldots92 Active Member

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    Yeah I see what you mean - my bad. Sorry if I offended anyone. Thanks for all the feedback.
     
  18. Phil Mitchell
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    Phil Mitchell Active Member

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    It depends on what kind, and level of strength we're talking about. What you generally want to do with an ensemble cast of 7 female MC's is go for variety of character. Explore different kinds of strength in each one.

    A pet peeve of mine, and I had words with Drew Karpyshyn over this, is writing a female character that follows a code, like the Jedi Code, and have her suddenly abandon everything she was taught/believes to go on a sex romp with obligatory male lead. And then completely ignore the established consequences of her actions.

    Actions have consequences, even for SFC's.
     
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  19. ChickenFreak
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    I see a risk of passive, non-plot-driving characters here. I may be wrong, but I'll comment on the specifics anyway.

    Onala sounds potentially passive--she doesn't want him there, but he's there anyway. He's the actor; she's the passive object.

    Does she do anything about this, or does she just wait for him to commit (to act) while she waits (being the passive object)?

    "Doesn't know where" sounds passive. Why not give her an idea of where to start looking, so that she takes action?

    She sounds like she may be a passive object to her sister. If her sister is passive, they're both passive. Can you find a way for both of them to act?

    Does she do anything? Go out and seek artifacts? Drive the group to go where she wants to go?

    That sounds fairly passive--she's doing what she's required to do. Does she act in the context of that requirement, doing things, causing events to happen?

    What does she do? Again, does she move the plot in any way?

    These two sound mainly like they follow orders. Do they have any goals of their own that they act toward?

    I'm not saying that every character should be a plot driver, but every "main character" should, and you're referring to these as main characters.
     
  20. Phil Mitchell
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    Phil Mitchell Active Member

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    16 MC's sounds like way too much anyway. Either some supporting characters are being mislabelled as main, or the WIP is insanely huge in size and scope. Following sixteen main character arcs is asking too much of the audience barring exceptional circumstances. Especially considering you're asking if half of these characters are strong. Combining elements of these characters or doubling down on a few of them as leads, is what needs to happen. As it sounds like there's alot of excess that needs trimming. Not everyone can be the star.
     
  21. batdown
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    I'm struggling a little bit with this. I am adapting a very old book to a screenplay and I've made the choice to change the male main character to a female. One thing I am thinking about a lot is how in art, patriarchal tendencies lead us to respect women on the page or screen who embody the men that we respect in these roles. The character is an orphan just reaching young adulthood, who has extraordinary talents and embarks on an incredibly dangerous quest to rescue someone she loves. What do I need to look out for with this gender switch? The source material is old "weird fiction"/science fiction and the text focuses more on development of the world and setting rather than the character, who is truthfully a bit of a run-of-the-mill hero. Courageous, but not without fear, naive, but resolute. I don't want to write a heroic male character and just switch the genders - I want to write this female character truthfully and organically. Of course, this is not a contemporary setting so I'm in sort of uncharted territory. I would love any advice.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really see why you can't just do the gender switch and charge ahead.
     
  23. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Instead of asking which traits a female character should have, you could ask what makes a well-rounded female character.

    Female characters can have any traits, positive and negative. It's not the traits that make them weak or strong in terms of being meaningful to the story or the reader. When we say a character is strong we mean that they have a strong presence, in every sense of the word.

    A popular way of measuring the success of a character's strength is whether or not they have any agency. This can conflict with the idea of having a strong female character who is actually 'imprisoned' in whatever sense. Either by social circumstance or physical location. Be wary of catering too much to this idea that strength comes from the ability to dictate one's own path. Defiantly surviving the whims of other people is also admirable and relatable.

    Looking at your list of characters it's clear that you've thought a lot about them, and considered how they might be viewed from every angle. You've thought about where and how they fit into the narrative and in what sense they impact the story and each other. Keep writing and reassess once you have that first draft down.
     
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  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd change this to:

     
  25. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short Version: Don't worry, write what you want. Judge how you think you did, move on.

    Long Version: I think labels can be amazing or crappy and no better a moment is this thread.

    I am gonna try and not get ya on bad phrasing though the opening post sure had some.

    The issue I think is well, everyone defines something differently. Like, a great example. A beta reader felt one of my girls: Kerrin was a shinning example of strength, yet my personally feelings are the reverse that she is a shinning example of weakness. For a moment I thought I failed or that the reader failed to see my ideas but I realized, I don't think either was the case. I think, we saw the same information and reached opposing conclusions.

    So, you can't create in an objective sense, a strong female character because not everyone is going to agree on what is the defintion of a strong female charcter(unless you mean weight lifing strong lol.)

    So my advice? Ditch the entire notion of the label. Write what you want, and if you want her to feel strong. Ask yourself, does she feel strong? Does the media support this? I think that will go a long way. Also another good question is purpose. Like, I personally hate when scenes have no point other than to drill into my head a central theme. I am a human being, I can figure that out! So if you have some bar scene where she is kicking ass, have more of a point to it than just her being an ass kicker. Because it can feel like your trying to hard, like your shoving into my face that she can kick ass. If the scene has another point that point can get me thinking and then the idea of her being a bad ass can float in the background, and I think that is a lot stronger.

    Like, another example. Someone that most people would probably consider strong is my girl Jackie. Though, again, I personally can see arguments tot he opposite, and if someone thought I created her to be strong, I again can see the argument, but they'd be wrong. She is this fearless no non-sense literal murderer that beats up lots of people. The goal of that was not for her to be viewed as strong. The goal was her to be viewed as threatening, dangerous and psychotic. Which, given that she has killed someone over miss using her name, I think counts! If you think she is strong is of no concenquence to me. lol. But I follow my rules or I try too, tke that scene with the name, it adds to her character beyond just being psycho becuse there is a reason she doesn't like people misusing her name and that is an insight into why she is the way she is. It could have easily been a gimmick for expressing her psycho aspect but it isn't.
     

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