1. kitsune4
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    kitsune4 Member

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    What makes a female protagonist "strong"?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by kitsune4, Dec 19, 2013.

    Hello everyone, I am looking for some advice on how to make a female character strong without resorting to a badass fighter type. What sort of character traits do you often see in female characters you find interesting?

    I would also be interested in any examples.
     
  2. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Honestly I see everyone as people. Strong or weak is more of a personality type rather than a gender thing. Woman can be strong by just not buckling under pressure or taking on normal hard tasks with just as much efficiency as everyone else.

    A strong woman would be like Michonne from Walking Dead, she's always got her head in the game as a survivor but can still be seen outside of the "badass fighter" element as a normal woman with feelings and concerns.
     
  3. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I don't think she has to be physically strong. For example, I find the character Sansa a strong character in the later ASOIAF books. Sure, she doesn't fight and kill or openly manipulate, but she learned how to play the game. Even if that meant staying quiet and waiting, she's still alive. (So, far.)
     
  4. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    If I want a strong female character, she has a sense of humor and a BAFP (Big Ass Frying Pan). I think of strong woman characters on TV. TV provides so much creative input. DVD's are actually tax write-offs if an artist, including writers, treats their free-lance work as a sole proprietorship and files a Schedule C, here in America. Research material. I think of a character, for instance, in my own workshop novel excerpts I think of Shelia being Reba McIntire, Sheriff MJ as Linda Hunt, with the android Cosmos, Kim (Carnes), Amy (Mann) and Paris (Hilton) though the last names are never mentioned. Some characters are strictly imaginary, still few are cowardly. Some are motherly. Males are selected or created in the same way. John is Tom Selleck for the model. I find it easier to have a Hollywood world model, living or otherwise.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    She holds tight to her ethics and sense of responsibilities when it would be easier to compromise. And she is not swayed by whether anyone likes or respects her for her choices.
     
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  6. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    Ok, here's a few ideas:

    Decisive, but not opinionated. Decisiveness will act on its choice with confidence. Opinions are unsure, merely opinions.
    Confident, but not egotistical. Ego needs to damn others, but confidence stands on its own merits because it has checked and double checked its work.
    Accountable, but not a patsy.
    Aware, but not nosy.
    Ethical, but not rule mongering.
     
  7. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Strong is an indeterminate term. And readers aren't looking for characteristics in any case. They want the story and the characters to be interesting. Remember, they're not reading for story. They are reading for the moment-to-moment reading pleasure your writing gives them. Do that and your heroine can be a paraplegic lying like a lump at the bottom of a well and they'll still turn the pages.

    Tell your story in real time. Force the reader to make the same observations and decisions as the protagonist. Make them care. Make your writing strong.
     
  8. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I think the others covered most of the characteristics I would attribute to a "strong" female. But I think it's important to remember that strength is relative, or rather the perception of strength. Inside a mass of people who are slaves to a repressor, a woman who will speak her mind shows strength. In an army of female warriors who have only known bloodshed, a woman who isn't afraid to show compassion can be strength. It isn't always what the reader perceives, but also how the other characters are shown in contrast to the female.

    That is why weaknesses and strengths can often be the same thing because they are extreme ends of a social scale. Often it is society that determines if a person's trait is a weakness or a strength. On the other hand, you know a character has strength if they are able to reach their goals despite the views of society.

    So I think there are two good ways you can show strength: one is the female's contrast to society and the other is her ability to overcome obstacles and achieve her goals.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013
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  9. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does it matter much that she's a she? How do writers make a male protagonist 'strong?'

    Self-sacrifice. Courage. Not afraid to show fear. Determination. Charisma. Leadership.

    Just apply a few of those to your girl;)
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Need more info. When you say, "without resorting to badass fighting", does that mean you are looking for alternative ways she can defeat a physical enemy? Then you need to go for brains not braun. Find clever things for her to do to win a battle or give her some talent a wiry person might have, quick, agile, good at ducking then grabbing a club.

    If you mean something else, tell us a little more about the story you have in mind.
     
  11. Annessa Jones
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    Annessa Jones New Member

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    What makes a character strong, at least by societal standards, are the actions the characters chooses to make during, or to create, difficult or dangerous situations. Not what really limits the character as far as strength is the situation that the character is in, and what the society that the story is being told in determines to be "strong."

    In ancient times, being strong literally meant strength, as well as good breeding, particularly of the gods, therefore Achilles, the most remembered warrior of ancient times, was those things. Similarly in the Renaissance strength was derived from faith, knowledge, and skill, therefore Dante, of the Divine Comedy was religious, witty, and knowledgeable of politics and antiquity.Of the more recent heroes, Superman, the original early 1900s Superman, was the good-doer, gentleman that all men where taught to want to be because he exemplified the societal norms as far as the best a person could be.

    To find a strong hero, you must look at what our society determines to be the best a human can be, and have them in some way or another strive to be that way, or reflect that way in their choices/actions. However, since characters today are much more human than Achilles, Dante, or Superman, you can't make them perfect. We know that everyone is flawed, but those that seek to fulfill the moral caliber that we have determined are, by our standards, strong.
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Good answers here. You can pretty much forget about the gender aspect here and just think about 'strength' generally -- unless you're doing it e.g. through motherhood.

    For some reason I started to think about displays of strengths and weaknesses in the TV show, The Ultimate Fighter. Just finished watching the 18th season. They say the MMA fighter Ronda Rousey is strong 'cause she's a skilled fighter, physically strong, and is the champion, but when you see her outside the octagon, she seems really different, acts like an insecure child trying to prove herself over and over again (I guess they could've paid her to act bratty, who knows). If I wanted to write a weak character as a writing exercise, I could just craft someone like her. Now if I wanted to write someone who's strong, I'd go for qualities such as discipline, focus, and confidence (in the sense that shit like insults roll off your character like water off a duck's back) -- it doesn't matter what she does, no need to be a sword-wielding warrior -- 'cause strentgh comes in so many different forms.
     
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  13. PBrady
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    PBrady Active Member

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    I think we need a bit more context.

    Are you thinking of a character in a drama or action context?
    Is it actions that might be indicative that the character is strong, or some other interactions?

    In drama the personality traits that indicate a resilient personality with a high degree self-motivation and self-worth would normally become apparent through a series of interactions. Their integrity, loyalty and honesty could be easily established with simple character interactions.

    Expressing other traits such as resilience, which normally become apparent over a period of time, would require you to either refer back to them as having become apparent at a time before the story, or during the course of the story. Very occasional some have these qualities being displayed in the same time frame as the story but as a parallel event.

    In action there seem to be some common ways to do this sort of thing.

    One ruse is to have a character walking away from a fight with their dignity and self-confidence fully intact.
    (My son watches a lot of Pokemon and this device is used frequently.)

    To have a character focussed on lots of physical training is also popular.

    A character who will assist someone in need, sometimes in a lowly manner, without expecting or accepting any reward or thanks can help build that sort of picture.

    Helping the underdog or going against popular opinion is another trait you could use.
     
  14. The Byzantine Bandit
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    The Byzantine Bandit Member

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    Model her off Galadriel, Éowyn, and Hermione.
     
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  15. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I personally like female MC's that are strong in the intelligence department. My MC is highly intelligent, which makes her strong as far as say problem solving, manipulating people, talking her way out of tight spots etc... However, she makes some really poor choices in life which eventually lead to her downfall. Strength in my opinion is having a good mix of positive traits vs. weaknesses. Like my example:
    Strength: Intelligence and street smarts.
    Weakness: Inability to handle tough emotional situations.
     
  16. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Although mine (Tanya) is neither physically nor intellectually strong, she's very resilient through what life throws at her.
     
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  17. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    Really good tip, make sure she never whines. Nobody likes a whiner in real life and whining does in fact make a person look weak. Part of the reason even die-hard Twilight fans hated Bella was because she was always whining.
     
  18. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    Sadly, I've struggled with this myself. I think I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, though, especially after watching The Hunger Games a month or so ago. Katniss Everdeen is the strongest and best female protagonist I have ever encountered. Maybe that just means I've had bad luck. Who knows.

    @rhduke has an excellent point.

    That contrast, I think, is a necessity to showcase the morals and strength of a character. Do they go with the flow and just follow the rules? Or do they dare to think outside the box and do something about it? I think it's also necessary to consider your audience. An outspoken and confident woman may not be regarded as strong or otherwise admirable in certain parts of the world or in certain historical periods. But we, today, would likely see it as strength that a woman of medieval Europe stands toe-to-toe with her father and tells him "No, I will not marry this man you've chosen for me who I have never even met."

    I don't know if my rantings are on-topic, but I'll make a clumsy transition here regardless. I think strong characters, not just female ones, have a solid sense of self-worth, understand themselves (including their flaws and strengths, and do their best with both), are logical and reasonable (I was tickled to death when Katniss never got upset with Peeta for allying with those trying to kill her), have goals and pursue them to the best of their ability, are compassionate and selfless to some degree (even if it's hidden under a thick, calloused skin), and are passionate. I cobbled that together just now, so I'd love to hear if anyone has arguments against anything I mentioned.

    Great thread, by the way. :)
     
  19. kitsune4
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    kitsune4 Member

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    Haven't responded yet because I haven't known quite how to. I didn't give much detail about my own story because I was looking for a general consensus on female characters in any genre.

    But I am looking to write a female in a fantasy setting who lacks physical strength and fighting skills in a situation where females are subservient slaves to men who are generally trained killers. In her case, she must outwit others to get her way. So this discussion has been very useful for me and given me a lot to think about.

    Thanks for everyone's contributions!
     
  20. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    A few things that make a female character (or any gender character really) "strong" are:
    • Personality - She needs a distinct identity and manner of expression. It must set her apart from other characters in our minds and hers/other characters' minds.
    • Confidence - This somewhat falls under personality, but she needs to have or grow into confidence within herself about herself.
    • Integrity & Accountability - She must be willing to stand by her convictions and face any consequences she brings.
    • Vision - Most strong characters have a vision of what they want to accomplish or to see come to pass. They hold onto this vision and draw strength from it in moments of weakness.
    • Self-awareness - this one is not a must, but people who understand themselves fully and allow themselves to feel their emotions and be themselves tend to be (at least) emotionally stronger because they know it's okay to feel sad, but they rarely stay that way.
    • Control/Autonomy - strong females have some level of control, sometimes over others, but most assuredly over themselves (or at least it is perceived so).
    • Will - All strong characters have the willpower to keep pushing them forward, to make things happen, to do something.
    There are other traits, but I hope this helps.
     
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  21. Steerpike
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    Agency.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Tundra.
     
  23. Revilo87
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    Courage, conviction, compassion are just some things. Think about a nurse in the world wars who's holding the hand of a gruesomely wounded soldier near his death, all without flinching or looking at him with disgust or pity, doing whatever she can to help comfort him until he passes on.

    A mother or a teacher making a difference in someone's life would be a strong character

    Also from real life, Malala Yousafzai the young girl who did nothing but speak out against the Taliban and she's still doing it even after they tried to kill her by shooting her in the head
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
  24. Hazel B-S
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    Hazel B-S Member

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    It's not about whether the man or woman is strong. It's about whether the person is strong. Because it's actually quite damaging and sexist to adhere to rigid stereotypes of a 'strong woman'. Strong women don't have to be fighters etc, a woman can be strong even when she's very feminine and seems weak.

    Traits i'd see strong in a person:
    1. Loyalty
    2. Integrity
    3. Strong-willed
    4. Decisive
     
  25. TheApprentice
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    TheApprentice Contributing Member

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    Just have her do her thing. Like someone said in an earlier post it's not a gender thing as much as a personality thing. It's only a big deal with a hero girl if you make it a big deal.
     
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