Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | July 17, 2012

Strong Female Characters by Stacy Green

The Author Chronicles gives a warm welcome to author Stacy Green, whose first novel, suspense thriller INTO THE DARK — in which Emilie Davis, who’s successfully escaped a manipulative mother and controlling ex-husband, has to stop running and start fighting to defeat the stalker who is determined to possess her — will be published this fall.

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS

by Stacy Green

I’m very excited to be guest posting here at The Author Chronicles! As some of you may know from my blabberings on Twitter or Facebook, I’m currently in editing hell. The plot issues I can handle––they’re a jigsaw puzzle, and it’s just a matter of putting them in their proper places.

My female heroine is giving me fits, however. Guys are easy. You know what I mean. For some reason, every male character I’ve created in my books basically writes himself. But writing a strong female character who isn’t whiney, needy, or just plain bitchy is a challenge for me.

In my debut novel, INTO THE DARK (releasing from MuseItUp Publishing in November), the heroine is stoic, used to taking care of herself, a master at keeping secrets and stubborn to a fault. It took me several rewrites to transform her. She went from a sniveling fraidy-cat to a distrustful snob and finally to someone I hope readers can root for.

So why is it so hard to write strong female characters? After spending way too many hours agonizing over this question, I think I have the answer. We’re focusing on the wrong things. Just as this great article by Annie Neugebaur states, singling out women as needing to be strong characters implies that we’re weak, and that women in fiction are weak. Wrong.

As women, we play many different roles: wife, mother, sexual goddess, career climber, etc. There is a fine line between creating a female lead who can take charge of her life without making her come across as dislikeable and masculine. Marcy Kennedy had a great post about strong female characters, and she said something that really resonated with me: what makes a strong female character is exactly what makes a strong woman.

Strong is an ambiguous, misleading word. All characters need to be compelling and relatable. Think about the people you respect in life. What traits do you notice the most? For me, it’s intelligence, compassion, independence, self-awareness and resilience. Get the right combination of those and you’ve got unforgettable characters: Clarice Starling, Jane Rizzoli, Kay Scarpetta, Sookie Stackhouse––the list goes on.

Strong characters take action. They’re willing to take risks and make mistakes, but they also hold themselves accountable for those mistakes. Strength doesn’t mean a character can’t cry or show weakness–the ability to overcome vulnerability, even when all hope seems lost, makes for a compelling character.

Think about Éowyn from The Lord of The Rings (The Two Towers and Return of the King). She’s beautiful and classy, soft-spoken and delicate. But she can also handle herself in battle and kills the Witch-king of Angmar. How does she pull it off? Determination, resilience, and sheer love for her family.

And what about Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter series? She grows from a know-it-all, pushy little girl to an intelligent, compassionate and loyal woman. Without Hermoine, Harry fails.

Neither of these great characters are memorable because they are women. We remember and love them because they stand up in the face adversity. In the final turning point, when all hope is lost, Hermoine and Éowyn step up and soldier forward. The fact they are female is just icing on the cake.

How do you write strong characters? What female characters in fiction have had the biggest impact on you as writer and reader?

 

Stacy is an avid reader of suspense, thrillers, and true crime. Her first novel, INTO THE DARK, will be released from MuseItUp Publishing on November 30th. You can find her blogging about true crime and thriller topics on Thriller Thursdays. For more information about her INTO THE DARK, her journey into indie publishing, and exclusive excerpts, sign up for her newsletter.
Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Responses

  1. [...] read the rest, please head over to The Author Chronicles. I’d love to know what you think of the post! Share this:DiggLike this:LikeBe the first to [...]

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  2. GREAT post, Stacy! Probably because it’s what I’m currently reading, but Detective Lindsey Boxer comes to mind from the Women’s Murder Club. I hate to say this, but a strong female character is rare… especially on TV. We have plenty of female leads, but for whatever reason they are written with cliched flaws IMO.

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    • Thank you, Tiffany. And you’re right, there are a lot of clichéd females out there. It’s very frustrating. I haven’t read The Woman’s Murder club, but I’ll add to my list.

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  3. I think that’s so true, woman are as strong as men, just in different ways. We’re empathic, are able to multi-task, nurture the wounded, be peacemakers, deal with a crisis calmly…and then completely fall apart. And then pull ourselves together again. I think women our the glue in society but I guess depending on what genre you’re writing in, a female character may have to also know how to kick some ass once in awhile!

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    • Thanks, Shannon! Your description is spot on, and I think that’s why women are so difficult to write. And in suspense, it’s really tough to make them “strong” without being clichéd:)

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  4. Excellent post, and thanks for the shout out to mine. You listed some of my favorite strong characters (who also happen to be female). What I especially love about Jane Rissolli is that she’s not addicted to her career. A lot of times when a female character is good at their job, we also fall into the trap of making them a workaholic. Jane has a life outside her work that includes romance and a family who loves her.

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    • Thanks, Marcy. Glad you enjoyed it, and your welcome. Your post was so helpful, and I had to give you credit.

      Such a great point about Rizzoli. She isn’t a workaholic, and even though she was scared of being a mother, she’s able to succeed at both without falling into stereotypes.

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  5. This is a great post. Thank you for opening my understanding to something I have to work on in the novel I am attempting to write.

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    • You’re very welcome! I actually decided to write this post to work out some of the issues I was having with my own heroine. Hope it helps you as well!

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  6. I loved this post. Of course, I have no tips on how to write strong female characters. Stacy has firsthand knowledge of this. :D

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    • LOL. That is so no true. Perri is awesome!

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  7. Hi Stacy! I never get tired of discussing this topic! I like what you have to say. It definitely can be tricky balancing “strength” with “femininity” as a writer. Thanks for including my post.

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    • Hi Annie! Thank you so much. I loved your blog on the topic, and it was a big help in figuring out the issues I was having.

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  8. Great post! I’m always trying to find a balance with the female characters I write. My goal is to bring a strong and likable character to life on the page that I could look up to, that I could learn from. Still working on it. It’s a challenge I’ve yet to conquer. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thank you. It’s a really tough balance, but it’s a fun challenge. I love your goal – if you could do that, you will have a character readers will love. Good luck!

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