One of my worries for our novels…

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…are our characters.  That’s what the whole story is about right? The characters and their prospective lives. Will they be likable? Believable? Who knows.

Suzanne and I love our characters, we like to think that they are realistic, flawed, and distinctive–not simply cookie-cutter characters that are soulless and heartless. That being said, I’m still sort of scared.  Characters are under a lot of scrutiny, most especially the female characters, which I find equally interesting and frustrating.

I know that there are a lot of good fictional female role models out there, for example: Eowyn (Lord of the Rings), Hermione, (Harry Potter series), Katniss (The Hunger Games), Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), to name a few. These fictional women are exalted, and for good reason. They are interesting, smart, lively, witty, sarcastic, stubborn, and above all else, flawed. I love a good flawed character, don’t you? I love to read about people who make the wrong decisions and have to suffer the consequences.

This leads me to my point. There are two types of female characters that have no flaws, the “perfect” characters. On one end of the spectrum, you have what is called the “Mary Sue,” and on the other is the “Strong Female Character” (SFC).

Mary Sue is infuriatingly perfect. Ugh. She is unbelievably and irritatingly beautiful, though most of the time she is unaware of this. She is innocent, charming, and loved by all that come in contact with her (probably including the villain). She is either very good at everything imaginable or extremely helpless. I probably don’t have to continue describing why she is a lame character. I’m sure you can all think of examples.

And then there is the SFC…sigh.

The SFC is essentially a guy in a girl’s body. They can do everything a man does, only most likely they can do it better! It’s frustrating to me. Before the SFC came along, there were more Mary Sues, so women pushed for STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS, and I don’t blame them (Mary Sues are dull)! Women who are not afraid to wield a sword, battle dragons, shoot people, whatever the story calls for.

My problem with the SFC is that she generally tends to not have a weakness. She tends to be written without emotions, and that is one of the reasons why she is so frustrating. Another reason that I hate the character is for her unexplainable skill with weapons. If she can wield a sword, great. But why can she? Is it because she just saw one and picked it up and now she’s the next Joan of Arc? There needs to be a point to her being able to use them so well. They can’t be strong for the sake of being strong, there needs to be more than that. Characters need to be diverse.

As I said before, I love flawed characters. Weak characters. Characters that have made mistakes, and those mistakes molded them into the “person” they are today. So, yes, not all of our women are going to sword wielders or archers or whatever, but that doesn’t mean they are weak. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and we want to apply that to all of our characters, not just our women.

~Marie~

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2 thoughts on “One of my worries for our novels…

  1. Feel the same here. That’s what I loved about Black Widow (one of your examples) in The Avengers–she was so skilled, because of what her life was–but she was CLEARLY afraid of certain things, had made some very bad decisions in her life, and though she plays her cards well, you can see that she strongly regrets things from the past. I was worried that what I saw from Iron Man 2 would be all there was to know–I like her a lot more in Avengers.
    And I was just rattling on about Eowyn just the other day to a friend. I love her character–she’s my favorite female character in the trilogy–but I hate some of her perspectives, her loss of hope, etc. Especially certain things portrayed in the movie–the complaining. BUT–I think it actually makes her portrayal stronger. She real, and people do behave like this at times. This is her flaw, right alongside her great courage, a courage that literally (well, I’m not going to go into the definition of a species here) defeated a dragon, and saved her uncle from receiving a horrific death. (With Merry’s help–can’t forget his contribution).
    And I share that concern about characters, about making them real. I agonize and commit creative brainstorm slaughter just trying to figure out if I’m doing it the right way. So very hard….

  2. I think it’s interesting, the slant our world has for or against female characters — you’ll notice that it’s always the women who come under fire for being pathetic or butch, and never the men. Bella Swan is a Mary Sue, but what is Edward? He’s a Mary Sue male, but no one ever talks about that — he’s the perfect, shiny, sparkly male version of a Mary Sue, but everyone focuses on the pathetic, needs-saving Bella instead. It’s a book about TWO Mary Sues, but because our world is so sexist (targeting women because they need empathy or being offended at their depiction is still focusing on their genre, which by definition is sexism), we only talk about Bella. And I admit, I’m guilty of it too.

    Katniss has to be my least-favorite character in YA fiction in a long time. Yes, she’s strong and she survives, but she’s so completely emotionally dead and frigid I have a hard time liking or even relating to her. But that’s getting off topic.

    There’s a mem going around tumblr that says to write strong women, you need to write human women — all kinds of women, with all kinds of goals, all kinds of weaknesses, all kinds of strengths, a girl who can take care of other people but needs help too sometimes. I’ve always found it easier to write male characters, because I do tend to be more logical, and it’s easier that way to get inside the mind of a man. (I’m not sentimental, sappy, or romantic at all — and most heroines need to be at least a little bit romantic… right?) I feared that my female characters wouldn’t be “good enough,” but then… I just started writing them. I wrote them the way I would want to read them — strong, independent, but sometimes that is their flaw.

    My adult heroine in “Thornewicke” is too independent for her own good — had she learned to lean more on Alistair, she could have prevented an immense amount of emotional turmoil and physical pain. She endangered not only herself, but her niece as well. But… she learned. And she’s more powerful than Alistair too, but she still needs him to balance her out.

    The story I’m writing now, set in this same universe, features a heroine who isn’t romantic at all — her affection for the man in her life is purely platonic and of a friendship nature. There’s no mush nor gush in sight and… I’m enjoying it. I’m also looking forward to the big reveal at the end, when you find out a lot about this character.

    So I guess my advice is… don’t worry about what other people will think about your heroines; if you love them, and they say to the world what you want the world to hear, they’re good enough.

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