A Misconception About Strong Characters

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The trend now in Y/A fiction is having a strong lead character, and, more often than not, a female. This is fantastic! However, I've noticed a pattern appearing and I'd like to express my thoughts on the matter. This will be brief...just wanted to see what you all thought about a few things.

Just because a character cries, has a crush, has feelings, or doesn't always feel up to everything: that doesn't make them weak.

~ A strong character is not one that is cold and distant, like many of the new Y/A novels suggest.

~The strong character doesn't have to reject people, and push friends away, and isolate herself.

~The strong character can rely on people.

~The strong character can need friends. It's okay. We all need company.

~The strong character doesn't have to be able to accomplish everything on his/her own.

You see, a character's strength (we're not talking about physical here) is not determined by how much they can do on their own, or the fact that they don't cry in difficult times. Their strength is determined by how they don't let those difficult times define them, how they overcome their worst weaknesses, how they remain loyal to their friends, and many more traits.

I'm tired of seeing "strong female leads" who feel the need to do everything on their own, for some reason have no interest in guys, and are cold and distant to those around them. Yes, you can be strong-willed and have these attributes, but these attributes are not what make you strong-willed.

Just because someone likes a guy, cries when her pet dies, or wishes she had a close friend, does NOT mean she is weak. She's only human! Haven't we all experienced that at some point? Probably, but we're not all weak-willed stereotypes who can't do anything to save ourselves. And neither is your character.

Also, guy characters are also going to get emotional. Don't pretend otherwise, and don't minimize your guy characters into some robotic beings with no feelings or tendencies. Do them justice and give them some feelings.

Just remember, it's okay if your strong character has to rely on someone or gets emotional. That doesn't strip them of all their other traits that make them strong.

Just a thought. Carry on.


Side note: After writing this, I came across an interesting article about things that went wrong with strong female characters in movies. It might be worth a read! (Note: A very small amount of language in the article)

It's aimed towards screenwriters, but the writer made a list of questions that I might as well just add here to consider.


        1. After being introduced, does your Strong Female Character then fail to do anything fundamentally significant to the outcome of the plot? Anything at all?

        2. If she does accomplish something plot-significant, is it primarily getting raped, beaten, or killed to motivate a male hero? Or deciding to have sex with/not have sex with/agreeing to date/deciding to break up with a male hero? Or nagging a male hero into growing up, or nagging him to stop being so heroic? Basically, does she only exist to service the male hero’s needs, development, or motivations?

        3. Could your Strong Female Character be seamlessly replaced with a floor lamp with some useful information written on it to help a male hero?

        4. Is a fundamental point of your plot that your Strong Female Character is the strongest, smartest, meanest, toughest, or most experienced character in the story—until the protagonist arrives?

        5. …or worse, does he enter the story as a bumbling mess-up, but spend the whole movie rapidly evolving past her, while she stays entirely static, and even cheers him on? Does your Strong Female Character exist primarily so the protagonist can impress her?

        6. It’s nice if she’s hyper-cool, but does she only start off that way so a male hero will look even cooler by comparison when he rescues or surpasses her?

        7. Is she so strong and capable that she’s never needed rescuing before now, but once the plot kicks into gear, she’s suddenly captured or threatened by the villain, and needs the hero’s intervention? Is breaking down her pride a fundamental part of the story?

        8. Does she disappear entirely for the second half/third act of the film, for any reason other than because she’s doing something significant to the plot (besides being a hostage, or dying)?

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