A favorite author of mine shared this on facebook a few days ago, and I thought I’d pass it on. WARNING: How to Train your Dragon sequel spoilers.
This is going to sound completely silly, but for a long time, I didn’t really understand what “strong female character” meant. It was a meaningless buzz phrase, like “show don’t tell”. I knew there was a great writing gem in there, if I could just figure it out. The problem, for me at least, was that I was misinterpretating what “strength” was referring.
Before, I had always thought “strong women”, like women who are strong in literal ways. It didn’t have to be physical strength, I got that emotional or mental strength counted too, but I was still missing the point. I couldn’t understand why we needed a written world populated with only one kind of woman – wasn’t it just as bad to have only strong women as only weak women? It’s still one dimensional.
Somewhere along the way, and this article reminded me of it, I discovered that “strong female character” means “strong character”. As in, a character that is strongly written, independent of whatever traits they possess. Real characters. I had always gotten confused by the female part, and cutting it away I think is the actual purpose of the phrase. We need strong characters. We also a realistic proportion of female characters, just like we need the same for other races, ethnicities, and orientations. It’s two ideas that come together to be a little confusing, if you don’t break it down.
Step 1- we need more female characters. Or any other character type that falls under the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.
Step 2- we need those characters not to suck. If they suck, you’re not done. Make them real.
Step 3- touched on in the article I linked to, we need them to DO SOMETHING. They’re not actually strong characters if they don’t get meaningful parts in the story.
Male, Female or Unicorn, cut those parts away and analyze your characters as just people, and you’ll do just fine.