August 18, 2010

Scarier than a fire-breathing dragon: Character

So the writing's going. Not as well as I'd hoped, but going. Because I've been writing, I've also been thinking a great deal about writing. And along with that thinking comes the worrying. Oh, that word isn't right. Oh, horses aren't really purple, so don't write it. Oh, this is never going to be good enough, cool enough, hip enough...etc.

Certainly most of those voices should be whacked down with a hammer (at least for first-drafting purposes). But I do think that some of them deserve consideration, right from the start. Like this one: I'm afraid of writing a weak female character.

Some contextual notes: Yes, I'm a girl. And yes, one of my great dislikes of Twilight was Bella's character. And while I certainly don't think that it is the duty of the writer to moralize or preach to his/her audience, I do feel the need to present smart, strong, sympathetic female characters. And in this particular story, I'm a little afraid of failing.

Without getting too specific, I'll just say the following. My main character is a girl who falls in love with a human and consequently leaves her family and all she knows in order to be with him. Said human is a nice young lad (a prince), but not one who reciprocates the feelings (or even really knows she exists, when you get right down to it). So the girl pines away - but also gets caught up in palace intrigue and ends up playing a pretty important role in geopolitical affairs in this region. And she doesn't end up with the prince, but manages to get over that and learn about herself, etc. etc.

I was busy writing until I really thought about it and was instantly terrified that my main character is a horrible, horrible role model for girls.

My horrible response to this: But that's the way it has to be. You know, for character development! Arcs! She grows and changes and stuff!

My horrifically horrible response: And by the third book, she's totally kick-ass!

What do you think? Do writers have a responsibility to portray strong heroines? (I feel like I do, certainly...) And can my poor heroine be strong, even if she starts off the story in such time-tested weakling fashion? (I hope so...)


  1. Honestly, I think it depends on the character. I see nothing wrong with a woman character making bad decisions and getting off on the wrong foot. 'But' (always that isn't there) you have to also show consequences for those actions. So in essence even though your character may not be a favorable example, you show what comes of her choices. In the end that becomes a lesson in itself. (Hugs)Indigo

  2. Thanks. In my head the MC is strong and pretty cool, but she just happens to fall hard for a guy who won't give her the time of day... I probably should just write it already and worry about stuff like pitch-perfect characterization during revision... :)

  3. I agree with you; as a woman raised by a family of strong women, I do feel pressure to have kick-ass female characters. But, strong as we may be, there are days we're not going to feel that way, and for teens/young girls to see a character grow and become stronger and more confident, I think that meets our obligation :) Good luck with your WIP!

  4. Thanks so much! Will keep that in mind through my "but she's a #$%#%# Bella all over again!" freak-outs. (Which she's not, by the way. She's very proactive. I just need to keep reminding myself of that...)

  5. It's an interesting dilemma. Not everyone is gung-ho, charismatic, and kick-ass in real life, though. Sometimes people want to read about how the world works against them for a while. (I know you're not as much a fan as we are, but Sira Morgan starts the same way and she's not a weak character.)

    Waiting until the third book, though, is a bit much. *grin*

    A lot of my main characters have been female, surprisingly. My problem is more my supporting male characters, who always seem to be a somewhat negative caricature of me.

  6. Certainly true (about Sira). Well... Book one is about growing and self-discovery, etc., the maturation of the character. And then when she comes back in book three, she's completely awesome. Hopefully that appeals to someone. :)

  7. Can I just say I love this thread so much because for perhaps the first time in my life, someone OTHER than me brought up Julie E. Czerneda?

    I have to agree, though - I'm always having the same worries, but I think that sometimes girls can't really identify with kickass female heroines, and those girls still need to have fictional role models. They need to see that slow development of kickassery. They need to see the consequences of following a guy who won't give you the time of day, but understand that even if they make mistakes and follow the wrong guys around they can CHANGE this pattern of behavior. Who knows - maybe if Bella read the right books, she could have ended up differently! :D

  8. Supposedly Bella lurved Wuthering Heights, no? And that certainly got her places... Umm...