Writing ‘Strong’ Women

I have noticed something about my writing. There are a lot of girls. Like, a lot. It’s an infestation. They ended up all over the place. For instance:

Two military Captains, who coincidentally have been a couple for over fifteen years. 

One vengeful princess, previously frozen by a curse. 

One young, PTSD-suffering queen, placed on the throne by war and tragedy as a teenager. 

An entire tribe of gorgeous shapeshifting witches who will probably eat you. 

An eye-patch sporting warrior mercenary in her fifties. 

A dwarf lady who wields both knitting needles and an ax, and is everyone’s mother. 

Another princess, both cruel and relentlessly brave. May or may not have murdered a dragon.

A formerly exiled halfbreed turned royal emissary who snaps necks and pours tea with equal poise. 

And, of course, my MC, Guin Hawkins–a skinny, too tall, too loud girl who fights with equal parts awkward sass and godly power.

These are not all of them, but you get the picture. Women make up at least 70% of the cast. This was not deliberate on my part. Honestly, as a full-throttle pantser, I planned nothing. That is just how the it unfolded. As a result, I have noticed some things.

Firstly, there are military leaders featured in the series, along with royalty, warriors, and many other traditionally masculine roles. In my books, most of those roles are filled by women. And it is never commented on. Ever. My reasoning here is that, in the context of the story, women being equal feels natural, and as a result, goes unnoticed. How odd.

Now, after people are done reading, something else interesting happens.

According to statistics and my own observations, my audience is mostly young and female. And what characters do they love the most? The women. Not just the girls their age, but the old ladies, the mothers, the middle aged and adult women–both good and evil–who kick ass. 

This made me think, how many characters are there like that in mainstream fiction? How many mothers live? How many older women fight? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a lot. For the most part, female characters seem to have an expiration date. When a matriarch appears, she is rarely an active, independent protagonist. And I find that wrong, because girls need to see what we can become when we age. 

So, that is interesting, no? Young girls like to read about older women. Almost as if it makes them feel just a little stronger. Huh. Neat.

These readers also love my MC, who is neither traditionally pretty nor sweet. Guin is a mess. Barely coordinated, to be honest. She walks into trees. She is also uncompromising brave and a geek to the core. Readers scream in the comments that she’s beautiful, and they don’t mean how she looks.

So, another interesting point. Girls like reading about messy, funny, grumpy, courageous girls that act and think like real human beings. Mind. Blown.

Don’t worry, y’all, I do have a point. Sort of. I hope. Anyway, here it comes.

The term, Strong Female Character makes a lot of eyes roll. It often makes people think of a very specific kind of character: young, hot, violent, about as kind as gravel, and “don’t need no man” in the most obnoxious way imaginable. Yet, these characters are usually hypocritical in the sense that they not only need their male counterparts, but spend much of their story arcs chasing those guys, usually subjecting themselves to mistreatment or abuse. Not exactly paragons of female ‘power’, or even good sense. 

This has given rise to people saying they are sick of ‘girl power’, ‘feminazis’, etc. and we should just stop now. And honestly? That makes me mad. It’s a patronizingly broad brush that sweeps everything under the rug. The example I just gave, often repeated in mainstream fiction? It’s not enough. It’s not real. And we need real. Girls need to see women grow old and strong. They need to see women respected. They need to see strength, gentleness, independence, love. They need to see women written as the complex, endlessly diverse, chaotic, real beings they are.

‘Diversity’ in fiction is more than race. It is age, body types, economic brackets, religions, genders, personalities, sexuality, disabilities–so many, many things. It is an enormous issue, with endless complexities. But at the same time, I find it sort of simple. Because diversity is here. It is real life. It is basically what makes that life even half worth living. And if you are not writing about that, about people, then why are you writing? 

I am by no means an expert on any of this, or a great writer. Most times, I doubt I’m even a mediocre one. Still, readers tell me they have never read anything like the women in my books. Some said it made them cry, or made them feel strong, or happy. And I think that is important. Hopefully all that rambling made some kind of sense.

We are our stories. Fantasy has to be real. That is what makes it a place into which we can escape, and learn, and heal. So write people. Just that. The realest people you can. Maybe, little by little, we can shape the world into something we don’t need to escape from quite so often.

Fay Lane | August 12, 2019

Writing 'Strong' Women
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Writing 'Strong' Women
The term, Strong Female Character makes a lot of eyes roll. It often makes people think of a very specific kind of character
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Fay Lane
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