Wednesday, December 04, 2013

'Strong Female Characters'? Seriously? You want to limit your palette like that?

Hoooooo blimey, this one's a thorny issue, and no mistake! Seriously, this one causes no end of introspection and outright navel-gazing, from every imaginable side of the whole gender debate, and since I'm a writer, it's one of those things I have to be aware of. Yes, it's the issue of "strong female characters", and I know I'm going to get flamed to a crisp by people who don't read past the headline, but the simple fact is this: "strong female characters" are dull.

And so are "strong male characters"...

Now then, I may be labouring under a false conception, here, but it's always struck me that when people say they want strong female characters, what they categorically do not mean is strongly written characters. Well, alright, some people do. Just as many people seem to want female characters bereft of weaknesses,devoid of character flaws. It's that second viewpoint that I have a problem with, because can you imagine what it would be like if characters had no weaknesses?

Dull as all hell, that's what it'd be like.

If that world came to pass, I can pretty much tell you what the world of fiction would look like: it'd be Red Sonja, but with varying degrees of swordiness and/or leather armour. The thing is, though, that the exact same thing would be true if male characters were all perfect, and bereft of weakness.

I suppose I really started musing about this whole issue when I read an interesting article back in August, from The New Statesman (have a read, it's a great article), and realised that it more or less summed up exactly how I feel.

I don't want "strong" characters, regardless of their gender. They're boring.

I want interestingly flawed characters of both genders. I want characters of both genders who throw their entire existence away through hubris. I want characters of both genders who overcome extreme adversity, to find their strength.

In short, I want characters of both genders who aren't defined by one singular buzzword...

Consider the most recent Tomb Raider game (written, incidentally, by the enormously talented Rhianna Pratchett); we see a naive, not particularly worldly-wise young woman go through an almost literal hell, an experience that moulds and forges her into the gleefully amoral killing machine we all know and love (seriously, you're not telling me Lara Croft of olde wasn't a complete headcase... those poor wolves...). That was a character journey that was worth watching.

And then, of course, there's someone who I consider to be one of the greatest characters ever written, the magnificent Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova, from Babylon 5. She's strong, yes, but she's haunted by her past, torn over her relationship with characters in the present, and colossally, monumentally cynical. Ivanova stands as a tribute to a writer (J. Michael Straczynski) and actress (Claudia Christian) who between them got the character absolutely right.

That's what I'm aiming for in the characters I write. Characters who in some way cease to be characters, instead becoming real people, with their own quirks, idiosyncrasies, flaws and opportunities for extraordinary greatness, not by someone else's terms, and not by someone else saying they're "strong". No, they will be characters, of both genders (sometimes at the same time, for a few days every 8 months, in the case of the yowason) who succeed or fail, who rise or fall, on their own merits and to their own plan.

"Strong female characters"? No thanks, I'll stick with interesting characters, both male and female, ta...

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