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December 31, 2012


Louisiana Kid

This is a wonderful post. I'm all about breaking stereotypes, which is part of the reason I love your writing so much. However, not all of your characters do that. Like your males, theyre strong, as you said. And have good and bad character traits. I love it!! But with your girls being so strong:
Why *do* you write strong male characters?


This is my favorite response in regards to this:
Joss Whedon - "Q: So, why do you write these strong female characters? A: Because you're still asking me that question."

Connie Onnie

Every Christmas I watch Little Women and this year I have been thinking about an exchange between Jo & Beth.
"Oh, Beth, truly, I don't know if I could ever be good like Marmee.

I rather crave violence.

If only I could be like Father...

and go to war and stand up to the lions of injustice." Jo

"And so Marmee does in her own way." - Beth
I have been thinking about how strong Marmee actually was staying at home with her daughters struggling to make ends meet and teaching her daughters by example of sacrifice and generosity. That is the kind of strength I wish to have.

Mary Lou Hart

I love your strong female characters. I especially appreciate that they help youth see beyond the fairy tale "waiting for mr. Right to come and save me" mentality. And that mentality is still so strong in many books. I am a romantic fiction nut and I am amazed at how many of the books have main female characters who are moving along with what life has giving them and they really show no true backbone their "problem" is solved by the addition of a "strong" male in their life who would do anything for them. So a female character who is strong enough to solve her own problems is a always a nice change.


I'm glad someone mentioned the Joss Whedon quote. I've always loved that answer. :)

I think, as a culture at large, we're also clawing its way out of nearly a century of Disney damsels in distress. Every novel, television show, and movie featuring realistic (I like the accuracy of that term for it!) characters pulls us a little further out of that hole.


I think that question just comes from the confusion that all strong female characters were made that way for a certain reason or to make a certain point. It might not be that people still see females as being less strong than men, but rather, maybe it's that people just assume that when a strong female character exists, that the author made her strong for a certain reason other than just to have a good, realistic character. Like you said, many people in the past have already pointed out and proved how women can be equally strong as men. So I think that now people just assume, from the experiences of those people in the past trying to make those points, that when someone makes a female character that is strong, that they made it strong for a particular reason besides just trying to have a good character.
I totally agree with you, that women can be equally strong as men, that we've already made that point a while ago, that strong female characters can simply be just realistic characters. So I think it's just the confusion that all female characters were made to make a certain point.
Thanks for the wonderful post, it really provoked my thought!


It's very interesting to me that you get asked why you write "strong" female characters. I've always thought of your characters as very realistic, with both strengths and weaknesses. Enna, in particular, has always felt very realistic to me because she reminds me a lot of myself. I think that most people, females and males, are strong, each in their own different way, and that it shouldn't be something that seems out of the ordinary to any of us when characters are the same way.


I love how all your characters are strong in different ways. Enna fights a war with fire, Miri stops one by using her brain (and magic!). Ani and Rin are just out to protect themselves and the people they care about, but they end up saving countries anyways.


When I think of "strong characters" (lets take the male and female out of it for a moment) I think of a character full of personality, capable of standing on his or her own, and drives the plot; the plot doesn't drive him or her.
That said, I don't understand why people ask "why do you write strong female characters?" Who wants to read about weak characters? The flat, white-washed, base character is not something to read about. Or even realistic.
Let's even think of this logically, in terms of fight or flight. You present a female character with a story. By the rules of plot, there's a conflict. And she's going to fight or flee. If she flees from the story, then there can't be one. The girls who fight, be it internally or externally, get the story.


The other day someone was telling me about a female guitarist, and she said, "The guitarist was really good. She had long blonde hair, like, you would never guess she was that good at playing guitar, but she was." If you asked the person speaking, she would say she was for women's rights, equality, and all that, but the sexist undertone still existed. It's just been a part of our culture for so long that, for many of us, if we're not constantly watching ourselves, we'll fall back into it.

The beautiful thing about books is that we can constantly watch ourselves while reading. Not everyone does, in fact it seems that many people don't, but we can. We all can. And I don't mean analyze every paragraph (unless you want to), just, when you're done the book, think about how the characters felt and how you felt about them while reading.


I've always disliked the "as strong as the boys" mentality. It implies that as girls, we have to become like men in order to be seen as equal. I disagree. I am a woman, and am therefore different from a man. I am good at different things. I feel no need to be "as strong as the boys". I am strong in my own way. I love your female characters, and I love that they have personality, strengths, and weaknesses. They are realistic.

Zena Parks

Really great comments so far - and I think we all agree that realistic is a good goal. But perhaps people aren't taking the time to realize/recognize that the women in their lives are strong, and that's why they ask?

On the roughly same note, the MA I'm currently working on features a male protagonist who has some serious weaknesses. I won't lie, he's very difficult to write, and he was very difficult to sell to my original writing group (new writing group loves him, thankfully!). They couldn't understand that a male protagonist could be as weak as mine. They got hung up on how "unrealistic" it was for my character to act the way he did - which was, for all intents and purposes, weak. I wonder if they would have raised the same objections were I to change his gender and make him a girl?


I have heard a quote recently:
What ever women do, she must do twice as well as men to be though half as good.
Luckily this is not difficult- Anon

Sadly, I think this is true. In stories, if a girl is amazing a sword fighting, the character is ogled, just because she is a girl. But girls can do things like that. Just because we are girls, doesn't change our ability.


"Why I wince is "strong females" doesn't seem to be considered synonymous with "realistic females," and in my experience, they should be." I completely agree: http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/12/31/the-5-most-underrated-pop-culture-heroines/?singlepage=true
"Are "strong female characters" really so rare that we note them, call them out as extraordinary?" I don't think they are rare, just ignored. If a female character doesn't fight—and I do mean physically—without any male assistance, then culture has little respect for her. If she gets rescued too much, if she needs something then she isn't completely self sufficient and contained. We are supposed to assume that men and women are interchangeable. That's the standard we've set for ourselves, to fight alone and on men's terms. It's a stupid idea that sets young women up for failure when they eventually learn that men and women aren't interchangeable..

I got here from an old post Malinda Lo linked to about Twilight and so happy I found you. Your books look promising and some look like youth books. Excellent! (says the mother of 3 daughters). Cheers.


I love your books because your characters are realistic. It's a breath of fresh air when I feel like the characters are relatable and real. Thank you :)

Adina Gewirtz

I have always loved that sexism doesn't exist in your fantasy worlds. It's one of the subtle pleasures of reading fantasy, that society can be different than the one we live in, and we get to sample that difference in the book. That's what I think the people who ask you the question are really asking -- not whether girls can be strong, but how you write a society that's empty of sexism. http://adinagewirtz.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/girl-power/

Amy Wilson Marshall

When I think of that phrase in relation to your characters I think "strong AND female charcter". I don't see them as trying to be like males, they are strong and still female. You have a nack for showing how women are naturally strong. It seems that many female characters in books and movies are either very shallow or too masculine. Sometimes those more masculine females show their "softer side" by being sexually aggressive.

Real women often face difficulties that are different from men. It makes me sad that those burdens are minimalized by the world.


Nicely said! I've always thought your characters are very realistic.


Men and women have different reasons to be strong. Just because girls have a different build than boys, doesn't mean we aren't as physicaly strong as them. Just because we have many different ideas than men doesn't mean we aren't as mentally strong as men. That also shouldn't lead to general phrases linked to a certain gender(of course it still happens),like all 'real' men loving football and women always wearing short skirts and high heels. Thousands of women beat cancer every day, no one can say they aren't strong. Many women are athletes. The world is full of strong women,and I think it's about time we are respected for that. I'm not saying all men are like that, not even close, and they aren't the only ones, but we are strong and I hope I live to see the day a strong women doesn't surprise anyone.


No not unrealistic, just the exception.

Sarah Dunster

Haha! I love your reasoning. "Why do you write strong female characters?" "Um, I'm writing REALISTIC female characters." I'll have to use that one...


I just watched "Lord of the Rings" over the Christmas break. Okay, I haven't read it yet (I know, I know) HOWEVER, I am fascinated with Eowyn. I guess she would be considered a "strong female character" but I think that she's more realistic than fantasy. She does her part in what needs to be done for her kingdom. We see her fears, downfalls, but also her strengths and her desire to fight and save the ones she loves. She did kill the big evil guy (sorry, forgot name) but almost killed herself in the process. I want that kind of strength. I think your characters are very smiliar Tolkiens. I like seeing strong, realistc women (I also like seeing the ones who kick butt, but that's just for fun) but their strengths are not the same as men, nor should it ever be. Men and women each have their own strengths and they should be used to help each other, not to be used as one is better than the other.

Jenna St. Hilaire

I'm fond of deciding certain issues don't exist in my book-worlds, too. It makes it possible to get free of the everyday rancor. :)

Great post. I'm going to try and lose the phrase "strong female characters"--I'm sure I've used it in a review or conversation now and again, more as a recommendation point than anything, but still--it makes an issue of something that shouldn't be.

What matters is that we girls need to have our stories told, as well as the boys. Some of us are shy, and some of us are weak; I know that the demand to "be a strong woman" makes me feel like I've been asked to lift Mt. Rainier. Most of us have something fearless and something fearful inside, depending on what we're faced with. Many of us like to feel our own confidence and independence, yet still yearn for a sturdy shoulder to lean on. All of us have stories.

I've always loved Ani/Isi for her display of both fear and courage, of shyness and open-heartedness. She senses her own inadequacy, yet makes up for that with her willingness to learn and to do. Hers is a fantastic story. I'm nearly thirty-five, and she's still a role model for me. :)


First, I love how you mentioned Anne McCaffrey :D Idk if you've read her books or just know of her, either way, I do love her female characters.

It seems like a lot of people are still ingrained in the outdated ideas of men being stronger than women, and, also to your previous posts, the whole idea of girl characters being for girls. This also isn't helped by the vast amounts of popular teenage lit that have absolutely stupid and weak female characters (when browsing the YA sections...I'm just...O.O speechless).

I love your books because I can relate to the characters; they are so real. Their worlds, and the people that surround them are also "real", which also makes their strength real. Maybe that's what makes your strong girls so noticeable to people :) I think authors who set out with the idea "I'm going to write a strong character" forget everyone else and thus make their intended strong character (and worlds) "flat".

Of all your girls, I connect the most with Enna. At first, I thought she was all great--fiery, brave, tough, unafraid to speak her mind...but her struggles when confronting half-truths, people-speaking, and power made her so vulnerable and real ♥

Finally, I'd like to add to your list of writers who write natural strong females: J.K Rowling. Even though none of the females are main characters, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Tonks, McGonagall, Molly Weasley, Lily Potter, etc...all really amazing and strong in their own ways.


It's still a question because it's still not fully realized... And that's true. When I think of "strong" female characters, I think in terms of being fully fleshed out. So many novels and films are filled with female characters who are entirely stereotypical, they don't have distinct personalities. Sure, Katniss is physically strong and adept and survival, but she is a strong character because she is realistic (as you said). She has glaring flaws as well as things to admire. She makes some sense. Anne Elliot is not physically strong, yet she is still a strong character. They have pasts and make decisions in a way that is their own...

There are still many books in which the female "characters" are only used as catalysts for their male counterparts. Obviously not every character mentioned can be given all the time they deserve, but surely some could be better fleshed out... I remember being startled in Frankenstein by that (yes it's quite old, but it was written by a woman). The females only existed to perpetuate the story, to show some deeper insight into the male lead. They were are terribly weak (I know this is a monster tale, but it serves the point).

There are many, many kinds of strengths and I prefer my female characters to have some of the ones I considerable admirable (and, sure, I do love one who is physically strong). But when it comes to "strong female characters," I mostly mean fully realized. And that's not an altogether common things these days. The question shouldn't exist... If anything, "Why don't you write strong female characters" should be asked to the others.


I think my brand of feminism includes and is heavily influenced by your philosophy. Thank you for this thoughtful post!

Julie Sondra Decker

I think it's wonderful that you cover this. I find the question puzzling too. I once saw a male author getting praised for being so innovative after he said his book contained "a beautiful maiden who's more than capable of taking care of herself." I thought it was a borderline offensive statement and nobody seemed to understand why until I elaborated: If you said a guy character was "a handsome gentleman who's more than capable of taking care of himself," people would look at you funny. They would think OF COURSE the GUY is taking care of himself. But if you invent a lady character who--gasp--is independent or self-rescuing, suddenly you must be making a special female-centric point by doing so. It should really be a wake-up call when saying a girl can take care of herself is revolutionary, when saying a guy can take care of himself is considered redundant.


I love how you decided to leave sexism out of your world, I've never understood how it seems that fantasy worlds are considered inherently sexist. No. They're a world you make up. Surely you can do whatever you like with them!

Agree agree agree agree with everything you say here, as usual!

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