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Creating a Strong Female Lead

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  #1  
Old 01-03-2012, 05:47 PM
DwayneA (Offline)
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Default Creating a Strong Female Lead


Currently, I'm reading Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. Yes I know I mentioned I was reading it in a previous thread. So I am still reading it apparently. But it's only at the library where I volunteer and I read whenever I have nothing else to do.

Wikipedia reports that Bella Swan is a "weak female character" and that she has been negatively received by the reading world as a character who is impossible to identify with. Frankly I agree. But then again, to me, most female characters are not interesting because they never seem to grow or change. Even Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series never really grew or changed over the course of the series. She was still the same person she was at the start of the story.

I'm planning a young adult fiction story with a female lead, but I want her to be different from other female characters. I want her to grow, change, and learn things, in other words, by the story's end, she is no longer the person she started out as. I want her to be actually involved in action, in situations that shape her character, and force her to make choices she never thought she'd have to do.

Already, I've got in mind her backstory and a few of her traits. Currently, I'm trying to think of some other ideas to flesh out her character. Can anyone give me some tips on how to truly create a strong female lead and make her come to life?

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Old 01-03-2012, 08:53 PM
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Just Off the top of my head ---
1. Be 'very' specific on backstory and make a LONG list of traits
2. Make her active: in achieving her goals & solving her problems herself
3. develop conflict whether it be inner conflict within herself, outer conflict with her surrounding environment and conflict between herself and others characters.

You probably know all this but a friendly reminder
never hurts. Hope this helps a little.
Lebo
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Old 01-03-2012, 09:26 PM
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Stop reading shit.

If you want YA with strong female leads read AS King's Dust of 100 Dogs and Please Ignore Vera Deitz, or any of Lisa McMann's books.

If you want to know how its done, find the authors who do it well.
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Old 01-03-2012, 09:50 PM
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Also, Hunger Games has a strong lead, which from a very vague memory is strong.

Isobel Carmody's Obernewtyn Chronicles have excellent female characters.
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Old 01-04-2012, 08:29 AM
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First, I suggest that you don't get hung up on her gender. Don't try to write a really strong female character. Try to write a really strong character who just happens to be a woman; in fiction the only difference between a strong female character and a strong male character is the gender pronoun.

The way to write a strong character is to show her under adversity. First, give your character something that she wants or needs, and a reason why she wants or needs it. Then put in a reason why she can't have it (a human adversary is best). Then show her doing intelligent and believable things to try to get what she wants or needs, but things keep getting worse for her. Every time things get worse for your character but she keeps on fighting intelligently, courageously and believably for what she wants anyway, two important things happen: 1) your character will seem strong, and 2) the reader will empathise with her and find her likeable.

As long as you follow those guidelines, you will have a strong female lead.

Given that you want your lead character to be strong, the best way to show character development is to make her the Girl Who Learns Better. At the start of the story she's fighting intelligently for what she wants, but one of the things she does turns out to have been a Bad Idea. Later in the story she faces a similar situation, and she shows that she has Learned Better by doing things differently. Do this at least once but not more than twice.

The reason Hermione fails as a strong female YA character is because she lacks both adversity and believability.

Every obstacle Hermione faces is just an obstacle for Harry Potter, she doesn't have any problems of her own. She's usually top of the class and she succeeds at everything she tries. Her role is often to tell Harry Potter things he needs to know. In fact, she's an insufferable know-it-all and a horrible little swot.

I don't know anything about Bella because those books are recycled before I get very far into them. You see, I get about one page into anything by Stephanie Meyer and then I have to yell with fury and throw the book into the bin.

Anyway, hope this helps...
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Old 01-04-2012, 09:47 AM
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Listen to her. Let her tell you what she wants, what her fears are, what she hates, what kind of music she likes, what she dreams about, what she thinks of boys, etc. If you let her be her own character, she will be different.

I'd encourage you to not approach this from a spectrum perspective. Some people in trying to avoid the Snow White, waiting-for-my-prince-charming, house-cleaning, sing-song girly girl decide to write the knuckle-cracking, belching, rugby-playing, buzzcut tomboy instead.

If your character honestly leads you to one of these two places, then fine, but beware trying to make a reactionary character that only exists to defy a stereotype; this kind of character can quickly fall into a different stereotype that comes off as equally false.
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Old 01-04-2012, 12:21 PM
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First I would define what is meant by strength and weakness. the standards are different for men vs. women in our culture. Women are often not given the presumption of strength that men are. In an attempt to project it they sometimes become unkind. ( Men do this as well. just not quite as often. )

Second, just do what I do. ( I know, I know, I'm half a clever as I think I am. ) I tend to model my characters on real people. Outline the person. Individuals who possess a modicum of mental health tend to present a reasonably round or rounded core. Imagine their various characteristics radiating outward like spokes of a wheel ( as many as you need ). Now play with them. Extend some of those spokes out untill the character becomes oblong, and out of balance. For example, the real so and so would not do x,y or z, but if they did, it would look and sound just like this. Just don't use anyone on this forum. Creative types tend to be a bit egg shaped.
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Old 01-04-2012, 07:56 PM
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anyway, here are a few details of my female character lead, including backstory:

-Her father was a local hero in her old home town, nicknamed "The Human Phoenix". She was close to both her parents, but especially had a special bond with her father.
-Her happy childhood ended with an accident involving an exploding tanker truck, and being told her parents died in it. She grows up blaming this incident for the change her life took and holds a major grudge against the truck driver who survived the incident.
-She now lives with her mother's family, her aunt, uncle, cousins, and maternal grandparents. Her uncle's side of the family doesn't accept her as a blood relative and her maternal grandfather wants nothing to do with her.
-She's a animal lover.
-Has a weak stomach and heart on the issue of death.
-She's a pyromaniac, has a fascination with fire.
-She's the kind of person who can't seem to let go of the past.
-Later in the story, she discovers that her mother and father are actually still alive. Her father survived the explosion, but the injuries he suffered left him a mere shell of the man he used to be. Her mother, is living in another town, having never come back to town as she was too afraid people would blame her for her husband's death, and not wanting to relive the past. Her paternal grandmother blames her daughter-in-law, not the truck driver for the accident.
-She learns that her mother had her chance to be a hero in the past, but blew it, and as a result was branded a coward by the media and left town forever to escape the bad publicity, even severing all ties with her family in an attempt to leave her shameful past behind.
-She becomes responsible for a fire that results in disaster and ends in tragedy. An innocent man with a past arson conviction is blamed and he takes the blame for her in order to protect her future. When his life is threatened by people more interested in vengeance than justice, she is forced to make a decision to save him.
-When she was a child, her father showed her a pendant with an emblem of the phoenix on it, promising her that it would be hers someday. Late in the story, she finally receives it and gets to wear it.
-Both her mother and father die for real by the story's end, but not before she becomes someone they can be proud of. Mother also redeems herself of her past shame.
-By the end of the story, she has matured from an angry, bitter, selfish girl who blames others for her misfortunes into a strong young woman ready to accept responsibility for her life and move on from her past. She also forgives the truck driver. By this time however, she's already made decisions and mistakes that she comes to regret, but the damage has already been done and she has to live with the consequences for the rest of her life.

I may come up with more details later.
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Old 01-05-2012, 11:32 AM
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Originally Posted by DwayneA View Post
anyway, here are a few details of my female character lead, including backstory:
You do realise this reads like you've just dismissed everything everyone said so you could post your list of character traits.
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Old 01-05-2012, 12:55 PM
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no, not at all. It's not at all like that.
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Old 01-05-2012, 12:59 PM
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Originally Posted by DwayneA View Post
I may come up with more details later.
One would hope so.

Originally Posted by DwayneA View Post
Her father was a local hero in her old home town, nicknamed "The Human Phoenix".
If she grows up thinking he's dead, either the whole town is lying to her about him being alive, or they think he's dead too and so would be more likely to call him Torchy than Phoenix.
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Last edited by Mike C; 01-05-2012 at 01:02 PM..
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