I want to talk about something that might be controversial. Or not. I actually suspect not, because I’ve seen others say/ write similar things enough times. There’s been plenty of talk about Strong Female Characters, and the problems of placing too much emphasis on the “strength” of these characters, including this well known essay. Still, I want to revisit how these hypothetically awesome characters can occasionally swerve around the bend of Not-So-Awesome and arrive in the valley of Cheesy and Contrived. (P.S., no disrespect to Lady Sif. I just love that pic of her like my own child.)
I’d like to touch on (again) the realm of online book reviews, and common complaints I see readers making about YA heroines.
One of these complaints is that heroines are too “passive”.
I get it, you guys, I do. It can be frustrating reading about a character who refuses to take control of her situation. But I worry when our fixation on character action comes at the expense of the story. I worry when it makes writers so determined to write an “active” character we have our heroine kick and punch and scream when doing so is completely illogical, and would probably get her killed in real life.
I want to read about someone who would survive in real life, without the writer’s magic hand to shield her.
For this reason, it’s my goal to have my characters act when they should, and back off and stay quiet when they should. I want them to be smart, to think with their heads instead of their fists. I want them to be true survivors, not Strong Female Characters. And if they occasionally act rashly or do something stupid, I want the narrative to acknowledge their mistake by creating real consequences, not rewarding those rash decisions as “strength”.
That’s my goal as a writer. I’m sure I’ll sometimes fail to meet it completely, but I’ll always keep it in mind. And I hope my eventual readers won’t see my characters as passive, but as girls they’d want to have their back.
I know I do.