Instead of encouraging readers to find their worth in what the Lord thinks of them and the beautiful people He made them to be, this cliché teaches readers that their worth comes from having a Prince Charming to tell them how lovely they are. Truthfully, our worth comes from the God who created us and loves us more than we can imagine, not a tall, dark and handsome guy.
First picture ~ Grapes at a California Vineyard ~ Second Picture ~ Writing in the Redwoods
What is one of your greatest writerly fears?
What’s something you’ve learned about writing?
I almost can’t believe that this is the last part of my series on strong women in fiction! I’ve had a blast sharing my thoughts and tips and chatting about this topic with you all in the comments. Before I continue, here are the links to the rest of this series in case any of you would like to catch up. =)
The strong woman is the one beating up all of the bad guys. She’s the one leading the rebels into battle. She’s the one going undercover. She’s doing what the guys can’t (my thoughts on this will need to wait for a different post). But fighting isn’t the only way a woman can be strong.
One strong woman in fiction is Arwen of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series.
She doesn’t fight anyone. She doesn’t kill anyone. She doesn’t run around “breaking stereotypes” and “proving that women can do whatever men can do.” Yet she doesn’t sit around making doilies either. Arwen waits loyally for Aragorn to come back to her. She never lets go of the hope that she will be reunited with Aragorn. She encourages others around her. She is full of grace and isn’t afraid to be feminine.
Sometimes, being strong doesn’t mean chasing the bad guys. Sometimes, it means simply being brave, no matter what’s going on around you. Sometimes it means being strong for others, even if we aren’t the ones charging into battle against an army of orcs.
Doesn’t it take more strength to heal than it does to hurt?
Lucy Pevensie, from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, was given a special healing cordial from Father Christmas. She uses this cordial to heal others, including her brother Edmund. Yes, Lucy uses a dagger when necessary, but she is primarily a healer, in my opinion.
It takes more strength to heal and mend than it does to hurt others. It takes more strength to help others than to tear them down. Women were designed by God to be nurturing, loving, and caring. These traits shine in healing. Why shouldn’t the strong women of fiction do more healing, not just in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense?
We need to see more women who are strong in character in the books we read.
When I think of a strong female character that is strong in character, I almost immediately think of DC Comic’s Wonder Woman. Wait a minute, you may be saying. Isn’t she one of those cliché strong women? And aren’t you a Marvel Comics fan?* Well, yes, Wonder Woman does a whole lot of fighting, but what I love about Wonder Woman is that she has a strong character. She is full of compassion. She wants to help others. She stands strong in her beliefs, no matter what. She encourages the people around her. She is full of grace, and despite all of her fighting for justice, she is also gentle. Wonder Woman isn’t just strong physically, but she is also strong in character. She’s a great example of a strong female in fiction, in my opinion. Her character is something that girls can truly look up to!
Last week, I talked about why I’m tried of “strong” women characters and why we need truly strong women characters in this blog post. This week, I’m going to offer up three tips to help you craft truly strong women characters in your stories. Let’s begin, shall we? =)
In the Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen is notorious for shutting out her feelings or acting purely upon them, both of which have dire consequences for her and the people she loves. Both aren’t healthy ways to deal with emotions. What would’ve truly made Katniss stronger would have been her facing her feelings and learning how to deal with everything she felt.**
The Take-Away: Let your character have feelings. Don’t turn her into a ninja-robot. Allow her to be able to confront her feelings and handle them in a healthy way.
Two strong women (or should I say girls?) in fiction are Susan and Lucy Pevensie of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. One of Queen Susan’s gifts from Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, besides her bow and arrow, is a magic horn that can summon help when it’s blown. In the films and the novels she uses it a few times when she and Lucy get into trouble. Does calling for help and receiving it make these queens of Narnia any less strong? Absolutely not!
In reality, we can’t do much of anything alone. We all need saving at times. Why should the strong women in our stories be able to do everything themselves and be strong on their own? To “empower” women? To prove a point? To promote feminism? If so, those are terrible excuses for making women in fiction weak in the name of strength.
The Take-Away: Your character doesn’t have to do it alone. Let her be the damsel in distress every once in a while. It doesn’t hurt to need saving every once in a while! Put your character in situations where she’ll have to rely on others and/or work with them to achieve her goals.
You know her. She’s got an athletic build and the uncanny ability to wield any weapon. Occasionally, there’s some superhuman power. More often than not, the title of savior/chosen one/leader/queen/princess/empress/insert-important-title-here is thrust upon her. She’s got a great distaste for anything pink, sparkly, or remotely girl (although she’s known to rock a dress when forced). Usually she’s got a handsome boyfriend that she ends up having to protect. And in the midst of it all, she’s keeping a bunch of secrets beneath her warrior-queen exterior.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the strong female character.
If you haven’t met her, then you obviously haven’t read a lot of YA fiction. She comes in many forms, such as the fantasy/sci-fi version I painted a picture of above. She can be found in pretty much every genre. She can be the main character, the secondary character, a background character… She’ll probably be there somewhere, if not in a book, then in a TV show or movie. And to be honest….
I’m tired of this “strong” female character cliché.
This is not to say that I don’t like some typical cliché strong female characters. In fact, they can be done very well. I’m thinking of memorable characters such as Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Parvin Blackwater of the A Time To Die series. But it seems to me that we have begun to define strong women by physical strengths, talents, and powers, their boyfriends and multiple love interests, their positions of power, their ability to go it alone, a hatred (or at least some form of dislike) of all things feminine… The list goes on.
Why does a girl have to be a warrior-queen to be strong?
True strength doesn’t come from being a rebel leader or wielding a bow and arrow.
True strength is something that comes from within, not from the outside. True strength isn’t ignoring your feelings, it’s confronting them. True strength is finding the courage to do what’s right. It’s staying strong though all life throws at you. True strength comes from faith in God. True strength is something that female characters in YA fiction desperately need.
I want them to have real strength, not the fake version that has been offered up to all of us in today’s movies, books, and TV shows. I want them to be inspired to be truly strong by the stories I write. Fellow writers, we get the privilege to change this cliché and inspire girls to become truly strong women though our stories. We get to do more than just entertain with the stories we spin. We get to inspire. We get to motivate. We get to encourage. What an awesome privilege that is, am I right?
The sky doesn’t seem to know that this is the day we say goodbye. It beams at me, sunlight smiling, clouds as fluffy as cotton candy, the color blue so blinding it hurts. I wish that today could be a grey day. I wish that the sky would cry with me.
The waiting might be the worst part.
An older lady hustles by me, nodding in my direction. I fake a smile at her. But then it’s back to the camera and back to waiting. I look at my phone at least ten times before I see him. His dirty blonde mop of hair shoved under a Chicago Cubs baseball cap gives him away in the crowd. He smiles when he sees me. Waves even.
“Hey there, Lilly.” And for a moment, just a moment, I let myself think that this isn’t the last time I’ll see Ben Jamison.
But then his smile fades and he tugs on his backpack straps and we both remember.
“So…” Ben says, looking down at his worn Nikes.
“So.” I wish I could say more. I wish that I could tell him everything that I’m thinking and feeling right now. I wish that he could stay.
“How was your day?”
How was my day? His train leaves in ten minutes and he wants to know how my day went. I almost want to hit him, but I won’t let me hitting him or crying be his last memory of me.
“It was good,” I say lamely, staring at Ben as if I have to memorize every detail about him before he leaves. As if I don’t have the hundreds of pictures. “How was your day?”
He shrugs. “Okay. Adrian gave me a box of Pop-Tarts for the train ride.” Our friend Adrian is obsessed with Pop-Tarts. Like, eat-a-box-once-a-day obsessed. His girlfriend Raleigh can’t stand it. I can’t help but laugh at the thought of Adrian sacrificing a box for Ben.
But a little laughing doesn’t change today.
Ben seems to realize this too. He lowers himself onto the bench next to me, mesmerized by the trains already leaving. “You know, I’m going to miss you a lot.”
I try to smile, but I’m afraid that it’s more like a grimace. “I’m going to miss you too.” I really want to say that I’ll miss the sound of his laugh and the way he’s always messing with his hair because it’s constantly in his face and the fact that he’s always taking pictures of something. I want to say that I’ll miss going to get ice cream and roaming San Francisco during the day and—
Ben interrupts my panicked thoughts. “Don’t try to be okay.”
I wish that my coat could swallow me up. “Okay? What do you mean, don’t try to be okay? You’re the one who started the whole okay thing, you big, you big…” I can’t get the word jerk out before I start crying.
Because the whole world revels in my pain, a loudspeaker announces that Ben’s train will be arriving in five minutes. Five minutes. The tears come down even harder.
So much for not crying.
Ben pulls me in for a hug, pats my back. I sniffle against his coat, inhale his scent of too much cheap cologne. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“Me too,” he says softly. “Me too.”
And then he lets me go and starts rummaging through his backpack. I rub at my eyes, willing them to save the rest of the show until Ben is on his train and I’m safely in my room with a lifetime supply of tissues and desserts.
“I got something for you,” he says.
I make myself smile. “You didn’t have to.”
Ben hands me a package wrapped up in newspaper. “Yes, I did. Now hurry up and open it, before my train comes.”
Curious, I start peeling back the newspaper. And that’s when I see it. A gorgeous leather notebook, tied with a turquoise bow.
Ben starts talking as soon as my gaze rests on it. “My dad makes them, and he sent one for me to give to you before I go.” He takes his Cubs cap off, ruffles his hair.
“It’s beautiful.” I look up and tuck my black hair behind my ear. “I love it. Thank you.”
Ben sticks his cap back on and opens his mouth to say something, but is interrupted by a train pulling into a station.
My heart sinks and my grip on the notebook tightens. The loudspeaker grinds out its most terrible announcement. Ben stands, hoists his backpack onto his shoulders. “I guess it’s time.”
I stand too. “I guess.” Do. Not. Cry.
He pulls me in for one last hug, and it’s so quick because the train has pulled in and the doors have creaked open. I waffle between trying-not-to-cry and wanting-to-cry.
“Goodbye, Lilly,” he says against my hair. Then, he lets go. Steps back. Waves. “Don’t forget me, Lilly Mae!”
“I won’t!” I yell back. I can see his weak smile from here. One more wave, and he’s on the train. The doors shut. The whistle blows.
I hug myself and watch as the train pulls away.
I wave as it fades into the distance. But I don’t say goodbye. Because I know, deep down, that this isn’t it. Even though it hurts now, it’ll all be okay. One day.
So instead, I whisper, “See you soon.”