There’s a graphic making the Twitter rounds called The Female Character Flowchart. It walks through the different female stereotypes—from The Trophy and Damsel In Distress to The Shrew and Ugly Duckling—and it’s interesting reading. The chart’s goal is to avoid those stereotypes to create a “Strong Female Character”.
Some writers have started panicking over this breakdown, however. If a well-known character was used as an example of a stereotype, does that mean the character was badly written? What if we liked them? If the goal of this chart was a “Strong Female Character”, does that mean all these stereotypes are weak? Then we worry about whether the characters we’re creating are weak.
Or more personally, as Natalie Whipple mentioned on her blog post, does that mean we are weak? After all, we’d often fit in with one or more of those stereotypes.
Strong just means they have their own goals that move beyond “I want to do whatever the male hero wants to do” or “I want to marry the male hero.”
So her point is more about making female characters well-rounded. Sure, we might possess some of the stereotypical aspects depicted on the chart, but that’s not all we’re about. Being a mother doesn’t make someone incapable of having their own life or mean that they can’t also be leaders and dreamers and doers. And female characters should be just as varied and flawed and real as we are.
The Path to a Strong Female Character
So instead of concentrating on all the stereotypes along the way, let’s focus on what the chart says makes a female (or male for that matter) character strong:
- Can she carry her own story?
- Is she three-dimensional?
- Does she do more than just represent an idea?
- Does she have flaws?
- Does she live to the end of the story?
That’s it. I don’t disagree with anything on that list.
So, don’t worry if your female characters are sometimes the stereotypical mom or damsel in distress or butt-kicker. As long as that’s not all all she is, she can still be a strong character.
The main character of one of my stories is a stay-at-home mother who’s insecure to the point of martyrdom, yet I still see her as a strong character because she’s also loving, stubborn, looks out for herself as well as others, and stands up to the bad guy despite the personal costs. It is her story, she has at least three dimensions, is much bigger than any one idea, has flaws up the wazoo, and lives to the end of the story. Bingo, strong female character.
Is it risky to create a character like that, with so many flaws and who doesn’t fit with genre expectations? Absolutely. But no one can ever accuse me of writing a cardboard character.
Who are some of your favorite strong female characters? Do you disagree with this list? Is “strong” the wrong word to use (does it conjure Lara Croft stereotypes)? Would you add anything to this list?Pin It