I’ve been hearing a lot lately about strong female characters. One comment was about six months ago from a beta reader who mentioned that a particular scene in my book made the female character (who had previously been so strong) seem weak. My first reaction was: “But, but, but…” And then I looked at a few things. There were some word choices in that scene that I obviously hadn’t realized were creating the wrong impression. I changed those and it made a huge difference.
However, the actual events that played out in that scene weren’t things I wanted to change. AND I felt they were exactly true to the character. Yes, she’s a strong character. Yes, she is independent and capable. That doesn’t mean circumstances couldn’t be out of her control. Which is exactly what is happening in that particular scene.
Which led to a few questions… Aren’t there times when even strong characters are in over their heads? Isn’t that when they show the most strength? Does being strong mean you are always sure, confident, and under control?
My answer to all of those is that strength may not be just in the moment, but how you deal with that moment, what you learn from it, and how it influences future decisions.
And strength is different for different situations. For example, in “Pride and Prejudice” Elizabeth’s strength was not going to come in fighting armed bandits. She was confined by the world she lived in. She had to be strong in her own circumstances. On the other hand, a modern heroin might not have Elizabeth’s strength to make decisions even in the face of social disapproval and family concerns in a world where those were paramount.
I guess the point of all this is that your character has to be strong in their own way, in their own world, and in their own time. As long as they’re true to who they are and act in a way that doesn’t make the reader say something like “well, she was a believable character until…”