Friday, October 4, 2013


I was reading an interesting blog post. It's about Strong Female Characters. You should read it, but I'll summarize it by asking, "What constitutes a strong female character?"

I like strong female characters in my writing. Nell in my Finding Time stories happens to be a conventional strong female character of the modern sort. She happens to be fairly good with martial artists. Her mother ran a dojo in Memphis, TN, and her father was an archaeologist. She's the history side of the team that I send back in time with Sid being the engineering side of it. She doesn't have very good judgment where picking lovers is concerned, but she is usually the one to initiate physical violence in whatever story she's in. That's why I put her on the cover of Finding Time instead of Sid.

But as Stephanie S pointed out in her blog, there is more than one way for a woman to be strong. And I'm not thinking of the steroid-marinated Olympic athletes from the East German women's track and field team. At least, I regret thinking of them.

A strong woman can be the single mother who's keeping things together despite grinding poverty--living one day at a time sacrificing for her child. A woman is seldom stronger than Antigone standing against tyranny and engaging in civil disobedience. No fancy ninja swordplay in that.

I unwittingly faced this problem in a short story I've recently finished. The story starts with Nancy in tears telling her boyfriend she's afraid of the "ghost light" she's seen in a cemetery. This sets up the action for the story that I won't repeat here. But it also created the false impression that Nancy was just a "hysterical crying woman." And she wasn't.

There was no place where I could add a fight scene for her to overcome space pirates. I gave her a pistol to keep in her purse, but she never used it. I needed a way to show her character as strong in another way.

I solved it by adding a look back at her first date with the narrator of the story. Nancy is a nurse. So I used an old Hudson automobile and sent it out of control. The ensuing crash injured the driver. While my hero stands around wondering what he should do, she takes charge, pushes him out of the way, crawls into the wreck, administers first aid, and keeps things together until the ambulance arrives. The girl impressed me with the way she handled the situation.

A lot of people think that courage is some amazing quality that is only manifested by burly guys in Army uniforms like John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima.

It isn't. Nancy just keeps her wits about her and does the right thing. She doesn't panic and she doesn't freeze. Happily, she has the training to know what has to be done and she relies on her training as a nurse.

That made Nancy, who's afraid of a "ghost light," as strong a character than Nell, the martial artist.

Remember this when an editor tells you to make some revision to your story. There are multiple ways to be strong and an unexpected way can be just as effective and will fit better within your story.

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