Strong Female Characters

After reading about¬†the Black Widow controversy, I’ve been thinking a lot about strong female characters. How we write them. How we define them.

You see, there’s a tone to that article that really bothers me. There’s a scorn for motherhood and the desire for children that’s stuck with me for days after reading it. When did we start defining “strong” by scorning all things traditionally female? Why couldn’t a kick-ass assassin regret having sterilization surgery? That’s kind of a big deal.

Have I missed the articles about how having a family tucked away in a farmhouse weakens Hawkeye’s big character reveal? Scorn for “Daddy Hawkeye”? Clearly, he is no longer a strong male character. Right?

I guess, when it comes down to it, my question is this: When did “strong female” become “solo woman who does nothing but kick ass”?¬†

I love women who can fight. I’ve always loved the idea of female warriors. But that isn’t–and shouldn’t be–all that makes a woman strong. It’s not ideal or practical. Not even for men. There are plenty of guys out there who can’t fight, after all.

Strong is the mother who gets up at all hours with her small children and still does her job. Strong is the woman who doesn’t want children and spends her days kicking ass at a job she loves. Or–dare I say it–the dad who stays at home with his children and gives a big middle finger to a society who says that makes him weak.

I want my characters to be defined as “strong” because of who they are, not what they do. Integrity, loyalty, bravery, tenacity, purpose. But most of all? Deciding what they want and going for it.

Even if what they want is “only” having babies.



The Importance of Letting Go

Kill your darlings.

Words a writer will hear over and over. But what does the saying really mean?

I thought I knew when I did my first revision. It wasn’t too bad. Go through what I’d written and take out the lines that didn’t work, even if I loved them. Rework the draft no matter what. A long task, but not as painful as it could have been. As I’d heard.

Then I started submitting.

To be clear, I didn’t submit “for the feedback.” I’d never do that–that’s mean to all involved. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. And there was nothing really all that wrong with the manuscript. It was fine.

I heard that over and over during workshops and conferences. “It’s okay.” “It’s fine.” “Nothing wrong with it.” It did fairly well in the contest I entered. For the longest time, I wavered back and forth on whether I should revise again, especially after the contest win.

Then I received the best rejection of my life.

It was something like this: “The characters were interesting, but the writing just wasn’t compelling enough.” It hurt. It hit hard. I wondered if I should give up.

Then I killed my darlings.

During the last year, I’ve made a lot of writer friends. I’ve watched professional authors talk about rewriting entire manuscripts. And so the proverbial light bulb went off: Sometimes it isn’t a matter of reworking what is there.

Sometimes you have to let it go and start with a blank page.

It’s hard to cut loose the things you’ve written. The words that seemed so perfect at the time. But you know what? There’s a lot of freedom there, too.