|Michelle's site: www.michellebirbeck.co.uk|
I saw a Q&A by Joss Wheadon that’s been going around tumblr for a while, and it got me thinking about the subject in question.
The Q&A was: So, why do you write these strong female characters? A: Because you’re still asking me that question.
Well, this inspired my own question, which is this: How can people NOT write strong female characters?
I can’t do it. No matter how hard I try, I really struggle to write weak ass, whiney women who do nothing but snivel and wait for a man to come rescue her.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of being rescued on occasion by a big strong man, with lots of muscles, dressed in leather, carrying weapons… sorry, I’m getting off track there. But I don’t need a man to come rescue me. And neither do my characters.
When I was writing The Last Keeper, it never occurred to me at any point to write anything but strong female characters. I wanted them to have weaknesses, but those weaknesses weren’t what defined them.
Serenity, Poppy, and Helen are three of my favourite examples of what I think are strong female characters.
Serenity has lived through hell. She saw the destruction of her entire race, held her brother and sister as they died. For over half of her three thousand years of life she’s had to watch as her race was hunted down and slaughtered.
Then she meets Ray, and everything looks up. She’s got her man, the one person in the world meant for her. But loving him doesn’t make her weak. Being at her happiest when she’s with him doesn’t mean she’s incapable of being happy on her own.
And when she loses him and breaks down, that doesn’t make her weak, either. Most of us would break down when we lose a loved one. It’s the getting up and carrying on, going on with her duties as last of her race, and being there for her family when she feels like hell, that makes her strong. It’s the fact that despite everything she’s been through, she still has it in her to get up, go out, do the things she has to, and plaster a smile across her face. Even though that smile is a fake one.
Then there’s Poppy. Most feared female vampire in the world. She gave the vampire’s ruling body, The Seats, everything they ever wanted. A sadistic way to hunt down disobedient underlings, one that they took great delight in for centuries. She fought her way to the top of her male dominated world, and made them worship her.
But then she gave up everything she had to be with the man she loved. Not because he asked her to, but because she wanted to. And let me tell you, when Serenity says Poppy is the only one who ever left The Seats willingly, she means it. No one leaves The Seats. Not unless it’s feet first. No one even gains a place among The Seats without years of servitude and fighting. But Poppy did. She forced them to give her a place, and she fought her way out of it in search of a better life. To me, that makes her one of the strongest characters I’ve written, purely because she had to fight so hard for everything she wanted.
But perhaps Helen is the strongest of all my female characters in The Last Keeper. She lost her partner, her parents. She watched Serenity fall apart at every loss over the years. She stood tall through everything and gave her all to keep those she loved safe. Yet where Poppy and Serenity are immortals in the book, Helen is basically human. She has no extra powers, no ability to heal herself, and isn’t immortal. Yet if she has to kick Serenity’s backside from here to the other side of the world, then she’d do it. Despite everything she knows, the loses she’s felt, she puts everyone else first, stands tall in the face danger, and doesn’t let anything stand in her way.
So in all honesty, I don’t understand writing weak female characters who just want a man to come provide for them and take care of them. We all have moments of weakness; we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. But those weaknesses shouldn’t be what define us, and they shouldn’t be what define our characters, either.
I did try writing a female character once who wasn’t strong—she certainly wasn’t weak, either—but I got about half way through the first chapter before I threw the whole thing out and started again. At this point I don’t ever seen me writing any characters who aren’t capable of standing on their own two feet and giving everything they have for what they want and what they believe in.
Michelle is 29 and has been reading and writing her whole life. Her earliest memory of books was when she was five and decided to try and teach her fish how to read by putting her Beatrix Potter books in the fish tank with them.
Since then her love of books has grown, and now she is writing her own and looking forward to seeing them on her shelves, though they won’t be going anywhere near the fish tank.
When she’s not writing, she’s out and about on her motorbike or sitting with her head in a book.