I write action adventures. Most of my protagonists are women. Clearly I like writing about women having adventures, but I rarely call them “strong female characters.”
It’s too limiting. Especially in my genre, “strong” usually translates to the gun-toting, name-taking ass-kicking kind of strength.** Those are fun characters to write and read about, absolutely, but I write mostly about women with quieter strengths.
My heroines are the keepers of lists and the folders of socks. They are worriers with families. They’re out of shape, in debt, surrounded by people who neither appreciate nor respect them. Many are “past their prime” as society judges it. Others are (or look) too young to be taken seriously. They have stretch marks and acne. They have anxieties.
And I don’t give them fairy godmothers to babysit while they go questing. No one teaches them the Hidden Arts of Magic/Martial Arts during a chapters-long montage. They don’t become beautiful by taking off their glasses or getting a makeover. Nope. Their lives go on exactly the same as always, only they’re stuck with new problems too.
But they have grit. They make do. Theirs are the invisible strengths of kindness, compassion, and endurance. They don’t have made weapons skills or esoteric expertise, but they do have integrity and determination.
They love freely, they work hard, and they aren’t afraid to trust. The way they apply those values to the conflicts I drop them in—that’s what wins the day.
The truth is, in real life hope and practicality are often more critical to victory than cleverness or muscle. I think more fiction needs to reflect that, so I make it happen. The strengths my heroines already have are the ones that save the day because that’s what I want to see in the world.
Someday I will write a tale called The Quartermaster. A war will be won because my heroine always gets the right equipment to the right people at the right time & place, and someone will notice. She’ll get a medal for it.
Until then, you can find plenty of my non-traditionally strong heroines in a brand-new collection of stories. They all have superpowers. It doesn’t make their lives any easier.
NOTE: the Kindle preview does not work until release day, 11/7/2017 You can preview the interior here: Sneak Peek at Rough Passages
**You know the action heroine I’m talking about. A “Strong female character” in scare quotes is the Woman Who Can Do It All and Looks Better Than Anyone Else Doing It. She’s the one woman in a big crew of hard-hitting, hard-bitten men’s men, the one who’s twice as skilled and attractive as they are but never gets taken seriously. (And she still has a good chance of needing rescue or dying as tragic motivation before the end of the book.) Unless she’s the helpless victim who gets rescued right off and wins a place by turning out to be plucky, knowledgeable, and useful to the guys.
In any case, she’s an accessory, an unobtainable ideal, or both at once. It can be a ton of fun, but despite its ubiquity (I love my big words, yes, I do) it’s still only one small sub-class of heroine. The others deserve representation too.