Ami asked Holly Black:

First, I just want to say you're fantasmic. I've just loved you ever since I read Tithe long ago. Kaye was an excellent female protagonist. Gotta love those curseworkers too! Now, let me actually ask you a question or I could go on forever. What do you think makes a strong female protagonist? How can she be amazing without crossing into Mary Sue territory Thank you so much and keep writing! We love you! ^-^

Holly Black Thank you for the kind words!

I think the words "strong female protagonist" have become somewhat loaded, with people arguing back and forth about what strength means and who is strong and who is unlikeable and so on. Readers can be hard on female characters. And the term 'Mary Sue' has become an easy way to dismiss female characters out of hand.

I think when we create characters, we have to do three somewhat contradictory things -- (1) we have to think of the kind of characters we like, including the kind of awesomeness we respond to (2) we have to think about the truth of our experiences and how they inform our behavior so we can make sure our characters act like real people, and (3) we have to create characters with deep needs, wants, and room to grow.

There's no way to write your way free of criticism. There are always going to be people who call female characters Mary Sues or who dismiss them as unlikeable or say they're not strong in the right way. What we have to do as writers is create the kind of characters we like to read about.

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