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Martyn Stanley
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Archive > Brainstorming for a Strong Female Protagonist

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message 1: by Martyn (last edited Mar 03, 2016 02:03AM) (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments I'm currently in the editing process for the 4th book of my fantasy series (Deathsworn Arc). I'm planning and outlining the 5th book. I have an idea for a new character which I want to insert into the story and run a sub-plot about. My objective is to create a non-stereotypical positive female protagonist.

It's a medieval fantasy setting. At the moment my favorite name for the character is 'Maven Stonecutter' I see her as physically strong, and large, but I need to make her simultaneously attractive, in a non-stereotype way. She's called 'Stonecutter' because her father owns a quarry and she works there, extracting and dressing stones, before transporting them to the buyer. I see her as having several brothers, who have all left to join the imperial army which is engaged in a battle with orcs. She WANTED to join, but she was turned down as the army exclusively recruits men.

I want her to be a jovial, good-natured girl with a sarcastic, but jolly sense of humor and to be fiercely intelligent and witty. Of course she will be an excellent warrior at some stage. She also will be strong-willed and independent, but with a real sense of duty and honor.

I'm building a picture of this character in my mind and weaving the story around her, but what do you think? Does she sound like a positive female character? How can I improve the character? What flaws can I give her that will add depth, but not detract from the stated goal of creating an non-stereotypical female lead?



message 2: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments If it's a medieval fantasy setting, why can't you allow her to go to the army? I mean, for once, wouldn't it be wonderful to imagine how our lives could be, when there were no patriarchal bounds left? Or do you wish to show current women how to deal with patriarchy in a positive, productive way that builds up rather than destroys for the next generation of women/minorities?

As for her character, I like her already. My style is to just say things, and sometimes it comes out very bluntly, other times frank without shaking the recipient, but I've done the tiptoeing in my past and am done with it. If I speak my mind, in straight line from my soul no less, it is the cut-to-the-chase variant that rules. So yes, I like her and we could be friends. I'm not sure I'm fiercly intelligent or witty myself, but I do grasp both, so even there does she tick a few boxes. The duty and honour keep ticking more, but what about her flaws? Everyone has them. In my frankness, I can be too much, and in my sarcasm, there too I can be too much. Is she arrogant in her intelligence and wit? I confess to being impatient at times when people's minds work too slowly and I have to keep explaining.

Oops, I kept writing whilst reading down the comment. I see you talk about flaws. Just addressed them.

Hmm, there's a fine line between caring about people, and caring too much about them, then forgetting about your own needs. For me, it's been a process to learn to say no, and to up-prioritise myself when necessary. Since she's strong, she's learned such a lesson at some point, but is she done learning already, or still going through the development?

message 3: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments I plan on having her meet the main protags and help them out. Then later when they meet her the second time she'd basically left to join her brothers and tried to join the army. I think they tell her to bugger off again, so she just ignores them, tools up and goes to join the ranks. Maybe one of her brothers gets injured and she sends him home to help with the quarry - sort of taking his place?

message 4: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments That sounds all great. I just wonder if you want to have a straight cis female or not. Like, it would blow minds if she came out as something different.

Thinking of flaws, well, you could make her a bit of a know-it-all who is looking down on others for not knowing the stuff she does, and after some time she will develop and see them as equals and educate them, so she is lifting them upwards.

Or when she gets into the ranks she discovers how very much she likes it and exaggerates way too much. The wit and knowledge could help her to impress the male and the other traits (not sure if it is the correct word) would add to a perfect warrioress.

Something like this.

If you want further ideas, I am keen to help you.

message 5: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments Yes, good twist. And like MW said, the sexuality stuff could be used to spread knowledge about various minorities. The best part would be if the guys in the army were totally cool with it, like it wasn't even an issue, the way some of it seems to be today still. In fact, why don't you make some of the soldiers be non-mainstream, too? :)

message 6: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments I'm currently editing the 4th book in the series! This character is for book 5. I already have two lesbians, (Young, non-warrior types) a bisexual guy who just sort of 'came out' in book 4, and I have a whole society of extremely matriarchal women living underground, who see and treat males as definite inferiors - rather like a perfect mirror of how medieval society treated women. They refer to their equivalents of husbands as 'man-servants' and like old middle eastern societies, important women can have many 'man-servants' though most just have one.

I kind of feel like there's a thing for Maven, where guys think because she's not stereotypically attractive, she's like 'easy'? Except she's actually really picky about guys and is too interested in herself and her goals to concern herself with romance and what-not.

I don't think I should do the 'know-it-all' flaw, because another character is literally the worst annoying know-it-all in the history of fiction. Maybe I need her to form a really strong friendship with another soldier and write it out so that they more or less forget each other's genders entirely? Like a weird warrior-ish, mutual friend zone thing? Then maybe it'll get complicated if later on she DOES start to have a relationship with someone else and Mr.Friendzone gets jealous? Just rambling off my head here - stop me if it sounds silly!

message 7: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments Aglaea, I really like how you cut short my nickname.

The idea of the sexuality stuff - what if you make some of the soldies be really uncool about it and then your female character really bashes them.

message 8: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments Kodak, your nick always reminds me of a Koala. But I'm wondering to what extent the stuff we've written is the story of your life. A bit awful if this is real life.


To be honest, that sounds very interesting indeed. A bit of society-critizising is never bad.

message 9: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments Here's a fear though, Kodak, MW, Aglea - is she starting to sound a bit like a weird mish-mash of a Mary Sue and a Gary Stu? Like a female character with a fairly boring blend of classic female and male heroine traits?

Perfect characters are too boring. I need my characters to fail and to get it wrong, so they have something to strive for.

I suppose the dichotomy of being tied to the quarry by a sense of duty and drawn to go to war for a sense of honor is worth exploring?

You sound awesome Kodak! Not only someone who has a great personality and is a real pleasure to be with - but an ex-combat medic so if you're in a scrape there's someone to patch you up!

A pity I'm happily married, otherwise I'd date you like a shot! :)


message 10: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments *snicker* Woohoo first flirtation done! Congrats, now we are a real group :D

message 11: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments It wasn't a flirtation! It was simply an observation that Kodak's claimed traits make her sound theoretically dateable. I'm inherrently undateable, as I'm married and have moral integrity. :P

It wasn't a flirt! :O

message 12: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments No, no this is all good stuff! I'm a long way of writing the scene where I introduce her so I have time to digest and mull this stuff over.

The thought that she might be too self-less in battle might not be seen as a real flaw. I'm really looking for anti-Mary Sue character flaws. Of course many strengths can be flaws in certain contexts.

I do wonder about the sense of humor thing. I could actually scrap the jovial, witty bit and go for a deadly serious character? I could even aim for asperger's traits and recreate a social awkwardness and tendency to take things literally? Or a lack of empathy?

I was actually thinking of going for attractive personality but not physically attractive. I want to try and stick two fingers up the established, media reinforced, unrealistic ideals of image.

I like the idea of Physical, Mentally, Emotionally - pick 2. I'm just not sure which two. I need her to physically strong, it wouldn't make sense for the quarrying or battling otherwise. I think mentally strong seems a good fit.

I have another character who spends the entire first book being mean and rude to her companions, but its because she fears allowing people to get close to her. It breaks down eventually, but I could write THIS character to have a different defence mechanism? Hiding fear and uncertainty behind humor and jollyness?

message 13: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments Haha, I love teasing people :P

Martyn, look into HSP, highly sensitive person, and also Myers-Briggs if you're unfamiliar with both/either. I'm HSP and at times emotional, but more importantly there are interesting stuff to learn about sensory input. It has been theorised that the HSP might be the look-out individual of the group, alerting to dangers. We pay attention to visual details, sudden loud noises can be extremely painful, lots of people and chatter can be very stressful (not the way it is for introverts energy-wise though), etc.

If you intend to make a soldier of her, she might suit as HSP.

message 14: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments Kodak wrote: "Aglaea-cheeky! :O

And I'm dateable *I know it's not a real word!*?? Wowsers haha! :'D

I'll let you guys get back to topic, now, please! ;)"

Well you're one up on me Kodak! I'm undateable by default, given the circumstances! :)

message 15: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Stanley | 77 comments Aglaea wrote: "Haha, I love teasing people :P

Martyn, look into HSP, highly sensitive person, and also Myers-Briggs if you're unfamiliar with both/either. I'm HSP and at times emotional, but more importantly the..."

That's an interesting idea. Certainly merits some research, I can see several occasions where this might be useful as a flaw and an asset. I'm thinking noticing early signs of danger - asset. Being uncomfortable in a rowdy alehouse and getting irritable - flaw that can be played upon.

message 16: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments Martyn wrote: "Aglaea wrote: "Haha, I love teasing people :P

Martyn, look into HSP, highly sensitive person, and also Myers-Briggs if you're unfamiliar with both/either. I'm HSP and at times emotional, but more ..."


message 17: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments I mean, let's put it like this. I hate shopping for clothes and accessories. If I need something and have to go shopping, I can stand it for only so long, sometimes less than an hour, after which I develop a racing heart in a full-blown stress reaction. It is awful.

message 18: by Ingrid (new)

Ingrid | 1 comments I agree with Ratika! One of the problems with female characters in many stories is that they are often either perfect and helpless, or perfect and strong minded. Either everyone loves them or everyone hates them. I would like to see some complexity and depth! How about some self doubt? How about a kind and good female charter who in a time of need decides to put herself first? Would that make her bad, considering it would be in direct opposition to our view at women as self-sacrificing caretakers? Just some rambling thoughts from my side

On the topic of beauty, for goodness sake don't write that she is beautiful. If the reader likes her they will most likely picture her as pretty no matter how you describe her. It seems like our society already struggles with accepting a likable female character as ugly. I think this comes trough when we look at how they casted some of the characters in the Game of Thrones series. I would recommend to simply describe her most prominent feature without telling the reader whether or not they should consider this as beautiful. Or, if you would, describe her looks just like you would describe a male character. If you wouldn't mention his looks, then don't mention hers. Maybe do it just as an experiment to see how it feels

message 19: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments Ha. And when an author writes a strong female character, who sheds a tear after having failed both herself and her mission partner, people criticise this as not being strong enough.

Her Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler

It's never good enough.

message 20: by Kayla (new)

Kayla Platoff | 16 comments I agree with Ingrid that you should probably not explicitly state that she is beautiful. I haven't read your other books but if you haven't emphasized how hot your male characters are then it doesn't seem equitable to point it out in regards to a female character.

No matter how great of a character she is, there will always be at least one person who thinks that she isn't written well enough, that's just how it goes, but I'm glad that you're asking for peoples' opinions and trying to break away from stereotypical gender narratives. :) You seem like an awesome author!

message 21: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments What I liked about Partials Partials (Partials Sequence, #1) by Dan Wells was that it took forever to find out the main character's race, even though the cover reveals hair colour. I'm visual and it bugs me to no end when I can't paint an internal picture of what a character looks like, and as it slowly was revealed, I was so pleased to have the puzzle pieces come together finally. She kicked ass and deserved a face :)

message 22: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Unfortunately, we have to close topics along these lines as they fall under the category of self-promotion. There is a Goodreads Author Feedback group that you can join that is more suited to these kinds of discussions.

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