Writer’s Corner: The Female Character, Kickass or Not?
My first professionally published novel hit the stands in January of 2003. As of today, between collaborations with JC and my own books, I have twenty novels in print available in bookstores.
The Noble Dead Saga stars two main female characters: Magiere and Wynn. For me, these two have generated more emails, private messages, and discussion than all of the main male characters combined. I can’t count the messages in one form or another that I’ve received which read:
“Thank you so much for Magiere. I love how tough and angry she is, that she’s as physically strong as the men, and she’s so good with her sword.”
I never quite know what to make of these comments. Although I sooooo appreciate our readers, I sometimes want to point out that Magiere is as physically strong as the men because her father was a vampire, and therefore, she is supernatural. However, I have also received a number of messages that read:
“Why has Magiere turned into such a bitch? Can’t you have her be just a little nicer to Leesil and the other main characters? She’s becoming very dislikeable.”
I don’t know what to make of these comments either, and Wynn is even more polarizing.
Some of our readers just hate Wynn. She’s a scholar (a “sage”) with a penchant for running into (or causing) trouble. The most common term these readers use to describe her is “annoying.” JC and I have scratched our heads over that one. Other readers love Wynn, and a few have even expressed they wanted to “be” her, which is always flattering to us.
Recently, JC and I started self-publishing short stories and novellas set in our NDS world (see T·N·D·S: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga). One of these collections is a series of tales I’ve been working on involving a minor character named Elena from Sister of the Dead. In that book, we left her living in a manor with a cursed lord named Stefan, and I’d never quite forgotten about them. I always thought their story wasn’t finished.
In the past year, I’ve received a surprising number of messages about Elena as a character. Something about her has impacted readers enough to contact me. JC just put up Elena’s third novella, MB3: The Forgotten Village, in the “Tales of Misbelief” collection.
In the first two stories, Elena is fairly trapped if she wishes to keep her home; she needs to please Lord Stefan and, as a result, takes a lot of crap from him. But this is her situation, and it’s realistic. She takes care of him, oversees running the manor, and has a number of traditionally “female” duties. At the same time, she’s brave enough to face anything and goes to great lengths to fight for Stefan behind the scenes. Again I receive two types of comments regarding Elena. Many of the comments read:
“Oh, Barb, thank you so much for creating a female character who is truly strong, who behaves like a woman, but who isn’t loud or foul-mouthed or is constantly swinging a sword or firing a shotgun or doing battle. Women don’t need to swing swords to be strong.”
Hmm? Okay. I actually agree with all this except for “…behaves like a woman” line. I’m not even sure what that means. Then I receive comments like this:
“I’m very uncomfortable with how you’ve written Elena. She needs to stand up for herself and tell the male characters to f--- off a lot more. In this most recent story, you have her cooking for the men. Why can’t you write another kickass female character like Magiere?”
None of these comments bother me, but they do make me think. I’ve talked to JC about this, and he says people only express these reactions because the characters are female; if they were male characters, no one would think to dissect them in such a fashion.
I guess my point—for any writers out there—is be prepared for these types of reader reactions and don’t worry about them. I try to always write “people.” Their behavior is normally the result of two things: individual personality types and environment. Keep those two things in mind, and simply write the character you see. Whether readers admit it or not, they love to both love or hate even the heroes… er, I mean heroines.