In some ways, it’s easy to create a strong female character. You give her a cause to believe deeply in. You create a handicap (emotionally or physically) that she strives to overcome. You take away her autonomy, her freedom. Or, you just pit her against a boy.
That’s a good place to start. But I’ve learned, in my writing and also in life, that you cannot have strength without weakness. So, unless you are trying to write a female version of The Terminator, you’ll need more than what’s above.
And the truth is that we’re not robots. Thinking specifically about females, we are loving, we are tender, we are emotional, we are nurturing. Those qualities both balance and reinforce our drive. They are not weaknesses, although some perceive them to be. I find that emotional overlap to be one of the most interesting things to explore in contemporary young adult fiction.
I like to think that my most recent novel, The List, is full of badass female characters. But each one endures a seriously tough journey. And I’d also admit that none of them end the book with a true sense of having “won”, having “beaten the enemy”. I don’t believe we have victories like that in real life, and so I was careful to make sure I didn’t have them in my book, either.
A character cannot be strong if she is certain of victory. A character cannot be brave if her situation is without consequence. A character cannot be badass if the thing she’s rebelling against has no “teeth”. She must endure losses, she must be beaten, she must contemplate giving up or stiffing what’s simmering inside her.
And, so long as she doesn’t completely give up the fight, so long as she stands up in some way (big or small), doesn’t resign herself to outside forces, as long as she can hold onto one tiny part of her true self, she’s a badass female character.
Siobhan Vivian is the author of the young adult novels THE LIST, NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, SAME DIFFERENCE and A LITTLE FRIENDLY ADVICE. She also has co-authored a new series with Jenny Han. Book one, entitled BURN FOR BURN, was released on September 18th.