I get a little annoyed when someone refers to a “strong female character.” By going out of your way to point out that a female character happens to be strong, it’s almost like you’re saying that’s abnormal and unnatural, “women aren’t usually strong but look—this one is!”
I like convincing characters who feel real, regardless of whether they’re good or bad, admirable or deplorable. I like characters that are so true they almost hurt to read because they remind you of your own awkward diary entries but at the same time you want to keep reading because it’s like reading someone else’s diary and honestly is there anything more enticing than that?
One of the characters I’m writing is a teenage girl. She’s not a bow and arrow-wielding-badass and she doesn’t have any sort of special powers—but I still want her to be whatever we mean when we call fictional characters “strong.”
I assumed it would be easy to write from the perspective of a teenage girl, but no. I thought back to how my brain used to work and it was kind of terrifying. There was such a bizarre mix of treacherous DO NOT ENTER THIS IS A WASTELAND crossed with boundless belief in my ability to attain whatever life I happened to want on a particular day.
When it came down to it, there were four things that consumed the mind of Young Aussa:
1. A Desire to Feel “Special”
I was always holding out for some great revelation that I was important or unique—not just my boring self.
I was obsessed with the short story “The Dukes Children” by Frank O’Connor , thinking myself “one of those outcasts of a lost fatherland who go through life living above and beyond themselves like some image of man’s original aspiration.”
2. The Burden of Shame
There was so much pretending involved in upholding my family’s public image and I felt like I was constantly failing to live up to expectations.
I kept hoping I would magically wake up beautiful by the sheer force of my will.
Everything I wanted out of life was “worldly” and I knew there was something wrong with me for wanting the wrong things.
3. Mischief (here’s where I haven’t really changed)
I was always trying to get away with as much as I possibly could.
I wanted to know everything about everyone else’s lives. I imagined elaborate conspiracies about my neighbors or strangers on the street.
I’d create secrets just for the sake of having something private that no one knew about.
4. A Desire to Escape
I always wanted a do-over, even when there was absolutely nothing wrong with my life.
I wanted to re-create myself, change my identity, and disappear without a trace.
Consider this crowdsourcing– I would really like to know how your own list compares. Menfolk, I’m curious to hear your side of things as well and will refrain from making jokes that look like this:
What consumed YOUR mind when you were a teenager? Does this still seem to be the case with today’s teens? Can a character be authentic and yet still come across as “strong?”
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