For many readers, strong female characters conjure up Xena, Warrior Princess. But as much as I love heroines who kick butt and take names, there’s another kind of strong woman I love to write about, and she appears in all my novels.
These characters know their strengths and their weaknesses. They are not over-endowed with brawn or special gifts of magic. They are quite human and mundane. But their strengths come from within and it comes from who they are and what they have learned through their years. They are quiet, competent, and good at what they do, even when, or especially when, they are scared out of their mind.
In The Unexpected Miss Bennet, Mary Bennet starts out as a socially awkward bookworm, much as she is portrayed by Jane Austen herself. But throughout my book she begins to see that her eagerness to show off all of her accomplishments is not likely to give her the praise and adulation she seeks. She becomes less pompous, more thoughtful. But she remains essentially Mary, and so by the end, after she overcomes some trials, she ends up loved exactly for who she is – smart, bookish Mary, who entirely owns her strengths and understands her weaknesses.
None of the secondary female characters can be considered weak either. Lady Jessamy and Lady Sarita (and Mrs. Hunt) all run their lives and their people effectively.
Strong characters aren’t necessarily invincible, either. It wouldn’t be much fun writing – or reading – about people who never lose. Female and male characters who rise above their setbacks are far more interesting than superheroes. Warrior princesses are all well and good, but give me a heroine who can hold her own with only her wits for a weapon any day. It’s a lot harder to do, and all the more admirable for all that.
Patrice Sarath is the author of The Unexpected Miss Bennet and the Gordath Wood series (Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge). Her short stories have appeared in Weird Tales, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and several other magazines and anthologies. She lives and writes in Austin, Texas. You can find more about her work at http://www.patricesarath.com/.