At the recent Bouchercon, a convention for mystery authors and fans, a panel of women writers considered the question of strong female characters. Even the phrase “strong female characters” raised some controversy, as the women felt that it was a bit of a put-down; after all, you never hear of “strong men characters.”
The authors spoke about their own protagonists, and what went into creating them. Sara J. Henry, author of Learning to Swim, which went on to win three prestigious prizes, said she modeled her protagonist, Troy Chance, on herself. Troy, is a freelance journalist who has moved to a small town and rents rooms out at her large house. “What’s important to me is that they (characters) are real, you can feel what they are feeling. I want real characters, I don’t want cardboard characters.”
Wendy Tyson, who writes two series with female protagonists, echoed that, saying “I want to identify with that character, but I also want them to do in a situation what I would do. She’d makes choices I’d make.”
Taylor Stevens writes a tough, often violent character, Vanessa Michael Munroe, a woman who often passes for a man. But, Stevens says, strong women can mean many things. “For some of us, strength is quiet. It’s single mothers who put food on the table and do it with good humor. That’s strength.”
The women also agreed that female protagonists need to evolve and grow, just as a male protagonist would. Said Carla Norton, who wrote The Edge of Normal, based on a true kidnapping case: “Someone said, it’s not how your character works on the case, but how the case works on the character. My character is called upon to help another survivor in a kidnapping. It helps her, she rises to the occasion. That’s what we’re all talking about: Put your character in a difficult situation and watch them rise to the occasion.”
Who are your favorite female characters?