I recently finished reading “Half Sick of Shadows” by Laura Sebastian. It’s a great retelling of the classic Arthurian legend. The rise and fall of King Arthur are seen through the eyes of Lady Elaine of Shalott. She grows up in Camelot and travels to the mystical isle of Avalon where she befriends Arthur, Guinevere Morgana, and Lancelot.
The tagline on the cover states “The Story of Camelot is hers.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh great, another instance where girls replace the boys in the story.” You might be suffering from cringe worthy flashbacks of the 2016 film Ghostbusters. It’s the reboot of the 1984 classic except it’s an all-female team of Ghostbusters. It was pretty terrible. I’m not the only one that thinks so either because it’s got a 49 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sebastian’s novel is a great example of strong female characters that are used to retell a story that’s been told hundreds of times. Because let’s be honest, we all know what happens with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We don’t really need another book about the dude with the fancy sword and the cool bros.
When you hear the term “Strong Female Character”, what do you think about? Do you think about how physically, mentally, and emotionally strong that character is? If you do, there’s nothing wrong with that because that can be true. However, there’s more to that type of character. I came across a description on Pinterest while I was thinking about what to write this week. It gives three characteristics that must be necessary in a “Strong Female Character”:
• a character who makes her own choices, even if they’re mistakes
• a character whose point of view is explored at least briefly
• a character who is the hero of her own story whether she knows it or not.
“Half Sick of Shadows” utilizes those three characteristics in Lady Elaine. In this rendition of the classic tale, Elaine is an oracle, someone who can see possible futures. The first characteristic comes into play because she has seen the worst possible outcome and tries to prevent it from happening even though she knows it’ll most likely come to fruition. As the narrator of the story, her point of view is explored extensively. As a character, Elaine doesn’t understand that she’s the hero. She believes that Arthur is and does whatever she can to keep him from harm.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Jim, you’re not a female. What do you know about writing strong female characters?”
I believe it was Mark Twain that wrote, “Write what you know.”
Well, I may not be a female (I know that for a fact), but I know about strong female characters. For most of my life, I grew up with three sisters in a household ran by our divorced mother. My mother and father divorced when I was in elementary school, and she worked a crazy amount to provide for us. My mother suffered both physical and emotional strife throughout her life (she still does because she currently lives with me…my jokes are terrible) and throughout it all she survived because of her strength of character.
My sisters are equally strong in their own unique way. They’d have to be to put up with me. Each have gone through their own trials and tribulations and have come out the other side victorious. Sure, they might have some scarring, but they’re stronger for it.
I have a bunch of aunt’s that put up with me. I love them all, even though one in particular once threatened to buy me a Crabby Meal… I’m a terrible nephew lol.
Oddly enough, I work in an office made up of 99% females. All of them fit into what literature would define as “strong female characters” and I’m not just saying that. It’s true.
I know Mother’s Day is Sunday, and this topic might have been written to coincide with that date, but I think writers need to properly understand what “strong female characters” are and how to write them.
I’m going to keep this one short so that ya’ll have more time to spend with your mothers and sisters. Until next time, keep calm and write on!
Categories: Mastering the Craft