fb

Damsel in Distress… or Damsel of Destruction

Forums Fiction Characters Damsel in Distress… or Damsel of Destruction

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 25 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #103420
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    Hi, all.  I’m looking for input.

    I’m up to my eye balls in an unwieldy manuscript of epic proportions and one of the snags I keep hitting is Damsels in Distress vs. Damsels of Destruction.

    I want to convey strong female characters.  Not in the sense of a feminist manifesto but instead looking back to history and writing.  You ever think about how much ink has been spilled concerning women?  Knights, kings, emperors, philosophers, you name it, all those men in literature have gone to extraordinary lengths.  Quests, battles, feats of strength, mortal gambles… most of that is because they wanted to win a ladies hand.

    Yet, when I look at the women portrayed in literature, I wonder why.   No, I’m not talking about Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennet.  I’m thinking of those pretty little princesses who sat around the castle… looking pretty.  Kinda boring.

    BUT

    Here’s what I can quite get on board with either.  I feel like a lot of authors don’t want the pretty little princess.  The damsel in distress, or D.I.D.  They go for the D.O.D.  Damsel of Destruction.  That she elf warrior princess who could not only take out the whole Avengers team… she could do it in high heels.

    I find that female character as annoying as the pretty, pretty princess moping around her tower.  Seriously… anyone ever try to pick up a sword?  Let alone swing it and try to take out the bad guy?

    So… there has to be an in between.  The real woman.  Any thoughts on what makes a female character powerful and worth writing about?

    Also, feel free to disagree. This a thought I’ve been working on for a long while and really would appreciate outside feedback.  Maybe I’m just trying to recreate a Jane Eyre and falling woefully short.

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #103427
    I, David
    @i-david

    @deeprun I actually just finished a book that is a great recommendation and answer to this.

    Suggestion of the moment: Skyward/Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

    First of all… these books are drop-dead amazing. ESPECIALLY Skyward. Both tell their stories expertly (’cause it’s Sanderson), but Skyward has a better story to tell, imo.

    The main character is Spensa in both of these, and (wo)man, is she a fighter. But part of makes her interesting and complex and not just some D.O.D. is that her personality is found in her hard-work, her rebellious streak, her desires–she’s not powerful just because she’s a woman. Her character isn’t found in her gender, it’s in who she is as a person–even while she’s very good at what she does.

    Four
    INFP
    songwriter

    #103439
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    @i-david

    Thank you for the suggestion and input.  I’ve not heard of Brandon Sanderson; after trolling through the book descriptions, I see he’s written quite a lot.  I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy because I really would love to read a strong female character like that.

     

    It’s funny… I think the best female characters will have D.O.D. and D.I.D. qualities blended together.  Strange how tipping one way or the other just a little too far makes a very flat character.

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #103442
    valtmy
    @valtmy

    @deeprun

    Personally, I think that the large focus on war and combat in popular, mainstream genres like action/adventure and fantasy led to the idea that strength = physical prowess because otherwise your character, female or otherwise, would not have much agency or relevance in the plot. Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet, who you gave as examples of strong female characters, are not from settings where swinging around sword is necessary for survival. That’s why I prefer reading stories that do not focus so much about war and fighting (in the physical combat sense) nowadays, as the characters from more “peaceful” genres are allowed to have greater variety in their lives and skills and be “differently powered” and “differently strong” in more relateable ways.

    There always seems to be this strange pressure for female characters to be “strong” in order to be “good representations” and “role models”, which is not something that is expected from male characters. I mean, if a male character is a coward, the reader can accept that that is his personal flaw and judge him accordingly. But if a female character is a coward (as a woman in real life may be), she becomes a bad character (not just a weak person) and the author is at fault for writing women poorly (?). I think this is just the consequence of trying to avoid the damsel-in-distress like the plague when it’s really not. An interesting, well-written character is one with compelling vulnerabilities and flaws. But the “strong female character” is not allowed to have any.

    I think writing a good strong female character requires brave writing, in that the character must be free to be herself without the writer worrying too much about what others may say. She must be as determined, weak-willed, sensible, foolish, hardworking, lazy, whimsical, down-to-earth, polite, rude, honest, manipulative, gentle, cruel, calm, neurotic, sociable, reclusive, brilliant, unintelligent, bossy or laidback as she naturally is. Forcing her to just be “strong” would be dull.

    #103443
    I, David
    @i-david

    @deeprun Mmm, I think you may be right! A blended mixture certainly sounds more interesting than either extreme.

    Also, Brandon Sanderson wrote my favorite (non-Bible) book of all time, Elantris. His work is absolutely amazing.

    Four
    INFP
    songwriter

    #103446
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    Wow.  I should have posted this topic weeks ago.  I love hearing other perspectives.


    @valtmy

    That’s a great point.  The extreme emphasis of war and combat = great strength.  Maybe that’s what I have missed as I delve into fantasy; forgetting what real strength is.  And where it should come from.  That it’s probably the harder road to write an Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre simply because their “strength” (sorry, I’m still working on an accurate term to portray what I’m looking for… chutzpah, maybe?) does not come from physical abilities or having excellent aim.  This makes me want to read Jane Eyre again. And Pride and Prejudice.  I think they were in direct opposition to the D.I.D. that was highly valued by their societies.  Yet neither one picked up a knife or bow.  Isn’t that an interesting image?

    Yes, I really think you’re right.  The “strong female” or D.O.D. are simply bad characters.  Maybe that’s why I am so put off by them.  They aren’t allowed to have any flaws, so they are no longer relatable nor maybe even human (which is why I think that she-elf warrior comes in so often).  We’d not want to read a male character without any flaws but there seems to be this undercurrent to write woman as such because then they’ll be strong enough to compete with the boys.  When instead… it guts them and leaves them as paper thin and flimsy.  Much the same as movies always exonerating the tough woman who never cries.  The most inspiring women I know do shed tears occasionally.

    I really appreciate all your thoughts! Thank you.


    @i-david

    Thank you for the suggestions.  I will have to plague my local library.

     

     

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #103447
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @deeprun this is a really interesting topic!

    Sorry for being repetitive, but I’d recommend another book by Brandon Sanderson as an example of great female characters. <i>The Stormlight Archives </i>have two great examples of women who aren’t just D.I.D. or D.O.D. Shallan is a fantastic example of a woman who seems D.I.D. but really isn’t. Jasnah is a woman who seems D.O.D. but isn’t just that either (and one can sense that before a certain scene in book 2.) I also found these two women as great examples because they’re characters in a high fantasy series who show strength without putting on armor and charging into battle. Not to say that they don’t use weapons, but when they do, they don’t seem like a typical D.O.D. YA heroine.

    (The Stormlight Archive books are decently long (1100 pages), but I found the characters (and the plot) completely worth it 🙂 )

    I definitely agree with what has been said about making female characters a mix of D.I.D. and D.O.D. Just being one creates a one-dimensional character, while being both creates a nice paradox that is so important to well-rounded characters.

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #103460
    I, David
    @i-david

    @morreafirebird

    Yes! The Stormlight series is terrific period, and all the characters are done terrifically.


    @deeprun

    I might as well just recommend Elantris while here, because one of the main characters, Sarene, is also a great female character who avoids both cliches of D.I.D. and D.O.D. and is instead extensively conplex and interesting.

    Basically, Brandon Sanderson knows his stuff and is easily one of the best authors of our time. XD

    Four
    INFP
    songwriter

    #103464
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    <p style=”text-align: left;”>@morreafirebird</p>
    <p style=”text-align: left;”>Yes, it’s the YA D.O.D. that have flattened out a lot female characters.  I wonder why they are so popular? There must be some vein they hit on that draws readers in.</p>

    @morreafirebird


    @i-david

    Thank you both for the book recommendations! I’m excited to dig into them.  Last year I discovered Ted Dekker, so I’m thrilled to find another great writer.

    I’m also feeling motivated to get back to writing.  I’ve been writing in vacuum for a while and beating my head against this issue.  See other people’s comments has been greatly encouraging and helped defined the issue.

    Thank you all for the input!!

     

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #103468
    Candide
    @candide

    I would like to remember Miss Marple, from Aghata Cristie’ books, as an inspiration. Her  “strength” does not come from physical abilities neither and she’s old and single. She doens’t have beauty and youth, the most commom “powers” a female characater may have.

     

    #103480
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    @candide

    Miss Marple… Bravo. I’d rather read about her than a D.O.D. any day.

     

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #103512
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @deeprun

    I think it’s mainly our modern culture that creates D.O.D. characters in YA. For some reason a lot of the world thinks that being a good woman means being as strong as a man… thus “weak” female characters aren’t allowed :/

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #103556
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    @morreafirebird

    I wonder what’s missing that culture is pushing that image so much.  Meaning, I think there’s a grain of truth or something we’re lacking that YA D.O.D. are so popular.

    And in that vein… How do you answer with good fiction? Which, I’m very grateful for this thread, because I’m building a better picture.

    I’m also still picturing Miss Marple against any number of D.O.D. My money is on her!!

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #103580
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @deeprun

    Well, I think the issue goes a lot deeper than we could get into in this forum topic, but I think a skewed idea of what strength looks like is somewhere in there. Swinging a sword and killing people and having no emotion is presented as strength, while things like moral strength are ignored (I think for both male and female characters, too.)

    How to answer that with good fiction is a really great question. I think part of what should be done is to be unafraid to write about women who are strong in different ways than D.O.D. Not just in writing about women who are strong as women, but women who are strong as moral human beings.

    I think you’re in Erekdale, right? There was a discussion we had in there a couple months ago that was similar to this topic, if you’d like to check it out HERE. It’s titled Lord of the Rings, but we started talking about female characters somewhere in there 🙂

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #103582
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    @morreafirebird

    Yes, I was recently added to Erekdale.  Thank you for the link.  That will be tonight’s reading/research.

    A lot of this issue started to surface for me as I got deeper into my work in progress.  It’s fantasy set in a Medieval/Renaissance era and as I researched more and more I was dismayed by the outlook of life for women.  Rather a rough go if you weren’t a princess.  Even if you were a princess… still not quite a bed of roses.  By no means implying life was easy for anyone in that setting but looking at it from a modern lens was eye opening.  Life expectancy, work load, and expectations.  The whole bit.

    I could see why a lot of fantasy writers go for the D.O.D.  Especially in that era or pre-modernized setting.  It, in theory, levels the playing field.  The girls can not only play with the boys but then whip them at their own game and walk away unscathed.  Those characters are female on the outside but the soul is so different I find it almost unrecognizable.  Maybe that’s why the seem so fake?

    Yes, I totally agree that a strong character should come from moral courage.  Not head lopping and archery prowress.  Or the ability to not shed a tear.   Why so many women who don’t cry?

    Maybe that’s it.  That you have to brave enough to craft a soul into your character.  That their true strength comes from that.  Not denying where God fits into this equation, just fleshing out my thoughts.  That even my own true strength should come from what my soul does.  Bowing before a creator or seeking my own end.

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 25 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Pin It on Pinterest