There is a debate in literature and film that rages on like a Rush Limbaugh commentary: Can female characters be strong AND likeable? The obvious answer, of course, is yes, but the prevailing wisdom on the internet--found during a recent foray I made there--indicated otherwise: Strong females come across as bitchy, and nice girls are pushovers. Now, before you fly off the handle on me, keep in mind that I did not make this up. I found it on the web--and that means it has to be true. In this case, however, there were a lot of intelligent people, authors in general and Claire Messud in particular, weighing in on the matter, saying a lot of intelligent things that gave credence to the actual existence of a controversy.
But I don't want to rehash the controversy--and I do recommend you read the PW interview with Claire Messud. What I do want to do is to bring to your attention 8 female characters (in movies and books) who--through the skill and imagination of the their authors--are both strong and likeable. It was a difficult job, or would have been difficult anyway, had I not had access to some of the most facile and creative minds of our times--I speak, of course, about the ProseCons. I call them my ectopic writing brain. And so without further ado--it's almost 9pm EST and my bedtime approaches--here they are. (In the order they slipped into my inbox.)
Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)
Arya Stark (Game of Thrones)
2) All you Game of Thrones fans out there--and there are many--will have no trouble concurring with this choice. In the modern vernacular, she is quite simply 'the bomb,' but Garrett Calcaterra, writing coach, beer affeciando and author of Dreamwielder, says it better: 'Arya is smart, passionate yet calculating, and pisses in the face of traditional gender roles.'
Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With the Wind)
Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (The Help)
4) I am ashamed to say that I never read The Help. (But I watched the movie twice--does that count?) I also have to say that I am very partial to any character portrayed by Emma Stone, as is TJ Turner, government agent and author of Lincoln's Bodyguard: 'I love any character ever played by Emma Stone…ever.' Author, publicist and writing coach, Eliza Cross agrees: 'I loved the character of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan in The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Skeeter is curious, open-minded, sassy, courageous, and determined to discover and uncover the truth. And she’s a writer, too—what’s not to love?'
The Marquise de Merteuil (Dangerous Liaisons)
5) Here again, a riveting performance by Glenn Close does not hurt, but there are many reasons that the Marquise de Merteuill is both strong AND likeable. Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical pyschologist and author of Facehooked, explains: 'She is an intelligent, powerful, strong minded and shrewd woman. She remains on top of her game through careful manipulation. Her aim in life is revenge and to show society that a woman can be as ruthless as a man.'
Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird)
6) For those of you keeping track (mostly my mother and her Canasta group) this is the 4th time I have mentioned this book in a blog in the last year. Today, however, I am happy to quote Helen 'Scout Finch' Hanson, pilot and author of high-tech thrillers: 'Scout is bored with the pace of school, more concerned with climbing trees than social graces. Saying and asking shit that makes adults uncomfortable. Willing to brave a black eye for a just cause.'
Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
7) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took the world of literature by storm for a reason--and it most certainly wasn't Larson's seemingly unedited prose. The real reason was the most original, I-wish-I-had-thought-of-her, character, Lisbeth Salander. I rooted for this girl on such a visceral level, I found myself pinching myself to the point of drawing blood as I read. What more can you ask for when you create a character? My hat is off to the late Steig Larson. Jan Moran, perfume and beauty expert, and author of Scent of Triumph, described Lisbeth in 4 words: 'Smart as they come.'
Dilsey Gibson (The Sound and the Fury)
8) Here's one you may not have thought of--I certainly didn't, not until I was reminded by English teacher, poet and novelist Conrad Tuerk: 'I love Dilsey, the black servant from The Sound and the Fury. She's physically frail but has a strong moral foundation that holds the lunatic Compson household together. Her tenderness toward Benjy and disdain for Jason earn my admiration. She's one of Faulkner's finest creations.'
There were other suggestions, but as I had not read the book or seen the movie I felt it was disingenous to include them above, but I will list them here: Holly West, author of Mistress Of Fortune, nominated Kinsey Milhone, the PI from Sue Grafton's Alphabet Mystery series; Art Kerns, author of The Africa Contact, suggested Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief; and crime fiction author Sue Coletta recommended J.D. Robb's (aka Nora Roberts) Lieutenant Eve Dallas.
Now, I have a confession to make: there is a reason I started this project (besides the fact that I am putting off cleaning the garage, a task I despise.) The reason is the editorial feedback I received from my literary agency in regards to the recent revision I submitted. Let's put it this way: it was suggested I spend some time with 2 of my characters, both of whom are female. So, before I attempted this, I decided to study 8 female characters that are strong AND likeable, because wearing women's underwear and eating quiche for a week wasn't helping me develop my female voice.
Thanks again to my friends at Kimeberley Cameron & Associates, especially my friend and agent Liz Kracht, and Josey Gist, who is likely shopping for more red ink at this time. And thanks to the ProseCons, the best group of authors on the internet; please click on the photos to your right to find out more about us. And help me: Who are your favorite female characters? Please leave your ideas in the comments below: I need the help and Josey and Liz are running out of red ink! Thanks.
Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous), and LinkedIn (Tweets, Novels and Blogs); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at email@example.com.