Strong Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot about the post from Jocelyn over at 52 Letters the last few days. (I know I mentioned it in the roundup post but it has been eating at my brain.)

What makes strong characters?

Jocelyn says:

the current trend of badass, take-no-shit, cool as a cucumber under pressure, stoic protagonists who face fifty million kinds of stress without any outward sign of freaking out

She’s specifically talking about YA but I think that trend is absolutely wider. Calm, cool, an answer and a quip for every situation. When they do have a Moment it is a Thing and not a part of who they are.

Think Buffy right. (I know, a little old but still entirely fits this character.) The times where she breaks down are really meaningful because she’s always got a quip and does the slaying in an entirely casual way.

A part of this is that after you have been dealing with horrible shit for a long ass time you likely get better at it. So I get that by season 4 or 5 or even the third book a character can be like, yeah…been there, done that.

But even the coolest, most badass, take-no-shittiest among us would likely freak the heck out if thrown into these worlds.

There is also an element of why can’t anyone be a hero?

Like Jocelyn I’m introverted. Personally I’m all the way to the introvert side of the scale. I’m over here on my side of the scale trying to break down the edge to get away from the other people.

I do like characters who spend time inside their own head. I like characters who think things through before they do them. And I like watching characters overcome things to go out and fight and win.

Muscled arm

Strong characters don’t all have to flex their muscles.

My strong characters

Both Eva and Jenna are somewhat introverted. Much closer to the middle of the scale, but for both their happy places are when they are working on their projects alone. Neither of them are charging out to get into the middle of trouble.

One will go out to fight for the people she loves. One kind of gets dragged kicking and grumbling into fighting.

Diane is very extroverted, but she’s actually a character who is quick to cry, highly emotional, and deeply empathetic.

I do think that just thinking about this will absolutely change the way that I design my characters. Creating more depth and a wider range of characters is always valuable. I know I have secondary characters who are like this. But it is worth considering if there are elements of this that should be brought into other characters.

Any strong characters who are not cool under pressure?

Cress. She’s the first one who jumps to my mind. She grows, but she starts out tiny, taking up as little space as she can. She doesn’t like to speak up. But she is strong. She is powerful.

I’m not sure I’ve got any other good examples coming to my head.


  1. Elizabeth

    I wonder how much of this is wish fulfillment. How much is the author projecting how they think it would be cool to react to a situation and less about how someone really would react.

    I am sort of torn. I recently read a book where I wanted to set the heroine on fire. All she did was run away and play the damsel in distress. Through the whole book. Would I act like this if I were in her situation? Maybe. Still wanted to set her on fire.

    1. Mariah Avix

      This absolutely is a part of it. Though I don’t think of myself as someone who wants to flip off authority, never show emotion, and have a quip for everything. But I think that is mostly slowly coming with age. I know when I was a teen and in my 20s I had a much stronger desire to want to be that person. That still leaves a need for that kind of character I think.

  2. Jocelyn

    Hey! Thanks for responding to my post! It’s incredible to me that anything I wrote made someone else think enough to write a post in response–so thank you πŸ™‚
    I love Buffy (a lot), but she definitely fits the trend. The one thing that I think redeems Buffy is that when she has her emotional moments, she *really* breaks down, and you can just feel how destroyed she is inside. She always recovers from those moments, but you also get the feeling that she carries them with her. In that way, she makes the stoic thing work.

    1. Mariah Avix

      It was a fantastic post. Very thought provoking. I clearly had a lot to say about it πŸ™‚

      Buffy is most emotional in the final season, which is also the most grown up she has to be. I feel like there is something there that I can’t quite tie all together. Being a grown up is hard. And figuring out you are kind of failing at it, which is what Buffy sort of does quite a bit is very hard. It is really only at the very end of the season that she sorts out some of those things on How To Adult.


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