“Strong Women Characters”

Posted: September 25, 2009 in Art

As you probably know if you’ve been around for a while at my various other dens of iniquity, I like to write fiction.  A lot.  I don’t always finish it or am all that timely about it, but I do like to write.  Part of the problem I have with finishing anything is that I will get an idea for something new before I have finished what I was working on and it will just roll around in my brain until I write it- thus leaving previous things unfinished.  Gah, it is my curse. 

In any event, since day one, the first time I picked up a pencil and started writing fiction, which was in about the third grade or so, I have always liked strong women characters.  However, that love is not reserved for heroic women characters.  I love me a great villain.  In fact, I don’t even do heroic that well…anti hero, sure, but hero-hero?  Not so much.  Two of my longest works, one an actually finished book length deal, and the second being an ongoing series of stories  (er, is over 150 pages a shot a story ?  meh), shoot, I do not know if there are characters in them, aside from very small, small parts, who could actually ever really be considered “good guys”.  Are there some characters who are less horrible than others?  Sure.  But outright heroic?  Ummm, not so much.  In any event, in anything I write, there are always strong female characters, “good” ones and bad, bad, bad. 

There are people who have wondered about my propensity for female villains.  Women who are quite horrible in many ways, like a certain white-haired assassin from my on going series…but you know?  I find her hard not to like.  She has no loyalties to anyone or anything, no strings, no attachments, and her word is worth exactly what people pay for it.  She also has a sense of humor (though it is a bit off).  And I tend to find that  the women I like to write, even the villains, are not stuck in the same stupid roles that are out there for women villains.  The scheming sex maven.  The passive-aggressive plotter.  The woman who plays all weak and defenseless while manipulating the crap out of other people.  They don’t rely solely on their social skills, or looks, or things that women are “supposed” to use or “have to” rely on.  They might use those things, sure, but in many cases they are smart, crafty, physically adept, have excellent plans…and in a few cases in my fiction, when everyone has been played against everyone in almost any way you can imagine…some woman character that you thought was merely a hench(wo)man or a tool or just another person getting played?  Well hell, they are the ones who wrote the rules to the game and put all the pieces on the board.  And yeah, I do get asked about this some times…you know, putting women characters out there who are, for lack of a better term, world class scumbags.  You know, that such things might be a negative image of women and whatnot?  I suppose my answer to that is…

I always loved strong women characters, hero or villain, but especially the villains because you just don’t ever really see that.   Its like people seem afraid to put seriously bad, seriously evil female characters in anything unless those characters are somehow in debt/service/supportive roles to more villainous males.  Or, if they are a main villain, they are…well…yeah.  Which as much as I like the outfit and all?  It gets old.  Been done to death.  Sure, female villains can be sexy or have sex and all that other stuff, but when that is all there is to them, or that is so amazingly overpowering to everything else they do?  Meh.  So Bond Bad Girl it is not even funny, and so done to death.

genzeroI want female characters that are more than that.  I want my female villains to be evil, creepy, brutal.  I want them heinous and loathsome and vile.  Smart, savage, ruthless, with either ice in their veins or rage in their hearts or poison in their souls.  I want, in all their badness and atrocity and villainy to be equal.   I want people to hate/be disturbed by/ or hell, like them as much as they would male villains.  For all the same reasons…and not just because “she looks hot”.

Some of the most memorable characters in any work of fiction are the villains…so yeah, I try to create female villains people will remember- and not just because they have cool wardrobes.

I leave on that note with The General, probably one of the most horrible female villains I have ever come up with…if not the most.  And damn if I do not like writing her.

  1. Thene says:

    I don’t see how this is a ‘negative image of women’ any more than having mostly male villains creates a ‘negative image of men’…villains are important and giving that role to women is something that needs doing.

  2. Erik says:

    Villains – yes! – make a good story better. As has been pointed out endlessly, Satan, that “bad eminence,” is far more compelling than God in Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Thank you, Ren, for giving us some thoughts on villainy from inside your creative process. I think your views have as much to do with male as with female villains. You do not care for villains whose stock in trade is social or psychological manipulation. An exemplar of the genre is Uriah Heep, in Dickens’s “David Copperfield.” The manipulative villain is a subset of “sensitive villainy,” in which evil is seen to proceed from woundedness or some other condition leading to superb, if deformed, psychological acuity. Ren, you seem to prefer active villains, who put plans in motion and “the pieces on the board.” These include the standard male villains in action stories; however, there are notable female exemplars as well. One is the White Witch of Lewis’s Narnia stories, and more contemporary versions can be found among the professional murderesses of Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” One villain who morphs from active to sensitive is Star Wars’s Darth Vader. In the early episodes, he drives the action as a relentless pursuer, but later we learn all about his woundedness – dying mother, lost love, betrayed ideals and the rest. Must admit I prefer early Darth. Which leads me to my final comment: one of my favorite archetypes is the villain as cipher. He, she or it never offers explanations because, after all, evil need not always be explained – sometime it just is. Colonel Kurtz is so much more compelling in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” than in Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” because in the former Kurtz says almost nothing beyond “the horror, the horror” whereas in the latter he natters on tediously, quoting T.S. Eliot and offering various apologia pro sua vita. Some of the very best villainous ciphers are found in cartoons – perhaps because we do not expect cartoon characters to explain themselves but instead are content to let them just do and be who they are. A particular favorite of mine is the Sinister Penguin in the Wallace and Gromit film “The Wrong Trousers.” The penguin says nothing, and its dead eyes give nothing away, as it plots, seduces and wreaks havoc. And deftly and very unusually admixes pure comedy and pure evil.

  3. rootietoot says:

    A point of curiosity: Why does an evil character=a strong character? Maybe it’s my upbringing, but I think evil is the easy way out, giving in to urges doesn’t take much character. It takes a strong character (personality) to do what’s right. (and I realize “right” is all how you define it)
    *so preacheth Rootie*

    and yes- I like that penguin, too.

    • I don’t think Ren said evil character = strong character, just that her evil women happen to be strong. She actually wrote “I always loved strong women characters, hero or villain, but especially the villains because you just don’t ever really see that.”

    • Ren says:

      A hah! Rootie, I love you…an excellent observation…see, I think characters who are “tempted by evil”, as in that whole biblical way, are often weaker or more flawed that characters who resist such evil. However, with some of my favorite villains that I have come up with…as far as evil goes, they are either just born that way, or started out on the amoral side to begin with and found being evil more…entertaining. I mean, I also have villains who absolutely have things in their pasts that make them bad people, have warped them in some way, but yeah…a lot of them were, in many ways, as they say…”born bad”. Being evil is just in their nature and part of what they do.

      • rootietoot says:

        Ok, there are people who are ‘born bad’..no moral filter, or something. And yeah, they make for great entertainment (I’m thinking of Natural Born Killers and the dude from the Coen Bros. film…phoo the name escapes me).

        I was thinking about your fiction, and the characters, and how it must be a terrific release for you to write these people, kind of an extension of the porn you make…it keeps you from flying off the handle and opening fire in the mall.

        Which, of course, makes you NOT evil, because you cope in a way that prevents you from actually *doing* anything real. (no matter that Buggle says)

        Having said that- the genuinely evil people (there’s been only a handful) people I’ve met in my life have never been violent,but something more insidious and underhanded, wearing a cloak of morality but subverting the lives of everyone they know. Evil more so because of their superficial ‘goodness’. I’m guessing someone who is willing to wear their evil on the outside would be easier to deal with, because you know what they are from the get-go.

        • Ren says:

          True enough. I would agree, the person who smiles at your face and goes to church/temple/whatever every day yet ruins lives with glee is “worse” in some ways because they are not only bad, they are giant hypocrites and a lot harder to spot! I tend to like my evil far more straight forward 🙂

          Characters like that, there are lots of them in Supernatural….nice as a facade and all? I think you will dig the show. In fact…..(goes up to new post thingy…)

    • Eli says:

      I have a weakness for “villains” that are less “haha I break all ur rules ’cause I’m eeeevil!” and more “it’s actually your rules that are evil so I have to break them, and so should you” – the ones that give heroes an identity crisis by explaining their master plan and that make you go “wtf, she has a point”.

      I think it’s because that way they are more likely to have a personality with motivations of their own. Often villains are flat characters that will predictably do the “most conventionally evil” thing in every situation for no fathomable reason. If it’s like they couldn’t even choose to act non-evilly then they’re rather boring that way…

      • xena says:

        Yes, like Magnito in the Xmen. You almost find yourself rooting for him. Until he dumps Mystique. BOOO! HISSS!! She’s my all-time favourite fantasy character. I wish I could be her.

  4. rootietoot says:

    (oh…and that post you had about “Supernatural”? i Netflixed it- I think it’s the car you dig…)

  5. Some of the most memorable characters in any work of fiction are the villains…so yeah, I try to create female villains people will remember- and not just because they have cool wardrobes.

    I’d say you manage to create such female characters (both villains and anti-heroes), and it’s one of the reasons I love reading your stories (the sex and violence being another of those reasons!)

    In the best fiction all the characters know what they want and why they want it, and what they’re going to do to try to get it. That’s what too many women characters (and villains) aren’t given, but yours are.

  6. Awesome motherfucking drawings!

  7. Dw3t-Hthr says:

    *rummages in my quotes file*

    “But I am constantly amazed at how often adults ask me “How on earth did you *ever* make up such a strong female heroine (sic) as Cimorene?” My first reaction is always to blink and say “Make up? Don’t you know any actual women?” (Children, interestingly, never, ever ask me this question. *They* want to know how on earth I ever managed to make up a six foot eleven inch insubstantial floating blue donkey with wings. I consider this a *much* more sensible question.)”
    –Patricia Wrede

  8. octogalore says:

    The General is one of my favorite characters too!

    “I want, in all their badness and atrocity and villainy to be equal.”

    And you said this wasn’t going to be about feminism? 🙂

  9. Gena Farrell says:

    If only more people could read about this!

  10. Jarrett Toth says:

    Haha am I honestly the first reply to your amazing post!?

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