Guest Post: Strong Female Characters by Will Hill

The concept of the Strong Female Character has been written about and debated by people far cleverer than me in recent months and years: is it a feminist achievement, or a reductive archetype? A valuable shorthand that will encourage (particularly younger) female readers to a story, or a meaningless phrase that really just refers to characters that are three-dimensional, well-rounded and convincing and flawed i.e. everything that we should reasonably expect?

I’ve been asked about it a lot over the last few weeks, since my new novel After The Fire was published. The book’s main character is a seventeen-year-old girl called Moonbeam, a survivor of an upbringing inside a religious cult that has ended in fire and death: in the aftermath, she searches for the strength and the courage to keep going, to hold herself together and begin the slow process of building a new life for herself.

And Moonbeam is strong. She is brave, and stubborn, and capable, and capable of great selflessness. By the commonly accepted definition, she probably qualifies as a Strong Female Character. But that was never what I set out to write.

After The Fire is the first novel I’ve written in the first person. I wanted to spend an entire novel inside a character’s head, to see the world through her eyes, to experience the horror that she has lived through and the frighteningly strange new world she finds herself a part of from her perspective. I knew it was the best way to tell her story, to make the readers understand her and (hopefully) empathise with her and come to care about her.

Which – as it always does – meant inventing an entire human being out of thin air: one with glorious brilliance and painful flaws, who got things wrong and made mistakes but who was funny and clever and loyal. Who was very far from perfect. Who was strong in the moments that she needed to be, but was also vulnerable and damaged and scared more often than she would like to admit.

In short, like every character I’ve ever written, it meant making her real.

I can’t say whether or not I succeeded. There are few harder things for a writer to do than look objectively at their own work, work that has gone through half a dozen drafts and a copyedit and a proofread. There comes a point – normally when your publisher tells you they need to actually print the books – that you have to let it go, and trust that it was as good as you could make it at that particular moment. That has to be enough.

What I can say is that Moonbeam is my favourite character I’ve ever written. I’m hugely proud of her, and the reaction to her from people who’ve read After The Fire has been the most heartening experience of my career.

And like I said, she is strong. And I love that about her. It just doesn’t define her. It’s not all she is. Like every real person, female or otherwise, she’s a lot more than that.

BIO: Will Hill is an author. His latest book, After the Fire, is out now. You can follow Will here.

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