Home » Books » One of those random thoughts…

One of those random thoughts…

No Romance Weekly today, unfortunately!

Instead, have a post on something I been thinking of a lot lately 😀

The other day I watched Divergent (and my excitement had nothing at all to do with the fact Jai Courtney was in it…), and I will admit now I haven’t read the books, but what I want to talk about I can guess is part of the books.

The movie was going ok, I got the jist of the world and things and then it came to the point where Tris had to choose which faction she was going to be in for the rest of her life.

She had five choices- Abnegation (Selflessness), Erudite (Intelligence), Amity (Peaceful), Candor (Honest), and Dauntless (Brave).

She was originally in Abnegation, but she changed. Can you guess which faction she chose?

You were most likely right- it was Dauntless.

And that was great and all, and I could see it coming from a mile off, but I couldn’t help but sit there and think, ‘Why couldn’t she have been the heroine and still have been in abnegation?

What was wrong with the character’s main trait being selflessness or kindness and not the ability to kick someone’s butt?

Is that what makes a strong character now? The ability to knock someone out? Would someone who didn’t have the ability to beat of attackers be considered weak?

Ok, Tris has different circumstances with her being divergent and all, so she is all of the traits, but the main trait that is still focused on is her bravery and fighting skills.

I understand action scenes make for more excitement, and I, myself, enjoy the fight scenes.

But if Tris had stayed in abnegation or switched to amity, would the book have been so popular?

Would a book with not only a female lead, but one whose favoured trait is something that doesn’t involve fighting, have gone down well?

I don’t know, but it certainly got me thinking.

A few books I’ve read even start off with the character having no abilities, and then they go through a training chapter, and develop these fighting skills and only then are they classed as a good, rounded character and able to continue the story.

I write fight scenes in quite a few of my books, but in my stories I enjoy having the plot resolved in some way other than violence, even if there is a big fight scene. It’s part of the reason I enjoy writing romance, because it can be the powerful connection between people that can overcome things, not necessarily the fact that my female character can right hook the bad guy into oblivion!

Still, I admit myself that I would second think making a character, especially a female one, who didn’t have the ability to defend herself for the fear of having readers think she was weak.

But to be fair, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to fight off an attacker, and I am not a fan of violence, yet anyone who has met me knows I certainly wouldn’t be called weak!

So, maybe it’s time to start thinking about that more? If we didn’t push the ability to kick butt as such a highly valued trait, and focused more on the nicer qualities, it might help people to see that violence isn’t always the answer and that being a nice person isn’t a weak thing?

Well, that post got a lot deeper than I meant it to 😀

Anyways, I’m not saying these awesome fighters aren’t great characters, because they’re brilliant! It was just a random thought I had 🙂

What do you think of this topic? Do you think characters could be written without the ability to fight and still be classed as a strong character?

Progress Report:

Status of sixth manuscript: Writing first draft.
Word count: 22,940 (+6094 since last check-in).

Books read towards challenge: 2/50
Currently reading: Thyme in a Flask by Glen Quarry

39 thoughts on “One of those random thoughts…

  1. I haven’t read the books or seen the movie, but I agree. It does seem like a character needs to be brave and badass in today’s world. Look at how Wolverine of the X-Men gets more praise for being tough as nails while Cyclops, the team leader, gets tossed aside as a jerk. Even by the writers.

    I think the story would be different in tone if it didn’t have a heroically brave character that fights like a champion. Action scenes would act differently at least. That isn’t saying it can’t be done though. You just need to give them alternate ways of solving problems. The issue would come about from an audience that is so used to fighting being the final solution. Characters who win without fighting tend to be highly criticized and get overshadowed by the ones that do, including the villain. Not sure why.

    • You’re totally right, those characters who can’t fight either get overlooked or criticised for not being able to do so.

      I think the idea that a strong character also needs to be able to fight would be a hard thing to break, as it’s so set into today’s media of heroes!

      Thank you for commenting, it’s really nice to hear others view on this 🙂

  2. She may have chosen Dauntless but it is because she is DIVERGENT and does not belong to any of the factions exclusively that she is the hero. I think she chose Dauntless because it was so different than what she had grown to know. I think an equally good story could have been written if a Dauntless had chosen Abnegation. A spontaneous fighter having to tone herself down and show humility while thinking ahead…very challenging.

    My lady characters tend to be hot heads. They have to take a step back to grow as a person. I like the trait.

    There are plenty of strong women in fiction who are not fighters. One of my favs is Phantom of the Opera. She saves both the Phantom and her love not with fighting, but with a kiss. I tend to think of the female character as strong as long as she doesn’t flail around believing she needs some man to come along b/c she is helpless. She is not depending on someone else to do the work and solve her issues. She is determined she can do it using her own skill set. Christine was a singer, not a ninja.

    • Yeah, but, but, but… would the “dauntless to abnegation” story have been as successful? (Disclosure: I’m not a fan of this series; I don’t buy the premise.) If the (beautiful and timeless) story of the Phantom of the Opera had never been written before and someone were to submit that manuscript to agents and editors, would it make it out of the slush pile? (Mmh, now I’ve got the Anthony Warlow version of Music of the Night in my head… love it, thanks! 🙂 ) I think Mishka makes a very good point. Some of my favourite female characters have nothing to do with fighting, but I’m struggling to find many recent examples where fighting doesn’t at least occur in other parts of the story.

    • I would have loved to have a read a book about a fighter character having to tone it down and find a different path. To me that would make for a fascinating character!

      But you’re right, Christine was a great character, though it’s a shame that most modern day heroines are the fighters. In today’s world, it’s a case of fight or die for characters it seems :/

      Thank you so much for commenting, it’s really nice to hear different views!

  3. Great point, Mishka – it seems that stories that don’t raise the level of sex and/or violence, even if they still exist, have a harder time rising to the top and are becoming more of a rarity. What that says about us as consumers of stories in general isn’t flattering.

    I pride myself in being able to write realistic fight scenes because I’ve done a variety of martial arts, and while I enjoy that side of writing, I do realise that to some extent it is there to cater for the part of the audience that likes that (or perhaps that wouldn’t be able to digest the important part of my story as well without it).

    • I do enjoy a good fight scene, reading them and writing them 😀 It’s just nice to get to the end of a story and for the hero to win in a way that doesn’t involve violence sometimes.

      You’re right though, the fact that these ‘strong’ characters are fighters and that we are so willing to buy it says a lot about the current market for books.

      Maybe one day things will change and become a little more varied! 🙂

      Thank you so much for commenting, it’s great to get people’s views on this topic.

  4. I think, in this case, perhaps the author’s original message was lost in translation during filming. Having read the books, I understood her reasons for choosing Dauntless and it was more to do with freedom than kicking butt! She wanted to take risks, to spread her wings, and it was this impulsive desire to break free of the mould which led to the decision. I think she’s the type of person who would have caused havoc whichever factor she belonged to! She refused to conform, and I liked that about her. I didn’t particularly enjoy the film so I’m not sure whether the action made the difference for me. I enjoyed the first book. The second was good too, but I didn’t like how the series ended and that is a whole different topic! Thanks for sharing your views with us. They are valid points about what is expected from our heroines – if you think about the true heroes in society, they don’t need powers or the ability to kick butt – they’re willing to stand up for people and stay true to who they are 🙂

    • As happens in most movie adaptations, I think the message gets lost 😀

      Sounds like the book version of the character was a lot more complex, which is how it should be. Choosing Dauntless to be free and get away from the mould she’d be set into sounds like a fair thing to do! 😀

      Thank you so much for commenting, it’s great to hear from those who have read the book!

  5. Oh, just think of the first book Ender’s Game. He starts out fighting and he learns the hard way to step back and think first instead. That fighting to win isn’t always the answer 🙂

  6. I think that you have made a great point and it somehow reminded me of the fight scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary. The script had a thorough fight scene written for characters who knew how to fight. (Because, I guess, it works with the stereotype of a sucessful male) If you have seen the movie you will know that Hugh Grant and Colin Firth did NOT look like they knew how to fight at ALL! They did that on purpose. They thought it was ridiculous that stuffy upper middle class men in suits, (as their characters kinda were) should have a proper fight, so they fought in a way they believed was more realistic, and less about making them look like ‘manly men’ for women to swoon over. I LOVE that about the movie and I think more scriptwriters should consider moving away from Hollywood stereotypes in their writing.

    I think the “Hero(ine) must be brave” sterotype is one that should most definitely be something that is challenged. Whilst Harry was in Gryffindor (the brave house at Hogwarts) I enjoy the way that the other houses were also given their highlights. Cedric Diggory was a Hufflepuff and yet he fearlessly faced each task for the Goblet Of Fire. Yes he was older than Harry, but that doesn’t deminish his attitude. Tonks was also a Hufflepuff and she was an Auror. Severus Snape was a Slytherin and yet the strength he showed in his character’s storyline should be inspiring. Luna Lovegood – a Ravenclaw – was described as ‘dotty’ but she was also an important character who gave wonderfully insightful spoken gems and, I think, helped show kids today that it is okay to be different. She also got into the thick of all the battles so clearly bravery wasn’t missing from her character either.

    • I did enjoy that scene in Bridget Jones 😀 It felt very real rather than fictional, just how it should be. Making a rounded character doesn’t mean they suddenly have to pull out karate moves!

      You’re right about all those characters from Harry Potter, and it would be nice to see those types of characters come to the forefront and take centre stage in books and movies 😀

      Thank you so much for commenting, it’s nice to hear other views on this topic 🙂

  7. I think it’s all about balance. Movies and literature went through a resurgence recently where it felt like all female leads had to have near superhuman physical strength to carry the story, and while I’m all for girl power and a kick-ass heroine, sometimes riding against the odds and overcoming vulnerability shows MORE strength of character than giving someone a right hook.

    The same is true of male leads. If they’re all invincibly tough, it stops being interesting and becomes a trope. As in all aspects of storytelling, I think variety is best – it keeps readers on their toes and reflects real life better.

    Great topic! 🙂

    • You’re exactly right. Things have become too obvious when writing main characters. In general, they use their fighting skill or strength to defeat a bad guy or save the world.

      Sometimes it would be nice for them to find another way to solve the problem, maybe one that wasn’t violent.

      As you say, variety would be nice. Variety is the spice of life, right? 😀

      Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your views on this topic, it’s one I’ve been wondering about for a while!

      • You’re very welcome 🙂 I love a good action scene and a strong character but for the most part I actually prefer characters whose biggest strength is intellect, integrity, loyalty, etc. For me it makes it all the more exciting to watch them win out in the end 🙂

  8. Grwat point, and makes me think stone of the characters I’m currently writing. Some of them would (and will be) completely lost in a fight, but they still are (or become) strong in their own right. I’ll have to think about the books out therr, there must be more recent non fighters.
    But it does call to mind some of the conversations I’ve seen about that misconception that a “strong female character” means one that can physically best others.

    • I think that is part of the problem. There’s been a sudden surge in people thinking strong female characters means strong physically, that her strength comes from her fists rather than just her presence!

  9. This is such a great question! I’ve read the books (and I wasn’t a huge fan), but I haven’t seen the movie(s), and I don’t intend to. I think you’ve hit on something really interesting here; it seems like the need to move away from female characters as soulful, romantic, giving, gentle, kind and so on has led to a situation where every female character has to have a core of steel, which comes out under duress. This isn’t a bad thing, as such, but when it’s the only option available to authors in order to make a female character ‘strong’, or believable, it’s as reductive as seeing them only in terms of their passivity. This was a great post, and I really enjoyed thinking about this topic; I’d never considered that aspect of the story before. Thank you!

    • I’m glad it got you thinking 😀 It’s certainly a topic that’s been on my mind recently.

      It does seems that authors are worried about female being too gentle, so instead go the complete opposite and make them total bad asses. Which is fine for some, but it would be nice to see more of a balance!

      Thank you so much for commenting, it’s nice to get other views on this 🙂

  10. You absolutely can write strong characters without making them violent. There are thousands of examples in fiction. Problem is, that only works in narratives that don’t have a significant action component. For those that do, well, you can still have your strong pacifists, but it’s a lot harder to pull off given that what makes a strong character is determined by your audience, and societal attitudes towards violence are pretty messed up.

    Even in the most bloody of action stories, it’s always possible to make a non-fighter who’s still regarded as a strong character. That’s just the way it works with art, there’s always someone ready to prove any preconceptions wrong and make something awesome doing it. It would be really, really difficult to pull it off with the main character, though. As the MC, they have to be the center of a good portion of the action, and when the action entails combat, having a lead who doesn’t take part costs them a good chunk of their utility. Side characters have more leeway, subject to various other factors. Healthy males who don’t fight tend to lose a lot of sympathy from the audience and oftentimes from the writer, because a lot of society ties a man’s value to his manliness, and his manliness to his capacity to inflict violence. Women have more freedom to keep out of fights, because society is only too ready to view them as useless in that regard If they do fight though, they better be damn good at it, else plenty will turn against the at the first sign of weakness. The elderly, children, and the like get more of a free pass due to diminished capacity. In general, though, non-violent characters are important more in how they impact other fighters than in their own utility.

    I do think there’s a bit of confusion in the general audience between a strong character, that is, a character that is deep, nuanced, and moves the plot, against a strong character in the OMG she just ripped him in half like a phone book sense. In any case, writing a strong pacifist character in an action-oriented work takes a lot of skill and subtlety, especially to get such across to all sectors of your audience.

    • Maybe that’s why authors don’t do it as much? Writing a strong MC without the ability to fight would require a lot of work, and also breaking the current trend in characters and being able to make them appeal to the audience.

      Difficult, but it would be nice to see people try (something I hope to do myself, after all, I am guilty of having females MCs who kick ass too! 😀 )

      • Yeah, it’s hard, and it’s risky, so a lot of authors just stick to what they know well. I imagine it’d be pretty awesome to see a well-done non-violent main character! I’m pretty bad about making everyone kick ass, too. Fictional violence never hurt anybody, but still, it lacks a bit of nuance. I do have one character in the thing I’m working on now who pointedly stays away from fights, but there’s a few problems with him, so I’m not sure if he counts.

  11. It does seem as though the public want (and get) a certain kind of hero/ heroine. Its different in my books because the main hero is disabled and in a wheelchair. So how can he be a hero? Simply because there are so many other facets of strength to the human character. There are still battles in my books, warrior heroes, and dragons… there’s more ways to kill a dragon than sticking it with a sword you know! But perhaps my book will never be a bestseller because it doesnt follow the expected standard. I’m sick of the kickass hero and I think many people are… its one of the reasons why the hobbit was so popular… plenty of action and heroism yet the main characters were little quite ordinary creatures who loved food, peace and gardening! They did good though! So who was the real hero? Ps sorry to mention my book, just using it as an example of a non-standard anti-hero…

    • I think using your book and character was a brilliant example! (And I’m very much looking forward to reading it myself 😀 ). It does tend to be that people stray away from characters who have ability, but not in the traditional sense, and that’s a shame, as it could open up so many more stories!

      Thank you so much for commenting, it’s great to find out what other think on this 🙂

  12. I think it’s good to show that women can be physically strong, but I also think there’s a problem with the assumption that only women who have a stereotypically “masculine” trait such as physical strength can be heroines. (I’d also like to see more male heroes who aren’t all about the butt-kicking. Maybe a guy who COULD use violence to stop the baddies, but prefers instead to do something really clever because that way no bystanders get hurt.) What would the heroine of Divergent been like if she’d chosen Candor?

  13. Loved this post and comment thread. I wonder how much Hunger Games has skewed western readers/viewers tolerance of violence, from either male or female characters? I’m gonna mention a book I wrote too, but also only as an illumination on what I think sells well in our society these days. My MC is a weaver. An artist. A creator. But he’s forced into this situation that seems like the only solution is death and battle. In one scene, he does have to fight, and afterward is tortured by what he did, even though he really had no choice. Because, isn’t that how most of us would feel? Even trained military come back from combat, and they have PTSD and depression and re-entry issues–it’s something our society is still not good at, the helping those who’ve been through that type of violence.

    In any case, in my book, In the end, the MC wins with love–he refuses to be a destroyer. I’ve sent the query to many an agent, and none are interested. I wonder if part of it is because the premise of the book just seems too outside the norm to be profitable? Or, maybe my writing just sucks…could be that. 🙂

    • That’s exactly what it seems to be in today’s world- whether books or movies. If the character doesn’t have some all out last fight to the death battle with the bad guy, then no one seems to be all that interested. It’s a real shame, as the non-violent approaches can often be the most interesting to read!

  14. This is one of the main things I worry about with my own books actually. The FMC of my first novel, “Puck’s Choice” is definitely a fighter. However, she is not physically capable of handling all the bad guys on her own, and I wanted it to show. She can hold her own, but in the end, either her stamina runs out or she’s just not strong enough to handle everything going on.

    Then there’s the heroine in the sequel, “Jenna’s Story”. As a victim of abuse, she doesn’t handle violence at all. She’s the kind of person that holes up and hides when the fighting starts. It’s been interesting writing her because I am a violent person (although I do my best to avoid confrontation, I’ll dish it out when it happens) and this character is not like that at all. It’s been hard, but finding a way for her to “save the day” without violence has also been fun. I can’t wait to meet some more characters from the world I’m building and find out what their personalities are like.

    • I’m guilty of having kick ass female main characters too 😀

      But your second character sounds exactly the kind of character that would be interesting. Relying on other things than fighting, it can be a challenge to write but great to read!

  15. I’m glad you brought this up Mishka! As I write my stories, there are scenes where war is being threatened, but I like to challenge myself in having the main character try to prevent that from happening. It seems like with a lot of modern movies and books, violence is the end game and if the main character does not show some violence towards the enemy then they do not possess any heroic qualities. To be honest, I think it is more impressive when a character can actually resolve a problem or defeat the enemy without violence. It seems that would be a challenge so if the character is able to do so, then that is truly heroic.

    • You’re totally right. Today’s character seem to have to fight or they don’t get any respect, but it’s those characters who can think around violent approaches that hold more interest I think sometimes 😀

  16. Pingback: Posts I loved this week | Taylor Grace

  17. While I can’t comment on Divergent, I think you have hit on something important here.

    I hope I’m not repeating anything said earlier when I say that I suspect that there is a bit of laziness creeping in as well. There are a lot of popular characters who are brave and can fight, so this formula gets repeated because it has worked in the past.

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