The F-Word

Feisty: active, forceful and full of determination. (Cambridge Online Dictionary)

I was wondering the other day why male protagonists are never described as "feisty". There are plenty of heroes who match the description above. But as soon as you get a Strong Female Character you get the F-word. There's something so darn cutesy about it. Whenever I come across heroine described this way I picture a sexy gun-toting gal in hot-pants, who'll slap the hero round the chops one instant and snog his face off the next.

We're lucky that teenage fiction - for the most part - is full of heroines as strong and resourceful as their male counterparts. It is easy to make such characters appealing because - for the most part - they display qualities we aspire to. Glory, the gangster-witch heroine of Burn Mark, is a lot braver and stroppier than I'd ever dare to be. I sometimes wonder if I could write a book starring a very different kind of female protagonist, someone who's needy and submissive, or is wholly defined by her romantic feelings for the hero.

I also wonder if I'd be up to the challenge. Passive people are harder to make interesting. Yet the heroines of four of my favourite novels are, in some respects, "passive" characters - that is, they have surrendered to their circumstances, they don't take direct action unless forced to and make no grand gestures or demands. I'm thinking of Anne Elliot in Persuasion, Penelope in The Odyssey, Offred in The Handmaid's Tale and Cathy in Never Let Me Go. They're still brave though; still clever and complex and compelling. Just not ... feisty.

So at the end of the day, maybe we shouldn't worry about strong versus weak female characters. What really matters is how well or badly they're written.