I’ve been happily immersed in the new seasons of Outlander and Game of Thrones, as I’m sure many of you are. I also recently binge-watched every available episode of The Fall, a wildly popular BBC thriller.
The trio of shows have many things in common, but as I’ve been pulling together a talk about female protagonists, I noticed in particular that all three of these shows boast very powerful female protagonists, some of my favorite in recent years. Stella, in The Fall, is a British police detective, called into a Belfast police department to help solve a crime. Claire, in Outlander, is a WWII era nurse who finds herself back in time in Scotland in the 18th century. Daenerys Targaryen, in Game of Thrones, is the last of a line of of royals who ruled dragons. The dragons have been extinct for hundreds of years, and it appears her family line is going to be extinct as well. (There are many examples of strong females in GoT, but I’m going with my personal favorite.) I’m going to use them as examples here, but don’t worry, there are no big spoilers. I’m only speaking in general terms.
What are the steps to creating a strong female protagonist? What are the pitfalls? How do men and women protagonists differ?
She has goals for herself.
Stella, in The Fall, wants to catch a serial killer
Claire, in Outlander, wants to get home
She is conflicted.
Stella is thwarted by officials, by her own nature, which we’ll go into in a minute, and by the killer himself
Claire wants to return to her husband in the twentieth century, but she also falls wildly in love with a Highlander she is forced to marry.
Daenerys faces many many challenges over time, but her first is survival, which means making peace with the barbarian king, and winning him over.
[pullquote]One of the great flaws I see in female protagonists is that they are often so very good.[/pullquote]
She acts to reach her goals.
In other words, she doesn’t just let events happen. She makes a decision to go forward and then faces the consequences of those actions, right or wrong. Claire makes bad choices for the 18th century at times and is beaten for it, but she doesn’t cower afterward and feel apologetic. No, she’s furious and stands up for her own beliefs, even when others don’t agree with her.
Stella is a complex character, but one of the things that makes her very interesting is her unapologetic sexual tastes. When she sees a detective on the street changing his shirt, she gives him her hotel room number, and he comes to have sex with her, but the whole thing is kind of bewildering to him because the culture is still quite sexist in the way Catholic countries often are. When she’s later questioned about him and asked what he was doing there, she says clearly and without apology, “Sexual intercourse.”
We don’t expect that. Her fellow officers really don’t expect it. She refuses to apologize for having the tastes she has.
When Daenerys is married off to a barbarian king, she’s nothing more than a beautiful child. But as sometimes will happen, she bonds with him, [Read more…]