Males have traditionally dominated science fiction literature, but strong female protagonists are flourishing these days, especially in the realm of YA. Dystopian settings allow for more heightened moments of character building—a female embracing her weaknesses and strengths in order to decide her own fate and become an agent in changing the world.
Female protagonists in YA science fiction are given the freedom to be physically strong, intelligent, resourceful, and cunning. They aren’t dependent on a male to make every decision, and they quite often end up saving the day.
But what does it mean to be a “strong” female character? Somehow, the word seems to suggest that being strong is playing against type for a female. Often, it refers to physical toughness, and while some protagonists are indeed the kick-butt-and-take-names type, successful female characters require far more substance.
I’m not necessarily looking for a “strong” female character when I read a story. More accurately, I’m looking for a well-written one. Strength goes far beyond physical, mental, or emotional endurance. A well-written character doesn’t even have to be likeable. She can be flawed and make mistakes. But she should be real. Believable. Authentic.
In my book series Grey, the protagonist is a young man named Sebastian who finds himself pulled into a secret world of gypsies, tales of gargoyles, and an unforeseen destiny. The catalyst for his transformation is Josephine, an outcast gypsy. Though the story is seen through Sebastian’s eyes, Josephine is a main focal point. Both characters are struggling with identity. But rather than finding that identity in each other, as sometimes happens in YA paranormal and fantasy, Sebastian and Josephine must navigate their own separate lives in order to bring about a greater change in their world.
YA science fiction has given us female protagonists whose scope is much deeper than romantic attachments or social conventions. Thrust into the difficulties of a dystopian or otherworldly setting, she is given the opportunity to think for herself, outside the confines of what we might consider normal or acceptable. She can admit weakness and find strength. She is flawed, insecure, and uncertain at times, but able to grow, to learn, and to change.
And that makes for a great character, no matter the genre.
— Christi J. Whitney
Grey will be released as an eBook on 26 March 2015. Preorder now!