What's Wrong With Strong Women Characters? Remembering Betty Ford ?
Throughout history, strong women have posed a problem for men and sometimes even for themselves. I can imagine there were a lot of people in high places that would have preferred that Betty Ford would keep her problem hidden from the world, but she didn't and her courage, as a leader, changed many lives for the better.
As a writer, strong female characters have caused some problems for me as well. It isn't that I'm afraid of them or don't know how to write about them. The problem is that I like to write about them so much, sometimes they take over my stories, like "Lacey Blue and Friends, A Greyhound Story." As a fiction writer Iím often asked, "Where do you get your characters from?" The answer is, they just show up. The story started out as a story about a courageous little greyhound dog, but suddenly her mother became a strong and wise female and then there was a teen aged girl who was dealing with a disability and loss.
Next there was her sister, the veterinarian, who was strong and spoke out for what was right, even though it would hurt her career. The next thing I knew another woman who lived alone in the desert and rehabilitated animals took on a very bad man and tried to stop a dog fighting ring. You get the idea? Each of these women have flaws and are vulnerable in some way, but when you think about the best and most memorable characters in fiction, aren't many of them dealing with a personal problem?
Betty Ford was a real live woman who was a lot like the characters in my head who become the characters in my books. I guess my respect and fascination with strong women started with my choice in mothers. My mother was a strong though seriously flawed human being. I make no excuses or even try to explain about my Mom, she was who she was and I was fortunate to have her in my life because she taught me a lot of things.
One of the most important lessons I learned from my mother, by her example, was that even strong willed and courageous people have serious problems or weaknesses, flaws. Betty Ford had an addiction, but despite her elevated social position in life, she admitted it to the world and showed us how a truly great woman handles a problem.
I have to admit that somehow, a lot of the things I write are written for the people in my life. I have a beautiful, bright, daughter who has already been described by some people as a force of nature. She has a strong personality, like her grandmother and some other women in the family. When I write, in a way, I show these characters to her and say, "See, women can be strong and they can also admit their faults and weaknesses. Don't get sucked into the lie that the world tries to sell you that women can't be human and they have to be a combination of June Cleaver and a Greek goddess on a pedestal."
When I write about animals I think about all the animals I've been blessed to know in my life and their unique personalities and quirks. Some were strong and others were fragile, but they all had weaknesses and strengths. My animals have personalities, they aren't just props. Consequently, some of them, though seriously flawed, are also brave and courageous. We can learn from animals just like we learn from people.
If you've known a strong woman in your life, you may read one of my stories and see some similarities between my characters and that person. I like to think my books can be read by a whole family and each person will get something from them, other than just a good story. Strong women who face their demons make great characters. I've been lucky enough to know some personally and as a nation, we were lucky to have Betty Ford.
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