Brave, Vulnerable & Scared: Felicity Banks on Strong Female Characters

Strong female characters. Right now you're probably thinking about Wonder Woman and girls with guns who take names and not prisoners, but is that the only definition of a strong woman? In what other ways do female characters display strength?

I talk to several authors and book lovers about that very question.

Felicity Banks is the author of Heart of Brass a steampunk novel about a young women with a brass heart and a family obligation that’s interupted by a criminal conviction.

BELINDA: Tell us about Emmeline, what makes her strong?

FELICITY: Emmeline has been taught that her duty is to marry well, giving her family the financial security that they need—and saving her younger siblings from poverty in the process. No-one finds it easy to think outside of the box society puts us in, but Emmeline is eventually able to find another way to fulfil her duty as well as acknowledging what she really loves. . . SCIENCE!!

BELINDA: What drew you to writing Emmeline in particular?

The cover of Heart of Brass by Felicity Banks.
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FELICITY: My main characters tend to be wildly incompetent in a variety of ways. I suspect this is what makes me love them (and it’s definitely what I find relatable about them). Emmeline has a lot of upperclass British prejudice to overcome, and a heart that malfunctions (we’ve all been there, although not usually so literally). I love her instinctive sense of justice, and how she never walks past someone who needs help, even when it could cost her life.

BELINDA: What messages/examples do you think Emmeline provides readers?

FELICITY: We all have blind spots due to our upbringing. It’s always worth questioning our assumptions about people who aren’t exactly like us. Are they weird and stupid and wrong. . . or is there more going on?

It’s also worth questioning our assumptions about ourselves. I have two kids, and I’m so glad to have them, but far too may people simply assume that “marriage-house-kids” is the right path for everyone. I really admire people who decide not to have kids, because there’s a lot of social pressure there.

BELINDA: What traits and/or features do you think make for a great strong female character?

FELICITY: Faults are vital! And a strong female character doesn’t necessarily have to be violent (even though shooting someone can be very satisfying!*) Like any character, a strong female character needs to be scared by what she faces. If she’s not scared by the challenges she faces, then she’s not brave but stupid.

BELINDA: What types of strength would you like to see more of?

FELICITY: Ooh, good question! I write a lot of interactive fiction (like “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories, but usually released as phone apps—one of the few printable ones is included with the Heart of Brass novel) and I was amazed when I realised that a lot of interactive fiction readers wanted an option to solve problems without violence. That’s one of my greatest writing challenges these days—to write stories that have a thrilling but non-violent solution.

BELINDA: Who are some of your favourite strong female characters?

FELICITY: Possibly my favourite thing about modern interactive fiction is that most IF companies make a huge effort to let the reader choose the gender of the main character. Suddenly every character HAS to be a strong female character (as well as a strong male character, if the reader chooses that gender). This is SO MUCH FUN as both a reader and a writer, and it’s a great exercise in seeing my own sexist ideas (just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I don’t unconsciously hold prejudices against my own gender).

Other than that, I adore Sabriel from Garth Nix’s Sabriel. She is so brave and so vulnerable and she’s scared and lacking vital information, but she just keeps making the hard decisions.

*in fiction, I mean

About Felicity Banks

Felicity Banks, author of Heart of Brass.
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Felicity Banks is a Canberra author whose maturity level is scrambling to keep one step ahead of her children (aged two and four). She’s best known for her digital interactive fiction, which is usually released as a phone app that lets readers choose the direction of the story.

Read more about Felicity on her blog or with her on Twitter and Facebook. Also check out her interactive fiction and steampunk fantasy stories.

Feature image courtesy of Crisco Photography. Used with a Creative Commons license.

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