The other day, my BFF Nick and I were talking about writing and, specifically characters. And somehow, we got on the topic of strong characters., and it made me think about what makes a strong character, how you tell if you’ve written one, and how you might go about defining that for yourself. This led me to think about strength in general, and what made up a strong person in real life.
It was a lot to think about. A lot of times when people talk about strong characters, especially the dreaded/coveted appellation ‘strong female character,’ they mean someone who is physically strong, someone who is capable of kicking your ass, or at least threatening to. And, well, that is one kind of strength, yes, but when we put physical strength up on a pedestal over all the other types of strength, we do ourselves a disservice. Some of the most emotionally weak people I have ever met have been some of the physically strongest.
I define strength as the ability to bear up under the weight of your own struggles. And these struggles are often not physical. It is a feat of strength to bring order to a fractured mind for a long enough period to accomplish a task. It is a feat of strength to spend the day working on a factory line. It is a feat of strength to focus on other people and make sure everyone has what they need to fight their own battles for the day. It is a feat of strength to do what you need to do to protect others.
Some of the physically weakest people are among the strongest mentally. And strength is relative. The average physically disabled person may not be able to lift their hands over their head with any eight in them, but the pain the endure and the struggles they go through to maintain any sort of level of achievement make them physically and mentally strong.
It’s been well-documented that the average cis woman might not be able to bench press as much as an average cis man, but she can endure physical exertion for a longer period of time. That would make her stronger, in her own way, than he is. But no one is average.
I also tend to relate strength with flexibility, especially mental strength. Are you able to take your reasoning skills into new situations and apply them to come up with effective solutions to problems? Or do you get lost in your own preconceptions to the point where you can’t see your way out? Or worse, apply the one or two solutions you’ve used before in different situations, unable to see how they will only add to the problem here. That’s a difficulty most of us have, sadly. Strong people adapt to it, seek expert advice, and seek help.
It’s an act of strength to ask for help when you need it. Fragile people need to be seen as doing everything themselves.
So, anyway, strength. There are many types of it, and we need to do a better job of recognizing those different types and developing them in ourselves and other people. String characters are similar to strong people in the real world. They bear up under their own weight, they are mentally and spiritually flexible, they can handle what’s thrown at them.
And when they can’t, they seek help.
Muscle power is strength, but so is nurturing. Examining different points of view is strength. Abandoning a worldview that is no longer working for you is an act of strength (ask me how I know).
There are many types of strength and physical strength is probably the least important of them, even if it gets most of the attention.