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I'm writing a tough, capable young female character who is savvy and can survive well in an unfamiliar society. However, she has no patience for stupidity and is quick to shoot barbed remarks. I want her to soften and become kind and patient without losing her independence.

Does anyone know of characters from books & films or real-life females who were tough and then softened?

Does anyone have suggestions on how to soften a female character?

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Every cynic is a hopeless romantic

One possibility is that your MC doesn't 'change', so much as the circumstances change and we see another side of her.

For instance, we meet her at her normal status quo which shows us her hard-rule barriers and boundaries. It doesn't come across as vulnerable or defensive because it looks like the actions of a tough person who hates sentimentality and weakness.

But circumstances change her 'mode' from defensive to protective, or infatuated, or just being invested in another person – a 'weakness' she was defensive to avoid.

This is a setup for putting this character in jeopardy. There is a reason she avoids this mode. It's dangerous to her well-being, and she's experienced this vulnerability before with bad results.

Avoid the cliché

Read this answer before commiting to this character turn.

In Samuel R. Delany's "Characters" essay, he relates his (anthology editor) wife's criticism that female characters usually fall into 2 categories: 'simps' and 'bitches', and the worst cliché of all: a bitch who becomes a simp after meeting the hero.

The problem isn't the character's turn, but that the character is just a prop – a strawman antagonist for the hero to easily conquer – not an actual character with their own motives and consistent values.

Does anyone know of characters from books & films or real-life females who were tough and then softened?

All of them...?

Rarer to find a 'tough female character' who never goes through this arc.

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  • Thank you so much for your answer! Which are the best examples that come to mind? So far, the suggestions I got are Vin from Mistborn and Marilla from Anne of Green Gables. Aug 4, 2023 at 15:38
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    @JimStallan Ripley in Aliens...
    – wetcircuit
    Aug 4, 2023 at 15:43
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There isn't a conflict in the outcome you are describing. Consider people you know that are quick to verbal slap down another person who says something they believe to be stupid. That mindset suggests that the hearer knows the truthful intelligent fact and experiences the stupidity as something uncomfortable and negative.

While I can relate to experience pain when someone says something ignorant or uninformed, I know this is because of a fault in myself and not them. Not the ignorance, but my reaction. If I was truly intelligent, then I'd be able to understand what misunderstanding or error in thought possessed the speaker and I'd understand how they arrived at such stupidity. Then, I'd feel compassion and pity for them rather than contempt.

Or to express it a different way, its a weak person that can't hear someone else's ideas without always responding with barbed remarks. It's an intolerant person that can't listen to ideas or thoughts they disagree without getting upset.

A Celestial Seasons teabag had a quote that read: "Gentleness is the greatest strength." Attributing it to a Irish Proverb. It seems like that is an avenue for your character to grow. Too oversimplify as way of explanation: She starts out a real firebrand, scorching any stupid statement she hears but learns that people are often inarticulate in expressing themselves. Or maybe people she needs to cooperate with have different values or lived-experiences than her and she needs to grow to be successful. Maybe she feels that listening to dumb people means she's too accommodating but she realizes she'd actual being tolerance and compassionate. That other people's ideas don't have to change her mind or mean they are bad or evil, just different. She grows more confident and stronger and therefore more gentle.

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To answer your question about characters that fit this pattern: there are many. This is a very common trope. TV Tropes calls it Defrosting the Ice Queen.

The trope is a little wider than what you describe, but it contains many examples that fit. For instance, princess Leia from Star Wars, Kate in the Taming of the Shrew and Aeryn Sun in Farscape. The page links to some other tropes that may also fit.

Don't be disheartened by how well-worn this trope is. There are always new thing to do with it or fresh ways to employ it. You should read/watch some of these existing examples of the trope. That will show you which elements are getting a little stale, and what you might do that is still interesting.

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