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at least one female character and that this character has an independent plot arc and that the character or her arc does not simply exist to support a male character's plot arc
source

Given:

  • by far most works of fiction feature a single protagonist*
  • a good plot interweaves all elements; a story element unrelated to another is to be deleted in the later drafts**,

how is the above quote to be interpreted? I am probably misunderstanding what "independent story arc" means.

* - universally accepted thus not providing sources but could look for upon request
** - personal belief. This does not exclude gratuitous actions as showing someone is a human instead of a pawn in a computer program is better than typing "this is a human person" and plots usually require humans. However this does not constitute a story arc as it is explicitly defined as being external to the plot.

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Characters Change

As characters have meaningful interactions, they change and grow.

To use the Lord of the Rings as an example: The Frodo who left the Shire was willing to carry the One Ring. The Frodo who left Mount Doom could never do that. He had changed; something inside of him was injured and would not heal.

But here's the thing - Samwise was a side character, and he changed too. The Samewise who left the Shire could not have fought Shelob. He would have run away, or gone for help, or... something else. He would not have dared to battle against something so monstrous.

But Samwise changed over the course of the story. Running from Ringwraiths, watching Boromir die, having to police Gollum for signs of betrayal, all these forced Samwise to grow.

The Samwise in Mordor was not the same person as the Samwise in the Shire, so when the time came he rescued Frodo from Shelob, showing incredible courage.

Compare this to, say, the Bond girls of the 1970s and 1980s. Those characters do not grow. They exist to be conquered by the hero, nothing more.

So I believe the advice you quote is urging you to write female characters like Samwise - as characters with meaningful arcs, where the grow and change as the story progresses.

EDIT:

@wetcircuit has pointed out that Samwise is kind of subservient to Frodo, so that might not be the best example for how to write a "strong female character."

Fair enough. Let's do Macbeth. Lady Macbeth basically bullies her husband into a coup, so I don't think anyone is going to call her "subservient."

But there's no indication that Lady Macbeth had previously been obsessed with power. Her husband seems shocked that she's so into the idea of murdering their way to the top. So Lady Macbeth goes through a very clear character arc / character growth:

Normal -> Temptation -> Fall -> Regret -> Despair

This arc is, of course, related to the Thane of Cawdor's arc; he's the main character. But her growth is compelling. You could imagine a "Wicked/Wizard of Oz" style reframing, where you re-do the play from her point of view instead of his, and it would be interesting.

Because she already has character growth.

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  • I feel there must be a better example than Samwise who is (a) male and (b) exists as a simp to Frodo's arc. I'm sure there were Bond girls who 'grew' because they were simps for 007 and gained 'experience' by tagging along too.... Can you maybe say what Sam's 'independent arc' is, separate from Frodo's?
    – wetcircuit
    Aug 12, 2023 at 9:42
  • Thenks; upvote; will leave the question open for some more opinions. Equating 'character arc' with 'character growth' is a fascinating concept!
    – Vorac
    Aug 13, 2023 at 8:24
  • @wetcircuit - does Lady MacB work better for you?
    – codeMonkey
    Aug 14, 2023 at 13:25
  • Lady MacB is definitely a 'strong female character'. Great example for the OP!
    – wetcircuit
    Aug 14, 2023 at 18:06

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