Bookish Discussion

What Makes a Character Strong?

Hello friends! This post started out as something completely different – a version of which I’m still most likely going to post one of these days – but it turned into a discussion about strong characters. More particularly, I’m going to be talking about what makes a character strong in my eyes. By strong, I’m not referring to how well-written a character is, rather to if they’re a strong person, or not. With that in mind, let’s jump into this discussion!

EMOTIONAL STRENGTH

First of all, I believe many of us will agree that strength doesn’t mean just physical strength, and there are all kinds of shades to being strong. With that being said, what qualities we associate with strong characters can differ greatly from person to person. As a reader who focuses on character development and on the relationship between the cast, I love it when characters are emotionally mature/strong and when they are able to support each other emotionally. These qualities are especially important if a novel has a found family, aka one of my favorite tropes. In the case of found families, romantic relationships, or friendships I want to see the characters interact and be there for each other. In a way, the strength they give to each other is what makes them exceptionally strong characters in my eyes.

This is one of the reasons why I love The Old Guard. The characters are undoubtedly badass; after all, they’re a well-trained group of immortal mercenaries. In other words, they’re physically strong, which is cool/necessary in an action movie, but what makes them memorable is how much they care about each other. Their support/love for each other is palpable, and I particularly adored how they tried to give the same support to Nile, the newcomer. For me, characters who go out of their way to be kind and caring are much stronger than those who are constantly tearing each other down.

INTELLECTUAL STRENGTH

In terms of making decisions, I see a lot of strength in characters who are forced to make difficult choices and are able to make them, which leads us to intellectual strength. If we look at a novel like Grave Mercy, we have another example of highly trained individuals. However, I would argue that Ismae and Duval are strong (and interesting) not because of their physical strength, rather because of their scheming and plotting. On a side note, they also register as strong people to me because of their unshakable loyalty.

The characters I’ve listed so far can be considered “good” even if they have some morally gray traits. That said, in my opinion, truly morally gray and even villainous characters can be considered strong, and not just physically. Rin in The Poppy War makes some questionable decisions and yet, I consider her a strong character. She is physically powerful, not to mention her shamanic powers, but more than that she has persevered in the fact of hatred and discrimination and she has the kind of agency that is admirable. As readers, we can see that Rin is making the wrong choices, but I don’t think that takes away from her strength, especially because these decisions make sense for her character arc.

PHYSICAL STRENGTH

While physical strength is never going to be the primary type of strength I look for in a character, it is frequently an indispensable part of fantasy novels, and it can be portrayed well. For a positive example, let’s go back to The Poppy War! I believe that Rin’s fighting abilities are well-written and her journey to gaining her physical strength is inspirational. Firstly, we see how she learns and struggles on her way to becoming a powerful soldier; her journey feels realistic. Secondly, we see her fight; her strength is not simply told to us, it is actually shown to us.

ON A FINAL NOTE

I feel like this discussion is not as polished as I wanted it to be, which is probably because thinking about what makes someone strong has sent me down a rabbit hole of ideas. There are so many things that can make a person/character strong, and I’m fairly certain I’m only just scratching the surface here. Even so, I think we can conclude that it’s always the emotional strength of characters that I love the most. I firmly believe that being kind is not always easy, which is part of the reason why I like softer characters, and I especially like when these softer characters show how capable they are. (For those who’re wondering, I’m thinking of Martin from The Magnus Archives, because of course I am.)

This is such a big topic.. and it was originally supposed to be one tiny point of whole post if you can believe that. 😅 Not sure if I did it justice, but either way, I’d love to hear what you, so-

LET’S CHAT!

What do you think makes a character strong? Do you care the most about a character’s physical, emotional, or intellectual strength? Or something else? Who are you favorite “strong” characters?

18 thoughts on “What Makes a Character Strong?

  1. To me a strong character has to have emotional strength. Physical strength I can live without, I think it is much more impactful when a character can go through so much and still be a fighter inside.

    The first strong character I thought of was Katniss. I know she’s a bit of a cliche now, but the fact that she was dealing with intense emotional trauma and still had the energy to lead a revolution??? Iconic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with this, 1000%. I also feel like it’s a lot more realistic to have a character with emotional strength than physical strength, even in most fantasy worlds. Katniss IS iconic! She is a pretty great example of an early-YA heroine, I love how the trilogy had different kinds of women in it and it didn’t pit them against each other.

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  2. This is a great post! Too often when we’re talking about strong character, we imagine physical strength but honestly, for me it’s always emotional and intellectual strength! I think cunningness is one of the best intellectual strength, to be able to predict and outlast your opponent without actually coming to physical blows. I love emotional strength too, it’s why I fell really hard for the Old Guard and also the Untamed :’)

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    1. Thank you!! 🙂 Oh, yes! Cunning characters are THE BEST – I love when a character can outsmart their opponents; Kaz from Six of Crows is a pretty good example of this. I love The Old Guard so much! I’m planning on watching it for the third time soon, haha.

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  3. Honestly, didn’t even need to scroll to the bottom of this post to figure out who wrote this one. Saw you mention The Old Guard and I was like this is Vera and then later on TMA is mentioned and I just knew. I don’t disagree with you, though, there are many things which make a character strong and I love when it’s not just that they are physically. I love characters with history, I mean you mentioned The Old Guard and yes they are physically strong, but they have all been through so much They have lived for longer than anyone and that would take it’s toll mentally (which is why we have the rubbish betrayal) but they manage to make it through because they have each other. Especially ANdy because she has lived the longest and then with everything which happened at the end, she could choose to give up on it all and let it be other but she stays with her family and fights with them and they cover her because that’s what family does.

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  4. I have not read any of the books you mentioned, but I am glad to see authors showing different types of strong characters. The “strong female” became so cliche and one note for a while there, and it’s great to explore other ways we are strong.

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  5. Such an interesting discussion post! I love how you highlighted many different ways a character can be strong, as sometimes the focus is only on ‘being tough’ when it’s so much more than that! Also yes to Grave Mercy, I love the characters and their cleverness so much 🥰

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  6. This was a really interesting post! I rarely think of physical strength when I think of strong characters 😅. I think what makes a character strong to me is usually their perseverance and grit. Even when I think of those stereotypical “bad ass female” type characters who are good at combat and everything, what makes them strong to me isn’t their ability to fight but rather their ability to keep fighting when they’re at their lowest. I can’t think of any specific character right now hahaha, but with my loose definition, I think most characters who pull through any type of conflict are strong in my book 😂. Lovely post, Veronika! I’m looking forward to the other version hahaha 😄.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Belle! 🥰 I agree with you – perseverance is a really important quality and one that makes characters so strong. And yes, anyone who pulls through something bad IS strong, so this definition works for non-fantasy novels as well, where the characters may not go through the most unbelievable struggles.

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  7. Great post. I agree. I think when a character is complex in where they have strengths and weaknesses that aren’t annoying also make them strong. Like when a character is maybe a little insecure but they are supportive of their friends and willing to do anything for others really makes me enjoy reading about them. I do love when a character is physically strong as well. Especially when it’s a surprise to other characters. I always love when you have the main love interest who is usually physically strong and the main character is able to physically keep up or show them up a bit. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I can’t wait to see your next post.

    Reese’s @Reese’s Reviews

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