The afternoon keynote at YallWest, The Persisters, was the highlight of my day.
Led by YallWest chairs Victoria Aveyard, Alexandra Bracken and Danielle Paige, the keynote was a conversation on womanhood and writerhood. The talk covered who they’re inspired by, the inequality and the treatment they receive as women writers and what they believe makes a strong female character.
They began with the typical questions. Who inspires you?
Alexandra Bracken: In real life, her mom. She supported her childhood dream of being an astronaut when she grew up. The fictional character who inspires her is Leia, “because she redefined what a princess is or could be.”
Danielle Paige: My mom, she always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do. Also Shonda Rhimes. As for a fictional character, I used to stick with the classics and Jane Austen characters.
Victoria Aveyard: I think we should mention that in a YA/literary male dominated world, there are three women juggernauts that have opened the path for women writers, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins and Stephanie Meyer. As for fictional characters, Hermione, because Harry and Ron would be DEAD without her. I also admire Mindy Kaling for her work and her work ethic. Also Liz Warren, Maxine Waters and female journalists.
All three authors agree that the female characters they like are those who aren’t a “Mary Sue” because they aren’t that relatable. A Mary Sue is a female character (not necessarily called Mary Sue) in a story who is perfect in every way.
They brought to light the criticisms they and other women writers have to go through. Victoria mentions how women authors are constantly being told that their characters are self-inserts and inherently a reflection of what they wish they could be/do and what they write is the way they view the world. Most works of fiction are self-inserts, the authors agree, because you are essentially inserting yourself into the point-of-view of the main character(s), but they don’t understand why it’s deemed appropriate to only associate this concept with women writers and not male authors as well.
Another grievance which was pointed out was that unlike male authors, many women authors are asked what they had to do in order to get optioned or published. Alexandra Bracken was more outspoken about this, wondering why it has to be implied that women authors have to trade sexual favors in order to get their work published instead of the fact that women can be just as good and talented writers as men are (if not more so). Danielle Paige commented that she has been fortunate enough to never have come across such a situation, to which both Victoria and Alexandra responded, “You’re lucky.”
The panel was ended with the question: What is a strong female character?
- Victoria Aveyard: For me, a strong female character can’t start from the top from the get-go. She has to have struggles. You know, build her up, she has setbacks, she falls back down and then does it all over again, because otherwise the character won’t grow. “Don’t be the sidekick, be the hero of your own story.”
- Alexandra Bracken: It should be to be a well-rounded character and I think you find that in the strength of her [story] arc. A character who makes her own choices, her own decisions, someone who doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with a male character, letting him take the lead.
- Danielle Paige: For me, there’s more than one type [of strong female character.]
Check out these photos from the panel: