What makes a female character complex? They can be opinionated and determined, but also vulnerable and indecisive. The character may not necessarily be likable or sympathetic, but more often than not, they are memorable.
A complex female character can flip stereotypes. Women and girls have often been seen as passive and nurturing or as having no agency over their own destiny. Even though this type of attitude is changing, with more women in strong female roles, there is still a tendency for a female to be seen as ‘incomplete’ until they have their male counterpart.
From an author’s or screenwriters’ perspective, it gives them a wider scope when developing a character; there could be a hard-nosed business woman who falls apart when there is a crisis, or maybe a woman written off as a failure who comes into her own and shows bravery and courage in the face of danger.
These characters are often ones that stay with us long after we have read about them, or watched them on screen.
Here are a couple of my favourites from the world of Literature, Film and Television
Lady Macbeth – Macbeth
Portrayed as ambitious, cunning and ruthless, she manipulates her husband into murdering his cousin, the king. She might be seen as someone totally lacking in humanity or empathy, but it seems not to be the case, as later on we see her unable to deal with the guilt over her actions, as she slowly descends into madness.
Miss Marple – Agatha Christie
Belonging to a society who viewed older women as inconsequential and irrelevant enabled Miss Marple to go to places unnoticed and pick up information unimpeded. The little old lady sitting quietly with her knitting that no one sees had a razor-sharp mind and powers of deduction to match any detective.
Lisbeth Salander – The Millennium Trilogy
Lisbeth is a brilliant hacker, highly intelligent, has a photographic memory, and is a character who lives by her own set of rules. Her pursuit of men who have abused women and seemingly gotten away with it is driven by her own personal experiences. She has developed her own coping mechanisms and is both unorthodox and non-conformist.
Buffy Summers – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The kickass girl of the 90’s who turned the tired old trope of the girl running away from the monster on its head; she ran towards them and took them head on. An all-American high school girl who just happened to fight the forces of evil and keep her community safe.
Jane tennison – Prime Suspect
Coming up against the misogynistic attitudes of her colleagues, she had to fight not to be side-lined. She knew she had to be better than her peers to get respect. Sharp witted, determined and empathetic; her professionalism and persistence helped crack these complex cases.
Oliva Pope – Scandal
Working as Washington’s go-to crisis manager, the ‘fixer’ as she was sometimes known, she often had to go into morally grey areas when dealing with DC’s scandals. A professionally powerful and emotionally complex character, Olivia had her own style, was dedicated to her work and driven to get the best results for her clients.
Mariane Satrapi – Persepolis
An autobiographical coming of age film, set against the changing political landscape of Iran, Marjane Satrapi sees her world narrow due to the extreme government brought in after the Iranian Revolution. After moving to Austria, she struggles to align her experiences of living under a totalitarian regime with the freedom she sees around her.
Ellen Ripley – Alien
A warrant officer traveling through space: brave, firm and responsible; she was also approachable and willing to listen, and someone who kept her head in dangerous situations. In the first Alien film, made in 1979, it was still unusual to have a female character be bold and fearless and take the role of an action hero.
Carrie – Carrie
Bullied and ostracized by her peers, dominated by her religiously fanatical mother, Carrie starts to realise that she had telekinetic powers and things come to a head at the school prom where she is the victim of a cruel prank. Standing on the stage covered in pigs’ blood, Carrie is pushed to breaking point, and starts to seek revenge on her tormentors.