My Favorite Characters 7: Deceptively Sweet

>> Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just because I enjoy a hard-talking, say-it-like-it-is female character, does not mean I’m blind to the merits of the perennial apparently-shy-and-sweet but tougher than you think on the inside character. Just as many of my favorite character types are traditionally male (but not all, thank goodness!), this has been the quintessential role for strong female characters back when literature just didn’t have strong female characters, when strong characters (like the volatile Catherine Earnshaw and the sarcastic Elizabeth Bennett) were still the very much the exception.

Being shy or quiet or sweet-natured does not preclude strength by any means and it’s perfectly reasonable to have characters who look like they’re delicate but have an iron core. Now, some people think the damsel in distress might fit this mold. Um, no. This character might come across as a damsel under normal circumstances or be in distress at some point, but, when in trouble, this character shows her true character, whether it’s braving the fire to rescue orphans, or shouldering her husband’s dead musket when they’re under attack or simply refusing to be broken when faced with hardships no one could survive.

These characters are sharp, sometimes manipulative, and often supremely stubborn. They are frequently soft-spoken or quiet, but woe be the character who confuses that gentleness for weakness. They tend to show their strength only when necessary and go happily through the rest of their lives being underestimated. Arguing with such characters is usually a lost cause. By not engaging, they often succeed in getting what they want without the other understanding how it happened.

And, here’s a trick, they’re not always female. Some of my all time favorite renditions of this character are male who seem to be working selflessly for others with the greatest good will, more than willing to go with the flow, only, when all is said and done, to have quietly and imperceptible herded everyone into doing what he wanted. I have one of these in my very first (badly in need of a rewrite) novel and he’s still a favorite.

Quigley, from Quigley Down Under, was one of these.

Update: I can't believe I failed to mention one of my favorite all-time favorite incarnations of this character: Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket.


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