Eight Reasons to Write Your Female Characters Like Elizabeth Swann

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Lately Clara and I have been in sort of a Pirates of the Caribbean mood, because a.) the soundtrack for At World’s End is the PERFECT thing to write our Camp NaNoWriMo fantasy/sci-fi novels to; and b.), we’ve been re-watching the original trilogy over the past couple of weeks (and did you know that there’s actually a credit scene at the end of each  movie????!! We had no idea until about twelve hours ago. If this is news to you too, you REALLY should go and watch them—especially the one from At World’s End because it provides some closure to the whole Elizabeth/Will drama.)

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And of course, Disney is coming out with a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (out May 26th). Both of us have very different opinions on this—in my opinion, Disney just should have stopped with the third one, because the fourth one was HORRIBLE, and the franchise has just turned into a money-maker. Clara, however, is quite ecstatic for the fifth movie, {AND CLARA DO YOU WANT TO SAY MORE HERE????}

Clara: You’ll be so sorry you asked. THE FITH PIRATES SQUEEE I LOVE LOVE LOVE THEM SO MUCH AND WILL IS IN THIS YOU MUST WATCH IT PEASANTS.

But either way, it’s quite unfortunate that Elizabeth won’t be in the fifth one**, because in our opinions, she’s one of the best Strong Female Characters ever written.

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(** Or maybe she is in the movie?? Things have changed since we wrote this…apparently there’s a new, Japanese trailer out???)

Yes, Elizabeth does showcase a specific type of female character, the warrior/sword-fighting/dressing-as-a-boy type, and yes, this general character archetype is a bit of a trope. But Elizabeth pulls off the stereotype flawlessly, even managing to give it her own original twist. How, exactly? We’re glad you asked:

  1. She doesn’t try to be overly masculine

There’s this idea floating around that in order to create a Strong Female Character™ one needs to first create a sort of gender-less character, a character that’s resilient, and capable, and sassy—a strong character, who could be either a boy or a girl. You want this character to be your novel’s Strong Female Character™? That’s cool, just make her name Darla instead of David, and give her long blonde air.

NO. JUST NO.

A true Strong Female Character finds her strength in her femininity.

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She doesn’t need to act aggressive or masculine to accomplish her goals. Sure, sometimes the lady in question has to go undercover, dress like a boy, and talk and act like one. Elizabeth does do this in Dead Man’s Chest, after all.

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But as soon as she doesn’t need to keep her identity (and her gender) a secret, she doesn’t. And throughout the rest of the trilogy, all her costumes have a sort of feminine flair.

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She’s not strong despite the fact she has breasts, she’s strong because she does have them, and can still kick butt.

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Recall all of Elizabeth’s little girly squeaks while she’s fighting—much more realistic than a bunch of overly-masculine grunting.

Lady Clara: GRUNT GRUNT SNORT.

  1. She uses her femininity to her advantage

Elizabeth seduces Jack so she can chain him to the Black Pearl and save herself and Will.

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She uses her Wedding Dress to her advantage, for pity’s sake. She understands the power that a woman can have over a man, and uses this to her persuasive advantage (though she naturally also keeps a pistol at the ready).

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Lady Clara: I mean, really. Is it going to be easier to convince someone to do something you want them to do by being charming or holding a gun to their head? Food for thought, peasants.

QUEEN Hermione: Fine, Lady Clara. But I suppose the benefit in manipulation is convincing someone to do something for you while simultaneously making them think that it was their idea, and they are doing because they want to. *snaps fingers sassily*

  1. She doesn’t make a big deal about being a girl (or a Pirate)

Elizabeth isn’t the only female pirate—but she isn’t exactly in the majority either. Yet once her fellow Pirates accept her, she doesn’t keep rubbing her status as a Pretty Wicked Female Pirate in their faces.

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Of course, the movies are a Disney-fied version of reality, and so real pirates might have been a little less accepting of your average English girl with dreams of piracy. However, there were quite a few female pirates back in the day. And really, it seems that pirates seemed to value competency over class or gender—and by the second movie, Elizabeth could hardly be considered naïve.

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Just take it as a general rule that subtly is the usually best way to advance a character’s plight.

Lady Clara: I would have bribed Jack with rum to vote moi king of the brethren court. Then I could redecorate. And killed Bennet, too, of course.

Queen Hermione: I might have voted for you. IF and ONLY IF you bribed me with chocolate cake, hardcovers, vinyls, and Irish men.

  1. She looks natural with a sword in her hand

You ever read a character who is portrayed as awkward and totally uncoordinated—and then five chapters later, she’s a total boss with a broadsword? Ummm, unrealistic much…? Or you have those girls who get literally no training at all, and still somehow turn into epic elven warriors? Thank goodness this doesn’t happen with Elizabeth.

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It’s never clearly stated how much time passes between each Pirates movie. All the viewer knows is that somewhere between the first and second movie, Will trained Elizabeth to wield a sword.

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So Elizabeth may have had months to learn the art of fencing, not to mention that she was constantly surrounded by pirates sword-fighting—and what better way to learn how to do something than to be around it 24/7? And then as we mentioned above, it just looks perfectly natural for her to sword-fight.

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So the moral of the story? Realism, peasants.

Lady Clara: Now might also be a good time to mention that Elizabeth has some serious backbone. In Dead Man’s Chest, she’s the one who ends up fighting the fish-people as Pintel and Ragggeti run for it with the chest. (Of course running away screaming is an excellent battle strategy too.)

Queen Hermione: Wait—those two have names??? Since WHEN??????

  1. Her flaws aren’t made out to be good things

You ever notice how some Strong Female Characters only ever have flaws that work to their advantage? Like Random Heroine Bertha is stubborn, but this allows her to complete her quest across the Sea of Death, and (bonus!) Random Love Interest Berry finds her stubbornness just so sexy.

Are we the only ones that find that sort of thing SUPER annoying?

Elizabeth Swann has flaws. And yes, they do help to accomplish her goals, but they also create some huge problems for her. She’d rather work alone, and isn’t quick to trust people—but this ends up fracturing her relationship with Will.

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 And then sometimes she’ll trust people completely and let her emotions cloud her judgement—like how she believes everything Jack tells her in Dead Man’s Chest, when he’s really just manipulating her.

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Lady Clara: Manipulation? Oh, you poor little Slytherin. That’s not manipulation, just the use of good old Ravenclaw logic to get people to do what you want them to.

Queen Hermione: WHATEVER. It’s all the same in the end.

  1. She’s a Slytherin—and still the heroine

Elizabeth is ambitious, loyal, tenacious, and manipulative. Therefore, her actions make sense because they have an obvious connection to her personality.

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Have you ever read one of those “Have courage and be kind” Hufflepuff/Gryffindor/Ravenclaw heroines—the ones who can’t hurt a fly but still somehow sacrifice everything for a mission? Whatever, ladies. A female character should always stay true to their personality (no duh—any character should!) So if Agatha is extraordinarily sympathetic, she’s not going to suddenly turn into a cold-blooded killed the moment a druid knocks on her door and asks her to save the world. Are we saying that kindness is a weakness? Of course not!

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And maybe Agatha will end up turning herself into a heartless killer by the end of the story, it’s just going to be a more intense journey for her than it would be for the girl who was already ruthless in Chapter one. Write all kinds of female characters—Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, Slytherins, Gryffindors, Muggles—just ensure that your character makes sense.

Lady Clara: I am soooo tired of reading the Gryffindor female character. WRITE A RAVENCLAW OR A SLYTHERIN FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

Queen Hermione: Gryffindors are only good for cat food. Not that I’m biased or anything.

  1. She doesn’t get a complex about being “repressed by men”

If Elizabeth was a YA heroine, she’d constantly be reminding Will that she’s a Stong Independent Woman Who Don’t Need No Man, and she’s just making an exception for Will, since they’re in love.

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Luckily, Pirates doesn’t mess around with this sort of shoddy subplot. Will and Elizabeth have relationship problems because they both have some serious trust issues, not because Elizabeth is constantly rubbing her accomplishments in Will’s face. For the most part, they treat each other as equals.

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Of course, Will is still is the man in the relationship, and so naturally he wants to protect Elizabeth. Elizabeth GETS this, and doesn’t freak out when he tries to take her out of harm’s way—but she still does what she needs to. (Think back to the third movie when Elizabeth agrees to go with that Chinese Pirate Captain who thinks she’s Calypso, just to fix the problem Will that created. Yeah, Will protests the trade, but he gets it, and lets Elizabeth do her thing).

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I have had more than enough experience dealing with pirates!

Lady Clara: I still think it could have turned out better if Jack had become the new Davy Jones.

Queen Hermione: Preach it, girl. AND ALSO WILL AND ELIZABETH COULD HAVE LIVED A NICE NORMAL PIRATEY LIFE WHICH THEY SO DESERVED.

  1. Beyond all this, she’s just genuinely likable

Don’t stop developing your character the moment you’ve perfected her “strong” persona. Give her all sorts of quirks, flaws, idiosyncrasies and the like. Elizabeth Swann’s got ‘em, after all, and so your female character should too.

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Lady Clara: You could write a Clara-ish character, if you want. I would read your book!

Queen Hermione: Yes, do put us in all your books!!!!!!

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Should you be rethinking your female characters right now? Eh, maybe. So what if you did write one of those grunting, obnoxiously masculine characters? Well, girls like that do exist, and so they’re going to exist in the literary world too**. But the important thing is to write your character like that for a reason, and not just because you want to play to society’s standards. Females should be strong in their femininity, remember?

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Hence don’t write all your ladies to be just like Elizabeth Swann, but learn a little from her success. And never, ever, fall victim to tropes.

**Want to read about a grunting, masculine female? Clara recommends The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.

And of course, there’s another aspect to this whole thing that we sort of have to mention. 87% of the reason Elizabeth turned out so good is because of the way Keria Knightley portrayed her.

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If Knightly had decided to interpret the character of Elizabeth in a totally different way, well, maybe right now you’d be reading a post called “8 Reasons NOT To Write Your Female Characters Like Elizabeth Swann.”

But this whole concept of actors does translate perfectly into the writing world. You—as the writer—are the director, the executive producer, the head gaffer etc. Your plans (whether these plans be detailed 50,000+ word outlines, or just vague mental scribblings) are your script. But your actual writing—the whole sitting-down-and-typing-like-a-crazy-person part, that’s the acting. We’ve all done it at least once—you have very specific plans for a character, a part in the script constructed just for them. And then you start writing and Billy/Katie/Gwen/Robin ends up completely different than they were supposed to. What am I trying to get at here? Your acting—your portrayal—of your characters is just as important as your scripting and your plans. Elizabeth Swann wouldn’t exist the way we know her without Keira Knightley.

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Your characters won’t come off the way they’re planned unless they are written correctly. (“Correctly” being a totally relative concept here. Write what you want! No pressure! *wink*)

Hopefully we’ve enlightened you in some miniscule but some terribly important way. Good luck with Camp NaNoWriMo, if you’ve been so inclined to torture yourself for a month. Go eat some chocolate for us, peasants.

Drink up me hearties, yo ho!

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks a lot! Now I’ve just watched the King Elizabeth speech on YouTube about a hundred times because of this post! Which was great, btw (the post, I mean)! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, perfect!! And thanks😊
      ~Hermione

      Liked by 1 person

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