What does it mean to be a strong (Holistic) female character?

Strong female characters are all the rage these days. But as we Dramatica lovers know, most female characters in big movies are Linear problem solvers, what Dramatica refers to as Male mental sex. And so most strong female characters end up being strong in the same way a male/linear character would be strong. Or in some cases, we’re told that female characters are strong by the creators only to find out that those creators think being strong means the character can just blow through any challenge as if there were no challenge at all (Rey from Star Wars, any one?). So what I’d like to know is what would a strong female/holistic character look like to you? I’m super interested in hearing from women and primarily holistic problem solvers, but I also want to know what other linear problem solvers might say in response to this. So don’t shy away from answering just because you may be more of a linear problem solver.

I Remember Mama in film. (could be managing a corporation or country not just family)
Jane Eyre in print. (about a child from an abused childhood succeeding in life)

Doing a quick search I see that Sidney Prescott in Scream is listed as Holistic. It’s been a very long time since I saw that. That’s a film that might be interesting to re-watch.

Don’t forget male holistic thinkers too. Ones that jump out at me include Neo from The Matrix (?) Philip Jennings from the first episode of The Americans, Jeffries from Rear Window, Lawrence of Arabia and the main character of Platoon.

At some point it would be cool to do a movie marathon of a bunch of these disparate movies and just focus on the problem solving style.


Right. You could just switch genders. That is what they did with Alien, if I remember an interviewer with the writer/producer correctly. They had written the story, then just switched a woman actor for a man.


" ‘Strong’ female" has so much current cultural baggage and what was yesterday’s herald is tomorrow’s arm-chair critical fodder. What people even mean by the term is rarely elucidated because such talk usually becomes political. So everyone’s kind of just skirting around it and hoping the term will just carry its own weight - no explanation necessary (they hope).

I think it’s more productive to focus on “interesting” characters, and Dramatica has the tools for that. I’ve found that just about any complex OS character (i.e. a character with a set of traits that don’t match the archetypes) makes for interesting dynamics. “In this context, Kim is like this, but wow, in that other context, she’s very different.”

Also @jhull had an interesting article (that I cannot seem to find) about how we’re all a mix of different problem-solving styles based on the Types under Mind (Preconscious-Memory-Subconscious-Conscious). If you’re male, you’re born Linear, but based on your upbringing, experiences, and desires you may be Holistic in certain contexts. It was fascinating.

Where this applies in Dramatica is that your MC and IC pull double weight in the OS, where they have bird’s-eye functions like everyone else. So your MC might tackle personal issues in a balanced Holistic manner, but in the OS, they might be rather straightforward in their role. Depending on the perspective, how people behave looks different.


chants: “Dorothea Brooke! Dorothea Brooke!”


You can also check out this topic where @Audz goes into detail what holistic thinking is like.


Yeah “strong female character” makes my eyes roll since it sounds like an unrelatable character who has to be perfect at everything and perform unrealistic feats of strength (and beat all the boys) without help, doubts, or fear-- kind of an action Mary Sue. Characters need weaknesses (or at least conflicts since traits that cause problems in one context may be assets in another) to work past or in spite of. I like characters with issues I can relate to like self-doubt or fear of failure. Who hasn’t struggled at one time or another with the pressure to appear strong and certain when quaking like Jell-O inside?

If stuck on what to do (I’ve gotten tired of trying to understand Linear vs Holistic since if I think of how I solve problems, I guess it depends on the situation), a writer could choose the Signposts that work best for the purpose at hand, be it making a certain point or practicing writing something challenging, and have Dramatica pick the PS.


Before I get started, I want to say that the following post will be the only one where I address the politics of this phrase. Read it or skip over it. The next post will have no politics in it and will look only at strength in regards to linear and holistic characters.

I totally agree with this assessment. But it doesn’t do an audience any good for creators to throw around terms like “strong female character” when what they mean is “character that subscribes to the writer/directors major popular political ideologies and condescends and belittles the characters who don’t”. I hate to keep harping on it (no I don’t, I absolutely hate this movie) but look at Holdo in TLJ. She’s clearly a stand in for Rian Johnson’s politics and maybe even Kathleen Kennedy’s. And she doesn’t come across as strong to me, just a bully.


So let’s leave the word “female” out of it and just talk about strong characters.

There’s external and internal strength. I think pretty much everyone has an idea of what those mean and what the difference is. But would they be seen the same way in both a linear and a holistic character? Or should characters that approach problems in different ways also exhibit strength in different ways?

For instance, one difference between linear and holistic problem solving is having goals versus having direction. Does struggling to reach a goal despite overwhelming opposition look significantly different from struggling to maintain a direction despite overwhelming opposition?


Yes, I think the strongest characters wouldn’t be seen as the ones that can go in and wipe out a room full of bad guys without breaking a sweat, but ones that stand up to that room full of bad guys despite the unfavorable and overwhelming odds. Maybe both characters are strong in a sense, but I think ‘strong character’ typically refers to the latter and not the former.


I can so relate to the factors involved in determining going out to eat, but find it hard to understand having direction instead of goals. Isn’t something like continuing to maintain family harmony or a happy life a goal even though it’s ongoing and different than something like obtaining a trophy?


You’re going to make me have to look up articles on the Storymind website again. Haha.

Off the top of my head, id say maintaining family harmony might be a direction rather than a goal in that a. There’s no end point in mind, one would probably hope harmony went on even after the character dies, and b. There’s no specific state of harmony mentioned. For instance, the character could say “we fight now, but it’s always about little things whereas before we had bigger fights about bigger issues. So we are more harmonious now than we were. And if we keep going in this direction, we’ll eventually be even more harmonious which will be even better”.


This is my answer in a nutshell. I don’t think it makes any difference what the problem-solving style is. This is just another interpretation, but I always read ‘strong female character’ not in the literal sense of strength (as in ‘powerful’), but in the more abstract sense (as in ‘well-crafted’).

Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby is quite ‘weak’ (if we’re to use that word) and timid in the way she behaves throughout that particular story, but an incredibly compelling character. Kate in 45 Years is, in my opinion, an especially ‘strong’ character in the way she behaves in a truly devastating situation, and an equally compelling character. They’re night and day, but both holistic be-ers.

So I don’t necessarily think it is a holistic/linear thing. To me, the call for ‘strong female characters’ has been more about the female characters being as well-written or compelling as the males, rather than being superhero-style go-getters.


So this isn’t looking at the character of the character so much as how well the character is handled within the story. I really like that way of looking at it, but that is not typically how I’ve thought of strong. Physical strength might be interesting in a “killed a lion with his bear hands” or a “battled his way across the frontline” kind of way. But I usually think of strong interesting characters as mentally strong. Like in a keeps getting up no matter how many times they’re knocked down kind of way, or a does the right thing even when it’s difficult kind of way. You know, something inspirational, I guess.

The reason I bring up problem solving style at all is of course in how Dramatica links problem solving style to mental sex. If we’re just talking about male and female, then I think a strong character just is a strong character. Same for one as the other. But if we’re talking about two different mental sexes, what Mental Relativity would call two different Brain Operating Systems (SBOS or TBOS) that are so different that they wouldn’t even be able to communicate without there being some overlap in problem solving style, then I’m inclined to think that what one sees as strength would be very different from what the other sees. Now that may not be the question I asked at first, but I think that’s getting closer to what I wanted to discuss. I suppose the more Dramatica-lly appropriate, less politically charged or controversial way to state it would be, what does strength in a character look like as a state? And as a process?

I’m thinking strength as a state would maybe look more like capabilities. Something like being able to lift a car, or travel a certain distance in less than 12 parsecs or something. But strength as a process? I think I have a feel of what it would be, but not sure I could describe it. It would be something like…like maybe being in an unpleasant situation and even though one lacks the state of strength (whether mental or physical) to overcome it right now, one has the strength to continue forward in the process. Like June/Offred in Handmaids tale. The state of her strength may not be much at any given moment, but she carries forward in the processes in a way I personally could not.

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I’ve said in other threads that I’m not especially academic so I will absolutely trust you to be right on the SBOS/TBOS thing (otherwise I’ll go all :sweat:).

But, again, I’m not totally sold on that theory. The PS-Style is about how they solve problems, rather than how they view things. How they themselves would see strength is all based on perspective, which is throughline stuff.

But isn’t all of that storytelling? I’m not sure I fully understand where you’re coming from there, re: state/process. The examples (lifting car/continuing in an unpleasant situation despite lacking the strength to overcome it) feel more like do-er/be-er than linear or holistic.

Also, is it possible that the strength you’re thinking of would be better defined as active and passive, rather than state and process? Collateral and Finding Nemo have the exact same storyform, for example, but Max in Collateral is a much more passive, and mentally/emotionally weaker, character than Marlin in Finding Nemo. Marlin at least makes an effort to solve his problem, whereas Max just doesn’t fight for a good portion of the story.

Storymind.com/mental_relativity/ for more about that.
Particularly, try Storymind.com/mental_relativity/brain_2.htm where we find this

Note that SBOS and TBOS do not mean Left and Right Brain. The SBOS individual will process Observations first in terms of a spatial appreciation, followed by a temporal appreciation. The TBOS individual will process Observations first in terms of Temporal, then in terms of Spatial. Both minds use both appreciations. But each uses a different one first (from a temporal appreciation) or a different one more efficiently (from a spatial appreciation). This creates an overall difference in perception of observation between the two minds.

I may be doing it wrong, but I’m essentially reading that as Linear problem solvers run observations first through Space and then Time and Holistic problem solvers run observations through first Time and then Space.

So where I’m coming from is that when one looks for what makes one strong, one will view that through either a Space-Time filter or a Time-Space filter causing what is observed to appear to be either spatial or temporal.

Perhaps I’m doing a bit of this as well.

What I’m really getting from this, though, is that ‘strong character’ sounds nice, but doesn’t really mean the same thing to different people.

I’m not super happy with the way I tried to halfheartedly respond last time, so I’m giving it another go.

Basically, you’re right that problem solving style is about how characters approach problems. But my understanding is that the way one approaches a problem is all about how they view the processes. If one looks at a problem and sees it as the state of things, they will approach the problem linearly. If they look at a problem and see it as process or a relationship, they will approach it holistically.

So Mental Relativity, what Dramatica is based on, says the Mind is a machine made of processes. Everyone’s pretty familiar with it, but the four external processes MR says we see are M, E, S, T. The four internal are K, T, A, D.

Dramatica says that these processes are used as the source of conflict in a story. But MR just says that these processes are more or less how we perceive the world.

One of the examples given in one of the articles on Storymind shows how we can see a process as a state. It talks about the red spot on Jupiter being a storm, which is a process of the weather, and how we treat it like a feature. So again, I think you’re probably right that how one views strength is a matter of perspective, but that perspective boils down to whether one sees strength as a process or as a state.


I tried to let this sink in a little and I can sort of see where you’re coming from, even if I can’t fully understand it (but, again, I always struggle with fully grasping the KTAD/MEST/temporal/spatial/science-y stuff so that’s more on me than anything else).

This might just be one of those areas of theory that I find interesting, but too technical for me to use in any creative way at the minute. But I know that you’re super smart and I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes, for sure.


thanks, but…i don’t know that I know that.

There’s a good chance I’m trying to be too creative or am trying to take an idea into territory it’s not meant to go. I do that sometimes.

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