As a writer, I find it just as easy to create convincing female characters as male, thanks to the advice of an editor a few years back. She gave me the very simple advice that I should stop trying to create some kind of fantasy figures in my fiction, and write women as they really are, for good or for bad, applying the same principles as when creating male characters. However, when we look at what sells and what gets made into films on the big screen, there still seems to be an emphasis on complex rather than strong women. Here, I present some of those female characters who have leaped off the page in all sorts of crazy ways and onto our cinema screens. There are others out there, or at least there ought to be, but these are some of the most famous examples of women from fiction in movies.
1. The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
This psychological thriller by British author Paula Hawkins captured the imagination of readers upon its release in early 2015, and has gone on to achieve even greater fame through a film adaptation that does not quite do justice to the dark complexities of the book. Somewhere between shades of Alfred Hitchcock and Gillian Flynn, the best parts of the story are viewed through the first-person perspective of Rachel, a thirty something alcoholic whose version of reality shines through a fog of near-constant inebriation.
2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Again, the narrator in Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel is one who leaves the reader constantly questioning whether or not her version of reality is accurate. Amy, a writer, has spent her whole life in a world of fiction and even the record of her marriage that she keeps in her diaries turns out to be fictive too. Things escalate though when Amy disappears without trace, and her husband is the one framed for her murder. Whether guilty or not, as the story ultimately reveals, this book proves one thing – slightly psychotic female characters sell books.
3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
In this Pulitzer Prize winning novel from the 1980s, Alice Walker presents characters that are complex in a whole different way. Set against themes of racism and sexism, this classic work of African American fiction tells the story of sisters Celie and Nettie on their struggles through life from childhood to adulthood. Beaten down on all sides, Celie’s story is one that mirrors the black American social and historical experience, as she grows from beaten wife to independent woman, surviving the obstacles placed in her way during that journey.
4. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Eugenides has created a range of powerful characters in his three novels to date, including Cal, the intersex protagonist of his best selling work Middlesex. However, it was through The Virgin Suicides that he made his literary debut in 1993, telling the story of the five Lisbon sisters, their family, and the community around them, including teenage boys in the neighbourhood from whose perspective the story is told. Though the subject matter is dark, this story comes across as a celebration of life, and the lives of these five mysterious girls who, one by one, turn out the lights on their own lives.
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novel series first introduced the world to the character of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, originally titled ‘Men Who Hate Women’, in its Swedish version before translation to English. Lisbeth Salander is a complex character, a computer hacker and social rebel who has spent her life being abused by the hostile sexism of men in power. Covered in tattoos and piercings, she has made herself an outcast both physically and mentally, but at the same time does remain an object of male desire. Despite this weakness in the argument that The Dragon Tattoo portrays women in an original way, Lisbeth Salander is certainly a complex, both disturbed and disturbing character who leaves a lasting impression long after the book is read, and even more so when the film is watched.
6. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
This classic novel by Thomas Harris was first written as a sequel to the 1981 novel Red Dragon. Though most famous for the character of Hannibal Lecter, in the film adaptation at least, FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling steals the show. Through her conversations with Lecter, the serial killer, Agent Starling reveals a series of details about her past and events that shaped the person she became. Within this, her psychology, rather than sexuality, is what defines her and this is probably why still today, she is recognised as one of the most distinctive heroines to ever make the leap from page to screen.