I love reading, but I’m very particular about books. There are a lot of things that can make me dislike a book, but the number one complaint I have is when the female characters feel poorly written or lack agency. Because I want to enjoy more of what I read, I’m sharing my thoughts on how to write strong female characters.
Women, as you may have noticed, are complicated creatures. But so are men and non-binary persons. We’ve all got a whole bundle of thoughts, emotions, and motivations in our heads. Fictional characters should hopefully feel just as nuanced as the real women you meet in your life.
Here’s a few tips on how to make strong, believable women live on your page.
Remember that there are different kinds of strength
A woman doesn’t have to be physically strong to join the ranks of strong female characters. She can have powerful magic, or be especially clever, or have strong convictions. For that matter, she can even be weak, but her strength lies instead in how realistically she is depicted.
Remember that there are also different kinds of women
Strong female characters don’t have to be assigned female at birth. They don’t have to be white. They don’t have to be able-bodied or neurotypical. They don’t have to be looking for Prince Charming. They can be lesbian, pansexual, asexual, or anywhere in between. They may be children. They may be crones. They may be mothers, childfree by choice, infertile, waiting to have children. There are so many different ways to be a woman.
Strong women build up other women
It’s best to avoid the trope of “not like other girls”. Other girls are awesome. You can emphasize that your character is an outsider without completely separating her from all other women or girls. There’s no reason why she can’t be one of a circle of weird misfit friends.
Femininity isn’t bad
Sometimes, authors fall into the trap of believing that for a woman to be strong, she can’t also be feminine. That’s ridiculous. You can be dedicated to fighting the forces of darkness but also like wearing a dress when you’re not on the battlefield. Of course there’s nothing wrong with not liking traditional feminine things, but there’s room out there for strong femme characters alongside the tomboy warrior women.
Seriously though, female characters need female friends
I recently got annoyed when reading a book that had an interesting female protagonist absolutely surrounded by men. She had a couple of female friends but they were always off-page, taking care of things for her while she ran around with the guys. They felt less like characters and more like props.
Women can be ambitious, too
Perhaps nothing is more frustrating than strong female characters who willingly give up their strength. After they’ve saved the day, they give it all up for a man and a family. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a wife and a mother, but that doesn’t have to be the extent of your life. You can have it all. Let your husband stay home with the kids while you go off on adventures. He knew what he was getting when he married you.
It’s 2018, strong women don’t slut-shame each other
Your character can be strictly monogamous and saving herself for The One without harshly judging other women who have different approaches to their sexuality. Your character can also dislike other women without using sexual and gender-based slurs. It’s not appealing to me to watch a female character make judgments based on another character’s clothing and makeup choices — especially when I’ve got the same makeup as the girls she’s judging.
What characteristics do you consider important for strong female characters? What are some of your favorite literary examples of great women? Let us know in the comments!