Why Writing A Strong Female Character Is So Important

Zarah Hitchcock

by John Morgan Risner

Many writing books tell you to write in a genre you enjoy and read novels in the genre you wish to write in. Sounds wonderful, you read books you enjoy anyway. That is the fun part of the writing process. You immerse yourself in a genre you like and can call it research. We are reading not only for pleasure, but to learn how other authors approach the craft of writing in a given genre.

What are common threads different authors touch upon? How does the writer present description or dialogue or character development? Discovering how to tweak worn out tropes of the genre to bring a sense of newness to the story is part of the craft.

One trope of many genres is the female lead character saved by the dashing male character of the story. I want my female characters to save themselves. Main characters need to have positive qualities such as intelligence and bravery. The lead character is the person who most of the time solves the main problem and saves the day.

I have noticed a strange phenomenon reading stories with female main characters. The female lead character is not the hero of their own story. Many times in moments of crisis, some man steps in and saves the young woman or decides for them what they should do. Why does some man need to ride in on his white steed and slay the dragon? The shocking thing about these types of stories is that most of the time they are by female writers.

Shadow and Bone

An example of this is Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy series Shadow and Bone which is now a Netflix series. In the story the central character of Alina, who is foretold to be the most powerful magic user in the land. Alina is timid, weak and kind of dumb. When Alina is in a dangerous situation she doesn’t act for herself, but depends on someone else to rescue her.

Not every novel I read or television show I see portrays a weak female character. Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation series presents two strong female lead characters. Jane McKeene and Katherine Deveraux are fighting for their lives in a post-Civil War United States overrun by zombies and racial prejudice.

Dread Nation

The new movie Ghostbusters: Afterlife, has brave 12-year-old Phoebe who saves everyone. In these stories the female characters save the day using brains, strength and courage.

In the new horror novel A Princess in Crimson, Zarah Hitchcock searches to find the monsters that killed her mother. Zarah is headstrong and makes mistakes, but is intelligent and brave. Zarah does not depend on someone else to save her. Not relying on others can be a strength and a weakness that can be explored in the story.

Will there be a romance for Zarah? Yes, but personal relationships are part of the story, not the primary story. Zarah will succeed or fail, live or die by her own strengths and weaknesses. Not if the cute guy from school can arrive to defeat the villains.

How do you create strong female characters?

How do you create strong female characters? In the hit comedy film “As Good As It Gets” romance novelist Melvin Udall [Jack Nicholson] is asked by an adoring fan how he writes women so well. He replies “I think of a man and take away reason and accountability.” leaving the fan crushed. That is not how we want to approach female characters.

Create female lead characters with hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses just as you would a male lead character. Expectations of gender can be met or thrown out depending on your story goals.  Go beyond what the reader is expecting. The lead character has fears? Fantastic, face those fears and grow as a character. What weakness can be explored to reveal character?  When I say weakness, it can mean a physical weakness or a character flaw or guilty of something from the past. A weakness can be anything that that lessens the character’s ability to accomplish the story goal.

Strong female characters are well- rounded with the same hopes and desires that you would expect from male characters, but seen from the female point of view. It is okay if your character fails sometimes, everyone does, but do not make the failure based on gender stereotypes. Make them good at something and have a personal code that the reader can understand.

A writer must create compelling characters that connect with the audience. In the novel A Princess in Crimson, Zarah Hitchcock unravels the mystery of her mother’s death. On this dangerous journey Zarah discovers the person she is and what she will become.

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