Every book I’ve written has had a strong female lead, so it seems like high time I write a post about it! These are things I personally like to see in a female lead, so this is the list I pull from when I write. In my experience, these tips create characters that people really connect with.
So, here are fifteen tips for writing strong female characters! They’ll help you avoid stereotypes and cliches and create real people for your stories. It may not make sense for every character to have all of these traits, but it might help your character to work in as many of these as you can.
1) Write a strong person
Honestly, this is the most important point. If you only apply one tip, apply this one. The key to writing a quality strong female lead character is to create a quality human being, then layer her female identity on top of that. If you focus on creating a whole and well-rounded character who happens to be female, you’re going to be in good shape.
2) Make her smart
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so it may not make sense for your character to be smart in every aspect of her life or in a traditional academic sense. But it’s usually a good idea to give her one area that she really excels in. It’s very common to insult someone by calling them stupid, but I’ve met very few people who truly had nothing going on upstairs. Give your character an area where she gets to be the smart person in the room.
3) Make her mentally strong
As in, give her the ability to bounce back when life knocks them down. She may not bounce back right away, but most women I know are very hard to defeat. They don’t stay down for very long because most can’t afford to. This doesn’t mean your character shouldn’t have mental struggles, just do what you can to help them overcome or manage them.
4) Make her physically strong
Let her be the protector of the story. Let her be the one no one wants to fight. Again, this is an area that may not make sense for every female character. There are plenty of ways to be strong without physically kicking ass, but if it makes sense for your character, you should absolutely go there! Physical strength is always a plus.
5) Make her vulnerable
Alternatively, it’s okay for your character to be physically and/or mentally strong, but still express vulnerability from time to time. In the early days of the “strong female character” I think it became popular to create female characters that were unaffected by some events that happened to them and the things they did. But vulnerability is human, and there are few things stronger than expressing it.
6) Give her strong opinions
It’s always awesome when you have a woman who knows what she wants, what she thinks, and who isn’t afraid to say so. Throughout history, women have been told to keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves, so the more we can all work to counteract that, the better. Creating characters who are vocal about their opinions helps us all.
7) Give her strong beliefs
Similarly, establishing a female character who has her own belief and value system, and who isn’t afraid to share and defend it can give your readers a character to aspire to.
8) Give her struggles
Some people might think that “strong” means someone who handles everything easily, but that’s not true! Your character can (and should) have struggles. What will make her strong is overcoming those struggles and never giving up.
9) Give her support
Being “strong” also doesn’t mean having to handle everything on your own. Giving your character a support system will make her even stronger. It will give her people to open up to, and people who can push her and challenge her, which can only make her stronger.
10) Let her help and be helped
I once heard a writer say that he never has his female characters get rescued. They either save themselves, or if there’s no way around the rescue, they throw a punch on the way out. And while I can absolutely appreciate the sentiment behind this idea, I disagree with it in practice. I think everyone needs help sometimes. To me, the key is the help go both ways.
I say, it’s okay, and even good, for your strong female character to be rescued–even by a guy! Just be sure to give her the opportunity to rescue him down the line. This way, you avoid the helpless woman caricature, while creating a balance and an equilibrium. I think there’s strength in accepting help just as much as there is in giving it, and it’s important that your character be able to do both. (But everyone once in a while, let your strong ladies save themselves because that’s pretty badass too!)
11) Give her power (or make her take it)
Give your character a position of power, or put her in a position to take that power. Few things will make your character stronger than being in charge. This can mean your character is officially the head or point person of an organization, or it can mean she’s the person people look to by default.
It’s especially fierce if your character steps up and takes control. Maybe she’s the best person to be in charge but is being ignored. Or maybe no one is stepping up, so your character gets the job done. Making your character a leader is a sure sign of strength. If it doesn’t make sense for your character to be a permanent leader, it’s enough to give her a situation or two for her to take control of.
12) Make her decisive
Not every decision is an easy one, but the more your character can definitively make a decision, the stronger she will become. She may not make the right call all the time, but decisiveness is a sign of confidence. If your character lives her life from a place of confidence, she’ll be living her life from a place of strength.
Side note, confidence is not the same thing as arrogance, which can be more of a weakness.
13) Make her firm
Strong people respect themselves. They can’t be talked into doing anything they don’t want to. This is true when it comes to deciding what’s best for themselves and when it comes to deciding what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s fine to be open-minded, but don’t let your strong female be someone who can be talked into or out of anything. If that’s the case, then they aren’t thinking for themselves, which makes them a little weak.
14) Give her a history to overcome
Character histories are one of my favorite things to explore. Giving your character a tough history gives her an opportunity to highlight her strength. Weak characters let the things that happen to them bring the down. Strong characters find a why to succeed and overcome despite their history.
15) Make her care about more than a relationship
Lastly, give your character more to care about than her love life. I’m not saying she shouldn’t care at all–relationships are a part of life. But the ins and outs of their jobs, communities, families, passions, hobbies, the fate of the world, etc, should take up just as much as her time and attention, if not more. Strong, realistic characters are multidimensional and have more going on than a single romantic relationship.
I hope this helps you create some strong female characters!
Now it’s your turn: Who are some of your favorite female leads? What are your favorite qualities in a female lead? Tell me about it in the comments!
Pin it up!