I wrote a guest post many moons ago, detailing the do's and don'ts of creating strong female characters. I wrote a companion piece to this post and published it on my own blog, linking over to the guest post on Rae Elliott's blog. Her blog has been redesigned since then (and it looks amazing...check it out), thus breaking the link. People were interested in reading the original guest post: The Do's and Don'ts of Strong Female Characters, so I'm posting it here. There is also a bonus point added in that wasn't in the original. You're welcome.
They are also very, very stereotyped.
Now I get it: writing believable, enjoyable, and realistic characters can be hard. Like, climbing Mount Doom hard. So it’s no wonder that a lot of writers get the ‘strong female character’ wrong.
As somebody who reads an insane amount of books and writes almost as many stories, I’ve seen a lot of interesting female characters. Some very well done and some not-so-well-done. The not-so-well-done characters are often a result of misconceived notions regarding what “strength” looks like in a girl. So if you’re looking to write yourself an awesome female character, here are a couple pointers you should keep in mind:
Don’t feel the need to make her masculine. Do allow her to be feminine. She is a female character. Giving a girl strength isn’t synonymous with putting her in a pair of pants, giving her a handgun, and letting her beat up a couple of dudes. What’s up with that? I mean, if you want a character that acts like a guy, then create a guy. Trying to make a female character appear male is not okay. It’s sends the message that being a girl isn’t good enough. That a female can only be "strong" if she acts like a dude. Besides, what’s wrong with a girl character that likes to wear skirts or is a fan of the color pink? A woman who can run in heels without ruining her makeup or breaking a leg is a woman to be feared and respected. And a girl who can push through a tough situation while still remaining a compassionate and understanding character is a character to look up to. There are many different kinds of strengths. Don’t mistake masculinity for the only kind out there.
Don’t make her out to be a jerk. Do give her a friend. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that many “strong” female characters are often distant and not super nice. You don’t have to make your character mean in order to make her appear strong. That’s not strength, that’s bullying. Never a good move. Unless you want people to dislike your character, you need to give her a nice side. Also, you don’t need to make her friendless in an attempt to show her independence. Everyone needs a friend, everyone needs someone to talk to. Girl characters are no exception to this rule.
Don't sexualize her. Do think of her as a human being. I see this all of the time. The female character who is a massive flirt and dresses in skimpy clothing because she is Strong and In Charge and is Not Ashamed of Her Body. She is lusted after by all male characters, but she puts them in their place with a quippy line and sassy hair flip.
This trope has a ton of things wrong with it, but I'll just focus on this one: Strength has nothing to do with the amount of skin a person shows. Confidence has nothing to do with sexual activity. Stop linking these things together. It makes no sense. Instead, write your character as a human with a personality and morals and real strengths. It's not a difficult concept.
Don’t surround her with weak male characters to make her look strong. Do surround her with other strong personalities. This is an extremely common mistake. I feel like writers sit down to outline characters like this: “Two strong female characters co-existing? Yep, that’s good. Two strong male characters who are buddies? Great. A strong male and female character? In the same book? And they actually get along? Whoa, hold on, I can’t do that!” Uh. Yeah, you actually can, and it tends to help create rounded, interesting characters. You do not have to tear down males to make females look strong and it is possible to have two dominant personalities in the same book. You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.
Don’t make her flawless. Do give her a weakness. Nobody likes a perfect character. I don’t know about you, but every time I read a flawless character, I respond in one of two ways: 1) Okay, that’s boring. 2) Wow, now I feel like a really horrible person. Giving your character a weakness makes her human, relatable, and it also gives her something to fight against. And no, not being able to pick between two guys does not count as a weakness. Ever. Just…just no.
There are lots of other do’s and don’ts out there when it comes to writing female characters, but those are the most common slip ups. Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below!
What about you? Have you ever struggled with any of these? We’d love to hear about how you deal with writing female characters in your writing!
Related articles:Writing Strong Female Characters: What You're Doing Wrong
Writing Awesome Male Characters: What You're Doing Wrong