How to Write a Strong Female Character
Recently, I received this LOVELY review from Dahlia Borroughs about Every Time He Dies. In the review, she made the comment that Daff was a great example of a strong female character: someone who was strong, but who could still experience heartbreak.
When I set out to write Daff, I wasn’t intentionally trying to write ‘a strong female character’, I was just trying to write a good story.
In order for the plot to work, I need to create conflict because … that’s the basis of any narrative …
One of the central characters is a ghost, so in order to create conflict, I designed a protagonist who was scientifically-minded, literal, and realistic.
The whole ‘strong female character’ concept has been a hot topic for a while and it’s great to see that creatives are intentionally writing female characters who are the leaders of their own story. It’s also great that creatives are questioning the behaviour of their leading ladies and evaluating why they (the character) are doing the things that they do.
However, there is a trend to create female characters who are basically … men.
What I mean is that some people have become confused about the definition of a strong female character.
When done wrong, a strong female character winds up being a meat-suit stuffed with masculine tropes and gender norms. She talks like a ‘man’, acts like a ‘man’. And to top it off (bizarrely), these female characters are then hyper-sexualised.
Think Lara Croft (I know … bit of a dusty example, but stay with me here). She has big boobs, tight clothes, and she shoots guns. (“But Tara! Lara has Daddy issues!” Yeah, yeah, I know. I saw the movie too).
In Every Time He Dies, Daff isn’t strong because she wears tight pants (she doesn’t) and fights bad guys (she does). She’s strong because she has agency.
Daff is in charge of her life. When problems arise, she finds ways to solve them. She chooses her actions and she takes action.
Also, Daff is also not an impenetrable force. In fact, she’s dealing with some pretty hefty emotional baggage. She doesn’t conceal this baggage either — it’s right there on her shoulder, you can see it! — but she knows how to keep it under wraps so that she can continue to function.
Every Time He Dies is Daff’s story. Naturally, it was important to me that she be seen as a subject, not an object.
Obviously, I can’t get into specifics because spoilers …
But the point I am trying to make is that it’s not the guns, marital arts skills, or heart of concrete that make a woman strong, it’s her agency.
If you want to write a strong female character, don’t try to write a strong female character.
Just write a person who happens to be female.
Allow them to take action and to make their own decisions. Also, allow them to have an interior life, because tough people are tough for a reason: they have the biggest wounds. And that is what makes them interesting.
Agency not only makes a story exciting; it’s how you get your readers to care about a character.
Cos let’s be honest, everyone likes proactive people.
They get things done.
Their take charge attitude tells us that they got this s**t handled, and that we’re in safe hands.
And that’s a pretty good feeling to have as a reader, at least until the protagonist shucks off their shoulder bag, undoes the zipper and reveals its insides. Then everything changes, and that is also exciting.
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