Writing Tip: How to write a strong-female protagonist.
First, I am not advocating that there is a single, right way to write a strong-female lead; however, I have noticed a rather disturbing trend in the practice, and that’s to make the female strong by inhabiting male characteristics, as deemed by society: i.e. to be physically strong, good with weapons, and to be a good leader (otherwise known as bossy), and the list continues.
However, you might imagine a male as strong, yes, a female can be strong in these ways as well. But why can’t a female character be strong and still be feminine—a woman who uses her emotions to carry her through a taxing adventure, who has mercy, who is smart and resourceful, who can nurture at the same time she kicks ass. Why not? Why do these gender roles have to be mutually exclusive?
Granted, we are starting to see these types of characters. The ever-popular Katniss from The Hunger Games series embodies a nice mixture of so-called male and female traits. She’s motherly. Her strong moments come when she is a woman, emotional, compassionate, bossy, resourceful. They even highlight these in the last installment when a group of leaders try to decide how to transform her into the mocking jay for the rebellion.
She even lacks a certain silliness that many female characters have (especially when a love-triangle is present, although some of my friends disagree with my interpretation). She doesn’t seem focused on her love life, rather she seems at a loss of why who she chooses matters when the world has larger problems.
For heaven’s sake, why can’t we all just get along! I imagine her screaming as the boys compete for and try to woo her. She seems disinterested in being some boy’s prize, rather using her public romance with Peeta as a political move. (This one is strangely genderless).
Okay, I like examples, let me give some of my own.
In my first series, based on a renegade vampire’s introduction to the paranormal world, my main character is a brat. She’s strong-headed, strong-willed, and she can fight (having a background in kick-boxing/martial arts). She can take care of herself and has for years, with the help of her bestie. She’s also emotional, breaking down several times as the monstrosity of her new world rains down on her. She feels compassion for the people she kills, worries over the others she leaves alive, and cares for a child meant to be her dinner. Is all of this strictly male or female? No. Ria’s complex, like a character should be, because people are complex.
In another novel, my female character is strong in other ways. Although she goes through some physical trials, like being water boarded, she isn’t physically strong. She’s got the mental fortitude of a warrior, however. She’s brave, she stands up for what’s right, she uses what she knows to survive. She’s allowed to be both smart and beautiful, allowed to cry and joke, allowed to be stern and unsure of herself. Kaia is allowed to be a contradiction.
Again, we’re all complex. We’re all contradictions of ourselves given the different situations we’re challenged with.
So, what I’m saying is that not all strong women need to be warriors, like that blonde Amazon in Game of Thrones, Gwendoline; they don’t all need to be wicked like Maleficent or out for revenge like Arya Stark. They don’t all need to be Katniss.
We need variation because we all have the propensity to be strong in our own ways if we have strength in our character and our beliefs (even if that makes us the bad guy). And we need to showcase these differences for the same reasons we need different personalities for different story plots.
Oh, and the same goes for men. But that’s a different post.
Want to meet my strong-female protagonists? Click here.