Everyone wants their MC to be one, but the phrase ‘strong female character’ means something different to everyone and heck if I know the proper definition. My idea of it is simply a well-developed character that is female and not inherently misogynistic. Well, I say ‘simply’ but somehow this is something even female writers struggle with. I’m guessing because creating characters as real as people is incredibly difficult no matter their gender and even when you try, it can be hard to avoid internalised misogyny.
I don’t know the perfect answer, nor does anyone. What I have done is put together an Instagram writing challenge to help people develop strong female characters in the hope it’ll aid both myself and others become better writers. It doesn’t have to be completed as an Instagram challenge though, as it is merely a list of things to think about when created your female characters. Here’s a selection of the most important points to think about to help you create that inspiring, strong, feminist character you’re capable of bringing to the world.
- Her goal, motivation and plan. Be clear on what she wants, why she wants it and what she will do to get it. She doesn’t need to know all those things herself at first, although she will likely discover them throughout the story. Having these points clear to you will help ensure that she is driving the story forward, rather than being tossed around by the vague currents of ‘plot.’ Also, these should be for her own sake, not because of some man. Personally, I’ve had enough of heroines whose stories boil down to ‘daddy issues’ or instalove for a random boy. I’m far more interested in what she really wants herself.
- The women around her. Your MC will have likely have family, friends, idols, love interests, enemies, mentors and many other people in her life. How many of these supporting characters in your WIP are female? What impact do they have on the MC? What sort of relationship does she have with them? These are all useful questions to consider. Strong women have women in their lives.
- Her attitudes to women. If the phrase “I’m not like other girls,” is something your MC is likely to say, she’s not a strong woman. Strong women don’t need to put other women down to make themselves look good. Your MC is going to like and dislike different women as she would like and dislike different men, but unless this is specifically shown as a negative trait of hers she shouldn’t have a negative attitude towards women in general. Warning signs include “I’m not like other girls,” and disparaging traditionally feminine activities such as wearing makeup, dresses or cooking. Instead, as long as it’s in character, show her supporting other women even if their choices and tastes are different to her own. Don’t be afraid to give her ‘girlish’ hobbies or to be mild-mannered or maternal. It doesn’t stop her being strong.
- Her place in the plot. If she were to disappear partway through, would it change the outcome? Think about every decision she makes, then imagine what would happen if she chose the other option. If your plot is now in chaos, that’s probably a sign she’s a crucial driving force. If everything still goes the same, she’s not performing her role as protagonist.
- Her message. What message would a girl reading your WIP take away? Would it inspire and empower her? Or perpetuate harmful myths about a woman’s role? Think carefully about the impact your words can have because they are the most powerful tools in existence. Your words can shape a mind.
- Her journey. How does she change? Is there a discernable difference between her in the first chapter and the last? Does she grow, or remain static? This is a staple of any advice about character development but it’s easy to overlook. Characters need to grow for us to feel anything has been accomplished in the story. This doesn’t have to be a growth in a positive direction, just a change that shows what effect the events have had. Write down three words to describe her at the start and three words for her at the end. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
- Swap around. My final piece of advice is not directly about the main character, although it could also apply. Take a male character from your story. Why is he a man? Is there a particular reason you made a man fulfil this character’s purpose? What difference would it make if this character was female? Obviously, there should be males in stories because there are men in real life, just as there should be LGBTQA and PoC characters because there are in real life, but I find questioning why certain choices have been made useful in creating a richer story. Straight, white and male is not the default in life and shouldn’t be in fiction so don’t limit yourself by treating it as such.
These are just a couple of my tips to consider when you’re creating your character and I hope they can help you create a stronger story. I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve missed so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!
You can find more about developing strong female characters by checking the #wipgalentines tag on Instagram where a bunch of great authors are sharing their tips, progress and characters.
PS: the post image is because I should not be allowed near Canva and I amuse myself greatly.