|Courtesy of Pixabay|
In my opinion, the best way to make a female character strong is to make her real. The housewife who cares for an adoring husband and five children can be just as strong as the female colonel in the Army who fought her way through the ranks. Our job as writers is to make them both real to our readers.
I love both Arwen and Eowyn in Lord of the Rings. Each is a princess of her people, and each woman shows strength in her own way. Arwen chooses mortality, going against her father’s fears, to stand by the man she loves. Eowyn literally does battle to save her people. They each make difficult choices for what they believe in – for Arwen, it’s love, for Eowyn, freedom. Thus, my first thought on creating strong female characters:
- Give her something to believe in. In my book, Raiders’ Rise, Zana believes in her family and in the necessity of saving them. She has a purpose. Give your female characters a goal and a mission (not always the same thing), and you will develop the first layer in a strong woman.
- Let her act like a woman. One of my biggest problems with female characters created as a nod to feminism is that they are often portrayed as overly gruff, stern, non-feminine versions of their male counterparts. One of the biggest strengths of women is their emotion. It’s also our greatest weakness, but that’s how most people’s traits go. Our emotional fabric is very different from that of men, and it gives us unique abilities. So it always feels wrong to me to see women like that. Are they out there? Yes. But it’s not the norm. Woman are emotional. That’s just how we were created. Elisa Lindheim is a beautiful cauldron of emotions, torn in several different directions. Her strength comes by channeling those feelings. And she’s feminine. She wears dresses and heels. She loves romance. At times, she’s incredibly sweet and soft. But you can’t doubt her strength. Celebrate your female character’s femininity, even if it’s only minimal. Don’t destroy it; used correctly, it will make her a better creation.
- Give her a rescuer, but let her come to the rescue as well. It’s bogus to say that a strong female character should always be able to rescue herself. Sometimes things just get out of control, and we’re faced with the fact that we can’t do everything on our own. That’s a real thing, and thus you should portray it. It’s not wrong for her to be protected by someone – it can be incredibly poignant. But that doesn’t mean she can’t do some rescuing, too, both of herself and of others. Zana performs both roles – rescued and rescuer. She’s not a visible tower of strength, and she doesn’t flaunt what she does. But she isn’t helpless either. Don’t make your females completely helpless; if you do, any illusion of strength will disappear.
There are lots of other things that could be said about character development in general, but those will have to wait for another time. Female characters are strong when you make them real. Strive to be genuine and the readers will believe you.
How do you make your female characters unique and strong?