On Strong Female Characters, Part 1

by - July 13, 2018

This post was inspired by part by Micaiah's series on the same thing, so if you haven't checked that out yet you definitely should. (And give her blog a follow, she's totally epic.) This is part one of what will most LIKELY be a two-part post, and the next will be up next week. Hope you enjoy!

Strong female characters. We all know 'em, and we all have sort of a love-hate relationship with them. On the one hand, it can be kind of fun to see a girl take on all the baddies and win. The Hunger Games isn't my personal favorite series, but I still enjoy Katniss's part in that. Another well-done strong female character that comes to mind is Parvin from the Out of Time series by Nadine Brandes. She's complicated and feminine, but still good at fighting and being tough, both of which are great skills to have.

However, sometimes I feel like when I read (or more often, watch) stories about "strong female leads" the girls are just blank pieces of paper with the word "kick-butt" inscribed on them.

A couple of examples of this:


Rey is an incredible lead for this fantastic movie!!!! Love her, and I am so glad Star Wars created another female character I can look up to, as opposed to the idiots we are subjected to in 99% of films. They set the bar with General Leia, and Rey does NOT disappoint!
via Pinterest
Don't get me wrong--I really like Rey. I really enjoyed the whole movie The Force Awakens, and I think it's a fun adventure romp. But this is a problem I've always seen in Star Wars: the female characters have very little personality outside of being "strong." Say what you want about the prequels--I find it very interesting that Padme is the most unique of any of the heroines in Star Wars, and yet she's the one who's always being beat up on for letting her emotions show and being a woman who dared to fall in love (albeit with the wrong guy).

Rey is good at everything. She can fly a ship even though she's never been on board it before, and other than a couple of bumps she's a better pilot than the great Han Solo. She can beat up a million thugs twice her size with a single stick. She's got more raw potential than a dozen eggs. She's beautiful. And none of this is a problem! But she also shows no emotion and nothing to make her unique from anyone else.

In the novelization AND the deleted scenes there's extra bits that make her far more human. A scene on the snow planet where she gets cold and Finn gives her his coat. A scene where Chewbacca has to save her instead of her doing the saving. A moment at Maz's castle where she stuffs her face with food and can barely talk because her manners are gone and she just. Wants. Food. because she's been starving for her whole life. We can only wish that these were moments in the actual movie.


via Goodreads
Honestly, I think this is a problem I've had with all the books I've read so far by Marie Lu (and I've read or started all of them besides The Young Elites...) the female lead is a sexy gorgeous prodigy (pun intended) who kicks butts and breaks hearts and gives no cares. They aren't memorable, but I'm calling her out anyway. This is kind of the archetype of this character. June, Emika, Madeliene...I might venture to say Emika (of Warcross) was the best of the three, but none of them had any personality in my opinion.

(catching a pattern here?)


via Goodreads
It's a bummer, because normally Marissa Meyer is amazing at writing girls who can not only kick butt but are bursting with personality, too. (Think Scarlet or Cinder.) But in this book, she...seems to lose that. Outside of her desire to avenge her parents and sister, there's very little driving Nova, and she's once again good at everything-- (except killing her mortal enemies, for some reason, even though she's spent the whole book trying to do so...but whatever).

Are you catching the pattern? Essentially, the problem that I think a lot of female leads have is that there's nothing that makes them unique. Which stinks! There's SO much that can be done with strong gals to make them more interesting. And on top of that, there's different kinds of STRENGTH, too.

I'm going to pick on my own story here, not because I think it's some great pinnacle of storytelling or anything like that, but because I have a character who I hope can stand as a reasonable example of what I'm wishing for.

via Pinterest, although you must remember that this is only an occasional look for her face. 
Kariana Winslet is my story's "strong female character". She's fast, apparently fearless, and a formidable warrior who can use multiple kinds of weapons. She's faced down some of my worst villains without breaking a sweat, and she's got the sass and confidence that any self-respecting gal needs.

But underneath, she's insecure. She's afraid of the dark. She carries horrible memories of both her childhood and teenage years, and doesn't trust anyone with those secrets. Her trust issues make things difficult for her, even around her very best friends, and there are times when she has to sit down and recite the names of everyone she truly loves in order to remind herself that she's not alone. She toys with people, and hides her real face from anyone's knowledge under layers of paint and dye. She has a true soft spot for the people she knows well (and no younger siblings...just puttin' that out there ;))

I know Kariana could very easily become a stereotypical character, and so I've worked very hard to ensure that she doesn't. It's not hard! Give your female characters:

  • Concrete desires
  • Real fears
  • More than one friend
  • Quirks
  • Something unique about her appearance
  • Basically the same sort of character development you'd do on any of your other characters
Some cool examples of really well-developed strong females you might find in published fiction: 
>Starflower/Imraldera from Tales of Goldstone Wood
>Brandi from Blades of Acktar
>Scarlet or Cinder from The Lunar Chronicles
>Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot's version)
>Emma from Fawkes
>Jude from The Cruel Prince

Next week we'll be looking more at unconventional kinds of strength that women in fiction can have, and how I've dealt with that both in books and in my own writing. I hope you liked this post, and that I've inspired you in your own writing (or reading ;)) Who's your favorite strong female character? Do they fit the stereotype? Chat with me in the comments!

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  1. This was awesome! Plus, your character sounds great and I NEED MORE INFO!!! XD XD

    Females characters can be strong, but they need to be weak, too. WE'RE HUMAN, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

    Anyway, love this post. <3

    1. Thanks! And awww, that makes me so happy. I love her very much <3

      I AGREE! Like, come on, guys. No one is invincible.

      Thank you again! <3

  2. Amazing post!! I totally agree with you--female characters need to have flaws, instead of being an Unbreakable Shell of Unstoppable-ness.

    1. Thanks! And yep, I love your way of putting it XD

  3. Agreed! Women were CREATED to be emotional (nice try feminists). "Let females be feminine"....what a novel concept....LOL.

    Awesome post, Faith!!


    1. I know, right? How rare is that???? *rolls eyes*

      Thanks, Catherine!

  4. I agree with you on all accounts except Rey. My smol cinnamon roll who deeply cares for people and believes in goodness above all else. My child who was so amazed by trees because she never knew there could be so much beauty on one planet. My precious cupcake who cried from pain/fear. <3 <3 <3

    No shade. If you feel like she was pretty flat, then you do you, boo!!! :)

    1. I definitely agree that she's cool, and the part with the trees was beautiful. I just wish there had been more scenes with her LIKE that one. And like I said, I love Rey! I just don't feel she has a ton of uniqueness to her. (But that's totally fine that you do! XD)

  5. I totally agree with you with Rey there. I liked her, up until I tried to describe why I liked her and I realized that she had the personality of a piece of toast. I know literally nothing about her.

    I feel like Elisabeth is a good strong female character, she isn't highly skilled and trained, but she won't let anyone push her around. She's got insecurities, but they're buried deep under her facade (and she accuses Cedric of wearing a facade XD). I'm going to look forward to digging those out in A Winter Dark and Deadly.

    Though I would say Adilah is probably my strongest female character. She's an assassin who's been on her own and largely not even spoken for the past couple years since she lost her best friend.

    Kariana sounds like an epic character and is most probably going to be my favorite in your story to be honest :)

    1. I had a very similar experience. It's like...Poe and Finn have so much personality, I just wish they'd done more to make Rey really stand out. :P

      I definitely agree with you--even from only having read WC, I think Elisabeth is awesome. ;)

      Ooh I love this and I must know more NOW. <3

      I love Kariana so much...and you're probably right xD

  6. Great post, your character sounds amazing!!!

  7. YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!! I'm sure you've heard me rant about this plenty of times, so I'll spare you from a monster comment, but just...YES. I feel so strongly about this. I am sick, SIIICK, of these "strong" females being cardboard people who can punch well. It's like people are so, so scared of giving girls emotions. Like that's offensive to say we females FEEL things and that makes us weak??? Ugh. It's offensive to ME saying we females are mean, emotionless, punching robots.

    I loved your example with Kariana. I already loved her via snippets and things, but your description made me love her even more. She definitely sounds like what a REAL strong female character should be. I totally agree Cress, Cinder, Imraldera, and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman are wonderful examples too!

    Thank you for sharing. Can't wait for part 2!

    1. YES TO ALL OF THIS. YES, YES, YES. I cannot punch anybody, and I'm an emotional mess most of the time--so why is that it's so offensive for women to be this way? I know more females than not who ARE emotional! We're complex and deep and we MATTER. Give us depth. *growls*

      Awww, thank you so much <3 I was kind of nervous to share about her, but I love her so I couldn't really help it *shrugs* *grins* And yes, those characters are some of my favorites. Especially Gal Gadot's WW--who says women can't be both emotionally beautiful AND able to punch people?!

      You're so welcome <3 I can't wait TO share part 2!

  8. June will always have a special place for me. I think out of all of Marie Lu's characters, I do like June does try to break out of the "strong" mold, and a lot of that does pop up when she does ponder about her brother and does think on his death in Prodigy and Champion, but that's just my two cents.

    Cinder is one of my favorite characters, though-- I've never met a character who had such a personality like mine verbatim, and for her to deal with what she dealt with but still continually being upbeat is just awe inspiring.

    xoxo Abigail Lennah | Story-Eyed

    1. I never got to those later books, because I wasn't invested enough in them...but I can definitely see that.

      She's so great. Personally I don't think she's anything like me (I'm the most like Cress, I think), but Cinder is so wonderful, and I 100% agree that her sense of humor and depth is incredible. (Also her sarcasm is brilliant XD)

  9. This post is so much yes! I like Rey... but there really isn't much about her?? Sad. :/
    Great examples! Your character sounds AMAZING.

    1. I agree. I like Rey, too, but I just wish that she had more TO her. :P


  10. I have nothing wrong with "Strong female characters", but like you I just wish that wasn't ALL there was too them. And yes, point out Cinder and Scarlet! They're both awesome, traditionally strong females. And Cress and Winter are great examples of more feminine girls! I haven't seen any of the Stars Wars movies, but I've heard a lot of conflicting views on Rey. the way you've described her makes her sound very dull though :P I look forward to next weeks post!

    1. Agreed. They could be so much more! And all the TLC girls are so varied and brilliant--I love all four of them in different ways. Rey is kind of a controversial character, although it does depend on who the viewer is, I think. :P Thanks!

  11. Amazing post! You just put all my thoughts on this topic out there. While I do like Rey, she . . . doesn’t have much personality (or at least the movies don’t exactly show it). And now I know why June rubbed me the wrong way! XD

    Kariana sounds awesome, Faith! You completely avoided the "strong female" cliché and made a character that I think everyone would want to know more about. Great job! Can’t wait for the follow-up post!

    1. That's why I said it would have been cool if they'd left in some of the scenes from the novelization where she DID have personality. Sigh. :P And haha, that's hilarious! XD

      Thank you so much! And I can't wait to write it. XD

  12. Personally, this has always been a pet peeve of mine, especially since when I started out writing, my MCs were always the typical "kick-butt" gals. They were always "better than the guys" and tried to act tough and never needed any help. :) And then I realized that's rather unrealistic...

    My current trilogy has a number of female characters (cause I have a boatload of characters...). The MC is certainly not a warrior. She has fear issues, she doesn't like camping, riding horses, or adventuring. She prefers to garden and relax. But she buckles a sword on her side and mounts a horse because she has a strong desire to help people, and save them. She fights because lives are in danger and no one else is going to save them. And I think that's realistic.

    Don't get me started on the Star Wars women...please...

    But every character needs weaknesses, fears, goals, quirks...it's called realistic character development. :)

    1. I agree. I used to write very similarly, except my women like that were all about fourteen years old (I wrote my first books when I was 10, and that seemed really old...don't judge me xD)

      That's AWESOME. Your trilogy sounds so good, Julian, and I can't wait to read it someday. <3

      Oh, I won't XD

      I agree. And why should the strong girls get any LESS?????? *growls*

  13. I totally agree!! There are so many epic fighter girls in movies/books, but that's just it. They're cool, 'strong' fighters. They don't really have personality, or depth. It's disappointing. :( But I like your examples! Cinder and Scarlet, and even Cress are all awesome characters. And Imraldera? SO COOL. :D

    1. It really is disappointing, because EVERY human has depth, even the shallow ones. :P I'm planning to spotlight Cress more in next week's post, but IMRALDERA. YES. <3

  14. I loved Macaiah's posts on this line, and so I am looking forward to hearing all your thoughts on it, too! I had never really thought of Rey being a "strong character", haha... but I see what you are saying. I have always chalked her being able to pilot so well on her having the force, like Anakin. I do admit I feel like she "perfects" her fighting skills and becomes comfortable using the force a little too quickly, and probably should have had a little bit more difficultly taking down the guys who wanted the droid, haha... but I also feel like she has actually quite a bit of character. But not as much as Finn. Finn is the best, hahaha. And BB-8. The thumbs up is adorable ;).
    Rejoicing in Hope,

    1. I could not agree more about Finn--he's awesome. <3 I think she definitely accomplishes everything too fast, which is one of the reasons I don't love her quite so much anymore xD BB-8 and Finn's dynamic is adorable, too. XD


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