A damsel in distress simply doesn’t represent the female nature any longer. If you’re creating a female lead in your next novel, then you have a unique responsibility on your hands: to create a strong, memorable female character. So here are five traits every female character should have in order to be a true protagonist with purpose!
1. Your Girl Has Got to Have a Goal
Think for a moment about your female MC. Does she have a goal? If the goal(s) of your female character are uncertain or unclear, it can drown your character’s purpose and importance in your story. Her goal should ideally be unique to her circumstance. For instance, say your female character’s goal is to bring world peace. That’s all well and good, but it’s just not specific enough. It’s a broad statement, one anyone would agree with. Therefore that goal makes her purpose in the story less unique and less noteworthy. The less specific her goal, the more quickly your reader will forget about her. Give the reader an immediate reason to be invested in her ideals. Specify her desires. Her goal should be built specifically around the plot of your story. And, even more ideally, it should conflict with it. This conflict moulds your female character’s persona. Goal size can range from maintaining a relationship with a friend or family member to destroying rulers or government. Even if your female character is a villain, the idea is the same. Give her a goal just as personal, if not more so. Giving your female character a purpose-driven goal gives your readers a reason to respect her and be invested in her journey.
2. She Must Have Traits Unique to Her Circumstance
Don’t confuse a brash female lead with a strong female lead. Your female MC doesn’t have to be an axe-wielding man-eater, barren of emotion and ignorant of manners in order to be considered “strong”. That attitude can actually push her into the “mainstream” category fairly quickly as well.
So what makes your female character stand apart? What is the true meaning of a “strong female lead”? Simply put: her attitude, her decisions, her actions must be unique despite her circumstance(s). For instance, say your female character is a battered wife. She has every reason to be weak, fragile and scared. But, what makes her stand apart, what makes her truly strong in the eyes of your reader is her determination to remain brave, unbreakable, and unafraid of her spouse. These traits are unique to her circumstance, therefore making her a strong female character and an icon for female readers facing such fears. These traits do not come easily to anyone undergoing such trauma, and so keep in mind that these traits should not always come naturally to your character as well. It is the story of her struggle, her persistence in the face of evil, that will encourage your readers to both connect with your character and build respect for her.
3. She Must Face Formidable Challenges
The challenges your female character faces should be real. And I don’t mean your fighting elf-queen should suffer foreclosure on her tree house. No, I mean whatever it is you pit against your character, her challenge should scare her as much as it scares you. Do you deeply understand what it is your heroine truly fears? Is it the dragon itself that scares her? Or the deep-seeded memory of her mighty war-lord father being devoured by the same fire-breathing beast? Will she fail the way her unbreakable father did? Will she overcome the fear that she isn’t strong enough? Focus on that fear. Break it apart and force her to face it. Ask yourself not what is she afraid of, but why is she afraid.
The most common way writers get this area confused is in the romance department. Some writers feel that slapping a “love triangle” on their heroine is the most daunting challenge she could possibly face.
Love triangles can quickly turn trivial if not provided a solid foundation and a heck of a reason to motor on. This is one delicate area that can weaken your female lead’s image, if not properly balanced. If you’re not writing romance novels, then be sure to keep love triangles in proper perspective. Think about the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Katniss is defined as a strong female character, but not because of the love triangle. She chose to face a very massive challenge that oppressed not just herself but everyone she cared for. Are you not sure if your novel is striking the right balance when it comes to the love triangle issue? Then check out Love Triangles: Why You’re Doing it Wrong! at the end of this article.
4. She Must Have a Weakness
I know you might be thinking, “Weakness in a strong female character? Aren’t they supposed to be practically invincible?” Don’t be fooled! It’s vital that your heroine has a weakness or flaw. Your elf-queen’s challenge to face her fear and fight the dragon is perhaps driven by the fact that she has an unnatural fear of fire. Or perhaps she is a big coward! No matter what it is that you choose to give your character, realize that flaws/weaknesses make her a more relatable character. This turns your female lead from a character someone reads about, to a person someone connects with, all because of a flaw.
This makes me think about the character Liz on The Blacklist. Liz is capable, intelligent, and determined. Yet her flaw was letting her work get ahead of family. This flaw made her a relatable character to the audience watching. Just remember: weaknesses or flaws unite the reader-character relationship.
5. She Must Continue Growing
Your female lead must continue to grow mentally, emotionally, and even physically if need be. And that doesn’t always mean for the better.
Well dear reader, these were just five traits that make for a strong, memorable female character. What have you found cements a female character’s strength or presence? Please comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!