On Writing Strong Female Characters (Make Them Human)

ETA: And then the Internet ate my post. Sorry guys, I’ll do my best to get it back.


This is a hard one for me. I identify as a strong female character in my own life, but I have no idea why. I recognize strong characters (and people) when I see them, but if pressed to tell you why, I got nothing.


Seth, I would say, is a strong character. Part of that might just be the weight of his history pressing down in my head. But if that’s the case, here’s the kicker- Naj should be too. They share a past, both have clearly defined personalities, but I’d hesitate to call Naj a strong character.


Also, side note: This is a lot like the “show, don’t tell” for me- one of those writing adages that I hear all the time but don’t quite get. The words “strong female character” almost mean nothing to me at this point. It gets tossed around too much. Do we mean a character that’s narratively strong, or simply has a strong personality? Do we mean “strong person” or “strong writing device”? Both are important, I think, but I’ve never been sure which the call for “strong female characters” references. Probably both. Maybe neither. Maybe I’ve missed the point entirely. Wouldn’t be the first time.


But I found a lot of clarity in the last sentence of this post: Write real characters. I think I can do that. 🙂

Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks

harkavagrant Couldn’t resist. Copyright Kate Beaton at Hark! A Vagrant.

I have a lot of thoughts about how to write strong female characters, but first I wanted to address the idea of “strong.” For female characters, strength tends to be equated with physical prowess. Think of “strong female characters”, and most people will immediately list the Buffys and the Xenas, because they are warrior women with superior fighting skills. But in creating strong female characters, it’s also important to look beyond the physical. The Sansa Starks of fiction are not any less strong than the Arya Starks just because they can’t pick up a sword and slay their enemies. There are the Felicity Smoaks of the world who find strength in their intelligence, and the Cersei Lannisters who use manipulation and cunning to drive their enemies to their knees.

To quote Neil Gaiman on this subject:

The glory of Buffy is…

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