Laura Howard: Writing a Strong Female Character


Writing a Strong Female Character

I've been lucky in the many friends I've gained in the past eight months. Sometimes I get asked how I get such amazing guest bloggers on Finding Bliss. I actually have to pinch myself once in a while to make sure I'm not dreaming when authors agree to come write for me. 

I was introduced to the author of Gifted, Liz Long, by my friend Allie B in May of this year. I was quick to fall head over heels for Liz's quirky humor and smart style. Welcome Liz!

When Laura asked me to write up a guest post for her awesome blog, she suggested I write about what makes for a strong female character in a story. Being the pro-feminism, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” advocate that I am, I jumped at the chance. Below you’ll find a combination of answers, both from myself as well as some readers who were helpful enough to give me their opinions when I posed the question on my blog. I’d like to thank everyone for their input and the consideration they put into their terrific answers!

Long past are the days where a female character is simply a love interest or distraction for the big, strong hero in a story. No more must we accept that every story must be about saving a damsel in distress. I love a story with any good plot and character development, but I’m especially interested if it’s a female protagonist. While readers want a strong main character, I love reading and writing about remarkable women who refuse to accept less than the best for themselves. As a young girl, I wanted (and needed) great female role models, women who could save the day despite their shortcomings, whether it’s physical weakness or a mental obstacle (their own self doubt, for example).

I know I already mentioned this on my blog post, but I stand by it. I think one of the reasons my main character from Gifted, Lucy, is strong is because even though she doubts her abilities (despite everyone around her being impressed), she still does what she can to push herself. She doesn’t want to grow lazy or lose her talent, so she keeps at it, knowing she can’t depend on anyone but herself to get better. It’s not necessarily about being better than other Firestarters or proving her worth to others – more like she wants to grow as a gifted being, to do her very best even if it doesn’t make her the best. Does that make sense?

Women who are smart and ambitious always grab my attention – perhaps since my goals are always to strive for the best I can be. Female characters who refuse to settle for less than their worth is important, too. They ignore the fact that they are (usually) the physically weaker gender, instead using their smarts to get around those obstacles. I love a woman who knows she can do the job as well as any man, who demands respect for her hard work, no matter what it may be. Men admire her in spite of her gender, rather than because of it.

Readers made me realize how important it is for a smart girl to acknowledge her flaws – but to accept them and figure out how to overcome them. It’s not that they don’t panic under pressure or doubt their abilities, but the proof that they can leap over those hurdles and still be brave enough to go after what they want (perhaps even despite the consequences). They can admit their mistakes and not just own up to them, but figure out a way to solve the problem or learn her lesson for next time. Even when she’s backed into a corner or facing a seemingly impossible choice (whether it’s a love triangle or saving her world), she still keeps her head on straight, considers all her options, then makes the best decision she can in moving forward. She embraces her fear, looks it right in the face, and laughs. Or at the very least rolls her eyes and kicks it to the side.

It’s also vital that women are not so gung-ho that they forget their softer side. Women are known for being empathetic, for compassion and emotion. This doesn’t mean they’re weak. It means they’re human and perhaps even better because of it. This hopefully means they’ll look at the bigger picture, think of others and who might get hurt in the process, and make decisions based on their concern for others. I might want to read about a main character who can kick ass while wearing high heels, but I still want to see her realistic tears over a bad break up or worry over a sick child. It helps ground your character into a believable person who I probably want to be friends with, too. It’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to be feminine without being dainty and breakable. A woman doesn’t always wear her steel-toed combat boots; she can laugh at herself, shake her head at awkward situations, and take a night off for drinks with her girlfriends or make dinner over candlelight for her boyfriend/husband.

Readers also told me they want to read about women who can face everyone as their equal, regardless of gender, race, or community standings. They value the truth and will speak it aloud in a way that isn’t hurtful. They value their friends, know the worth of a dependable cohort and look to help when they realize they alone can’t save the world. She has an acute sense of right and wrong, a spine of moral backbone that can’t be beat, as well as the belief that there is always something bigger than herself – even if she has to make a sacrifice, perhaps even her own life, she’s willing to do what needs to be done for the greater good. She constantly encourages others to be better, to do more and that hopefully means she’s a great role model for young readers everywhere – even someone boys can look up to and hope to emulate with smart words and strong actions.

What did I miss, readers? What do you look for in strong female characters? What do you love, dislike, appreciate, or aspire to in your female-lead stories?


  1. What a fantastic post! I found this so inspiring--not just for my characters but for me as a human being. I love women who truly stand up for others, who have the guts to take a stand even though it might be unpopular. And yes, I want to read about those kinds of women, too. Thanks for sharing : )

  2. Loved this post. I especially agree with the part about the flaws. Invincible characters are a crashing bore, no matter what their gender. I've read too many books where the character (male or female) is so "strong" that they don't even seem real -- they always do the right thing, never screw up, never get outmatched. How is that interesting? So after smarts and story agency, that's what I hope to find in female characters. We need more good ones.

  3. Great post! Great info! So true. I think as long as we make our characters as real as possible, with all their flaws, softer side, etc... Then people will love them. My biggest pet peeve is when the author tries to make them too "above" flaws, then they come off cocky, untouchable, and just downright spoiled or selfish. Not fun to read.

  4. Wonderful post! This is always one of the hardest parts of storytelling--creating a character who is both strong and believable. Thank you, Liz, for your words of wisdom! :)

  5. Thank you all for reading it! I really appreciate your feedback and am so glad if others can benefit from it. I know I will begin to consider all of these things more for my own current and future female characters for sure!

  6. I still see far too many book with a female protagonist AND:

    1. She has a male sidekick who is smarter than she is or comes to the rescue. I think I don't mind the rescue part that much, but it often comes with de-evolution of the female character into victimhood.

    2. No other female characters. A lot of writers -- even the women writers -- still default to having only one female character because that's what we see in films and in many books.

    3. There's automatically a romance, as if this is the only goal of women. I've seen this one wreck more good books because the romance takes over the story. As a reader, I should not be saying, "Prioritize, lady! Bad guys are after you! Worry about the romance later!" Plus, not everyone wants to read romance in every book they pick up.

    And putting one in for a friend who would very much like to see disabled characters. Doesn't need to be the focus on the story, but merely an influence of the story.

    Linda Adams - Soldier, Storyteller

  7. Thank you Liz Long and Laura Howard...great one.
    Reading comments above as well Linda Adams makes a point about the lone ranger hero- woman. Do we not include other women to avoid being too girly?

  8. Very nice overview of how to write strong female characters. Thanks for the reminders.


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