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Writing

How to Write Strong Female Characters

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 28, 2020 • 5 min read

Strong characters come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. Every creator has a different idea of how strength is expressed, but there are a few ways to ensure your audience understands the type of character you’ve created when your focus is on writing a strong female character.

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4 Characteristics of Strong Female Characters

Strong female characters can encompass many different types of women, with varying opinions on what is considered “strong.” In order to write strong female characters, old tropes and stereotypes (like the damsel in distress or the nagging wife) should be avoided, as they can be detrimental to how your female character is viewed as a whole. If you’re looking to write a strong female character, check out some common characteristics below:

  1. She has her own opinions. A strong female lead will listen to her own instincts and make her own decisions based on her own value system (even villains have their reasons for their choices). She’ll make mistakes, but she’ll always try to learn from them. A strong character isn’t immune to influence, but they have their own thoughts and feelings about their world and the things that happen within it.
  2. She is her own person. Strong female characters don’t all have to be single, independent women. They can be in relationships and care about their partners without being weak or codependent. However, a strong female character has her own identity and trajectory that she follows, as well as her own ambitions and goals outside of her relationship with another person.
  3. She has flaws. Strong female characters have struggles and flaws just like everyone else, but what makes them strong is how they deal with their shortcomings. Even the strongest characters have weaknesses, but that’s what humanizes them and makes them relatable to audiences.
  4. She’s tough in her own right. What makes a female “tough?” The term is subjective. Is toughness just a character’s ability to physically bring down foes? Or can it be her ability to think fast under pressure or negotiate with powerful figures? A stay-at-home mother can be just as tough as a soldier—a woman’s role does not necessarily dictate who she is as a person.

4 Examples of Strong Female Characters

Strong female characters are not flawless and unemotional—they’re complicated, just like everyone else. Authors, along with screenwriters for TV shows and film, have portrayed a great number of strong female protagonists in a variety of roles. Here are a few that are especially memorable:

  1. Buffy Summers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a powerful heroine with awesome fighting skills who can be both tough—even when chasing a love interest—and empathetic—even towards those who have wronged her. She is a three-dimensional character, and she always tries to do the right thing.
  2. Ellen Ripley: Sigourney Weaver plays alien-fighting heroine Ellen Ripley in the film Alien. Ellen Ripley is straightforward, physically strong, and a smart main character—but she also has strong maternal instincts that sometimes drive her decisions. All of those traits coexist with one another without lessening the strength of her character.
  3. Katniss Everdeen: In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Katniss is a young woman living in a dystopian world, who volunteers her own life in order to protect her younger sister. While sometimes impulsive and susceptible to the manipulations of others, Katniss grows throughout her story arc, becoming a skilled warrior who makes sacrifices to keep the ones she loves from harm. Although she has love interests, most of her decisions are based on survival and not romance—because as long as she’s alive, she can keep her family safe.
  4. Hermione Granger: In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger is a strong female character not just because of her talented wizarding abilities but because of her fearless opinions and her ability to use intelligence to solve problems. Her backstory only emphasizes her meteoric rise from muggle to heroic wizard, as she is able to surpass people’s expectations of her abilities and succeed.
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How to Write Strong Female Characters

Creating strong female characters is the same process as creating strong characters in general—they need backstory, motivation, and depth in order to cultivate a three-dimensional profile that makes them feel like believable, real people. Here are some ways to write strong female characters:

  • Give her complex emotions. Vulnerability and emotional depth are important characteristics for good characters of any gender. A strong woman shouldn’t be written as a one-dimensional trope—she can be a stoic warrior who cries when her best friend dies, or a sweet kindergarten teacher who boxes to deal with her rage. People are complicated and often unpredictable, so giving your female character the same complex range of emotions you yourself experience as a human being is a good way to start writing stronger characters.
  • Give her multiple kinds of strength. Physical strength isn’t everything—even the most hulking adversary can be taken down by smart, tactical fighting—and a female lead doesn’t have to be a bodybuilder or professional athlete in order to be strong. There are different types of strength that female characters exert. They can have confidence, wit, and mental fortitude. They can be brilliant scientists who stand up for themselves when no one else will listen. They can be stay-at-home mothers who won’t tolerate their spouse leaving a mess. Female characters have their own strong opinions and morality and aren’t just generalized for being women.
  • Give her female allies. Sometimes writers try to make a female character appear stronger by turning her into a “tomboy” who only has male friends. However, your female protagonist can just as easily draw strength from the women who surround her. Giving your female lead character female friends can help her feel more like a real-life person.
  • Give her more than her looks. Describe the way your female protagonist looks in a way that informs who she is. Does she have a defining physical feature that is integral to the storyline? Does her body language denote a particular personality trait? Brainstorm ways to avoid or subvert clichés (“she was pretty but didn’t know it”), which can weaken an audience’s first impression of your character.

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