There seem to be a lot of posts about strong female protagonists on writing blogs, which made me think about how I would define these characters.
There is a tendency to confuse strength with acting like a man. I don’t want to read about women who act like men, or men who act like women. I think a character’s strength can be measured by his or her ability to get my attention. I need to empathise with, and care for, that character. He or she needs to show resilience and purpose. This strength of character intrigues me and it allows the protagonist to drive the story to its conclusion with me as a willing participant.
I believe we need to start writing characters as human beings who happen to be male or female. With this is mind, I came up with six defining traits for strong female characters in fiction.
The Six Defining Characteristics of Strong Female Protagonists
- She has a story goal that defines the narrative arc. She has to get possession of something, or relief from something. There have to be important consequences if she does not achieve her story goal.
- She is flawed. She is not perfect, and her flaws could change the course of the story. She has to make choices, and she has to deal with the consequences of her choices. There is nothing more frustrating than reading a story where the protagonist fails to make choices. Even if this is how we behave in real life, we want our fictional heroes to be a better version of ourselves. We want them to take action. We want to them to go after what they want. Reactive characters are annoying and we perceive them as weak.
- She captures our attention. She has that special ‘something’ that captivates us as readers. A strong character has a personality trait that mesmerises readers. Readers want to believe they could be that character if they were put in that situation. They may even want to be that character. She could be brave, loyal, self-confident, intelligent, focused, charming, or compassionate. She should be able to engage our minds, win our hearts and get us to root for her until the end.
- She changes over the course of the story. She discovers her strengths and weaknesses. She surprises herself and she surprises us as she grows and learns. There should not be a sudden epiphany at the end of the story. We are not watching a Disney movie. Her change should be gradual and believable.
- She does not exist as a support for another character. Other characters exist to support her. Her supporting cast are there to help her achieve her story goal and complete the narrative arc of her story. The antagonist is there to thwart her, and to show her how strong or weak she is. Her love interest is there to distract her from her story goal, and to show us her insecurities and vulnerabilities. (Remember that a love interest is not necessarily a romantic interest.) Her friends are there to support her, and to show us who she really is, how strong she can be – even if she can’t see it.
- She has the ability to stand up to the antagonist. She is a strong character who is made stronger by her interaction with the antagonist. She has to have the intelligence, bravery, charisma, and will-power to make the story her own and come out on top at the end of the book.
Examples of Strong Female Protagonists
- Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
- Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games
- Calla Tor from the Nightshade series
- Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone
- Hazel Grace from The Fault in our Stars
- Ruth and Idgie from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
- Scheherazade, the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights
- Celie from The Color Purple
- Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
- Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- Matilda from Matilda
Film and Television
The Bride from Kill Bill
Ellen Ripley from Alien
Dr Ryan Stone from Gravity
Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Temperance Brennan from Bones (from Kathy Reich’s novels)
Daenerys Targaryen from A Game of Thrones (from A Song of Fire and Ice)
Anne of Green Gables
Please add your favourite Strong Female Protagonists below.
Source for Image: Daenerys Targaryen
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© Amanda Patterson
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