Thursday, March 25, 2010

Developing Strong Female Characters

When I went to LTUE,one of the discussions was on creating strong female characters. One of the women on the panel talked about her pet peeve in some books, mostly sci/fi or fantasy, where the female characters are just men in skirts. In other words, the women dress like men, act like men, and fight like men. This is the same message the world sends us today. If we want to prove we’re as good as men, then we need to act like them, right? As the discussion went on, the only man on the panel, Paul Genesse, talked about the strong women he works with on a daily basis. He’s an author, that is also an ER nurse at a hospital. He said that it never ceases to amaze him to watch as a small woman nurse gets a grizzled veteran cop to go back to his bed with just one look. That is the power of a woman! We discussed how the strength of a woman really comes from her divine qualities; her kindness, her faithfulness, and her maternal instincts.

Here's some thoughts that came out of the discussion:
* Strength in a woman can be shown through her thoughts. The reader finds out what she wants and what she's willing to sacrifice for her goal. This shows her internal strength to make strong decisions.
*You must balance gender roles with the proper historical/social stigmas. If you write historical romance for example, the roles of a woman were pretty strict. If you stray too far from those roles it becomes unbelievable. But you can show that the woman is a rebel by having her touch someone without a glove (I think that was the example???) and show the reaction of people around her to show that this simply wasn't done. You can also show their ability to control the social restrictions.
*Motherhood is a strength! I can't tell you how many YA books I've read lately where the main character is trying so hard to be as strong as the men that she says she never wants to have kids. Motherhood is portrayed as a weakness, but that is not true! Our maternal instincts and our feminine traits are what make us strong in our own way.
*Stay away from the cliches
-Don't make women strong by making men stupid.
-Don't make protagonist stupid.
-Strong women don't need to witches to be strong.
*Make sure your female characters have ambition, passion, and talent.
*Another way to show your character's strengths is to show her moral values that she would never cross. There could be a struggle with her values, or a moment where she needs to stand up for something.
*Give character problems to overcome that provide growth.
*Compel the character to be strong, strong characters make things happen.

I really enjoyed this panel, I wish I could remember all the names of the panelists, I think Lisa Magnum from Deseret Publishing was there, and of course Paul Genesse. There were several others, and I can see their faces, but I lost my program and can't remember their names!! If anyone else who went remembers please let me know!!

Also, let's continue the discussion. What things do you think help to make strong female characters?


  1. I remember this! It was good. I have to really agree about the strong female character being too manly.

    I believe women can be feminine and a good leader without masculinity being involved. I mean, a stay at home mom can rear strong, good children who will battle the front lines of evil, right? ;)

    One thing I remember being said there was that some authors have their female characters downgrade men. I don't like that at all.

  2. This was a great panel and I'm glad you shared this information. =]

  3. Thank you. I was not there, but I would bet it was amazing. I have read this post a few times and I am making sure that my female charactors are not men in skirts. Thanks again.

  4. This was a great post! I'm going to print it out and put it in my Binder of Writing Wisdom.

    One of my favorite female heroines of all time is Princess Naussica from Miyazaki's film "Valley of the Wind." She's a good fighter - there's a scene where she loses her temper and takes out a whole room full of evil guards - but afterwards she's deeply ashamed of killing them and realizes it didn't really help anything. Her people are still captive. In the end she saves her people not by fighting, but by kindness, compassion and self-sacrifice - her strong feminine qualities.



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