Strong Female Characters

I know, I just wrote about this, but I’m going to do so again. I’d like to do my small part in turning up the volume on this.

Disney has done done it again.

Star Wars Rogue One has a female lead. Hopefully, they remember that in the brand marketing. I mean really, did they forget when making the toys, cereal boxes, etc, that Rey was in the movie and, you know, central to the plot?

I digress.

I pretty much said everything I want to say about Rogue One. I love that there is another female lead. I love that my daughter will get to see that and will probably want her toy too. She got Rey for Christmas.

When Rogue One is successful – and it will be, oh it will be (it is Star Wars, after all) – we will probably see more and more female lead characters. Which got me thinking – what makes a good female lead?

The answer to that is not so simple. I mean, I could probably list a bunch of things, but would that be all there is? Would I be telling the truth of it?

Women are varied. Some are doctors and lawyers. Some are mothers. Some never want to be mothers. Some wish they could be mothers. Some learn to be mothers to children who really need mothers. Some scoff at every image of “woman” out there and all the gender typing. Others wear it as a badge of pride – except that they are too humble to be prideful.

What makes a character good will vary by the genre you are writing in.

Does when the work is being written matter? Strong female characters written in 1950, 1980, and 2010 will all be different. They will be products of progressive ideas in their generations.

Still, this is the internet, so I will list.

From a feminist perspective, here is what I like to see and what I usually strive for in my female characters.

  1. They are defined by more than their gender. A character is more than her appearance. Boob-size is not personality. What does she like and dislike? What does she care about? What does she do? Are these things playing to gender stereotype, or do they feel authentic to a living, breathing person with agency.
  2. If romance is involved in the story, does it define them? It is great for a female character to want someone and to strive for them or fight for them. Romance and romantic tension are fun to write about and read about. If the character is defined by another character, though, then she is not a good character.
  3. Do they suddenly drop everything for “a man” or “for the sake of their family”? You might say to yourself, “self, that could be a compelling story.” Even I think that once in a while. Then I remember that it is a trope, and an over-used one at that.
  4. Does she suddenly become second-fiddle when a man appears? It is okay for a female lead to share screen time with a male lead. It is okay for that split to be 50/50. If her importance to the plot is diminished, however, so that she is little more than the male lead’s companion, she might as well not be there.
  5. Do her actions and decisions fall in line with everything from #1?
  6. Does she grow and develop in a way that is appropriate to the genre her story is in. Character development (male or female) varies by genre, with some emphasizing character growth while others depend on mostly static characters. Sure, characters break that mold all the time, but if I am reading a detective series, it is unfair for me to expect some developmental epiphany every book.

So there are six things I look for and strive for. There are more, I’m sure. I will put it to you. What do you look for in a strong female lead character?


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