Creating strong female leads

One of the things I enjoy about writing strong female leads is that strong can mean so many different things. There is the superficial kickass heroine – the one who is what most people think of when they think of strong female leads. I myself have been known to enjoy kicking men in the balls so I’m partial to this kind of character.

But often this type of character is basically portrayed as a man with breasts. The character thinks and acts just like a stereotypical man would but wears a bra. That’s not a strong woman, that’s a man wearing a bra.

A female character can be strong because she shows up for her family even when it would be easier not to. Or when she shows vulnerability and compassion for others. Or when she faces challenges and surmounts them, even if she does some bitching and moaning about said challenges.

A strong female lead can fall in love, but not in a way that causes her to lose herself. A strong female lead can find out she was wrong all along and change her mind.

And a strong female lead may sometimes have to accept the things she can’t change.

I love writing characters that have some or all of these qualities. What I don’t like are passive female characters, ones who let life happen to them. I  can’t stand them in fiction I read, I can’t stand them in my own writing, and I can’t stand them in real life.

People have sometimes called my female characters “hard” and once or twice they’ve been “angry” but I don’t let criticisms like that lead me to soften them.

I do often give characters a character arc of growing into their powers—this is what happens with Lucinda in The Wanderer, so she starts off as less certain and less strong and becomes stronger and more certain over the course of the novel.

I wrote an earlier novel (no longer in print) where the opposite dynamic occurred, where the female lead had to become less certain and more vulnerable (though no less strong) in order to welcome romance into her life.

There are countless ways women are strong in life and I’m trying to reflect at least some of them in fiction.