Elements Of A Strong Female Protagonist


There has always been a lot of talk about what goes into making a strong female protagonist. A lot of people have written some very good articles on the subject. And for a while now, I’ve been wanting to write my own post on the subject, put my two cents in. So I thought it would make a very appropriate subject for one of these Elements Of posts. I will start this particular post by saying, these points do not apply to every single female protagonist, nor is it meant to be a guide to write one by (I would love to do a completely separate post on that subject at some point). These are just some of the elements and points that I think should be considered when creating a strong female protagonist of any sort. So, let’s get to it!

Strength Is An Attitude Not A Skill

Not every strong female protagonist has to be a kick-butt type of gal. If that is the way she is, awesome. But physical strength doesn’t automatically equal a strong character. Your female protagonist doesn’t have to be good at everything. She doesn’t need to be completely self-sufficient, or amazing at fighting. Being a strong female protagonist is more about her attitude than anything else. Maybe she can’t do everything herself and needs help, but she actively seeks out the people who can help her take the next steps to complete her goal. It’s not weakness for her to need ask for help. It’s only a weakness if your female protagonist waits for someone else to do everything for her instead of being proactive about it.

Femininity Isn’t Weakness

There’s an almost alarming trend in book characters for strong female protagonists to need to be a female equivalent of a boy. Dresses, make-up, and pink girly things are often considered to be signs of a weak character. Which is totally untrue. It’s perfectly ok to have a female character who isn’t  girly-girly, if that’s the way her personality goes. But at the same time, a character who likes typically girly things isn’t inherently weak either. It is entirely possible for a character to like to swan around in a ballgown or have a room painted in pastel pink while still being a strong character. It is not necessary to sacrifice femininity for strength.

Passion and Drive Are Key Attitudes

What makes any character strong? Their passion and drive to achieve their goals, and their will not to give up. It’s no different if your character is male or female. Female protagonists need just as much of a driving force behind them, one that won’t allow them to give up on their goals, no matter how hard it gets. There has to be something motivating their actions. All strong characters are proactive characters. Think about if a male character was in the same position as a female one. What elements would make them a strong character? These attitudes, their drive and passion and will to go on, are all the same elements that female characters need. When all’s said and done, female characters are people too.

A Strong Personality Goes A Long Way

Strong characters of any kind have good personalities. And by that, I mean that they feel like real people. They have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. They react to story events in ways that feel natural according to the personality you’ve built up during the book. Whether they’re supremely capable at everything, or they need a helping hand, having a strong personality that readers can connect to easily goes a long way to making them a better character all-round.

A Rounded Backstory

All good characters, male or female, need to come from somewhere. Explore your female character’s background. Where did they come from? Who are their family? What events in their past have most shaped them into the person they are today? Putting a bit of thought and effort into working out their backstories turns them into a deeper character, and can also give you more to work with in the main story, which in turn helps them become a more rounded and stronger character. This is not mutually exclusive to female characters, but all strong female protagonists have a past, and strong reasons for why they are the way they are, and things that motivate them.

Exploit Their Strengths, Whatever They Are

Weak characters are carried along on the strengths of others. Problems are most often overcome with the skills of their companions. Strong female characters use their strengths in diverse ways to get around problems. Yes, they may need to rely on other people for help, but they should also have skills that can be used for their moments of strength. This might not necessarily be in fighting, technical skills, or endurance. Maybe they’re really good at empathising with people. Or they’re really good at thinking outside the box. They could be really good at improvising things, or organising, or seeing patterns. Whatever their skills are, use them. There are all kinds of strengths that can be utilised to give your female protagonist strength and purpose in the book.

These are just some of the elements that I’ve seen in well written female protagonists. As I said before, they won’t all apply to all female characters, but they are good things to remember. In the end, what makes a female character strong is exactly what makes any other character strong: Their motivations, goals, hopes, dreams, and their will to fight to achieve their end.

What else would you add to this list? Do you agree with any of these points? What strong female characters do you love? Have you ever written a strong female protagonist who wasn’t all kick-butt awesomeness (though I love those characters too!)?

Missed any of the posts in this series? You can catch up on them all HERE

Tell me, what topic would you like me to cover next time?

Elements Of A Good Villainous Plan
Elements Of A Good Supporting Character
Something Else (leave me a suggestion in the comments!) 

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  1. Awesome article! I think the first two are especially important. I think it's also important to give them weaknesses they overcome. Being able to acknowledge, accept, and work through your weaknesses is, I think, a very important trait of a strong protagonist, and it also makes them less Mary-Sue-like and more human.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

    1. That's a very good point. Strong characters do need to overcome some kind of weakness during the course of the story and show character growth. No one likes those perfect Mary-Sues. It's so important to make sure that characters have a good mix of strengths and weaknesses so they're relatably flawed, but strong enough to be admired, isn't it?

  2. "Femininity Isn’t Weakness." say it louder for the people in the back!

    honestly. I hate it when people think that femininity is a weakness. its not. and I think thats really something for people to remember in writing and in life in general.

    great post! I'm a new follower and I'm excited to read more posts!


    1. Me too! Like, it's possible to wear a skirt and earrings and still be a strong character, just like it is when you're a real person! I think it's sad that the feminine characters get so neglected because people want to make their characters strong and being a girly girly seems weak.

      It's lovely to meet you, Faith! Thank you so much for following my blog. I look forward to talking to you more in the future!

  3. Really good post! I'm outlining a book right now, and I want to make my female characters strong characters who add things to the plot, and make things happen, instead of just being passive, so this post was really helpful! I especially liked the point about backstory - I tend to, well, ignore backstory, but it's super important!

    1. It's so easy to forget about creating a well-rounded backstory sometimes, isn't it? There's so much else to plan in the book, it kinda gets lost sometimes. It's a great way to make any character better though, for sure. Thanks for stopping by Candice!

  4. Yes, I think it's much more realistic when a female protagonist relies on other people. I agree with you that the trend for female characters nowadays is to have them be the strong, weapon-skilled feminist type young women. *cough* Katniss *cough*

    But that's not realistic. :) Which is why I love books like the Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight. The girl isn't a I-can-take-care-of-myself sort of person. She RELIES on other people.

    Excellent post! :D

    1. OH, and I'd love for you to post on the elements of a good villainous plan. :)

    2. So true. It's weird, but it seems from trends like people think it's ok for male characters to hav to rely on other people for help, but if females do it, their a weak damsel in distress. Of course, that's not true of every book, but it certainly seems to be a popular opinion. And it really is a lot more realistic for characters of both genders to need help at some point. Maybe not all the time, but no man is an island after all. It is definitely more realistic.

      Thank you for your vote Emily! I'm looking forward to writing that one sometime soon, hopefully.

  5. These are great points! I can't stand the trend of revoking all femininity for protagonists.


    1. I know, right? Like, if you're going to make that the rule, what is the point in having a female protagonist anyway if they're not allowed to be, well, female? Thanks for visiting!

  6. Great points! I especially loved that you mentioned that femininity does not equal weakness. With strong female leads on the rise in YA books, it's so important for authors to grasp this. Katniss is great, but I don't want to read a version of her in every book I read.


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