Let’s face it: no one wants to read about a weak hero.
Who stays weak. And never learns how to pull himself together and deal with whatever’s coming his way.
No matter the gender, if you’re writing a change arc, protagonists always start out weak somewhere. If your protagonist has no weakness, well, not only is s/he an impossible dream whose story must wholly consist of other people’s mistakes, but s/he is also not ever going to develop. And what kind of lame story is that?
So you want to write a good, strong story with a good, strong protagonist. What’s more, you want it to be a female protagonist. And obviously, since females are more oft-overlooked than males (even in fiction, it’s either that or reversed), this female protagonist of yours has got to be able to take care of herself… or at least be getting there, anyway. She’s gotta be strong and capable but relatable. Right?
It’s really not that hard, if you know what makes a female protagonist strong. (At least, not any harder than writing usually is, you know?) So here’s a bunch of things that might be helpful with that.
#1: What traits make her a strong woman
Far too many authors seem to portray their “strong women” as always fierce, ferocious, and snarky. Now really, there is nothing wrong with a female who knows how to kick butt. But why is it that these same strong women don’t know how to comfort people? Why do they not recognize the power of mercy and compassion? Why do they get away with saying rude or disrespectful things to their superiors?
Some traits that, simply put, make any protagonist a strong protagonist: compassion, patience, kindness, gentleness, courage (which is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to overcome it), understanding of weakness, humility… I could go on. You can refer to the Bible for a full list, if you like. Besides that, to my understanding, many other popular religions do mention these character traits as well. (Although, of course, being Christian, and writing on a God-centered blog, I would obviously recommend the Bible as the most reliable source of this kind of information. 😉)
#2: She cannot rely on herself to be strong
This is one of the more controversial topics in this list, though I don’t see why. Most authors should be able to see that inner strength isn’t exactly something you can draw out from within yourself. If that were so, no author would need an entire team of supporters getting their book out into the world!
My point is, you can’t rely on yourself to be strong. Your main character would be no fun to read about if s/he could draw strength from within themselves. (After all, what then would be the point of awesome side characters?)
On the other hand, it’s important to remember that strength does not necessarily come from flawed love. Her boyfriend/male love interest may be supportive of her, but people do not draw strength from other people, either.
#3: There’s a difference between softness and weakness
Compassion and empathy are some of the most important traits of being strong, whether your character is a man or woman. Humans are empathetic creatures; that’s what makes us more than creatures, among other things. Believe it or not, compassion is not a sin. Moreover, it’s not a weakness.
The ability to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness is true strength (and again, that doesn’t come from within her!). Why are authors so opposed to compassionate characters when our own God is a God of endless love and endless mercy? A strong female character would, obviously, strive for the character of God, rather than going the opposite way.
#4: She doesn’t need to “beat” the boys to be a hero
This is kind of tricky. Women are used to being considered “weaker” than men. In lots of situations, they do fight their way to the top. While I’m not opposed to working hard to achieve their goals, I do believe that actually fighting or being cruel is pretty detrimental in this “strong woman” case.
While there’s nothing wrong with a girl charrie proving she’s capable of defending herself, that’s not what’s going to automatically endear her to your readers. That’s an old trick, and we’re not gonna fall for it that easily. As with all tropes, make it yours. Don’t beat up the poor guys for no reason. (And don’t make it unrealistic, either…)
#5: She can’t start out all strong and ready
Unless you plan on writing a static character, in which case the story will end up centered around the plot rather than around her. Static characters (characters without a change arc) are perfectly fine, whether as side characters or even main characters, if you play it right. But again, if you want the story to be her story, then she will change. And let’s hope for the better.
No one can be 100% strong in all areas; it doesn’t work that way. She can start out strong in some areas and, throughout the story, learn how to grow in those areas as well as become stronger in her weaknesses. Reversely, no one at the beginning of the story is 100% weak in all areas. That would mean there’s no hope, and there’s no such thing as no hope.
Remember that even if your character is strong, she’s not perfect. Even in her strongest areas she can still be weak and stumble sometimes. But that’s human. (Even if your character isn’t biologically human.) It’s relatable. That’s what makes them strong, because they’re able to keep going even when they’ve fallen too many times to count.
So go on and show the world what she’s made of!
Until next time,