Writing Fierce Females / Some Dos and Don’ts about Creating Strong Female Characters

I wasn’t going to write this post. Really, I wasn’t. Because fierce, independent women are a thing in YA books. And sometimes, people roll their eyes at the stereotypical female badass, but really most of us do like some great fighting female characters.

But critiquing poorly written characters? Actually naming bad or problematic characters and talking about why we don’t like them??? That’s hard.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about while blogging, it’s that we need to have these kind of discussions. Talk through what makes a great character, and what makes us annoyed with other characters. Especially if we’re reviewing or writing books. Because we should have reasons for what we say or write.

And I say all the time that I WANT great fierce female characters. So, what exactly am I talking about? Will I be mentioning specific characters. Yes. Not saying I hate your fav or bashing your favs, but critiquing a bunch of characters today!

Is this a discussion post or a how to post? I don’t know. Maybe it’s both?

Make them Emotionally Independent, Not Co-Dependent

Everyone has emotions. What I like to see on page, is a character dealing with their emotions healthily. I get so frustrated when a character is presented as strong, but butchers their emotional life.

Either they don’t talk about them at all, a la, Katniss Everdeen.
Or they’re completely dependent on someone else, a la, Feyre Archeron.

  

Guys, there needs to be a balance! People can be open and honest about what they’re going through, without being completely dependent on someone else to handle their emotional life.

Also, it’s good to have friends who support you emotionally without being dependent on them all the time. In fact, in my own life, when I became emotionally dependent on someone, it totally made my life much messier! Not being able to think through what I was feeling without this particular friend to anchor me, stunted my growth.

Once I realized how dependent I was and talked to other friends who helped guide me back to independence, my friendship was much better. Yes, I still talk about life with my friend. But i can also take time for myself and work through my emotions, just me, myself, and I.

I really think Nina and Inej from Six of Crows are PERFECT examples of characters who deal really well with their emotions on page. The way they interact and share what they’re feeling with other characters is fantastic.

Now, these two gals are VERY different. Everyone deals with their emotions differently. and that’s ok!

Be Sharp, For a Reason

There’s this trend right now to make girls spiteful, mean, and sharp. Supposedly, this makes them a strong independent woman if they can bite the heads off any guy who says the wrong word.

And like, I get it? For so long, women have been told to be docile, to shut up and let men do the talking. But, you don’t have to be snappy to show off the strength in your words.

Just catch these quotes from some of the strongest women in history. (AND DON’T ROLL YOUR EYES AND SKIM JUST CAUSE IT’S HISTORY)

“I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too.” – Elizabeth Tudor

Okay, this quote has a ton of irony, because sure as heck not did Elizabeth the Queen think her body was weak. But she played that idea back on all those soldier boys and IT WORKED. Okay, a tad sharp, full of strength and emotion. Bravo, my queen.

 I am not afraid… I was born to do this – Joan of Arc

Joan has always been one of my heroes. And according to all the records, Joan could be pretty sharp tongued. She defended herself in court, stood up to a king, and personally led an army against the English.

Joan didn’t need to be softer – she knew how to use her hard earned strength to inspire an entire country.

“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” – Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was probably the toughest woman, ever. She literally clawed her way to freedom, and risked her life hundreds of times to free more people from slavery.

And she didn’t mince words! She also fought for her people during the Civil War. She was scared of nothing. So, yes, her words could be sharp. But they were used to drive her point home and rescue people’s lives.

I could go on, but I hope you guys get the point! Women don’t need to be mean. You don’t have to be loudest in a room, the sharpest, the flashiest. Just be you. Go defeat the English. Go lead thousands to freedom. Go rule your world.

And when it comes to writing, I love to see characters who are pursuing their passions. They don’t butter their words, but neither are they needlessly mean.

I’m going to contrast Zoya from the Grishaverse with Nesta from ACOTAR. 

  

Zoya is a General. She’s powerful. Yes, she’s also sharp tongued. But she doesn’t needlessly slander or hurt. She recognizes when her words hurt, and uses her wit to goad those around her to fight and rule better.

Nesta is also powerful. But she uses her power with words to needlessly needle and demean those around her. She doesn’t seem to have a purpose other than to be caustic and sometimes, maybe fight? I’m not sure.

Both of these women deserve a purpose. They don’t need to be softer. But their sharpness should be yielded with purpose.

Killing People Doesn’t Equal Personality

This might be my biggest pet peeve. But probably not. because I really get annoyed with needlessly mean characters. But back to this topic.

Putting a sword in a characters hand does not make them Aragorn. Or Legolas. Or whoever you might think they look like.
Also, giving someone dragons doesn’t make them suddenly amazing, aka Daenerys. Sorry, guys, Sansa is better. 

Number One – Characters should do something other than fight. Fighting is not a personality. Unless you’re an undead monster who belongs to a queen who uses you to just butcher people and that’s it.

Number two – Don’t just throw out weapons for weapons sake. Some people don’t deserve swords. That’s why peasants went into battle with pitchforks, guys. Jk, Jk.

This is one of the things I reallllllyyyyyy liked about The Cruel Prince. Taryn and Jude both had very different strengths. Taryn is never going to be good with a sword, while Jude thrives on fighting. But their strengths serve them well, Jude can fight her way to survival, while Taryn knows how to manipulate and get what she wants.

  

Do something different. When i was writing my Little Mermaid retelling, I realized my main character, Darcy, would not ever really fight. She does what it takes to survive, but she’s from a poor fishing village. She knows nothing about weapons. Giving the girl a sword and making her the next Aragorn is not going to happen.

Oh, another book that does this really well is Susan and Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia. Both girls have gifts. Susan can shoot a bow, Lucy can heal. Different talents but both are amazing characters.

Everyone doesn’t need to fight with weapons. Show some creativity, writers, please.

I originally wrote six main points. But then I realized that most of them were just these three. So, I saved myself from writing another 1,000 words and stuck to these three points.

And really, if I dislike a female character, it’s probably due to one of these three points: she’s emotionally co-dependent, she’s brittle, or she’s waving a sword just for #girlpower.

And just in case, anyone totally missed it, I actually do like female characters who fight, who are somewhat sharp-tongued, and who share their emotions on page.

And, before I forget, today’s character images all came from their wiki pages! Promise I was not trying to pick on the ACOTAR fandom. It’s just those characters were very perfect examples.

lets chat

What do you think about writing fierce female characters? Do you ever get annoyed with a specific trait? How do you think writers can improve when creating female characters? 

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10 Comments

  1. February 13, 2019 / 2:09 am

    Ahh, I loved reading this post and also looking at all of the character art here!! ❤️ I completely agree, and reason #2 (being brittle) is actually one of the reasons I don’t like sooo many female characters, and oh my god I never really recognized that it was a sign of bad writing and simply marked it as a personal quirk?? One of the reasons I don’t like Lila from ADSOM is actually because of this!!

    • February 17, 2019 / 10:10 pm

      I don’t always think it’s a sign of bad writing, maybe it’s a sign of underdeveloped writing? Because i know kind of mean worded people, I also know there’s almost always a reason anyone is snappish – guys or girls! I want to know why, hehe! I didn’t mind Lila in the first book, but I need to read the rest of the trilogy to have a better opinion 🙂

  2. February 13, 2019 / 10:53 am

    Great post!! I absolutley love sharp fierce fighting female characters! But like you said, giving them a sword for the sake of them having a sword doesn’t work. They have to have a backstory that lends them to being a fighter! TWK is the perfect example of this <3 Plus there are so many different ways to fight!

    • February 17, 2019 / 10:11 pm

      There are so MANY different ways to fight! i’d love to see more fierce females showing all the ways we do defend and fight for ourselves in books!

  3. February 15, 2019 / 3:55 pm

    I love this post so much! You said everything so so so well! I’ve been thinking a lot of these things lately because I also get kind of frustrated when “stabby and sharp” is the only way for a female MC to be strong. Like, I’m none of those things at all so it makes me feel like a limp noodle lol. Being stabby doesn’t make other females weak, and being compassionate doesn’t make other females murderers. Strength is different for everybody, and I like seeing females empowered by whatever the heck empowers them. We don’t need more stabby characters, we need more diverse characters who are still strong regardless. Great post! 🙂

    • February 17, 2019 / 10:11 pm

      You’re completely right! We need more diverse characters, not stabby characters!

  4. February 15, 2019 / 5:57 pm

    These are great reasons! Writing fierce female characters can be so intimidating, but getting that balance is crucial to getting the female character just right. I like when a female character doesn’t need a weapon to be fierce. Like knowledge is a way to show that a character is fierce too.

    • February 17, 2019 / 10:12 pm

      Knowledge is the best! At least, in my opinion 😂

  5. theresajs
    February 28, 2019 / 5:40 pm

    I agree with all that you said!!!
    I don’t care for the ones who are strong because of a guy or the ones that don’t have any support system as in no friends for family. To me, a lot of strength comes from knowing others have your back – you are more likely to go the extra mile knowing there are others there with you.

Drop some knowledge!

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