What makes a strong female character strong?

#1

So, I’m working on a “convetional” novel with a big cast of teenaged characters. It is in what I like to call a pre-writing phase–where you’re still working on characters and their motivations and world building etc. So, I have most of my characters sketched out but, I’m having problems with one of the main female characters.
I want to show her as a strong minded person. But, one of the more important of her features is that she is an attractive looking girl. But, attractiveness often overshadows what strong character traits a certain character has. Now, she is a character that knows she is beautiful (unlike a certain very (in)famous trope) but, some “stuff” has happened in her highschool life that has left her with a little longing to look more “normal” rather than the way she actually looks. People judge her on her appearance as a “queen-bee” or the girl who has got no problems in her life. But, that is not true.
So, I don’t want her to come off as a girl who treats herself like a victim for being beautiful and I don’t want to make her a snarky mouthed pretty face.
Maybe, this is sounding a little complicated so, my question in more simple words is–how to portray a female character that is beautiful and strong while not objectifying their attractiveness?
Can anybody help me out?
Plus, if you can tell me what are the indications of a strong female character you can write it too. I would like to know what people consider as a strong personality in women.

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#2

what make a strong male character ? The abs? the muscle? them being tall , have a strong jaw…a killer smile ? That they barely shave…give them a rugged look ?

I think the same would apply . I personally , don’t think there is a ‘profile’ per se . Sure you got a ‘genre’ . But this is about your story right ? you wanna avoid cliché. You wanna make the character feel real…you could get inspiration from your own childhood , your own school…peoples you’ve met . Who did you think looked like a strong person? what made them feel that way ?

Helen Ripley from Alien is seen as a strong character , because she didn’t need to rely on anyone . She didnt need a male counterpart to lean on or to save her . She saved herself and tried to save others . Thats an exemple…of one .

Xena the warrior princess is another . She did alot of bad things then decided to redeem herself on her own . She didnt have a hubby to guilt her or anything . And her sidekick is another women who will grow on her own .

Me personally , I think there are all kind of strong characters . I like to write my females all as strong , but all differents . You can have someone who sutter and is shy , but there is a hidden strengh deep inside of them that could come out and surprise everyone under the right circumstance . Just like I like to write that butch lady and give her a vulnerability…a flaw…so she doesnt feel completely fake…just like human , nobody is perfect .

You have females singer who are beautiful for exemple , and surprised peoples by having an education . saying they are more then just a pretty face , they have a drive , a career to fall on if they ever failed or left the singing scene , and a brain on those shoulders . Some show a strong sense of empathy , they just don’t sing or act…they are militant outside of their career . They do stuff , they care for stuff .

So yeah , to me it could be anything . A smart women is strong with her mind but can also be a martial artist while being a nerdy scientist . A women can be a home maker , but also strong…in her own way . getting up everyday , taking care of others…that take alot of strenght as well .

Strenght come from a drive , either something drive you , exemple : A past , something happen . Or something outside : A goal of some kind , could be another person . Or it could be within : Some peoples are born with that drive while others have to find it and make it their own .

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#3

Well, it’s… not really different than how to write strong male characters, really. I think the most important factor is the ability to retain agency over her own life - in terms of goals, of wants, ect. The personality itself isn’t that important: the character can be quiet and non-assertive, but have a core of steel, or the more standard brash, outspoken type.

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#4

Gotta stick this somewhere.


Additional reference

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#5

I agree with this. I always worried that people thought strong women exhibited more masculine traits. Growing up it was annoying that a strong female character had to be able to physically fight for survival.

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#6

Agency, and having lots of other female characters around them so they’re not the only representative of their gender.

Edit: and if she’s a friend of the protagonist, showing other traits than her attractiveness. If she’s a romance interest, showing how she’s appealing to the protagonist beyond looks.

Edit 2: think about how her discomfort with her looks manifests. Does she dress in a way that downplays her appearance, does she come across as aloof because she assumes people are only interested in her because of her looks, is she aggressive to put people off thinking she’s an airhead? Her personality isn’t her appearance: if she has conflicting feelings about it, that’s what will reflect in her behaviour and actions.

Edit 3 (sorry, I’m multitasking!): Think about what she actually looks like. Not everyone finds everyone beautiful. If you consider what her looks actually are, you’ll get to explore how people respond to her.

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#7

I mean, you’ve described her as objectively beautiful she even knows it, so I don’t think it’s wrong to mention this trait to the player. Just keep in mind to make the description doesn’t sound… titillating or “comes from MC’s head,” as beauty itself is subjective. Except ugly; ugliness is absolute.

Since you mentioned that

you can make her act just like any other normal girl would. However, to juxtapose this with her beauty, you may give her a scene where all the boys would crowd around her, or the people would stare at her in unison when she enters the classroom. And depending on how you build her personality, she either vocally despises it, or nonchalantly ignores it.


Btw, you said

Does this mean she is an iron-willed type or does she actually strong she mentors at a gym? Or is the strong-minded similar to being chaste?

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#8

wanna add comical nose bleed with that while you are at it ? :sweat_smile:

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#9

Thanks everyone! This was really helpful. This is kind my first long project since before I was just writing short stories and stuff that didn’t need as much character development as a full length novel does. And the folks at my creative writing group say that my female characters don’t seem real enough. So, I wanted to do better at that this time. And all these opinions were really helpful!
Thanks again!

#10

Not really iron willed, I would say. More like Clarice Starling from TSOTL–strong yet sensitive with some amount of vulnerability.

#11

Well, people might have different ideas about it but from what I know in general, women who are able to think for themselves. Not letting other people decide for her, not waiting for other people to do things for her. But also, able to accept people’s ideas without feeling the need to antagonized it (some strong women characters tend to do this, being snarky and mean to those who are different). So it’s about finding the perfect balance between helpless and superhero.

Your description makes it seem like she is ‘perfect’, so don’t forget to throw some flaws in it otherwise people will have a hard time to connect. After all, humans are flawed.

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#12

Does she pass the bechdel test?

Does she have thoughts, feelings, and goals beyond being beautiful and wanting people to like her?

Does she have any hobbies or skills?

Answering the above questions positively are the first steps to writing a well-rounded female character.

The following steps will make her strong.

Does she stand up for what she believes in?

Is she brave enough to stand up to her friends? If not, why?

Is her strength more of an emotional, inner strength (this is often comstrued as a more feminine strength. Girls are “strong” when they are capable of “controlling” their emotions) or is it more of an outer strength? Or is she literally physically strong?

Some examples of attractive and strong female characters:
Jessica Day, New Girl
Arwen, Middle Earth
Katniss, Hunger Games
Hermione Granger, Harry Potter
Scully, X-Files
Sarah Conner, Terminator
Princess/General Leia Organa, Star Wars

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#13

Would the character be a character without her attractiveness and/or her “strength”? Does she have flaws and goals and habits of her own? Would it be possible to make an entire story with her as the main character? Does she feel like someone who could exist in real life, and not just as a fiction? If you answered no to any of those questions, it’s possible you’re focusing on those parts of her character too much. Remember that every character should be three-dimensional, especially if it’s a main character like a romance interest.

If you do find that there’s a problem with your character, try this: write a short story with her. Maybe it’s about her traumatic experience as a kid, or her first date, or how she came to love baseball, or something like that. Try and make things up as you go - build up her personality. If you want to try a different method, you could also try an “interview”, making questions for her like she’s a celebrity (e.g. favourite colour, annoying habit, least favourite fruit, memorable experience, hobbies etc) and answer those questions from her perspective.

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#14

Writing a multidimensional character that has agency and ability of her own that does not depend on another for validation.

You avoid objectifying their attractiveness by writing about all of her dimensions. The good, the bad and the ugly qualities she has will be brought out by your writing about them all, not hyper focusing on just one aspect or another.

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#15

What I have noticed that is chronic not only in Spanish literature in English as well is how we present and make characters present themselves in base of gender supposed roles.

If game starts talking about a person looking at mirror preparing hair and being more astounding possible to find a suitor.

Everyone would direct assume is a female.

If I say A warrior preparing is weapons to a duel at dawn even if i never assign gender all would automatic assume gender is male.

It happens everywhere and in all concepts I could describe how a romance will go based on that you are a woman you will be a blushing sentimental creature looking someone protecting you and someone to dominate you in 99% of stuff. and of course only objective is have babies. You almost never seen a male pc that wants as objective have babies but it seems that a vagina makes automatic that your primal life goal is have babies.

So for me if pc is a girl genderlocked i don’t normally even bother reading it. I am not coy i don’t want babies and my ambitions go further my bra size. So mi advice treat women and all spectrum as PEOPLE NOT AS GENITALS and the supposed traits that go with them that are arbitrary and invented by culture. Is your character brave is coward … Likes potatoes or is diabetic make a real person with goals and objectives and respect xhim her them. And if you do that you would never objectify as you see a person not a genre

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#16

I get your point. I have read a lot of books which objectified their personality if not by focusing on their physical beauty then by turning them into an infant producing machine and making them (rather happily) submissive of their male partner. And I’m not even talking about medival literature–where women like that actually existed–its modern literature in a modern setting. Women are often turned into objects of pleasure for the male characters. That’s what all the James Bond movies are all about. It always ends with Bond ending up with the girl in a bedroom.

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#17

Exactly. then even worse they present all independent woman as bitch that are sour because no men has chosen them or because they are sterile. That’s a very Disney concept. But devil dress prada etc etc… are based on that. Good woman is submissive all evil women are assertive and independent.

Except Ripley and Leia is rare as hell a woman that is CONFIDENT and secure that no one will put in their way.

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#18

I…this is a hard thing to say. I worry about the representation of “Strong female characters” almost as much as I do about the blatantly misogynist ones. I’m personally much more interested in female characters, or characters of any gender, that feel real. That means sometimes their strong, and sometimes they’re weak.

I worry sometimes that if I were a character in a story people would dismiss me as a collection of misogynist tropes.

I don’t actually have a tremendous amount of agency over my life. I spend all day doing what my customers tell me to do, and I can’t ever stop because a bank actually owns my house, and my car, and if I ever stopped paying them what I owed them they would come and take my life away.

I don’t absolutely define myself by other people’s opinions, but,if I’m honest, I do derive a lot of my self worth from what other people think of me.

Hell, sometimes when I’m in a relationship with a man, I dress up in something sexy just because I know he’ll like it.

I don’t want to come across as anti strong female characters. I’m not, but when their strength becomes their defining, or only, personality they become every bit as dangerous and depressing to compare yourself to as a Barbie doll.

Ellen Ripley has been a hero of mine since…well since I was probably too young to be watching those movies, but she is not a well-rounded character. In the first film she’s smarter and braver than everyone around her, and she’s right every time. In the second movie she responds to trauma, by becoming an ass-kicking machine.

I don’t think a female character has to be weak, or shy, or submissive all the time to be real. In fact, I think she’d be a very poorly written character if she was. A little bit of balance though helps make the character feel more real, and it helps me, a deeply imperfect person, relate more to them.

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#19

I see Ripley as a imperfect Action heroe. Similarly to Rocky or Bourne. Not all characters have to be realistic. But I don’t know as I am a extreme case of boldness and assertive I have lost jobs and relationships because of that so what probably will feel overtop for many people is normal for me lol.
People is diverse and complex no matter the genre. That’s why is important try character first as human beings than any genre or sexual orientation.

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#20

Oh yeah, It’s probably not a great idea to look for too much realism in action heroes of any gender. My point was that I think a character can be strongly written without having to actually be strong all the time.

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