What Makes a Strong Female Character?

I’m getting ready to write a guest post for the wonderful Laura Howard and I’d LOVE your help. I want to know what makes a strong female character. While I’ll do my best not to bother including the book-with-sparkly-vamps-that-shall-not-be-named, I can’t guarantee it, but my focus is on what YOU, the readers, look for in a strong heroine.

For example, I think one of the reasons my main character from Gifted, Lucy, is strong because even though she doubts her abilities (despite everyone around her being impressed), she still does what she can to push herself. She doesn’t want to grow lazy or lose her talent, so she keeps at it, knowing she can’t depend on anyone but herself to get better. It’s not necessarily about being better than other Firestarters or proving her worth to others – more like she wants to grow as a gifted being, to do her very best even if it doesn’t make her the best. Does that make sense?

Another great example is, of course, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, but what is it about her that makes her a strong female character? Her intellect is sharp, sure, and she can do better magic than almost everyone else. But that’s something about her, I feel, that helps mold her into who she is. It’s who she grows into that makes her strong, her ability to stand up for what’s right, her passion to help others, the determination she has to help her friends. Anyone can be smart, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a great character.

I better save some characters and their quirks up my sleeve for the actual post, but what do you all think? I’d love to hear it in the comments so that I might include it in the post for Laura’s readers! (Plus, it helps give me great ideas on how to strengthen my own characters and make sure I’m giving you the best I got! See? It’s actually for purely selfish reasons.) It can be whatever you think makes a great female character. Name some examples of your favorites and why they rock!

15 thoughts on “What Makes a Strong Female Character?

  1. Thomas Rydder says:

    Hi Liz…I think for me, a strong female is one who refuses to accept any premise that women are the weaker gender. She is willful, determined, perhaps even a bit of chip-on-the-shoulder, and anxious to prove that a woman can do it just as well as a man. She wants to be respected, not in deference to her sex, but in spite of it…

  2. Jaye Frances says:

    Hi, Liz,
    It sounds like you have a good grasp on the qualities that enhance a woman’s character, and what I’ve attempted to instill in my female protagonists is a believable belief paradigm, a conscience that takes the lead when she’s backed into a corner, or faced with an impossible choice. Looking forward to reading your interview!
    Jaye Frances

    • LizLong says:

      I think that’s a great point to make – are the protagonist’s choices believable in the situation? I think that definitely shows what kind of character she is and helps readers feel she’s believable. Thanks so much for visiting!

  3. Seumas Gallacher says:

    I respect any person, man or woman, who can face me as an equal, without reliance on gender, and that usually means a mixture of strength of character in being able to speak the truth, and if the truth is hurtful, deliver it in manner that gets accepted, as well as the wit and intelligence to respect me back., warts and all. there’s plenty of them out there , but sometimes it’s kinda difficult to surface them,. right? BTW, good looks in and of themselves DON’T count :):) cheers

  4. A. Wrighton (@a_wrighton) says:

    Acceptance and the embrace of what scares her – and an ability to overcome that fear.

    That’s what makes any character strong, but especially a woman as it is a sad convention to believe women are the fairer/weaker of the sexes. Add in the fact that a female character who embraces and then overcomes fear still does this while remaining feminine (look at Lara Croft) makes her a super strong, feminine and female character.

    Hermoine Granger is a strong female character because she admits fear, stares it in the face, and then beats it senseless with her wand.

    Elizabeth Bennet is a strong female character because she admits fear for societal rules and disgrace, stares convention in the face, and then beats it senseless with her sharp tongue and high moral compass.

    Great question! Hope this helps a little bit…


    • LizLong says:

      That is an AWESOME answer! I like that one a lot and think it applies to so many characters. I actually pulled that one with my main character about facing a fear (or running after it rather) and several readers said it was a favorite chapter-now I guess I know why because that makes so much sense! Thanks so much for your comment!!

    • May (@Indebooks) says:

      I love this answer! I agree that there are many ways to be strong (in fiction, and in reality). I’d also add that strong characters are usually able to understand their shortcomings while still remaining self-confident.

  5. Tim Pieraccini says:

    I would try not be misled by the usual connotations of the word ‘strong’. I absolutely endorse all of the above suggestions, but I think it’s also important for women to display the qualities of compassion and empathy, things frequently seen as weaknesses but which I count as among the strongest qualities of all, in life and fiction. It frequently takes the greatest courage to be seen as weak – Melanie in ‘Gone With the Wind’ may not have Scarlett’s fire, but she doesn’t lack strength of her own.

  6. suzantisdale says:

    I agree with what everyone has said thus far. I would add the ability to laugh at herself. I am a firm believer that a sense of humor can go a long way. Add to that a spiritual strength, a belief in something bigger than yourself, a sense of right and wrong, heart, empathy, compassion, and a desire to be a better person. And the ability to admit she may have made a mistake. ;o)


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