Sunday, July 25, 2010

Creating a great female protagonist

Just because I’m a female writer doesn’t mean I can easily create an amazing and “credible” female protagonist. It sounds ironic but it’s true. I’m editing two short stories where my protagonists are women (both are the antithesis of one another). Fortunately, (yes, I said fortunately because I can redeem myself by fixing them) my mentor pointed out that these female characters are not credible due to their erratic actions in different scenes. So I did some research on how to create a “great” female character whether she’s despicable, humble, loyal, or a traitor.

I found an article by Jessica Strawser where she says that according to bestselling authors JT Ellison, Alex Kava and Erica Spindler, there are five key ways to make your heroine shine.

The key, they say, to a great female protagonist is to shun stereotypes and double-standards and instead focus on simply making her believable in every way. Once you’ve done that, you can make your own rules.

Here are their top 5 tips for making your heroine shine:
1. Go ahead and let people underestimate your female protagonist at the start of your story. This will give her a chance to prove herself (and prove them wrong).
2. Follow Alex Kava’s rule of thumb: “Make your female stronger than your gun.” Otherwise, she could be seen as weak or vulnerable. Give your heroine a strong intellect, a sharp wit, or some other quality that will make her a character who has what it really takes to be tough.
3. That said, don’t get so carried away trying to make her tough that you forget that she’s a real woman, not a superhero. Erica Spindler says great female protagonists don’t have to be defined by big, heroic things, and recommends giving her a little touch of normalcy, something readers can identify with. (An example from Spindler: Maybe she’s incredibly gutsy by day, but when she’s alone at night, she finally breaks down.)
4. Don’t be afraid to victimize your protagonist. Victimizing the heroine can be a catalyst to allow her strength to come through. If she has a horrific background (she’s been attacked, she’s lost a child or someone close to her, etc.), she has something to overcome—she now has a reason to be strong.
5. Try giving your character a fear. This may sound counterintuitive to making a tough protagonist, as with Indiana Jones and his phobia of snakes, relatable fears can make characters seem real—and give them more plot-building obstacles to overcome in the course of your story.

Are you ready to create an amazing heroine or she-devil? Experiment a little and mold your female protagonist/antagonist until she becomes an unforgettable character.


  1. Just say I like your blog Claudia!

  2. Thank you, create good female protagonists is one of my toughest challengers!

  3. Hi Ben,
    I hope you find these tips helpful as they are for me. Creating a "credible" female character is fun yet challenging. ;)

  4. Hi Claudia

    Thanks for visiting me at my blog and leaving a comment! I so enjoy making new friends and hope we meet again soon!

    Thanks for this helpful post! It's just what I needed to read this morning as I'm working on developing my female protagonist for a new short story.

  5. Hi Donna,
    Thank you for stopping by. I'm glad to hear my post is helpful. Well, now I know we have two things in common: Florida & short stories ;)
    Happy writing!

  6. They do help. Mine is a support character in a strange moral position, I'm struggling to find her that strenght she can communicate my protagonist, but these tips help for sure. I like the idea of developping a voluntary underestimation.

  7. Claudia, I think your blog is fabulous and you are going to be famous very sooooonnn! and I am holding my breath waiting for that! Thanks for all the great tips though. I am in dire need of help. Anything for procrastination?
    Kantankerous krone (kk)

  8. Hi K.K.
    LOL! You had me laughing with your unique pseudonym. Thanks for your funny yet encouraging words. I'm glad to hear you find my tips helpful. Procrastination, hmmm...good topic to tackle. I'll try posting something about it. I promise not to procrastinate and bump it to next week. ;)