While I’d never claim other genres don’t have their share of strong, female characters, I think fantasy literature is unique in how strong women proliferate throughout. In fantasy, women are warriors, sorceresses, seers, and beloved leaders–queens and princesses–with spines of steel. Fantasy lit gives us Eowyn, and Hermione Granger. It gives us Molly Weasley (come on, who DIDN’T cheer when she burst out with “Not my daughter, you b#$#%!”)
While that is all well and good, the fantasy “strongwoman” can become bland, cliché, and one-dimensional if an author isn’t careful. I figured for today’s post I would write some tips for crafting great female characters, in fantasy or any other genre of novel that you write.
- MAKE YOUR FEMALE CHARACTERS STRONG IN MORE THAN ONE WAY. There are many kinds of strength: there is sacrificial strength, being willing to suffer loss for the good of others; there is cunning, daring, and intelligence; there is perseverance, a strong-willed determination to overcome adversity no matter how bad things get; there is physical strength and adeptness at arms. And that list does not end there. A major way to avoid a one-dimensional character is to make her strong in multiple areas, which will flesh her out and make her more like a real person. (My protagonist, Kora Porteg, comes from humble roots, but she’s a sorceress who is also devoted wholeheartedly to her family and she definitely perseveres through some horrible stuff.)
- GIVE HER SOME WEAKNESSES. Those strengths above? Your awesome lady shouldn’t have them ALL. We all have flaws and things we’re just not good at. Maybe she worries too much; maybe she doubts her ability to complete her task and journey; maybe she’s not as schooled as would be useful, or has never picked up a sword in her life despite living in a world dominated by swords and sorcery. Maybe she thinks of herself a little bit too much…. You get the idea. Any character who isn’t human in some of these ways is completely unbelievable, in a bad way. (Kora, for instance, isn’t booksmart, and her phobia of heights becomes a REAL problem for her.)
- REDEMPTION NEVER GETS OLD. A character trying to overcome a past she’s not too proud of is always interesting, and something worth reading about, because we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. Maybe she abandoned a friend, or spurned a lover, and feels guilty. Maybe she’s doing her part to save the world because she helped to screw it up in the first place!
- NO ONE VIEWS HERSELF AS A SIDEKICK/AS SECONDARY. This was a point I read in Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and it really stuck with me. Your protagonist is your protagonist, sure, but in real life, doesn’t EVERYONE consider herself the important person? The one who matters? Remembering this can go a long way to help create a strong, well-developed supporting cast for your hero or heroine. If a sidekick will sacrifice time, energy, and perhaps risk her life for someone else, then she has to have a reason and she’d probably not be too thrilled about the task at hand. That needs to come across.