Creating Strong Female Characters by Sierra Godfrey



Welcome again to genre Monday! Today I have the funny and talented Sierra Godfrey who will be sharing posts every 5th Monday of the month on topics related to women's fiction and/or marketing and promotion. Though today her post can definitely be helpful across all genres because none of us want to create a wimpy heroine. Ick.

So over to you Sierra...

Creating Strong Female Characters by Sierra Godfrey

In April, I had a baby boy. I also have a four year old son, which means I’ve become very much outnumbered by males in my house. Sometimes I have to work to understand them, I admit. My four year old is at the stage where he’s exploring and playing with his parts almost nonstop, and my infant son uncannily pees on me at diaper changing time with an arc of urine that boggles the mind in its reach. (In fact, right after I birthed him, he celebrated our post-utero bond by soaking me with pee. Kind of the same way you break a champagne bottle on a newly commissioned boat.)


Anyway, with all that male in my house, I found myself recently pondering strong female characters. Well, to be honest, I’ve always been interested in them. Some of the greats that come to mind:

  • Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

  • Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

  • Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice

  • Claire from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

Because I write women’s fiction, creating a strong female character is of particular interest to me. Strong leading ladies are independent, smart, and plucky. But there are some other key elements to strong female characters:


She’s got it hard
Create sympathy with your character, but don’t overdo it. Put her harm’s way, trot her through hardship, or dump a heap of bad circumstances on her. She’ll come through it swimmingly and without feeling sorry for herself if she’s strong.

She’s relatable
Strong women are also normal ones--and we want to see that we can identify with her. Then when she doesn’t cave under pressure, or she takes high road, it’s particularly satisfying because we know that could be us, too.

She’s witty
Funny ladies are also usually smart ones. We like a sense of humor and a good attitude. There are notable exceptions to this rule--Scarlett O’Hara is one. She’s got a terrible attitude and is super selfish, but she also nails the sympathy vote.

She has great inner conflict
She’s fearless, she’s sure, and she takes action. Great! Strong character, right? Well, no. We want some inner conflict that shows she’s also human, that she struggles with the same doubts that we do, that she works her way through life figuring things out as she does, just like us. But she does these things with grace and with ultimate success. She doesn’t hurt people on the way toward solving her conflict, either. She’s a fighter--and we love her because we know she’ll fight her way to solve her conflict.

The above traits don’t just apply for strong female characters, but serve as a good blueprint for all characters.

What are some of your favorite strong female characters? What are some of the things you've done to make your ladies strong?

Sierra's recommended read for August:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in  the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the  unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly,  opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life  valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations:  honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his  brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali,  the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their  shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and  Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But  village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and  regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship  survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of  culture and tradition?

The character of Mrs. Jasmina Ali is a fantastic example of a strong woman. She has a wonderful dignity, she's resolved, she's smart and funny, and she has great inner conflict.



Sierra  has enjoyed crafting stories for as long as she can remember. She  especially likes stories that feature women who grow from the choices  they face—and get the guy at the end. She's a member of RWA and RWA-WF, the women's fiction special interest  chapter, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two  little boys, and two annoying cats. She is always working on a story. When she's not writing stories, she works as a freelance technical writer and designer.

Find Sierra at her blog or on Twitter.


Thanks, Sierra! And remember that all of our guest contributors have their own blogs, so if you like what they have to say here, be sure to check them out on their own blogs as well. :)


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