Many thanks to m’learned colleague and fellow Devon Writer, bestselling author and all-round general amazing-lady Jenny Kane today for this great post! Jenny’s been writing female-centric stories now for aeons, so what she doesn’t know about female characters ain’t worth knowing!
With this in mind then – and because female characterisation is SO popular on this site – I’ve transformed Jenny’s tips into a handy cheat sheet for you …. Feel free to download and distribute, and/or stick up near your computer or workstation. Good luck with your writing!
DOWNLOAD THE CHEAT SHEET PDF HERE
To stand any chance of your writing being taken up by a publisher, producer or agent, you need to have strong protagonists in control of your plot line. If your lead is female, there are many pitfalls to sidestep!
1) Whether male or female, weak characters will never hold a reader’s attention.
2) Don’t mix up the concept of a character being flawed, with a character being weak. Flaws add texture and colour. Weakness does not.
3) Don’t make assumptions if your female lead is from the past. A Roman slave or a medieval servant would have needed both inner and physical strength if they wished to survive.
4) Don’t confuse the words ‘wife’, ‘girlfriend’ or ‘mother’ with ‘second class.’
5) Give your female protagonist a sense of humour – however dry. Few female characters are given the chance to be funny on paper.
6) Being capable and intelligent adds interest and depth to a character. It is OK if that capability annoys other characters- as long as it adds depth to the plot and the matter is resolved positively.
7) Treat beauty in a woman as you’d treat attraction in a man. Make the physical interesting. A scar or a blemish has more story impact than perfect curls or neatly applied eyeliner.
8) Lose the stereotypes. Blondes are rarely dumb, mother-in-law’s rarely nag, plus tattoos and body art rarely equate with a low IQ.
9) Women were not born to be passive observers. Females rarely miss anything…
10) The premise of a feisty female in a man’s world continues to grow in popularity. If you make that female mentally strong, physically interesting (which does not have to mean stunning), and an able figure amongst her male and female comrades, then you’ll have a protagonist to be proud of.
BIO: Jenny Kane is the author the contemporary romance novels Abi’s House (Accent Press, 2015), and the Another Cup of Coffee series (Accent Press, 2013-2016). Jenny also writes medieval fiction as Jennifer Ash. Keep your eye on Jenny’s BLOG HERE for more details, plus follow her on Twitter as @JennyKaneAuthor.
Am I the only one who finds the adjective “feisty” is overused and annoying now?
Probably not since I’ve said the same on this blog, but space is at a premium … So we can quibble over words like ‘fiesty’ or ‘strong’ – or we can work hard at creating 3D characters that are different to the rest.
Nope. Tired of ‘feisty’, and prefer strong-willed, determined, and tenacious.
Some people say fiesty IS strong-willed, determined, tenacious 😉
Interesting discussion to be had: what distinction can we make between “flaw” and “weakness”?
In a way, I completely understand the difference. Maybe a weakness is just a flaw that’s big enough to move the character from strong to weak? There may be some overlap between the two too.
As a dude who’s happily trying to create more female protagonists (I don’t think this discussion is limited to female protagonists–but if your script has a female protagonist, the industry hurdles may be a few painful inches higher), it would be great to have some clearer yardsticks.
Definitely can be some overlap. I like to think of Aristotle’s notion of ‘harmartia’ – the ‘tragic flaw’ … ie. something that will cause the character to do something ‘wrong’, that feeds the story somehow. Flaws for flaws sake end up detracting from the story, not feeding it. Interesting idea though, may write a post on this. Thanks!
I’m going to disagree that a weak character can’t be interesting. Strong-willed, determined and tenacious is fine, but I don’t think ALL female characters need to be like that, all of the time, to be interesting. There are, after all, all kinds of women. I would argue that as long as the character is written with truth and explores what that woman’s position is, what she feels and thinks, then weak, strong, empowered or victim, she can be interesting and hold your attention.
Makes sense, but is “innocence” a flaw or a weakness? My fantasy WIP is about a sheltered youth who grows into a strong woman…but makes many mistakes bc of her lack of real-life experience. I fear she is alienating at the beginning, and her innocence (and ignorance) will prevent readers from sticking with her to see her growth.
I think it depends on the story, though tbh I would substitute ‘innocence’ for ‘naivety’. People can be naive without being ignorant or annoying. Good luck!