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Write Strong Female Characters Without Being Cliché | Writer’s Relief

Writers and readers talk so often about strong female characters that the phrase has become a publishing buzzword. Writers try to entice literary agents by using a strong woman character as a hook in their query letters. Readers create lists of books that feature strong women characters. Writer’s Relief knows that strong women characters are beloved and highly sought-after by book-publishing professionals—and for good reason!

From superheroes to career women to stay-at-home moms, strong women come in many forms. Here are some tips to help you create a believable, well-rounded, strong female protagonist.

How To Write A Strong Female Character For Your Story Or Novel

A worthy goal. Big, memorable characters have big, memorable goals. The bigger the goal, the stronger your strong female character will have to be to achieve it. But don’t think that her goal necessarily has to be noble and righteous! A strong woman character can be saving the world from an alien plague, strong-arming her kids into the Ivy Leagues, or robbing a bank just to thumb her nose at the cops.

A great adversary. In some storylines, you may want to give your character an archnemesis—the meaner and more powerful, the better. Your protagonist’s strengths become clearer in the face of conflict and contrast.

Some imperfections. Strong women don’t have to be paragons of virtue and beauty in order to make a meaningful impression. Your strong woman character will earn readers’ empathy when she has a full complement of human emotions, problems, and challenges. Learn more about how to write characters that people will care about.

A meaningful character growth arc. Even a strong woman character needs room to grow within a story arc. Don’t skimp on her emotional development. What does she learn? How does she change? And what does it mean when she does?

Realistic physical features. There are lots of different ways to be beautiful; let your strong female character stand out by giving her physical attributes that mirror the real world. And if she’s going to be supernaturally beautiful, be cognizant of how her freakish good looks have real-life complications so that we mortals can (sort of) relate.

And Finally, Here’s How To Avoid Clichés When Writing Strong Women Characters

Start from square one. In a culture that’s saturated with stories, a person could consider almost any defining character element as overly familiar. It’s all been done—and done again. To write a character who is more than a jumble of seen-it-before clichés, it’s important to approach your characters with deep respect and understanding. Commit to writing a complete, well-rounded character—even if some of her traits feel familiar.

Look around. Be sure you’re paying close attention to how female characters are portrayed in stories (or, how they’re NOT portrayed and are totally MIA). Too often, strong female characters are relegated to being sidekicks and afterthoughts—complements to male protagonists. Or strong female leads are portrayed as embodiments of traditional gender role fantasies. To avoid falling into clichés, you’ve got to know a female stereotype when you see it (and know how you feel about it). And that means paying attention.

Let your character surprise you. The best characters sometimes have traits that seem unlikely—but are in fact totally right. For example, your character could be a devout and upstanding mother who sneaks a smoke behind the garage, or a teacher’s-nightmare teen who spends detention doing algebra because it soothes her busy brain. Dig deep to discover your character’s darkest secrets—and you’re more likely to create a well-rounded character.


Question: What clichés of female characters do you see most often? Which ones drive you nuts?

Celebrate The Year Of The Dog With Books By Chinese Authors | Writer’s Relief

Chinese New Year—the Year of the Dog—begins this week! People who are born under this Chinese Zodiac are considered loyal and are sought out for advice. The readers here at Writer’s Relief are all born under the sign of the bookworm, so we’re celebrating this new year with some amazing books by Chinese authors. 7… Continue Reading

Tactful Ways To Say Awkward Things In Your Query Letter | Writer’s Relief

Sometimes the things a writer has to say in a query letter for literary agents are, uh, aaawk-ward! Here are a few ways to rephrase uncomfortable facts into tactful prose. Awkward Phrase: I had a literary agent for this book who didn’t do a good job. Mentioning any prior negative relationships in a query letter… Continue Reading

6 Submission Red Flags Literary Journal Editors Watch For | Writer’s Relief

What’s the best way to get an acceptance letter from a literary magazine editor? Savvy writers know the answer: write well and make smart, targeted submissions! But did you ever wonder how professional readers like literary journal editors slog through piles and piles of submissions without losing their minds? Red flags—things that indicate a problem… Continue Reading

7 Tips For Writing Your First Query Letter For Your Book | Writer’s Relief

  Sweaty palms? Rapid heart rate? Churning tummy? Sitting down to write your very first query letter for your book can be nerve-racking—even stymying! Here at Writer’s Relief, we’ve been helping new writers get published since 1994—and we’re glad to pass along these tips to help you write your first ever query letter for finding… Continue Reading

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