As a writer who frequents websites where there are plenty of other writers, I often see people asking “as a male writer, how do I write strong female characters?” and vice versa. And there’s nothing wrong with that– all writers will excel at different areas, and some people will struggle with the characterization of characters of the opposite sex.
Let’s first go over what the difference between the roles of male and female characters. This is going off of my experience with writing and reading, so your experience may vary.
Finding a book with a strong, independent woman isn’t hard. I’ve read novels with a variety of female characters with different purposes, placed in different positions within society, and though they are considered “strong” for different reasons, they are still strong. For example I’ve read a book with a rather important character being a princess (often considered a position where the character is supposed to be extremely feminine) but has no desire to get married off to some prince even if it would be “doing her duty”. I’ve read books about average female citizens who aren’t physically strong, but still highlight themselves throughout the story as characters you’d be interested in reading about in pretty much any situation they’re thrown into.
Male characters, on the other hand, are almost always already physically strong. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Writing a story about a character that can be intimidating and fight their way through any mess is easy, and often fun. People love reading about those characters (I know I do) and that’s part of why they’re so common. In turn, male characters that are charismatic, influential, and attractive are common because people like reading about them.
But, unfortunately, it’s still much more common to read about poorly written female characters than poorly written male characters. Yes it happens, and yes we notice it, but the occurrence is rare in comparison. Ever notice how a lot of “different” characters are considered unlikeable or poorly written? Often that’s because they don’t fit the stereotypical mold set out for the story they’re being placed in and are different in ways that make them unrelatable to the typical audience. It’s not because the character is poorly written, in this case, that’s just poor public taste. Anyway, I’ve gone a little off track…
In a lot of books, female characters exist solely for one of these two reasons: For the purpose of adding in a romantic relationship, or to add a woman that’s “strong”. And by strong I mean a woman who is a warrior with no interest in men or, rather, anything but her sword and defeating the enemy. Often times these characters could completely disappear and the story would be much better off for it.
Of course, there’s a male side of that coin, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Regardless of the gender, aren’t you tired of reading book after book about what are essentially the same paper characters placed inside new stories? Do all our characters need to be intelligent machos that get all the ladies, or shy schoolgirls just looking to find their true love? No, they don’t. And there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways to shape your characters in ways that are different from everyone else’s characters while still keeping true to their core personalities and remaining suitable for the story you’re writing. You just need to find them.
The most common piece of advice I see for people struggling with this is “a strong female character should be like any of your male characters, but that they happen to be female”. While this is true sometimes, it’s not something you should be following like it’s the only way characters work. There are different types of strong, aren’t there? Unfortunately, this isn’t something I can really advise on. What makes your characters strong should depend on who they are and who you want them to be.
Alright, well I set out to write a post about something completely different than this turned out to be, but whatever. I’ve decided to stick with this.
What makes a character strong to you? Do you see male strength and female strength as something different, or the same?