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Today, I’m so pleased to welcome Charity Bradford to the blog. Charity is one of my lovely online writing buddies, and it feels like we met forever ago. She’s here today to talk about a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately: strength and realism in female main characters. I hope you enjoy her post!

Strength and Realism in Female MCs

How strong should your main female character be? The world cries out for strong female leads, but if you ask people what that means you get mixed definitions.

  • She doesn’t need a man to solve her problems
  • She uses men the way men use women
  • She can kill you with a look, but if that doesn’t work she’s a top notch marksman, martial arts expert and knows how to hack computers to make your life miserable
  • She’s always angry and never cries
  • Doesn’t need comforting from anyone
  • Fill in YOUR answer here…

I think a strong woman might be able to do some of those things, but why can’t she also be a feminine woman with real emotions? Someone who gets sad, maybe even cries herself to sleep at night because she’s tired of beating up so many bad guys?

What if her strengths lay in her character traits? What if it were simply her courageous efforts to persevere in the face of conflict? To pick herself up and try again every time she falls down?

Could a female MC want and need the help of others around her (men and women both) and still be considered a strong lead?

I say yes!

This question has been eating me up the last few months as I draw near the end of a first draft YA contemporary fantasy. Some sections have been written and filed away for years. Why? Because when I discussed them with my favorite “inside” readers, they thought my MC wasn’t strong enough. They all wanted her to be angry, punch people when she was frustrated, stomp off in a fit or something. Anything but show that inside she was really a terrified, insecure girl.

Real people are not always “strong”. We have baggage that we carry around. Our characters will have the same, and I think it’s okay to show that in order to help them become real for the reader. Finding the balance between strength, brokenness and growth that overcomes their flaws is the real challenge in writing.

Think about your favorite female characters for a moment.

What did you love about them?
When did they become real to you?

Let’s look at a few examples from literature:

Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You might think her part was small in the grand scheme of this trilogy, but she OWNED her part. All she wanted was to defend her lands and people, to get a chance to make a difference. So what does she do? She dresses like a man and rides into battle, willing to die for them. She’s scared, but she does it anyway. She expected to die, but she was determined to cause as much damage as possible before she did. And what happens? “Bad guys should be careful making statements like “No living man can kill me” when they’re fighting ladies.” From Flavorwire.com

Hermione from Harry Potter series. Hermione is one of my favorite characters, but I confess I can’t think of a flaw for her. Can you? She’s intelligent, pretty and loyal to her friends. If you took her out of the story it would fall apart. She was never a tool to be used by Harry or any other character. Instead she made her own decisions and saw them through to the end, even when it broke her heart. She cried. Then she dusted herself off and did what she knew had to be done. That’s strength!

Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Lizzy is a great example of a strong willed character. The thing that makes her a strong woman is also tied to her faults. She adheres to the strict protocol of what is proper for a lady, and yet she has no problem speaking her mind when her emotions are charged. I LOVE this. It’s even better when she speaks before learning all the facts. She trusts that what you see is what you get, and why would people lie about what happened to them? This little flaw causes more than one misunderstanding.

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series. I believe most people would think of Katniss if asked to name a strong female character. In the end, I felt like Katniss had been someone’s pawn the entire trilogy. But, let’s not go there.  She was strong because she provided her family with food using her archery skills. She volunteered in order to protect her sister, and then fought her way to victory using skills and cunning. Her flaw? Emotional distance. In order to survive she simplified or completely shut down her emotions. I wonder how the “long game” would have played out if she had given in to her emotions. Would she have made different decisions?

So here’s my question for you.

How do we find the balance between a female character’s strengths and her flaws?

Please tell us about your favorite female characters in the comments too!

Charity Bradford lives in NW Arkansas. She loves to bake and hang out with her family, all of whom register somewhere on the “geek” scale. She writes a blend of science fiction and fantasy with a touch of romance.

Goodreads Page
Amazon Author Page

The Magic Wakes
Since childhood, scientist Talia Zaryn has been haunted by recurring dreams, visions of an alien attack on her planet Sendek. Each time it ends abruptly with Talia’s death in the capital city Joharadin, a city that she has spent her life desperately avoiding. Talia keeps these dreams a secret, hoping they are nothing more than childish nightmares. But when she is unexpectedly transferred to Joharadin she is convinced that the conflict, and her own death, is at hand.
As Talia’s nightmares occur with increasing frequency, they reveal the imminent invasion of a half-dragon, half-human race called Dragumon, bent on annihilation of her world.

In Sendek, magic is dead and science rules, forcing Talia to keep another secret, one that could cost her everything if it were known. Now, in order to save her planet, Talia must awaken the powers within her and rely at last on the magic that is her true inheritance.

Stellar Cloud: A Collection of Short Stories
A soldier struggles with the emptiness left behind by amnesia until he learns he is more than the world would have him remember. The earth is desolate, and only one ship of humans remains. An assassin plays god, dealing out justice and mercy as he sees fit. Explore the outer reaches of the imagination through these and other short stories. From brainwashed clones to winged aliens of destruction, the stories in Stellar Cloud will pull in any lover of science fiction and fantasy.