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In recent years, there's been a huge push for "strong female characters" in fiction. This is a really vague description. Strength... in what? The answer to that is variable and depends on who you ask. Here's my take on it.

A strong female character isn't simply one who kicks butt and talks sarcastic smack to everyone whether they deserve it or not. A strong female character is someone who DOES SOMETHING in the face of a big obstacle(s), and that action they take is something that helps bring them closer to their goal. I talked about this a lot in the how to make a memorable protagonist chapter.

The weak female characters are, obviously, those who sit around waiting to be saved by the male (read: Bella from Twilight). Simply enduring a hardship doesn't automatically make a character strong.

They can be rude and bratty and stuck up and feel entitled to everyone's love for no reason (read: Tessa from The Infernal Devices). They bark and bitch at everyone. A sharp tongue is not strength.

Some authors think that "strength" is synonomous with "masculine". So the female character is stripped of her femininity and made to act like a stereotypical man--wear boy clothes and hate dresses and makeup, partakes in physical violence, has only male friends, etc.. This isn't strength, either. A character can be strong and feminine at the same time. Those traits aren't mutually exclusive.

Your character most definitely can have any of the above traits (some make for great flaws as long as you treat them as such!) but don't try to pass those traits as "strength".

Some other fails of female leads I've seen are those who are seen as strong and useful simply for their sharp intellect, stubbornness, or compassion. These don't make your character strong, memorable, or interesting. Some females are only "important" because they're the moral compass to the man. That's great, but that can't be their only definining and redeemable trait. Holding on to compassion and morality in the face of some ethical dilema is ONE facet to a strong personality.

So far, I've only listed character traits. That's the big problem with female leads these days--they're just a conglomeration of traits. They don't actually DO anything significant and rarely play a key role in pushing the plot forward save for finding a key item for the man to use or convincing the man to take action.

A strong female character takes her own initiative and goes out and does stuff to push the plot forward. They show confidence in their decisions and beliefs and work to accomplish something on their own, without a man's encouragement or orders (for the most part. Of course, a woman in the army might take orders from her superior officer. I'm talking in general, the majority of her actions should be taken from her own initiative).

A female character can be strong in resolve, mind, and body, but true strength comes from doing something you believe in even when it's hard. This has to be a physical action: going on her own to make a deal with the evil, but powerful wizard who'd killed her best friend. Getting herself kidnapped so she can infiltrate the enemy's lair. Leaving her village for the first time to find a spell that can put to rest the wraith haunting her people. Stealing a time machine to go back in time to stop her sister from getting shot.

A strong female character takes action. Those traits I mentioned earlier are great to motivate her to take that action, but ultimately, it's what she does or doesn't do in the face of internal and external obstacles that defines her strength.

(This whole explanation of course applies to the male characters as well. If you find your male lead is weak and boring, ask yourself is he actually DOING anything significant?)

Personality and loyalty and compassion and intellect, kickass fighting skills and gun-wielding ability is all great, but how does your character use those traits to take action and make a physical change?

Answer the following questions and share in the comments!

1. What's your character's goal?
2. What's standing in her way?
3. What's she going to do about it? (this can include what she sacrifices for the goal)

I hope I've hammered the goal/motivation/sacrifice thing into your heads so hard that you dream about it now. :) It's honestly THAT vital to creating a good story!

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