You may remember a while back I did a blog post on female character pet peeves. Well, I thought it was about time to write a post on how to actually write a main female character. Writing a main female character can be challenging, especially when there are so many clichés around female characters and representing women in works of fiction. You may struggle to create a female character who is nuanced, detailed, and realistic for your novel, short story, or screenplay. You can tackle this writing challenge successfully by focusing on creating a main female character that is developed, has agency, and is strong in her own way. You can then polish the main female character though revision and edits to ensure the character is believable to others. So, with that being said, let’s take a look at some tips on how to write an awesome leading lady.
Draw on your own experiences of women.
If you are a woman, you may think about your own personal experiences. Think about how it feels to walk around in the world in your body and how your gender shapes your perspective. If you are not female, you may think about the women you have interacted with in the past or in the present. Consider how you can depict the women you know accurately on the page.
Create a backstory for your character.
Once you have an idea in mind for your main female character, you should write out a backstory for your character. Give the female character unique personality traits and quirks. She should have a list of hobbies, interests, and beliefs that make her a well-rounded character. Create a backstory for her that is nuanced and engaging. For example, perhaps your female character is interested in politics, though she is still in high school. She may aspire to be the first female president and focus on social justice issues in her community. Or, perhaps you have a female character who is struggling with her identity and trying to fit into a friend group in college. You might also give her an interesting hobby like archery that involves mental and physical skill.
Give the character agency.
One of the key ways to give your main female character depth is to give her agency. This means the character should be a key participant in the plot of the novel. She should exist for herself, not as a mirror or a victim to other characters, especially male characters. Give the character a full sense of self and allow her to exist in an active way in the story. For example, you may have a main female character who is in a relationship with a male character. Though she can have strong feelings for another character, her whole character should not be based on pleasing the main character or responding to the needs of any other character, whatever their gender. She may devote more time or equal time to her own interests as she does to her relationship with her partner or her children, if she has any.
Allow the character to have flaws.
To make your main female character relatable, she should have flaws. Avoid the perfect image of a woman when writing, as this often objectifies the female character and makes them appear flat. Instead, be willing to give your character flaws or issues that she is grappling with in your narrative. This will often deepen the female character and make her feel more genuine.
Avoid cliché descriptions of women.
When you are writing the female character, you should be aware of the clichés that exist about female characters in writing and work hard to avoid them. Describing a female character with physical traits like “pretty”, “petite”, “bosomy” or “hot”, can be cliché and often flattens your character so they are one dimensional on the page. Rather than resort to clichés, try to come up with nuanced ways of describing your female character. For example, you may describe your main female character by focusing on her actions rather than her physical attributes. You may talk about her in terms of her critical thinking, her ability to speak her mind, and her sense of humor, rather than focus on her body shape or appearance.
Include more than one female character in the story if possible.
Another way you can deepen your main female character is to have more than one female character in your story so they can interact and talk. Having more than one female character will also show readers that you are not tokenizing one female and are willing to include several female voices in your writing. One test that is used in the writing community to determine if the narrative is representing women properly is called the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test states that the narrative is successful if it features two female characters who are named, who talk to each other, and talk about something other than a man.
Give all your main characters similar depth.
Your main female character should be just as detailed and nuanced as the other main characters in your story. Regardless of gender, you should strive to create characters that will linger in the reader's mind and feel unique. Do not limit your main female character just because she is female. She should have all the qualities of a strong character and stand on her own in your story. Look at your other main characters and consider if they are more developed than your main female character. Do they have more aspirations, goals, and wants than your main female character? Do they feel more unique and nuanced than your main female character? If the answer to these questions are "yes," you may need to go back and rethink your main female character.
Consider how the character fits into the rest of your story.
When you have a strong draft of your main female character, you should think about how the character fits into the rest of your story. You may place the main character within the plot outline for your novel and consider if she is an active part of the plot. You may have her interact with other characters in your novel and think about whether she is as nuanced and detailed as the other characters. Think about how your female character embodies some of the themes in your story. For example, if you set out to write a story about empowerment, you may think about whether your main female character feels empowered and strong in your story.
Women are people.
Your characters are people. Regardless of what they’re doing in your story, they’re whole, real people. They have their own experiences, their own motivations, their own wants and dreams. Don’t write a woman “like she’s human” because she is human (unless she’s an alien, but even then, make her a person).
The same goes for the men in your story. For every woman out there who’s written as a marriage-obsessed bimbo, there’s a guy who’s written as an emotionless macho “man’s man”. Neither one is true-to-life in most cases. Sure, we all know people who come across like that in our real lives, but even those people have more depth beneath the surface; there are reasons why they’re like that.
That means if you are writing that kind of character, think about why they are the way they are. Come up with something unique (preferably not one of the standard troubled past tropes every writer loves to fall back on).
She is whole.
Realistic characters are well-rounded. Not in the college-application well-rounded way. I mean that sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail. And sometimes they just do really stupid or smart or mediocre or pointless things.
The emphasis you place on aspects of their personality will depend on the genre you’re writing. But even in a comedy, your character probably isn’t funny all the time. And even the heaviest-handed dramas generally have a light moment here or there.
So, there you have it, ten tips on writing a laudable lady for your novel. It’s really not that complicate people, it’s just a fact that women ought to be adequately represented in fiction. All too often we have female characters who could not exist in the story without the quirky men who drive the narrative. A female character need not only be there to support the male protagonist’s story arc. With luck we’ll soon move past this concept as a society, allowing women equal representation in the stories we tell—not as sideline characters or devices of romantic tension, but as compelling individuals who help drive the story forward. And, in my humble opinion, if you are looking for a good book with some awesome female ladies than check out my new novel Fateful Voyage available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most major online retailers. Until next time…have a great writing week!