Friday, February 18, 2011

Strong Female Protagonists

Another installment of GPF. I think that this lady needs no introduction. Golden is one of the first blogs that I started to follow when I started to hang around here. Her blog: The Eagle's Aerial Perspective features some very interesting posts, so if you have never been there, start clicking over. :-)

Strong Female Protagonists:

Many times I’ve come across books with an interesting concept, a strong plot, and a weak female protagonist, or some other mix. Usually it is because she is too dependent on the other character(s), is too weak emotionally and/or physically, or just doesn’t have the determination to really tackle the challenges she faces. If there’s a weak protagonist who could have been stronger and more of person who stands on her own two feet, I often wonder why wasn’t she that way?

Why are there so few strong, independent protagonists out there? I don’t know—but I’m here to give you a few things to think about if your Main Character happens to be female.

Often, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling is brought up as having a strong protagonist—and for very good reason. Two other notables are Diana Ladris from Michael Grant’s Gone Series and Deryn Sharp from Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.

What makes them such great characters?

I consider it to be two things: determination and independence.

For example, Katsa (from Cashore’s Graceling) is a young woman who can stand on her own. Not only does she know how to fight and survive, she has friends, she falls in love, and she keeps those people close—but she can still be independent. I’m not a champion of her almost anti-marriage ideas (most people don’t live in that kind of strict society, anyway) but it does show how she doesn’t overly depend—physically and emotionally—on the people around her.

Diana Ladris (from Grant’s Gone Series) is another kind of strong female character. She’s not on the good side, but that doesn’t change the fact she’s a determined, independent character—she knows what she wants, and she does everything she can (even shaving her head and going into enemy territory) to get it. She doesn’t let people push her around, either; if they do, then there are consequences. Diana isn’t the noble, lovable hero like Katsa, but she is a strong female character.

Deryn Sharp (from Westerfeld’s Leviathan Trilogy) is another kind of protagonist. Forced to disguise herself as boy to join the British Air Service, she goes through the training and the tests to pursue her dream; she doesn’t let even her gender get in the way of what she wants to do. She has to keep up her disguise and hide the fact she’s a girl aboard an almost completely-male airship—and she continues to hold her own throughout the story, tackling the challenges of being in the Air Service as her country faces war and even making friends among the crew, passengers, and other people she meets along the way.

These three are only a few examples of strong female protagonists. There are many more out there, and I’ll probably find another one soon after this post is published, in some book I hadn’t reached before. But even though they’re all different characters, they still have two defining characteristics: determination and independence. Those two factors are very important if your female character is to be strong and able to take on the problems that come her way.

Have you ever felt that a female character could have been stronger? Do you have any female protagonists in your story(ies)? Do you agree with the characters I highlighted? Got any examples of female characters you think fit the bill?
Thanks again, Golden!
Remember that I have open slots from May onwards, so if you want to book a Friday, drop me a line at (mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com).


  1. Actually, I think I'm a bit on the opposite end. Yes, there are a lot of weak female protagonists out there, but! There are also A LOT of TOO strong female protagonists. I think there's a delicate balance between making someone strong, but still vulnerable.

    Great post nonetheless. :)

  2. I own two of those mentioned books but haven't read them yet. I'll get to them soon though! It's unfortunate though, that I can't recall reading a book with a strong female protagonist. Sad I know. I'll probably get done with this comment and remember one but right now. . . there's nothing.

    Ah wait! I remember one! It's the book Sphinx's Princess by Esther Friesner! From what I remember she was a pretty strong female protagonist. Oh, and maybe Katniss from The Hunger Games.

    Very good post, loved it!

  3. I often bemoan the lack of strong female characters out there!

    In the novel I'm currently working on, my main character starts off as very dependent....but she grows a lot in the first book. She grows up and learns that all she needed was herself all along. :)

  4. Hi Misha and Golden,
    I love strong women, too. I don't think I can write a story without one. Good post and Hi from the Cruade.

  5. In Sublimation, one of my two POV-protags is female and one of the main accessory characters is female. The other two are male. While I would not suggest that my female characters are perfect (one may not even be likable), I don't think anyone could suggest that they are weak.

  6. I love a strong female protagonist, but also like to see her grow. If she starts off TOO strong, then where does she have to go and what does she have to learn? We're all human. No matter how strong, we all have doubts and insecurities. . .some we hide well, others we don't.

    So, for me, it's essential that a character is HUMAN first. . .at least a little vulnerable. I want to see her triumph and use her brain to get out tight situations, sure...but really, I need to connect and know she's having doubts just like everyone else.

  7. These are great examples. I also like strong female protagonists who don't realize they are strong until well into the story progression.

  8. I am a huge fan of strong female characters. The last few books I read had kind of okay female characters, but I felt they could have been stronger. Thanks for this great post.

  9. Great post. I love a strong female protagonist that has a weak spot. A vulnerability. She has to be three dimensional not just kick butt all the time. :) You made some great points!

  10. Thanks Misha for hosting the fabulous Golden Eagle! And what a great post!!! I just want a female protagonist who is believable, likeable and just human even if she's a vampire/changeling/zombie etc! LOL!!! But as long as I can connect with her I'm happy! Strong female protagonists.. someone like Madam Bovary for instance. She was doomed because she dared buck conventions of her day - but while she was erm.. bucking.. she was utterly gorgeous! Sorry, I'm such an oldie that this is the best reference I'm able to come up with! LOL! Take care

  11. Great post! As far as female protagonists are concerned, its important for them to be strong but also be real. Too often I think we get consumed with this "Lara Croft" style female lead, but she loses touch with her emotions. I value a woman who can take charge, but also honor her feelings. Someone who can be scared, sad, nervous, tender, but also knows how to get stuff done. Those are the characters I aspire to write, female or male.

  12. I definitely think that in many books that I read, the female character doesn't come across as strong and independent enough.

  13. Great post GE! I love a strong female protag, and always have one (though I seem to have a history of being pretty rotten to mothers...). I look at a character like Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games--her situation forced her to obtain skills and basically become her family provider--she's flawed as all get out... she is in some ways TOO strong, but her lesson with that (letting go a little and letting someone help) is a great arc of the story. I don't have any patience or sympathy for a wet blanket like Bella Swann-I think she's a poor example of personhood and a waste of ink.

  14. One of my favorite female characters is Katniss Everdeen from THE HUNGER GAMES. She strong, but has endearing vulnerabilities. I can't wait for the movie version.

  15. I do have a female lead in the sequel to my book and yes, she's strong and independent. Promise!

  16. Great post! I haven't read those books, but I will have to look them up now. I have often been frustrated by the lack of strong female protaganists.
    Sassinak by Elizabeth Moon and Anne McCaffrey is the strongest female protaganist that I have ever read. She's determined and independent. I don't know that I would want to be just like her, but I found her character compelling.

  17. I think strong female characters are something that shows that we ladies can kick butt as well. We are just as strong as the men. I love strong female characters in books.

  18. I really like old movies, especially Hitchcock but one thing that annoyed me about them is the screaming. Just because they're women, do they have to scream so much. I love that there are stronger women in lead roles now but when I read a book and find weak women, it brings it all back.

  19. Great post, I love Golden! I also like a woman protagonist who is believable. I've recently read a novel with a supposedly strong woman. She was a young, fiercely intelligent special agent who, when the going got tough, dropped her handbag and said how scared she was (!!!)

  20. Hi Misha.

    Hi Golden Eagle, it's great to see you here.

    I'm always surprised at how many books and films depict women as somehow less capable of being strong and independent than men. I have met huge numbers of both men and women in my (many) years and I see no gender difference in their ability to be strong or independent.

    The worst sin, in book or film, is when a woman is depicted as strong, and then three quarters of the way through she faints and falls on some man's shoulder desperately needing to be saved. Grrr!

    Er... I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for a great, and thought provoking post.

  21. Great post, Golden Eagle!

    I love strong female protagonists, but I also like it when they're flawed and make mistakes, and retain their femininity. I think it's totally possible to be vulnerable and still be strong. I agree with the commenter who mentioned Katniss Everdeen -- she's probably my favorite female protag of the past couple years.

  22. I'll be in the minority here but give me a weak protagonist of either gender and have them grow into a stronger person through the course of a book. It's more about the journey to strength I like reading about than here's a strong character in a crummy situation.

    The one part I really disagreed with is independence being a required trait of a strong character. Independence doesn't always mean strength. Eventually you're going to have to depend on someone else, even if it's just the butcher, I think the having the ability to negotiate when to lean on others and when to go it alone is a better trait for a strong character.

  23. I liked Evie in Paranormalcy. I also liked Katniss in The Hunger Games but she lost her moxie as the series went on.

    Worst protagonist? Bella in that vampire series. What a whiner! And FYI, Bella, becoming a vampire is not a career goal.

  24. Awesome guest post! Always good to have strong female MCs. I can't think of one straight off the cuff but, I am hoping my own MS is a character who falls into this category.

  25. Hiya, buddy crusader! I'm making the rounds today and checking out your blog. Nice to meet you, and Happy Friday! :) Yep, strong female characters are good, although sometimes you can start them out less strong, so they can grow. :)

    Artzicarol Ramblings

  26. I'm in favour of strong female protagonists. I hope I've written strength into my current MC. A good example... I'm with Theresa: Katniss in the Hunger Games (book 1 only).

  27. (I haven't read the other comments. sorry if I repeat here...)

    Did you notice two of your listed authors are male?? That could be part of the difference - teen girls are so often unsure of themselves and us former-teen-girls channel that when we write, I think.

    And after reading the first 3 of the Gone series, I have to disagree that Diana is strong. She didn't agree with cementing the kids in book 1, but she went along with it for Caine. That's weak, imho. (can you tell I'm Team Astrid??? Love that girl.)

  28. There's also the matter of characters (like my heroine in my contemp. romance novel) who appear strong & independent, and in many ways ARE, but still find it hard to bounce back from disappointment - they just don't show their inner turmoil to anyone around them, so nobody has a clue what is really going on with them. I like to think of my character as strong and independent, but the truth is she can't imagine life without the man she loves. I guess that doesn't make her weak though.

  29. making crusader rounds. Nice to meet you, now following!


  30. Devin: Interesting point you make! I haven't really come across characters who I thought were too strong (unless you're counting characters who are into bullying/etc.), but some MCs can be a little . . . headstrong. :P

    Thank you!

    Book Owl: I'll have to check out that book!

    I never really liked Katniss, but I agree, she was strong in some ways.


    Melissa: Me, too. There should be more in the books out there!

    It sounds awesome. :)

    Zan: I could see myself writing a weak female MC . . . but only because I would be writing a story on how she becomes independent.

    Nevets: Like Diana, a character doesn't have to be likable to be strong--it's happened in novels where I prefer the unlikable, strong characters over the weak ones that might have more appealing traits.

  31. E. C.: You make a very good point there. If she doesn't grow or somehow change throughout the novel, then she really wouldn't be as human as someone who started out weak and then became a different, stronger sort of person.

    Lydia: Thanks!

    Oh, absolutely. It's great watching characters like that realize just what they're made of. :)

    Rachna: I'm always frustrated when that happens. It always seems half-baked if they're "okay" but not "strong".

    Thank you!

    Ciara: Thanks! :)

    She does have to have her faults, in something. Doesn't matter what, as long as she isn't the perfect idea of a strong character. People aren't perfect!

    Old Kitty: Thank you!

    I don't care what she is, either. As long as she's strong. :) I've never heard of Madam Bovary before, but I'll have to look it up. On the hunt for more strong female MCs!

    Lindz: She does have to be able to feel to be a good character. If she just pushes her way through everything, unfeeling . . . then she wouldn't be someone the reader could truly connect with.

  32. Hey Misha! Happy to find you via the Crusade! Thanks for following me. Your blog looks wonderful! I look forward to following you!

  33. Beth: Thank you!

    Michael: That's why I wrote this post. :)

    Hart: Thanks!

    Katniss isn't one of my favorite characters (although you'd think she would be) but she does have her faults, and she is a strong character!

    I agree on Bella Swan. Strong she is NOT.

    Julie: I really am in the minority by not liking her, aren't I? :P

    It will be interesting to see what they do with the movie! I'm curious to see it . . . not because I love the books, but just to see if they stick to the plot/characters etc.

    Alex: Awesome! :)

    Tyrean: Thank you!

    They're good books. The Gone Trilogy is more like horror/thriller, while The Leviathan Trilogy is steampunk/adventure and Graceling is Fantasy.

    I must check out that book! I've heard before that Anne McCaffrey's novels have strong female MCs; but I've never read anything by her!

    Savannah: Oh and we can, can't we? :D

    Clarissa: I've never watched old movies like that, so I can't say I've ever seen that sort of thing; but it does sound frustrating!

    They're just stereotypes, I suppose.

  34. Margo: Aw, thank you!

    She dropped her . . . handbag? For one thing, I didn't think special agents had handbags. I thought it was hi-tech devices instead. :P

    Tony: It's great to see you here as well!

    Mid-movie crises are popular, I guess. At the expense of the often-female MC.

    You're very welcome!

    Jennifer: Thank you!

    Vulnerability is important in a character; people have them, so for a MC (female or male) it's necessary if they're to be believable.

    SM: It can be nice to see a character grow throughout a story, I agree with you there! But overall I prefer strong characters who start out at least somewhat that way.

    A character has to depend on others, true. Everyone, I think, whether it is the butcher or the mailman, is dependent on another in some way. I meant it more as not having to lean on someone else all the time.

    Take Bella Swan; she couldn't be apart from Edward any of the time otherwise she completely broke down. But someone like Katsa from Gracelng, while dependent on Po for love and companionship, could also be apart from him and still be able to hold her own.

  35. Theresa: Despite not being a fan of Paranormal, I agree on Evie. She was strong in her own way. :)

    LOL. Not really!

    Talei: Thank you!

    Well, once your book is on the shelves, I can't wait to experience your strong MC for myself. ;)

    Carol: It can be interesting to see a character grow over time, as obstacles come her way and she overcomes them.

    Lynda: I'm sure you have!

    Again, I agree that Katniss was a strong character, in her own way; I never really liked her for parts of her personality.

    Erica: I never thought of that. But that could be part of the reason; the writer channeling their own experiences and/or thoughts into their characters, which makes sense.

    I don't remember that (I read the books a while ago) but she is the villain; I wasn't saying I'm not Team Astrid--I love her character--but that I think Diana is, overall, a strong character. If you look at what she knows she's doing and what she's capable of.

    Trisha: I wouldn't say it makes her weak! People love others, and no matter what kind of love it is it's often hard to imagine life without one or more of those special people. If she can't imagine life without him . . . well, I think she can still be quite strong.

  36. Thank you, everyone, for commenting here on my guest post! And thank you, Misha, for this great opportunity.

    I will stop hogging the comment thread now. :P

  37. Awesome post! I love strong female protagonists. Ones that can kick a guys butt. ;) Just thought I'd stop by and say hello to a fellow crusader! It's nice to meet you!

  38. Hi everyone! Just wanted to say thank you very very much for supporting Golden to day.

    And to the new commenters and new friends, I say hi and welcome to the blog. I hope you have a great time here.


  39. Awesome Eagle. My female protags are usually a mix. Strong, yet they have a little weakness in their armor. Because that makes them human. :) Fantastic post, Misha. (Sorry I got here late, I have been wrangling with our insurance company over paying for our son's meds.) (((hugs)))

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