Writer’s Corner: Writing strong female protagonists

We are well into the swing of the Kickstarter for Delilah and the Women in the West adventure series. One thing that stands out with the books in this series are its strong female protagonists and female historical characters which make appearances in each one. But it takes finesse to create a tough female character that is believeable.

So how do you write a strong character? According to the Six Figure Author Podcast’s (episode 108 “Are Your Craft Choices Hurting Your Booksales?”) Jo Lollo strong characters are well defined, but not necessarily one who can win a fight, but they must be an imposing and vital character to the story. Andrea Pearson adds that strong characters should have inner strangths, which can become weaknesses in certain situations. Lindsay Buroker says that they need to be believeable, especially with female characters.

I’m as big a supporter of women and women’s rights, etc… as the next guy or gal, but let’s be realistic. Readers are not going to believe that an average woman isn’t going to beat a man in hand to hand combat, because females are naturally smaller and have less physical strength than men do. That’s not realistic. Don’t make your female character go to walk into a biker bar and kick everybody’s butt unless you’ve given her superpowers, or magic, or some reason, like being a Karate expert or an Amazon warrior, that she can do such incredible things. And of course, your characters need to be flawed so they have room to change and grow by the end of the story.

I gave Delilah a background which explains why she is so tough and gritty, after growing up with abuse and surviving two years in the territorial prison, readers know she doesn’t take things lying down, so it comes as no surprise when she sets out after the two men who raped her and left her for dead, and abducted her 14 yeaar old ward, Sarah. In the first chapter, she is practicing with a handgun, because she knows this is a weakness which needs to be turned into a strenghth for her to survive. So when, later in the book, she makes an amazing shot, we know she earned that ability through hard work and practice.

The other women in the series, Sarah and Marta, are introduced in the first book, but they too are flawed in ways which allow them room to grow stronger. Sarah is fourteen when she is abducted, but by the time her story is through she will become a strong woman who readers will root for. Marta is a mild mannered Mormon woman, travelling across the Colorado frontier when her family is killed and she is taken in an Indian raid – all experiences which will change her life and make her stronger for when she is the protagonist of her own book.

The protagonist in the book I’m working on now, The Rockstar and the Outlaw is also a female with strong inner strength and many flaws. She is a singer, a rock star, with an addictive personality, which includes adrenaline as well as drugs, who finds herself in a situation which she knows she can’t win. Amaryllis escapes with the help of a time-traveling outlaw from the old west, but finds that trouble awaits her, no matter where or when she goes, and when the tables are turned the outalw can depend on the rock star to have his back. She also has a backstory, living a life od drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll, which makes her strengths and weaknesses both realstic and believable. Her inner strengths allow her to save herself and do what is needed when called upon, in a fashion that readers can buy into.

So, you see, a character’s flaws can be used as building blocks to make the character’s actions believable, or you can give them a backstory which validates their strengths, in order to make their daring feats more believable. It is the inner strengths we are referring to when we talk about strong characters, although characters may need to be physically strong to back up their inner strengths. But you do have to take care that the strengths that you give them are realistic and believable. Of course, if you’re writing fantasy, giving her superpowers or magic might be believable. But if your protgonist is an ordinary woman, you shouldn’t give her extrordinary abilities. Readers are smart. They won’t buy it.

You can still join in to support the Kickstarter campaign for Delilah and the Women in the West adventure series here, if you haven’t already: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kayelynnebooth-wcp/delilah-women-in-the-west-adventure-series

Your support is greatly appreciated.

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For Kaye Lynne Booth, writing is a passion. Kaye Lynne is an author with published short fiction and poetry, both online and in print, including her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction; and her paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets. Kaye holds a dual M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing with emphasis in genre fiction and screenwriting, and an M.A. in publishing. Kaye Lynne is the founder of WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services and WordCrafter Press. She also maintains an authors’ blog and website, Writing to be Read, where she publishes content of interest in the literary world.

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