A Letter To: Fictional Female Characters

Posted March 1, 2013 by Stormy in Blogging, Books / 16 Comments

I wanted to write a post about “strong female characters” and how confining that term can sometimes be, but I didn’t know how I wanted to write it. So much has already been said about this topic I didn’t know if I had anything new to add, but then I had an idea. Since March is women’s history month, why not write a letter to fictional female characters as a celebration of sorts? After I wrote this post, I enjoyed writing this letter so much that I thought “A Letter To. . . ” could be a really great feature for this blog. I’ll probably do it a couple of times a month, on Fridays, and each month will have a different topic(for example, this month will be to female characters). So, here’s my first ” A Letter To. . . ” feature.


Dear Female Characters,

One of the favorites phrases to toss around when describing a great female character is “strong female character”. I do this too.  We like our female characters in books to be strong, but we don’t always define what we mean. Sometimes the idea can be that strong female characters are physically strong only, and we have to fight against that idea.  We want role models for ourselves, sisters, and daughters. Some of us real ladies are snarky and sarcastic, and we want to find a character we can relate to. Some of us are stoic, others are emotional. Some of us like working with our brains; we want to be writers and professors and engineers  Others of us like working with our hands, and we will be mechanics and pilots and explorers of the world. Some of us fit neatly into the “nurturing woman” stereotype: we seek domesticity and long to create a family and a home. For others, that idea would spell the death of part of our soul that can’t imagine such a life. All of these paths are fine for us. They should be validated. The stay-at-home mother is no less a strong woman than the female army pilot.  The woman with the GED is just as strong than the women with the Doctorate degree. These are all acceptable paths for us real women, and they’re acceptable for you, dear fictional female characters, as well. 

You can be emotional and still be a strong female character.

You can be stoic and still be a strong female character.

You can be Hermione, Katniss, or Lucy, and still be a strong female character, or be like none of them at all.

You can be quiet and be a strong female character. Just because a character is loud and speaks often doesn’t mean they’re strong. I’d rather have a quiet female character who only speaks up when she knows she’s speaking out against something that’s wrong than a female character who talks just to hear herself talking.

You can have flaws–buckets of them–and still be a strong female character.

You can have fears, even irrational ones, and still be a strong female character.

You can carry a weapon in a war and be a strong female character, OR you can refuse to do so if it’s against your principles and also be a strong female character.

I don’t want to fit all of you, lovely female characters, into a box, because then we just create another restrictive definition of what a strong female is and what she can do. Strong women are loud, quiet, shy, aggressive, brave, fearful, blunt, tactful, or anything in between. I am glad my female role models growing up didn’t all fit into one mold. Hermione taught me it was all right to own wit and intelligence; while Lucy Pevensie taught me that faith has its own quiet strength, and I’m thankful for both of them.

Because a strong female character doesn’t have to a be a character who can fight, is aggressive, or has amazing talents. A strong female character is any character who simply acts to influence the plot, instead of resigning themselves to a story of reactions. It’s a broad definition–which is exactly what the definition of this type of character should be.



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16 responses to “A Letter To: Fictional Female Characters

  1. What a great idea! I think you make some very interesting points in this post, although I find myself rather liking the indefinite quality of a “strong female heroine.” The exact meaning of “strong” may change from heroine to heroine, but that doesn’t diminish any one heroine’s strength. I agree with what you say about a strong heroine is someone who acts to influence the plot. I’ll build on that and say that a strong heroine should have a sense of agency and her own personal desires.

  2. Hannah Kirkhart

    Wow, Stormy, you have such a clear way of expressing all sides to a strong female character. There can be a variety of strong females due to personality differences and I think you define “strength” very well. When you say:
    “The stay-at-home mother is no less a strong woman than the female army pilot. The woman with the GED is just as strong than the women with the Doctorate degree. These are all acceptable paths for us real women…” you illustrate your point so well! I guess sometimes writers and readers like to see the ideal (whatever that may be) and I like how you emphasize the reality. I look forward to reading more!

  3. Renae @ Respiring Thoughts

    Yet again, basically YES to your entire post. This stuff rocks.

    I’ve recently had a lot of trouble with a particular YA protagonist, because the author was trying to attempt a “strong female” persona, but ended up making this person emotionless, cold, extremely logic, and untouchable by outward disasters. How exactly am I supposed to empathize with THAT? A strong female lead isn’t necessarily “kickass” and good in a fight. She can be girly and wear makeup and think about boys 24/7. Just as long as she’s proactive and takes charge of her life in some way—even a small way.

    • YES, exactly. I hate the idea that “strong” means unemotional, or at the very least, unable to properly identify emotions. There are some good “strong” female characters who DO have that trait, but it doesn’t mean all of them have to be that way. Sometimes being emotional and owning your emotions and being able to name them is a strength when other people say you shouldn’t.

  4. I’m loving this new feature of yours. It’s a great idea! I have to agree on all of the above. It’s true. I say “strong female character” or something like it all the time in my reviews, but I never really think about all the different meanings that could have for different readers and bloggers. And just because I like snarky heroines who kick butt doesn’t mean the quieter ones are any weaker. It all depends on your way of looking at things. I can’t wait for more of these letters in the future! Beautifully done!

  5. Preach! I love the piece about strong female characters having flaws – you’re right on the mark. Sometimes when a female lead is too infallible she just becomes unbelievable. Part of the strength of our nature comes from overcoming our own weaknesses and flaws – how is a character supposed to do that when she has none?

    I also usually categorize strong female leads when they aren’t “rescued” at the end by a male character. But at the same time, to make them idiotically repelled by the idea of help from a supporting character isn’t realistic either. This is a great, great post!

    • Thanks for stopping by! I love what you said about strength is about overcoming weakness and flaws. I think that’s my favorite thing to see in most characters. Normally we want characters that are really brave, but a lot of time characters still show fear, they just choose to act anyway. That happens with a lot of weaknesses and circumstances, and it makes for the best story.

  6. Totally agree with this. Female characters should be varied and realistic. We should be able to relate to them or compare them to women we see in society. It’s so nice to find a female character who can speak her mind but also knows when to be caring or vulnerable!

    “A strong female character is any character who simply acts to influence the plot, instead of resigning themselves to a story of reactions.” Chanel once said that the bravest thing to do is to think for yourself, but aloud. I apply that to every female character I come across. If they can’t voice their opinion and think for themselves, then I have a problem. To me, a strong female character has the same requirements as a strong male character – they need to be able to and willing to grow as a character within the story. Even if they make mistakes, they should be able to acknowledge it and learn from them.

    Thank you for this awesome post – I look forward to the next segment of this feature! 😀

  7. “You can have flaws–buckets of them–and still be a strong female character” – This is so true!
    I always judge a book by the characters so a strong heroine is VERY important for me.And I have to agree with you that having fears and thinking irrationally does not make a character weak-It’s how they REACT to the fear that makes them strong.

    “A strong female character is any character who simply acts to influence the plot, instead of resigning themselves to a story of reactions.” – Awesome-ly Phrased!

    Can’t wait to read your next “A Letter To” feature!Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Strong heroines are so important! I’m so glad I had strong heroines in the books that surrounded me when I was growing up. I didn’t notice at the time what type of impact they had on me, but books are practically how I measure my life–oh, this book helped me at this time, I read this during this difficult time, etc., and so as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized just how many of my role models growing up came not from athletes or stars or celebrities, but fictional characters.

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