Someone recently asked me what I look for in a strong female lead. I wish I had answered well, but as is so frequently the case, I stumbled around and only came up with a good answer too late to do any good.
Funnily enough it is the same things that I like in male lead characters that I admire in female lead characters. But just because I like it doesn’t mean a character is strong. Still the male and female lead doesn’t need to be that different.
Strong is often defined as powerful, but there are many characters that have a great deal of power that I personally would not call a strong female lead because they lack something called character. I’m talking about the personality trait not the people in a story. Character comes from the inside, it is developed, not handed out at birth. I define it as remaining true to your basic morals through adversity. Character is shown in actions taken and must be renewed every time there is a new situation. It is never easy.
People often mistake personality for character but they are two different things. Personality is shiny and easy on the eyes but not necessarily about being a good person. A person with personality can be untrustworthy, but a person with character would always be someone to trust. Character goes deeper, it is the heart of what makes us who we are. A person ‘with character’ is steady rather than changeable. A person with personality can have character but doesn’t have to. A person with character does not necessarily display much personality. For example a personality trait is loving to have fun, but a person with character would not have fun at the expense of their principals.
Many books have lead characters, both male and female, who have personality but no character. They are charming and likable and I can enjoy them but I don’t see strength in a character who doesn’t act according to their morals or can’t strive to do better and make up for past mistakes. Often they cave in the face of resistance. So in order to be a strong female lead I would definitely say that character is essential. I look for someone who has morals and ethics and doesn’t abandon them at the first sign of trouble. Who also is strong enough to admit mistakes and grow from them. I look for women who I can respect even if I think they are wrong.
Which is a pretty tall order now that I come to think about it.
Even so there are other things that are necessary for a strong female lead that I will go over quickly but are are expressed in this blog post in more detail. I think any strong leading lady needs to be a whole person not a convenient chess piece, where the writer said “well I need such and such to happen so I’ll just make her do this so it can happen”. They need to do this without using any conventional stereotypes of women. (which is harder than one might think) Also it’s important that they don’t go the opposite way and write a man with breasts. By man I mean stereotypical guy. Essentially a rounded person who happens to be female.
Did I miss anything?