Strong Female Character Cliches to Avoid

Strong Female Character Cliches to Avoid
June 28, 2016 18 Comments Writing Advice J.K. Allen

It seems like everybody these days is trying to write “strong” female characters. In and of itself, this is a great thing. Women are strong and should be perceived that way, but now writing a strong female character has become its own stereotype. So how do we write truly strong female characters, the ones we look up to and love? Let’s take a look at some clichés to avoid.

  • She hates all things girly. Dresses? Yuck. Forget fashion, doing your nails, and make up. This girl is the anti-girl and a cliché. Liking “girly” things is not a weakness and not the antithesis of a strong character. She can like skirts and still be strong. One good example of this dynamic is Vin from the Mistborn series. She lives off the street for most of her life and feels strange when she first wears dresses as she passes for nobility, but she also finds that a part of her loves the dresses and dances. And she’s still a super strong character.

 

  • She’s inexplicably good at “guy” things. Changing the oil in her truck? Check. Hand to hand fighting? She’ll take you down. But it’s a mistake to equate strong with “masculine.” It also doesn’t always make sense for your female character to be a pro at these things. Don’t give her a random skill just to seem strong. One good example of having skills that make sense is Tris from Divergent. All the skills she has she gains from her training in Dauntless, so each skill makes sense as she masters it. She’s not just given skills at random, she earns them.
  • She’s a trophy. If you replaced your female character with a sexy lamp, would the plot change? If not, you need to rethink your character. She should never be a prize to be won or a trophy for another character. Give her a goal to work towards and have her act and affect the plot. Give her agency within the story. One good example of this is Hermione from the Harry Potter series. Hermione affects the plot in major ways and is a main character. She’s never there just to be a love interest to either of the main characters.
  • She has zero personality aside from a troubled past. She’s closed off and a bit of a jerk when she’s not kicking ass. She’s also cliché and unlikeable. Make sure to give her a personality and keep in mind that showing emotions is its own kind of strength. She’s human, not a robot. One good example of this is Annabeth from the Percy Jackson series. She’s had a troubled past but she doesn’t let it change her into an unsocial and closed off person. She has a personality and a good one at that.

Remember that your character is a human first. A complex, flawed human that should be a fully fleshed out character. Who are your favorite strong female characters? What about them do you love so much? Share below and happy writing.

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
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  1. 18 Comments

    Stephanie Ayers

    I really love this post! it’s so informative, and your character examples are spot on!

    Reply
    1. 18 Comments

      juliakyong

      Glad you enjoyed it! The examples I used are some of my favorite characters

      Reply
  2. 18 Comments

    Adam

    Somehow I’ve gone my whole life without seeing a sexy lamp, so I had to check Google Images. I’m not disappointed!

    Reply
    1. 18 Comments

      juliakyong

      And that is precisely why I love Google! Thanks for reading

      Reply
  3. 18 Comments

    Kat Avila

    Great points! Mary Sues are infuriating (though I was guilty of writing them back when I didn’t know better/was just starting out lol).

    Reply
    1. 18 Comments

      juliakyong

      I think we are all guilty of that when we first started out. Thanks for reading and hope you found it helpful

      Reply
  4. 18 Comments

    Renee

    I tend to write my female characters as tomboyish, but only because I’m a tomboy and it’s what I relate to. I get around it by not drawing too much attention to it by announcing it in a blatant manner. It’s a subtle fact within my stories… and it also helps that my characters are often in situations where it’s completely impractical to wear a dress. 😀

    Reply
    1. 18 Comments

      JULIA

      I think the subtle approach is the best way to go and there are plenty of times when a skirt is not practical

      Reply
  5. 18 Comments

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    Reply
  6. 18 Comments

    Rebecca

    Thank you for this! As a devourer of fantasy & science fiction, I am so so so tired of the “strong female character” stereotype that’s synonymous with sexy-power-fantasy-woman like those you see in comic books. Or sexy lamps. Great article!

    Reply
  7. 18 Comments

    JULIA

    Glad you enjoyed it! I agree the cliches are getting old

    Reply
  8. 18 Comments

    Kat

    Most of this makes sense and are great points but (here comes the but) you do know things like “changing oil” aren’t considered especially masculine. Queen Elizabeth of England knows how to change oil from her time volunteering in the ambulance corps during WWII. Women contemporary with her know how to weld, work heavy machinery, and fly planes in combat zones. Any military woman in an armed force today might know the same.

    Then there’s the women from poor and working classes who can fix all sorts of stuff because they need to know how to make it last, and the women from Communist and former Communist countries for whom such things never were gendered.

    So it’s not just having a character good at “guy” things. It’s explaining why these are even considered “guy” things. Or even “strong” things, although certainly vehicle maintenance could come in handy for a lot of plots.

    Reply
    1. 18 Comments

      Jessica Williams

      That is a really good point. Thank you for that. I’m sick of hearing things being considered manly. Like, seriously?

      Reply
    2. 18 Comments

      Maromar

      Agreed full-heartedly, to me it seems like not knowing such things for the sake of defying cliches is a step back. It only becomes a problem when the female character is inundated with such skills for artificial purposes and even then, it only becomes noticeable when attention is called to it over and over again.

      Reply
  9. 18 Comments

    Aria E. Maher

    I totally agree with this. A lot of ‘strong’ female characters in popular (especially popular YA) books nowadays are just mean or rude or totally unlikable. Also the point about dresses. One of my female characters flouts authority and wanders the alleys and streets looking for adventure, but she LOVES to wear dresses. 🙂

    Reply
  10. 18 Comments

    CraftyScribbles

    Why are female protoganists penalized for being unlikable, while males are lauded?

    Change the landscape. Otherwise, the same stories write themselves. Frankly, doing so bores audiences.

    Reply
  11. 18 Comments

    Diane

    I agree with comments about changing oil. My husband made sure our daughters could change the oil and change a tire before he gave them a car. One daughter, however, told us that narrowed her choices in boyfriends. She said, “I just couldn’t bring myself to date a boy who knew less about cars than I did.” BTW, she is definitely NOT a tomboy.

    Reply
  12. 18 Comments

    Hailey

    Very helpful, thanks–and I loved your choice in character examples!!

    Reply

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