How to Write Strong Female Characters

Dieselpunk Rosie The Riveter -

Original artwork by J. Howard Miller and is in the public domain.
Dieselpunk changes by Lauren Reeser.


This post is actually based on a request from Google + in response to my “Strong Female Characters in Sci Fi” post earlier this year.

Eric said he wasn’t sure how to write female characters.  Off the cuff, I gave him these tips:

One trick, just swap genders after you write the role.  The role of Ripley in the original Alien was written for a man, they changed it for a woman at the last minute.

The key – for me – is to not think so much about gender at all.  People are varying degrees of nurturing, tough, strong, weak, smart, silly, etc. We are all just people. What makes each individual character tick may have nothing at all to do with gender.  To think about it in RPG terms, there are a whole lot of skills, strengths and attributes on a character sheet, and only one place for gender.

I see this conversation on Twitter, often. Writers wonder how to write the opposite gender, and mostly how to make it believable.  I stand by what I told Eric.

Don’t overthink gender, delve into character.

Unless it is a major plot-point, just try to steer clear of stereotypes and give each character some depth and humanity. That’s really all most of us are asking for when we talk about the “strong female” trope.



3 thoughts on “How to Write Strong Female Characters

  1. I don’t quite agree with the idea of writing a character as male in order to make them strong, then switching genders at the end. That implies that a woman can’t naturally have strong character traits.

    I write several strong female characters in my novel, and they were all conceived as women from the beginning. The main protagonist, Gabby, also has a strong feminine side. She’s a poet, she enjoys theatre, and heck her favorite color is pink. But by the end of the story (if I did my writing job right) she is a strong, independent woman who is going to end up changing the world. And she does it without ever “acting like a man.”

    • I’ve been thinking about your response all night and how I want to reply to it.

      The “how to” question came from someone who said they couldn’t write female characters. This, to me, says they are overthinking gender norms and underthinking character. The link I have there in the segment about writing male characters and swapping gender at the last moment is actually something that has happened, and created really good characters.

      My entire point is that it’s about full character development, not about gender. You get it – your comment and everything I’ve read on your blog tells me that you get that part. You don’t need the shortcuts. 🙂

      thanks for reading and commenting, Jason!

      • This is a good point. I definitely agree with the end result and with the purpose and principles behind it. I suppose I’m just overly optimistic and wish it wasn’t necessary to do it this way.

        I tend to have similar views with race. I wish we didn’t have to address race issues in terms of what we can do to MAKE things more equal. I wish we could just ignore race and embrace diversity as a good thing in it’s own right. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to accomplish that yet. Just like I wish we could embrace gender diversity without needing ways to artificially create it. But I guess society just isn’t quite there yet.

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