Monday, April 11, 2011

Wanted: Strong Female Protagonist

Raise your hand if you've researched agents and/or editors.

Now raise your hand if you've read the following words: "I am drawn to/interested in/looking for strong female protagonists."

Now raise your hand again if you are confused.

*raises hand*

Why am I confused, you ask? Well, to me, it feels like saying "strong female protagonists" is a category of its own. Like there's only one way of being a strong female protagonist. 

Personally, I find this term to be a lot more complex than that. To me, there are several ways of being strong and female and a protagonist, all at the same time. 

That's why I'm letting you take over today. I want to hear (or... you know... read...)  what you have to say. What makes a female protagonist strong? Let me know in the comments! 

And just in case you're wondering where the hunger for strong female protagonists came from, allow me to point the finger:

"Edward, where the eff are you??? SAVE ME!!!!"-- Bella Swan, Twilight

Confession: I do believe Bella is strong. Or strong-ish. 


Um... Sort of...


  1. Okay, I loved this post. I've just started querying so I've been reading agent blogs for months, trying to get a sense of what they're looking for. I keep seeing the "strong, female protagonist" thing too. For me, a SFP is one who is not passive, who doesn't make stupid decisions that are not in character, and one who isn't whiny, annoying, and bitchy. I want to be her champion, but I can't if she does too many of the things I just listed. I also want her to be human, and capable of making mistakes but also learning from them. And in a romance, I have a really hard time if the heroine pushes the hero away for an unbelievable, outlandish reason that comes out of left field. Blech.


  2. Too many people interpret "strong female protagonist" as "physically strong." I know Stephenie Meyer has responded to a lot of criticism that Bella is not strong by saying that not all girls can be Buffy... and then on the other side of things, there are writers who create a female character, make her an Action Girl, and then don't bother to develop the rest of her personality.

    To me, a strong female character can be anything. Single or boy-crazy, a tough tomboy or a girly-girl, physically strong or dainty. But it's best if she's somewhere in-between all that, because most women, myself included, are. And most importantly, strong female characters have their own flaws, drives, ambitions, and sets of priorities. Even if she's a supporting character or love interest, she should stand on her own, and not simply revolve around the male characters.

  3. You know, I'm a big fan of the Twilight series. But I have to admit--after seeing the call for "strong female protags", I'm kind of flabbergasted that we as readers enjoyed Bella so much. Or, perhaps, we didn't enjoy HER so much as we enjoyed EDWARD. Hmmmm.... Back to square one.

  4. This is a great question. The above two comments are smack on as to what a strong female protagonist is. She's not waiting around for someone (a guy) to save her, though she's not afraid to ask for help if she needs it. But mostly she does all the "saving" herself. ;)

  5. I think the definition of a strong female is someone who doesn't need someone else to save the day for her. It's nice when it happens, but she doesn't need a man/hero in her life, she just wants one. Strong female heroines include: Katniss Everdeen, Buffy Summers, and Olivia Benson(Law and Order:SVU). I like my strong females...kind of my thing.

  6. Great points, Amparo! There are no such stipulations/assumptions when an agent seeks a 'strong male protagonist.' Everyone knows it means a strong character, not a strong person. But when you put 'female' in the place of 'male,' suddenly strong becomes a stereotype, which is the opposite of what writers should be aiming for. :)

    I didn't relate to Katniss, but I appreciated that she was who she was. Well done characterization! I did relate to Bella, and I know very few people who read Twilight and didn't relate to her (mostly men). Obviously, that's doing something right as an author. If all characters were Katniss/Katsa, many girls would feel sadly unrepresented. For a stubborn, smart, soft character, check out Wither by Lauren DeStefano.

  7. The DOD (damsel in distress) is the antithesis of a strong female character. No strong minded, independent young lady says, “I want to be that chick that gets tied to the train tracks by the masked villain sporting a foot long mustache and a cloak.”
    I think a SFP is someone who can take care of herself and is flawed. For women, I don’t mean strong as in “GI Jane/Navy Seals”, but strong in skills, willpower, determination (Princess Leia from “Star Wars”) or even someone who’s strength is more feminine and less obvious, like the ability to show compassion for someone who doesn’t deserve it. (Christine from “Phantom of the Opera”)
    I do not think Bella is a good example of a SFP since she constantly needs a male figure in her life, she lets herself be objectified by these men, and when Edward leaves her she goes all feeble. I loved the books and enjoy the story, but I cannot agree Bella is a shining example of strength.

  8. Great post. Obviously, we have to all point at Katniss for our most recent heroine worship :D But I think a strong heroine doesn't need to kick ass to be strong. I like a heroine who thinks for herself, who doesn't need a man beside her in order to identify herself or give her personality, who can have strengths and weaknesses and still save the day at the end of the story.

  9. I'm stealing this from a rather long post I did on SFP's a year ago:

    What I hate is the assumption that if the girl is the “strong” one, then the guy has to be a wimp, and if the guy’s strong, then the girl’s a wilting flower.

    Strong girls can match up nicely with strong guys. Together they’re exceptionally strong, and hopefully each act as temper to the other’s steel. If you’ve got a teenage kid responsible for any sort of “saving” – be it of the world, or the family’s farm – they can’t afford to pair up with someone so inept they screw up the hero’s every advance.

    A girl's not weak because she has a weakness, and she's not tough because she "toughed it out". If your heroine meets a baddie who doesn’t mind hitting girls, then there’s no reason for her sweetie to stand back and watch her get pummeled. It’s not weakness to let someone who cares for the MC to step in and save them from a few bruises, but at the same time, there's not reason for girl to stand idle if she can help, either.

  10. Agreed, Josin! I want a "power couple" in every sense of the word: two strong people who look out for each other and protect each other.

  11. ack! just wrote this long old comment that disappeared. Argh *ahem* round 2:

    I try to make my female protags strong and smart but let them be vulnerable enough to need some help every now and then.

    As for Bella, I think she gets a bad rap. Yeah, she's a klutz with bad luck that needs to be rescued from a few dumb mistakes every now and then. Who doesn't?

    But...she sacrifices herself to a vampire that wants to torture her in order to save her mother, she dives headlong into a nest of the nastiest vampires on the planet in order to save the man she loves, a man who she believes no longer loves her, she tries to fight along side her vampire and wolf family and when she isn't allowed to fight with them, she does what she can and then stands her ground and makes Edward sit out.

    And in the last book, she again stands her ground, carries her baby, dies giving birth, and then once a vampire, insists on training to fight so she can protect everyone again. Annnnd she takes steps to save her daughter and Jacob without anyone else knowing about it.

    She's not as weak as people make her out to be. Maybe her strengths are just more subtle than some other kickbutt heroines I could name, and a little overshadowed by her overprotective love interests who yes, do occasionally need to pull her out of a sticky mess (which she usually got into by trying to save everyone else).

    Just sayin' :D

  12. Awesome comments, everybody!! Love, love, love the discussion! Please keep them coming!

    @Katrina and Michelle--Yep, I see your points. Then again, I... don't. :) I mean, that's why I said in the post that I do believe Bella is strong-ish. To me, her only strength is that she knows what she wants and goes after it. Some aspiring YA authors make the HORRIBLE mistake of assuming teens don't know what they want because of their age. Bella exemplifies a teen girl with very clear goals. Even if those goals aren't... well... the best.

    Oh, and Michelle?? I really hope whoever reads the comments either: a) has already read BREAKING DAWN or b) has zero intentions of doing so. (SPOILERS!!) :)

    @Everyone else--AGREED! :)

  13. Oh! Just found this via Twitter:

    VERY interesting points, imo.

  14. lol oops, yeah, should of put spoiler alert in there....just sort of assumed by this point people have either read it or aren't interested :D

  15. and great link Amparo :) Interesting. Still think Bella is stronger than people give her credit for even if it isn't flashy strong like Katniss and crew (who I also loved :D) (and maybe it's just because I was sooo like Bella when I was a teenager, esp with the world was over when break ups happened, but then I tend to be a bit overdramatic) ;-)

  16. love the recommendations on Laurel's blog though, some great heroines in that list! :)

  17. Amparo, that's an excellent point. It also drives me crazy when people assume teenage girls don't know what they want - I know I was very ambitious at that age, and Bella certainly fights for what she wants, even if it's something I personally can't really relate to. So even if I'm not the biggest Bella fan, I will concede that she has some strengths!

  18. Thanks for the shout out...funny how we wrote about the same topic on the same day!

  19. I've heard this a lot, too. There's a lot of views on it. I've heard female writers/readers say they wish there were more books about how career, etc. can fulfill a woman just aas much as a husbnad, family, etc. But I disagree a bit - I married the love of my life (whom I met as a teenager) and have two beautiful kids and they strengthen, not weaken, me.

  20. Well, Bella is strong in that she's determined to make things work out. You gotta be strong to weather so many bad things. ;)

    Nice post!

  21. To me a strong woman is one who has the courage to take action. You don't have to be strong, supernatural or athletic but you must have strong ideals and values.

  22. Thank you SO MUCH for all your input!

    @Rebecca--Teens deserve respect in every sense of the word. Assuming they have no passion hurts my tummy :)

    @Laurel--*waves* Glad you could stop by! And yes, it was weird seeing your post! But very encouraging, too.

    @Erica--Agreed. Family is definitely a strength to women who want it. It's like author Natalie Whipple says. She's happy being a stay-at-home mom. Personally, I believe strength comes from (as my example with Bella shows) knowing what you want and going after it :)

    @lbdiamond--Yep. Bella sure did deal with a lot. Poor girl... But, you know, she chose it :)

    @BellaVida--Agree. You can be strong without being Thor :)


Add your awesome here: