Time for another Writing Tips post!
This post was requested by Katherine, so thank you! I really appreciate all requests, so if there’s ever a post you want me to do, just go ahead and tell me. I’m happy to post what would be most helpful for you.
Today we’ll be discussing how to craft strong female characters.
At times, it can be tough to know how to write good, capable female characters who move readers’ hearts. That can be tough because the world’s idea of a strong woman is so different from God’s true strong woman.
And because we want to honor God in our writing, we want our female characters to honor him, too! What makes a strong female character? In five simple steps, we’ll learn how to craft a compelling one.
1. Show her internal struggle.
Your strong character (I will abbreviate her SC for the remainder of the post) will not be strong if she doesn’t have internal conflict. Strength doesn’t mean we don’t fight within ourselves. In fact, I’m convinced that strength is not lack of weakness, it is dependence on God through weakness.
In my novel, The Apostle’s Sister, my main character (MC) Temira is undoubtedly a strong woman. But her insides aren’t made of steel. Throughout the novel, I show her various internal struggles: reconciling with Paul’s gritty past; overcoming her fear of allowing people into her heart; and ridding herself of her desire for vengeance, to name a few.
Your SC should not be perfect. Don’t give readers the impression that the definition of strength is perfection. Instead, show these internal struggles, and show your SC learning to depend on God to bring her through them instead of doing it on her own.
2. Show her interaction with those who depend upon her care.
Your SC will undoubtedly have at least one person in her life who depends upon her care.
In The Apostle’s Sister, I show several tender interactions between Temira and people who depend upon her:
- Her ill husband Naboth, whom she cared for before he died and left her widowed
- Her first son, Reuben
- Her adopted son, Seth (this relationship is unusually special because of Temira’s conscious decision to choose this son, and because she is again given the blessing of being a mother after Reuben is grown and married)
- Her older brother, Paul (of course, the novel is focused on this relationship; Temira is Paul’s faithful sister and supporter)
- Her good friends (ex: Timothy’s mother Eunice, who also has a hard past with her own husband, as well as a loved one in the fearful ministry).
Take time to develop these kinds of relationships between the SC and other characters. These other characters could be anyone, really. A student, a teacher, a parent, a younger woman, etc. The strongest women are nurturing, and they are blessings to those around them.
3. When faced with the very worst of obstacles, she will think of others first.
One of the qualities I love most about my SC Temira is how she immediately focuses her attention on others. For example, following Paul’s violent Jerusalem arrest, she does not fall apart and succumb to her own pain. Instead, she keeps herself together, comforts Seth, and stands firm for her son.
Can you imagine how hard this is? It’s hard, all right. Imagine being strong for someone else and thinking of them when you’re facing the tragedy of your brother probably being dead. But that’s what you do when you truly care for others instead of yourself. When faced with the very worst of obstacles, a brave woman will think of others first.
4. She will make amends as soon as she realizes she has done wrong.
Who among us does not make mistakes, right? Even after we’ve given our lives to Christ, we will still make mistakes. Of course, the important thing is to learn from them, not let them destroy us.
After Paul’s aforementioned arrest, Temira feels intense guilt over her treatment of him in the days before. She was angry that he persisted in traveling to Jerusalem despite the abundant dangers and warning prophecies, and she was harsh about it. After the arrest, she is hit by the terrible reality that Paul went away thinking she did not care, and he might have died before she had the chance to apologize.
Although she doesn’t know whether he is alive or dead, she immediately makes amends for the great mistake she made. She prays in repentance. Then she lovingly guides Seth through that time, knowing that in this way she is serving Paul by serving their God. Thankfully she is able to make amends to Paul in prison, but the point is that she didn’t wait until then, or even wait until she knew he was living. She made amends the second she realized she had done wrong, regardless of whether or not she would get the chance to say it to her brother in this life.
This is one of the most powerful traits of an SC.
5. Finally, she will not be virtuous right away.
The SC will not immediately have the traits I named. She will not immediately:
- #2: Care tenderly for those dependent upon her.
- #3: Think of others first when facing the very worst of obstacles.
- #4: Make amends as soon as she realizes she has done wrong.
These should not happen right away. Take your SC on a journey, and take us with her. Let us see her fight and fall in becoming this kind of woman. It all comes back to #1: Show her internal struggle.
And continue doing this after she becomes that virtuous woman. This will make your novel, and the SC herself, so much more compelling.
I hope you all enjoyed this post!
I hope the tips were helpful for you! Feel free to share your own thoughts and tips in the comments below.
And let me know some of your favorite strong female characters in fiction. Here’s a quick list of some of mine:
- Mary and Elizabeth – The Messiah by Marjorie Holmes
- Calpurnia – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Cosette and Eponine – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
- Susan Baker – Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
- Cassandra Smith – They Called Her Mrs. Doc by Janette Oke
- Caroline Ingalls – Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
You know the drill – eat, pray, write, repeat!